“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”. – Jawaharlal Nehru
As the 14-seat Sansa plane touched down on the tiny airstrip, my heart raced. After a long day of travel, I was finally there. I’d arrived safe and sound in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. I could hardly wait to climb off the plane!
Our plane was met by the fervent waving hands of children who were outside playing in their yards adjacent to the runway. What an odd place to have a home, I mused yet at the same time I was delighted by such a warm and enthusiastic welcome to Puerto Jimenez. The actual airport was equivalent to the size of the runway. Small, empty and nondescript. What was even more unusual however was the tiny local cemetery right outside the door, alongside the runway. Just like other cemeteries I’ve seen throughout Latin America, this one was filled with ornately decorated white gravestones, all above ground and covered with fresh flowers.
The sun was beginning to set in the horizon radiating a golden hue across the graveyard while a chicken quickly scampered off the runway and over to the makeshift wooden homes of the children who greeted us. Smoke rose from a nearby fire rising a steady stream of mist into the hot and humid air.
“Welcome to the Osa!” Lokal Travel founder Eytan Elterman beamed with a relaxed smile. We grabbed my duffel bag and climbed into a rented Land Cruiser which would be much needed for all the unpaved, bumpy roads and river crossing we would encounter over the upcoming week.
Resting on the southern tip of the Puntarenas province next to the Golfo Dulce lies Puerto Jimenez, the largest town in the Osa Peninsula. Known as the launching off point for exploring the world-famous Corcovado National Park, this tiny seaport town of roughly 2,000 welcomes the adventurous tourists who seek to experience one of the most remote and undeveloped parts of Costa Rica.
To see an interactive Google map of Costa Rica, click here. You can zoom in on the Osa Peninsula to see the other small towns and sights.
Often referred to as “the last frontier”, Puerto Jimenez has grown from its roots as a gold mining and logging town in the ’60s to a tourist destination in its own right. Despite only being a couple of dusty streets wide in any direction, Puerto Jimenez has a handful of great local restaurants and bars, a beautiful beach, a reasonably-sized grocery store and a variety of lodging choices ranging from backpackers hostels to high-end eco lodges. It’s prime location makes it the perfect place to spend a day or two before adventuring into Costa Rica’s crown jewel, the Corcovado National Park which was established in 1975 to protect the land and wildlife in one of Costa Rica’s most biodiverse places.
I stayed a few minutes out of town at the local family-owned Osa Lodge. As we pulled into the driveway, I couldn’t help but smile at all the sounds of the jungle. Birds sang and monkeys roared somewhere high above the trees of my little cabin. I was greeted by Karol and her boyfriend Jose who is a park ranger at the Corcovado National Park. Instantly, I was immersed in Spanish and thankfully had Eytan there to help translate for the group. Karol proudly told me how she and her mother ended up in the Osa years ago. Her mother was the very first attorney in the Osa and has practiced ever since. Judging by the small size of Puerto Jimenez she may still be the only attorney there.
I enjoyed one of Jose’s homemade micro brews and then headed to town for dinner at the Marisqueria Corcovado, an open-air seafood restaurant right next to the beach. We were met by a fellow American Expat and laughed at the absurdity of seeing The Rose Bowl (an American football game) shown live on TV. Thankfully this would be the last of American culture I would have to see for the next week.
I ate my seafood pasta listening to the off-pitch singing of the locals at the Bar La Purruja next door. Apparently it was karaoke night and the whole town was out drinking beer and singing the night away to Michael Jackson and other 80s pop stars. I quickly realized why the saying “pura vida” exists in Costa Rica. The Ticos live it every single day of their life. Where else would it take you an hour to say goodbye and leave? Where else would you consume a cup of coffee or share a beer with every new person you meet? And finally, where else would a conversation on the side of the street last hours instead of minutes? (This is what happened as we were trying to leave the restaurant and head back to the lodge. Several beers later -consumed on the side of the street – we left). There is never a short hello or goodbye in Costa Rica, and there is never a shortage of coffee.
That night, I slept well in my cabin drowning out the sounds of the jungle to the powerful whoosh of the AC. I had literally went from -10 F to 80 degrees in one day and my body was sweating bullets. It would be my first and last night with AC for a week and I was going to enjoy it until I adjusted to the humidity of the jungle.
I rose to the morning light at half past six and immediately turned off the AC. I embraced the morning sounds of the jungle looking forward to my big day of adventure. Today, we would head to our first rural community about 40 minutes away called Dos Brazos de Tigre. From there, we would meet our host for the next twenty-four hours a local woman named Xiña and hike up to her mountain cabin in the jungle for the night. It was bound to be a real experience to say the least.
I enjoyed my first Costa Rican breakfast of fresh papaya, mango, pineapple and juice alongside scrambled eggs and toast. I would get spoiled with all the home cooked meals, the rich local coffee and the dripping-with-juice fresh fruits I’d have over the next week. I would never get enough of pintos, Costa Rica’s preferred breakfast of arroz y frijoles (rice and beans) stuffed inside a freshly-made tortilla and topped with sour cream. I loved it so much I even bought the special Lizano sauce used to spice up the pintos so I could make it at home.
After breakfast, it was time to pack up and head out to Dos Brazos de Tigre where our journey and adventure would begin. Since I would be leaving Puerto Jimenez, and not returning I thought the least I could do was snap a few photos.
I had read that there are tons of things to do in Puerto Jimenez if you have a few days. You can experience world-class fishing, go whale and dolphin watching, visit an animal sanctuary, enjoy water sports and activities such as kayaking, snorkeling and swimming or just lounge on the beach. The lovely laid-back feeling and Tico hospitality is bound to make your stay quite enjoyable.
If only I had a few more days! But atlas, the real adventure of the trip was on its way.