The opportunity to look for a tapir in Costa Rica was too good to pass up. It was time to discover what the Osa Peninsula had to offer in the wildlife department. What did a tapir even look like? We were hoping to discover this for ourselves.
Emily, my daughter, and I boarded the boat in Sierpe and zipped along the waterway speeding past mangrove forests and water hyacinths. The ride was exhilarating as we crested waves and plunged into the troughs between rollers and eventually were spat into the Pacific Ocean.
We navigated south along the peninsula roaring between the glistening aqua rollers and the dense verdant jungle lining the coast. A Tico (local Costa Rican) leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Welcome to paradise. I grew up here. Welcome to paradise.” My grin spread from ear to ear.
This, this was my introduction to the Osa Peninsula. Its beauty and wildness accosting all my senses.
The name Costa Rica is synonymous with jungle wilderness, biodiversity, endangered species, miles and miles of beaches, adventure tours and the Spanish language.
But… the Osa’s reputation?
host to the largest expanse of lowland tropical rainforest in Central America
home to Baird’s tapirs, pumas and jaguars.
We waded to shore in Bahiá Drake (Drake Bay), discovered by Sir Francis Drake, and hopped in the back of a truck which took us up the steep hill to Martina’s Hostel our base for the next four nights. Scarlet macaws circled the sky welcoming us.
As evening faded, the stars appeared – one of the clearest, starriest skies I have ever witnessed.
No question – we were immersed in earth’s beauty and mystery.
Parque Nacional Corcovado – Corcovado National Park
Anticipation ran high for a day trip to one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. The boat left at 6 am, hugging the rugged coastline and following a rainbow. Was this for real? An hour later we pulled up to shore and hopped out. The rainforest was dense and humid. Spider monkeys shouted seeming agitated and on high alert. Was there a puma in the midst?
We hiked to the Sirena Biological Station, signed in and set out with our guide to see what awaited us.
The forest was full of monkeys. Squirrel monkeys foraged, spider monkeys screeched and howler monkeys bellowed. I would have been happy to solely witness these mammals living in their pristine ecosystem.
We crossed a creek and headed into deeper forest. Silently we marched, eyes scanning, following birdsong until the source was revealed.
The rainforest is quiet. You are on high alert for rustling and the sounds of nature. Sudden movement ahead was… a Baird’s tapir. What is this strange animal that is a cross between a rhino and a horse? Usually nocturnal, but this guy was wandering and wallowing in the mud. Yahoo!! A brief encounter with a tapir.
Have you seen a coati or their entire family on a mission? Large families of coatis were going about their daily business – looking for food, tails straight up.
There was a break for lunch on the untouched Pacific coast followed by a sloth sighting, high up in the gargantuan trees, and a search for a crocodile in the river.
This day hike? Only led to questions of how to return and spend the night in the park. Imagine what you could see in the wee hours of the morning.
On the way back to Drake Bay, the boat came to an unexpected halt. We gladly jumped into the clear Pacific Ocean for a refreshing swim near sea caves. What a day. If you have the opportunity, don’t miss Corcovado National Park.
Isla del Caño – Caño Island Biological Reserve
A snorkelling tour at Isla del Caño also came highly recommended. The 40-minute boat ride to the coral reefs in the early morning was thrilling with a few dolphin sightings and a venomous yellow-bellied sea snake. We hit two snorkelling locations and saw lots of fish but not any turtles, stingrays or white-tipped reef sharks.
Bird Watching Tour
Javier met us at the hostel and off we went on our private bird watching tour. His knowledge and enthusiasm were infectious. He may be the hardest working guide I have ever encountered! Javier’s sharp eye and spotting scope ensured our success. We walked way up into the hills above Drake Bay. We spotted orioles, chestnut-mandibled toucans, tanagers, honeycreepers and a laughing falcon – which does indeed sound like a person laughing!
Our Own Explorations
Drake Bay offers many organized day trips but it is also a perfect base to do your own exploring.
We walked over a suspension bridge and past playful capuchins to Playa Cocalito. The water was rough but a quick swim was needed.
We rounded up a group of friends at the crack of dawn to drink coffee on the terrace of Mer y Bosque. Streaming out of the jungle were hundreds of parrots, parakeets and scarlet macaws embracing the new day.
Early morning hikes were a sure bet to see many birds and butterflies. A nighttime beach dip revealed glittering bioluminescence.
The Osa Peninsula makes an impact, one that causes you to slow down, breathe and deepen your connection to the natural world. Pure beauty and mysteries of our earth? The Osa Peninsula delivers.
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” Rachel Carson
When You Go…
The best time to visit the Osa Peninsula is during the dry season from January to April.
Well run, helpful, clean, has a great little restaurant/snack bar. We met amazing people: Costa Ricans exploring their country along with other tourists. ($25 Canadian)
There are also other options in the area for accommodation, such as tree top lodges!
Corcovado National Park: ($125 Cdn) one hour boat ride; full day tour; lunch included; small group. Check to see if a spotting scope is part of the tour. It is difficult to see animals high up in the trees without one.
Caño Island Biological Reserve: ($105) 50 minute boat ride; snorkel gear and lunch included;
Bird watching: Javier – booked through Martina’s Place Hostel ($45). Javier has a spotting scope.
Make your reservation in advance and at the same time make your meal selection. The fish is caught daily. I had wahoo which was seriously delicious. Portions are large enough to share between two.
Mar y Bosque: in Drake Bay; has a fantastic deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Great for early morning bird watching (um – did someone say scarlet macaws?), sunrises and sunsets.
The 19 seater prop plane flies between San José and Drake Bay has very strict weight restrictions. When we checked in, we had to stand on the scales with our luggage. When you book your ticket you need to state the weight you plan to travel with.
Update: After a fatal crash in Dec 2017. Nature Air was grounded. Read this post to see updates.
Great bird’s eye view of the Costa Rican coastline and the Whale Tale at Uvita’s Marino Ballena National Park. Nature has beautifully created this whale tail right at the spot where hundreds of humpback whales congregate each year.
Boat Transport – Sierpe to Drake Bay:
Get to Sierpe by car, shuttle or bus. Once your accommodation is booked, Martina’s and other hotels will reserve your boat transport. Boats leave Sierpe twice a day – 11:30 am and 3:30 pm. (approximately $20 Canadian; the later boat is more expensive).
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