Gently pushing off the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica lies the beautifully pristine Osa Peninsula, a magical paradise of untouched primitive rain forests, deserted beaches and rural communities relatively hidden to mainstream tourism. Known for its conservation efforts and robust ecotourism industry, the Osa Peninsula is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet with over 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity in less than one millionth of the Earth’s surface area.
With utterly jaw-dropping beauty, immense expanses of virgin rainforest and parts of lush green jungle that literally look like it is dropping into the celestial blue sea, the Osa Peninsula is my favorite part of Costa Rica. What I love best about the Osa Peninsula is it is still a bit of an undiscovered jewel. Despite a handful of small towns sprinkled throughout the peninsula, the majority of the Osa is uninhabited and undeveloped. Even the airports are simply plain old landing strips in the middle of a field or jungle. Its lack of development and its immense bounty of undisturbed nature and wildlife make it the ideal part of Costa Rica to experience pura vida, the pure life.
While many travelers chose to visit the more popular parts of Costa Rica such as the endless beaches of the Guanacaste, the precious yet touristy Manuel Antonio National Park in the Central Pacific Coast or the cloud forests or Arenal volcano of the Northern Zone, a visit to Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula will be sure to be an experience not like any other.
Where else can you be rewarded with the opportunity to immerse yourself with the local life, culture and extraordinary nature in one of the most magical, biodiverse places on earth? The pure remoteness of the Osa Peninsula works to keep the hordes of tourists away which is an added bonus. If you want the pure, real deal then go to the Osa Peninsula. It is sadly the last frontier of Costa Rica and hopefully it will stay that way.
Some of the unique things you can do in the Osa Peninsula include bathing in jungle swimming holes and waterfalls, birdwatching in a private lagoon, spending a night in a locally run guesthouse that is only reachable by foot, eating home-cooked Tico cuisine, all while supporting the local community. A highlight of any visit to the Osa Peninsula includes a day or more at the Corcovado National Park where you can see scarlet macaws, monkeys, sloths, tapirs and for those lucky few, an endangered jaguar. You can also spend a day dolphin and whale watching or diving and snorkeling off Isla de Caño or go for a sunset horseback ride on the rarely visited Playa San Josecito. The options are endless and after few days in the Osa Peninsula you will be wishing you had more.
The Osa Peninsula is idea for nature lovers, adventure lovers, families and couples, and especially those who are interested in supporting sustainable tourism. However, be prepared. The Osa Peninsula is still like the Outback and getting there and around requires a test of patience and some white-knuckle driving. Many places are only reachable on foot, on ATV or by boat. For those who love adventure, this is the place for you!
When to go
The best time to visit the Osa Peninsula is during the dry season from January to April. It is relatively hot and very humid which the average temperature ranging from a low of around 70 degrees F (23 degrees C) to highs in the low 90s (34 degree C). Given the abundance of sunshine and lack of rain, it is a great time for enjoying outdoor activities and lounging at the beach. It is also the peak tourist season making the prices higher. The wet season (also known as the “green season”) runs May through August or September. Lodge prices drop significantly however many of them close in September-October during the rainiest months. I went in January and it was absolutely perfect.
What to do:
There is an endless amount of things to do and explore in the Osa Peninsula especially for those adventurous souls. I spent an entire week there and was nowhere near ready to leave. I would highly recommend at least three days to a week if you want to truly see it all. Here is my list of the top 5 things to do in the Osa Peninsula:
Spend a day or two visiting the Corcovado National Park
The Osa Peninsula is most known for the impressive Corcovado National Park which together with its sister, Piedras Blancas National Park, is the largest expanse of lowland tropical rainforest in Central America. Corcovado National Park is remote and huge, covering almost half of the Osa Peninsula. There is even a tiny place to land a helicopter inside the park at a remote ranger station.
Corcovado National Park was created in 1975 by the government to protect and conserve this amazing place which contains over 50% of Costa Rica’s biodiversity and is the last remnant of humid tropical rainforest on the Pacific Coast of Central America. The Corcovado National Park is enormous. It is the largest national park in all of Costa Rica and covers one-third of the Osa Peninsula. It is home to over 750 species of trees (1/4 of tree species in Costa Rica), 390 species of birds, 6,000 species of insects, and 140 species of mammals, and 116 species of reptiles and amphibians. It also is one of the few places in Costa Rica that has all four species of monkeys – howler, white-face, squirrel and spider, and has the largest concentration of scarlet macaws in the country. All in all, the Corcovado National Park is a pretty magnificent place and a natural treasure that is well worth protecting.
Given its enormous size and remoteness, it is best to spend at least a few days there however you can also book a day hike through your lodge. I did an eight-hour day trip with my own private guide named Toti and it was fantastic. It is important to note that all visitors to the park must visit with a certified professional guide. It is illegal to go without one.
Entering the Corcovado National Park is not something you want to take lightly. It is insanely hot and humid and there are lots of venomous snakes and spiders not to mention other large mammals. Furthermore with so many species of flora and fauna, it would be impossible to know what you are even seeing without a trained guide. I would soon discover that most guides seem to have rather a sixth sense of spotting wildlife which makes the experience even better.
Take a Day trip and snorkel and swim at the Isla del Caño
A visit to Isla del Caño is one of the most popular excursions from Drake Bay. Roughly a thirty minute boat ride from Drake Bay, the crystal clear waters and reefs surrounding the island make up the Caño Island Biological Reserve, one of the best areas for snorkeling and scuba diving in the Osa Peninsula. The protected reefs around the island shelter a large variety of fish as well as sea turtles and birds.
A recent push by the government to protect and conserve the national parks of Costa Rica has helped preserve this pristine ecosystem. Since 2014, the Costa Rican National Park Service has restricted access to the island and only allows a certain amount of visitors each day. You can no longer explore the island on foot and need a permit to visit. There is only a tiny bathroom facility and other than that the rest of the island is wild and undeveloped.
Spending a day snorkeling and enjoying the beautiful beach of Isla del Caño was a highlight of my trip to the Osa. Most trips leave early in the morning from Drake Bay and return in the late afternoon. As soon as we were fitted for snorkel masks and fins, we set off and anchored just outside the island for the first of two snorkeling adventures. We swam among colorful schools of fish, sea turtles and all sorts of beautiful corals and creatures. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and did an incredible job showing us the beauty of the ocean. After a break lounging on the beach at Isla del Caño, we did another snorkel and then ended our day at the lovely, undeveloped Playa San Josecito another must-see place that is next on my list.
We went with locally-based Pacheco Tours in Drake Bay and they were excellent.
Do a sunset horseback ride and swim at the Playa San Josecito
One thing Costa Rica is known for is its incredible beaches and thankfully there are plenty to choose from on both the Pacific and Caribbean side. The vast expanse of beaches in the Osa Peninsula are particularly magnificent and there are plenty of uninhabited ones to discover where you will literally have the entire beach to yourself (except for a few pesky monkeys).
I fell in love with the remote Playa San Josecito which is only reachable by boat, foot or horse. I first visited during our picnic lunch after my snorkeling adventure. Thankfully my ecolodge was within an hour’s walk away, so I chose to walk home along the beach and it was quite a memorable experience! I saw a lot of animals.
The next day, I did a sunset horseback ride to the beach for another luxurious swim in its salty warm water. Setting off on a remote beach in paradise with the ocean air gently caressing my face felt pretty darn epic. The only sound I could hear was the splashing of the waves and the rustle of the monkeys playing in the trees while a scarlet macaw sat poetically within arm’s reach of a tree. As the sun set, our group of six riders were the only ones on the entire stretch of the beach and we literally ran off into the sunset feeling like we were on the set of some Hollywood movie.
I booked my horseback riding tour through out ecolodge, Bella Vista Ecolodge who has an incredible chef, Willie Lopez, so if you go for a ride be sure to eat dinner after at the Bella Vista Ecolodge.The views and food is to die for and the hospitality of Wille and his family even better.
Take a hike to a remote waterfall swimming hole
Any visit to the Osa Peninsula or Costa Rica is not complete without a jungle swim in a remote rainforest waterfall or swimming hole. There is something truly magical about bathing in a waterfall being surrounded by monkeys at play and scarlet macaws flying overhead. A few times during my week, it was the only “shower” I took and I sure enjoyed it.
Most of these remote waterfalls are hard to find and lack tourists which makes them even better. My favorite waterfall swimming hole is located on the 97-acre private property of the family run ecolodge, Naguala Eco-Aldea, where I spent two lovely nights. The ecolodge is only reachable on foot and the stunning property is surrounded by the Naguala River which has a waterfall screaming right at the edge of the property underneath the open-air yoga platform and an even more extraordinary waterfall about an hour walk along the river.
Take a canoe ride and bird-watch in your own private lagoon at Laguna Chocuaco
Want a truly authentic, local experience in Costa Rica? Imagine spending a morning visiting Carlos Villalobos’ family-run ranch and then going on a birdwatching canoe ride in your own private rainforest lagoon. That is what you will get if you book a tour at the Rancho Quemado near the Laguna Chocuaco. Named after the Chocuaco bird which is native to this part of Costa Rica, the Laguna Chocuaco has over two dozen birds that reside along the jungle sanctuary of the lagoon and make it their home. It is a divinely peaceful and beautiful place with of course the distant roar of the howler monkeys reminding you exactly where you are!
To book this unique, sustainable tour, please visit Lokal Travel.
Where to stay
The Osa Peninsula offers a wide array of ecolodges ranging from very high-end to mid-level and to budget accommodations and to even spending a night in a remote cabin without electricity in the heart of the rainforest. For me, I prefer staying a locally run, sustainable ecolodges that support the community. These two ecolodges were booked through Lokal Travel and are family run, middle of the range accommodations that I absolutely loved. The value for the price was pretty wonderful too.
Naguala EcoAldea is a remote, sustainable family owned ecolodge near Los Planes de Drake that is in the middle of the rainforest and only accessible via foot across acres of beautiful private land. The property is nestled within 97 acres of primal untouched nature where you can enjoy yoga on an open-air wooden yoga platform surrounded by monkeys and birds, a private waterfall, freshly made meals prepared by the hotel owners Eric and Francisca, and hikes to stunning waterfalls and swimming holes that no one sees except you. The accommodations are relatively basic cabins each with a balcony overlooking the jungle. It is nothing fancy but the property is so incredibly stunning that you will want to spend all of your time outside. The price is very reasonable ranging from $60-$70/night including dinner. For more details check out my post “A Slice of Heaven at the Naguala EcoAldea” .
Amazonita Rainforest Lodge
One of the most incredible lodging experiences I’ve ever had in all my travels was at the Amazonita Rainforest Lodge. Located in the small town of Dos Brazos lies a series of beautiful open-air cabins called “casitas” managed by Zulay, a delightful host, chef and masseuse, who is available for your own open-air rainforest massage if you are interested. I loved this place so much mostly because it has absolutely no walls. I slept perched up high in the rainforest with only a mosquito net around me and listened to the sounds of the nocturnal animals and the birds while I slept like a baby in the jungle. It was quite an experience to say the least! It is a steal at $60/night and I had this enormous cabin all to myself. Not many people know about this place except for Lokal Travel .
La Leona Eco Lodge
If you want to spend the night at Corcovado National Park, check out the oceanfront tent cabins at the La Leona Eco Lodge, just steps away from Corcovado National Park. While I did not personally stay here, I booked my entire trip through Lokal Travel is La Leona Eco Lodge is rated high on their list of sustainable accommodations. Here is Lokal’s description:
Stay in a unique tent cabin on the pristine Carate beach, just steps away from Corcovado National Park. This remote lodge can only be reached via a short hike down the beach – but don’t worry, a horse cart can bring your bags. It’s a great place for nature lovers to relax, disconnect and experience Costa Rica’s rainforests and fascinating wildlife. Spend your days swinging in a hammock, enjoying a fresh fruit cocktail at their bar or you can arrange hiking and horseback riding adventures. Best yet, the lodge helps maintain this special place by actively preserving over 30 acres of rainforest, so you can feel great about your stay! For more information and photos, please visit Lokal Travel.
Getting off the beaten path and supporting the local community
When I travel there is nothing I like better than getting off the beaten path and exploring places that tourists rarely see. Thankfully there are many opportunities to get out there and see how the locals live in the Osa Peninsula. Lokal Travel offers tons of amazing tours that gives visitors a unique glimpse into the culture and livelihoods of the local people. Best of all, your purchase of a tour directly supports and improves the community.
A few of my favorites include:
- An Overnight Stay in the Heart of the Jungle at Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre: Stay at a remote mountain jungle cabin in the heart of the rainforest and experience a local’s way of life.
- Learn about the Art of Traditional Sugar Can Milling at Trapiche Don Carmen
- Do an Artisanal Gold Mine Tour in Rancho Quemado
- And last but not least, eat at as many local places as you can! Every Ecolodge and local activity I did through Lokal Travel provided home-cooked, authentic Tico food. It was incredible!
The best way to get around in Costa Rica and especially to the remote Osa Peninsula is by plane. Due to Costa Rica’s size and types of roads, getting around via plane is fastest and usually not too expensive. However, be prepared that reaching the Osa Peninsula is not for the faint of heart. First, you have to get to Costa Rica landing at one of two international airports, either San Jose or Liberia are the two most common airports. Once there, the fastest and easiest way to reach the Osa Peninsula is via small propeller airline on either Sansa or Nature Air. If you don’t like small planes or landing on a tiny little airstrip, then you may prefer to take a boat or else do the long, arduous car ride on bumpy, unpaved roads. Yet flying is the most practical way to get there.
Depending on what part of the Osa you are visiting, you can fly to either the Drake Bay, Puerto Jimenez or Golfito airstrips. There are also two airstrips (one in and the other just outside) Corcovado National Park. I flew into Puerto Jimenez and out of Drake Bay.
Ready to Book
I booked my entire trip through Lokal, an online booking platform and marketplace for community-based tourism in remote places around the world. Lokal is unique in that it also helps support the local economy and protect the environment by offering ways for locals to embrace sustainable, responsible tourism.
Lokal represents a unique kind of travel opportunity to experience local life in untouched, remote and rural areas around the world. Places that most travelers would never ever dream of experiencing and a much needed income to preserve a way of life. All trips work to support local communities by putting money directly into the hands of locals and supporting work to preserve natural and cultural heritage. Generally, only 5% of money spent by tourism around the world goes back into local hands however with Lokal Travel 80% of the money is reinvested back into the community. It is a fantastic way to promote sustainable, responsible travel.
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I remember when you took this trip! Fun to see the photos again. If I hadn’t already been to Costa Rica three times, I might jump on this one!
Yes it was such a great trip! I’m putting a lot of my notes from trips into guides like this for friends who are planning on going. I’d do this one again in a heartbeat. I just love Costa Rica so much! 🙂
This sounds like a little slice of paradise. And you got some wonderful photos!
Thanks Alison! It was a pretty special trip!
It looks blissful, Nicole. It amazes me just how beautiful this world is. Especially the bits we haven’t managed to move in and spoil 🙂 🙂
Yes it does Jo! 🙂
It makes me so happy to see an article on Osa! My partner and I met doing fieldwork in the rainforest just outside Corcovado National Park in 2014. We stayed in local homestays and worked in the jungle every morning, then spent our afternoons enjoying the warm water without another tourist in sight. I have such lovely memories from Osa and it was great to re-live the time we spent there through your photos 🙂 thank you for sharing!
I just fell in love with the Osa. It is so special there. I bet the fieldwork was fascinating. Have you been back? I’d love to go back.