Last week I had a spectacular vacation on the Osa Peninsula, and I want to share my experiences as an aid to other travelers. Be forewarned that my account is rather long.
I flew from the United States to San Jose and spent a night there before flying to Puerto Jimenez on Nature Air. When I got off the plane, coming from my cold northern climate and relatively cool San Jose, I was immediately struck by the heat and humidity. It was a nice change from winter, but it took a little getting used to.
It was an easy walk from the airport with my backpack to Cabinas Marcelina in the center of Puerto Jimenez, which is a very small town. Puerto Jimenez has the gritty charm of a frontier outpost, which is really what it is. The town has all of the essentials: a good supermarket, an Internet café, a couple of restaurants and places to sleep, a bank with an ATM, and that’s about it. At Cabinas Marcelina, I met my guide for the next day’s hike into Corcovado National Park and my two companions on that hike, who also happened to be staying at Cabinas Marcelina. (I booked this guide through Surcos Tours, who arranged all of the necessary permits and reservations for no additional fee.) After meeting with them and discussing the hike ahead, I headed out into the small and very walkable town and took care of errands. Afterwards, I had dinner at Il Giardino, the town’s one Italian restaurant, which I had heard had the best food in town. If so, then the town is not a culinary center, because my meal was just mediocre and not much cheaper than a mediocre pizza and pasta place in a small U.S. town. I found Cabinas Marcelina a fair bargain. I had a clean but very basic room for $25, my cheapest room of the trip. I think the price includes breakfast, but I left too early the next morning for that. A surprise bonus was the hot shower. My room had no air conditioning, but there are more expensive rooms that have it. I was glad not to have AC, because sleeping without it helped me acclimate. The room had a fan. There were no screens on the windows, so I was glad that I had brought a lightweight mosquito net.
The next morning, our guide met us at 4:30 for the drive by taxi (high-clearance SUV) to Los Patos, where we would begin our hike. The taxi cost $70, which we split three ways. Amazingly, there was a little bakery open in Puerto Jimenez at that hour, where we were able to get coffee and baked goods. Then we set off on the bone-rattling drive to Los Patos. Along the way, in the twilight, we saw an anteater along the road. At Los Patos, we set out on our 19 km (12 mile) hike on the jungle trail to Sirena. The trail is a bit rugged with a few steep spots for the first 6 km or so, then it evens out and gets easier. Still, I would not attempt this trail unless you are reasonably fit. I was glad that I had done some training hikes before my trip. Because of the distance and the heat, you need to carry 3 liters (nearly a gallon) of water. Partly for this reason, you should aim to pack as lightly as possible. I took just one change of clothes with me to Sirena. (I left a third change of clothes and other items I did not need on the hike back in Puerto Jimenez to claim after the hike.) The ranger station has lines on which you can hang clothes to dry. If you wash your clothes from the first day’s hike when you get to Sirena and wring them out well, they will be dry by the third day, at least during the dry season.
On the way to Sirena, our wonderful guide, Erick Gomez (alias “Horta”) spotted a large pack of white-lipped peccary. These can be dangerous, so we kept a respectful distance. He also pointed out to us all four species of monkey that live in Costa Rica (the capuchin monkey, spider monkey, black howler monkey, and the adorable squirrel monkey). None of the rest of us on the hike were aware of the monkeys until Erick pointed them out to us, so I was very grateful for his skilled services. Along the trail, he also pointed out a juvenile fer-de-lance snake. It was almost impossible to see because of its camouflage pattern that allows it to blend in with the leaves where it rests. Because this snake is highly venomous and dangerous, it was good to know that Erick could spot it for us. On our hike, Erick also showed us a number of beautiful birds, some of the majestic rainforest trees, including the giant fig tree and the majestic ceiba tree. We also saw some very interesting snakes, lizards, and frogs. In the forest, we also saw a couple of tapirs amid the trees off the trail.
Finally we arrived, tired and sweaty, at Sirena Ranger Station. The cold showers there were very welcome. My hiking companions stayed in the dorm, which I had heard, and they confirmed, was ovenlike and hard to sleep in. I stayed in a tent without a flysheet on Sirena’s open-air but roofed tent platform. The light fabric of my tent kept flies out but let the breeze in. I slept beautifully in my tent at Sirena. We had arranged to eat breakfast and dinner at Sirena’s cafeteria so as not to have to carry food with us. The food was standard Costa Rican casados: gallo pinto with every meal, plus eggs, fruit, and juice at breakfast and a piece of meat with sauce and a salad and dessert for dinner. The meals were simple but tasty enough. The coffee at breakfast was quite good. I really liked the atmosphere at Sirena Station. It is very informal and something like a hostel. At age 48, I was one of the oldest people there. It was a very international group of 30-40 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, from four different continents and probably 10 different countries. It was mostly a friendly group with a shared passion for nature. In the evening and the early morning, people would gather on the porch of the station for quiet conversation and the possibility of sighting one of the nocturnal animals.
On our second day at Sirena, Erick led us on a couple hikes on the trails around the station. On one of these trails we saw a puma, maybe 15 meters away. This was exciting but brief, because the puma took a look at us and quickly headed off into the forest. We also saw an agouti, a sleeping tapir, and, at the mouth of the Rio Sirena, a large crocodile resting on the sand just 20 meters across the river. Unfortunately, our hike the second day was cut short by heavy rain, which lasted all afternoon.
The next day, we left the station at 4:30 to take advantage of the cool morning air and the twilight window for seeing nocturnal animals. Knowing of my caffeine addiction, Erick kindly prepared coffee for me that morning. On the way out of Sirena, another guide told Erick that he had seen a puma resting 50 meters off the trail eating a kill. We waited a bit while the other guide went back to the station to get his telescope. While we could barely see the puma from the trail in the morning light, with the telescope, we could watch him while he devoured what one guide thought was probably a monkey. While we were watching the puma eat, a coati passed a few meters away. After watching the puma for a bit, we set off on the 17 km (10+ mile) hike from Sirena to Carate. This involved crossing a couple rivers that were deep enough that I felt I needed to take off my boots. This trail was mostly along the beach, which was beautiful but very hot. On this trail, a hat and sunscreen are essential for protection from the sun. We did not see much wildlife on this trail aside from some spider monkeys and quite a few scarlet macaws, along with some seabirds. Finally, we reached Carate, where we enjoyed a cold drink at the snack bar before taking our taxi (again $70, split three ways) back to Puerto Jimenez.
After this hike, I collected my things in Puerto Jimenez and took another taxi ($30) to my accommodation for the rest of the week, Ojo del Mar. Ojo del Mar is an ecotourism lodging 12 km (8 miles) on the beach south of Puerto Jimenez, near Cape Matopalo. After the adventure and the (well-rewarded) effort of the Corcovado hike, I was looking for a peaceful and beautiful place to relax. That is exactly what I found at Ojo del Mar.
Ojo del Mar is a group of beautiful bamboo cabins and tents. The cabins are raised above the ground, with low walls and sloping roofs, but largely open to the air. The roofs provide shade and shelter from the rain, while the open construction lets the cooling breezes in. Each cabin has its own open-air shower and sink. Ojo del Mar is off the grid, and cabins are provided with candles for lighting after dark. There is a main house powered by solar electricity where meals are served. Every meal I had there was delicious, prepared to fine-dining standards from fresh local ingredients. They cater to vegetarians, though they also offer dishes with poultry or fish. Lodgings come with breakfast, and dinner is available for an additional charge. The dinners were a real feature of my stay there, and not just because they were delicious. Everyone eats at a single table, and I enjoyed interesting conversations there. Morning yoga lessons are also available.
My first day at Ojo del Mar, I mainly just wanted to relax. So I mostly lay in the hammock in my cabin and read and wrote. At one point, I took a leisurely walk along the beach.
My second day, I felt a little more ambitious, so I walked down the road to Matopalo Beach and then up the trail to the breathtaking King Louis Waterfall. (I literally gasped when I first saw it.) It is quite beautiful. I then hiked some of the trails above the waterfall on the cape headlands, through beautiful forests and with views across the Golfo Dulce toward Panama. After this, I hiked on forest trails through some of the beautiful Bosque del Cabo lands. These trails are posted with signs that they are open to Bosque del Cabo guests only, so I suppose I was sort of trespassing, though I would have offered to pay for access if I had encountered anyone. However, I had all of these trails to myself for this entire day. Finally, I hiked back to Ojo del Mar down the main Carate-Jimenez road, which has very light traffic.
On my third day, sadly, I had to leave the beautiful Osa Peninsula. I shared a taxi to the airport with two other guests from Ojo del Mar and flew back to San Jose on Nature Air for one more night before flying back to the States.
I have only good things to say about Nature Air. They were efficient, on schedule, and professional. The planes seem well maintained.
As for the Osa Peninsula, I have fallen in love. The haunting and magical beauty of Osa’s forests, the beautiful birds and other wildlife, and the tranquility of its almost deserted beaches really touched my heart.