Introduction to the Osa Peninsula
The Osa Peninsula's location on Costa Rica's southern Pacific coast makes accessing the region a journey in itself. It's more rugged, remote, and less busy than other points on Costa Rica's tourist trail. Those who do venture to eclectic Osa go for every type of trip imaginable: honeymoons, health and wellness retreats, birding tours, active adventure, and more. It offers some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the country, and its biodiversity includes endangered wildlife such as squirrel monkeys and scarlet macaws.
This array of offerings is impressive for a small portion of an already small Central American nation. Located in Puntarenas Province, the Osa Peninsula (Costa Rica's second largest peninsula) runs about 20 miles from its northeast to southwest point and 35 miles from the northwest to the southeast end. Occupying much of Osa's southwest area is Corcovado National Park, a protected reserve that National Geographic called "one of the most biologically intense places on earth."
Like northern Costa Rica's Guanacaste Province, the Osa Peninsula is mostly flatland (good for cattle grazing)—at its highest point, Tiger Hill reaches an altitude of a mere 2,566 feet. What makes it stand out is that the peninsula is flanked by two bodies of water. On the west side lies the Pacific Ocean. To the east is the Golfo Dulce. Within the peninsula are protected rainforests teeming with wildlife; on the coasts are boundless options for diving and snorkeling. Here's how you can enjoy it all.
Crafting Your Itinerary
If you're planning on visiting just the Osa Peninsula during your Costa Rican holiday, a week is a great amount of time. This gives you plenty of time for hiking excursions into the park, visiting both sides of the peninsula, and indulging in the many aquatic activities on hand like snorkeling and scuba diving. Consider this 5-day tour of Osa, which includes a guided hike through Corcovado National Park and a scuba diving session at the Isla del Caño coral reef.
If you are planning a two-week stay in Costa Rica, you can tack on Corcovado to an itinerary featuring other national parks in the country, like Tortuguero and Manuel Antonio, spending a few days in each. This 12-day wildlife adventure features 3 days of birding, nature night walks, and other fauna-centric activities in Corcovado between visits to Parque Nacional Volcán Poás and Monteverde.
The Osa Peninsula is small enough that there is really only one major hub: Puerto Jimenez. This beach town sits on the inside of the Golfo Dulce, one of only four tropical fjords in the world. Lately, more and more adventurers are coming here for its world-class snorkeling and diving. The gulf's inner basin plunges to a whopping depth of 700 feet, but has a shallow outer basin with an abundance of marine life, including large pods of spinner dolphins.
Puerto Jimenez is a small town of 9,000 people and is accessible via air, with local carrier Sansa offering flights from San José. Most people who arrive in Puerto Jimenez journey onward to Bahía Drake, on the northwest of the peninsula (Sansa offers flights to Bahía Drake as well). Because Puerto Jimenez has more infrastructure than many other points on Osa, it's an ideal spot to book a day or overnight excursion into neighboring Corcovado National Park. It's also possible to book excursions to the park from Bahía Drake, which borders the park to the north—to arrive there, you'll travel by boat down the coast.
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park is a 164-square-mile protected area and prime tourist draw to the Osa Peninsula. It's regarded as the most remote and secluded of Costa Rica's national parks, and therefore the most difficult to access. It's also known as one of the most biodiverse areas of the country. This is a net positive for anyone who wants to see some of the nation's most exotic flora and fauna unencumbered by massive crowds.
You can tour the park (either day trips or overnight) from Puerto Jimenez or Bahía Drake, and the park does charge an entrance fee. It's also required that you enter with a certified guide, which means booking an excursion is a pre-requisite. This is a positive, though, as guides can add insight into the natural highlights of the area as well as keep you from getting lost.
Park access points
There are four principal ranger stations in the park—San Pedrillo, Sirena, La Leona, and Los Patos. The ranger stations occupy the northwestern, southern, and eastern sides of the park, and tourist trails connect each one. Each trail offers many opportunities for wildlife and nature spotting. Most trails can be traversed on a day trip, but some, like the Los Patos-La Sirena route, can only be done on an overnight or multi-day trek.
Flora and fauna
Corcovado is home to one of the most significant areas of virgin rainforest in Central America. The wildlife population within in its bounds is nothing short of staggering. Here you'll find all four species of monkey (howler monkey, white-faced capuchin, squirrel monkey, and spider monkey) that exists in Costa Rica. The red-eyed tree frog lives here, as do jungle cats. In fact, the jaguar population is healthier in Corcovado than any other spot in Central America. That said, it's still more likely that visitors will spot one of the other cats that thrive in the area, namely pumas, ocelots, and margays. Other animals on hand include sloths, anteaters, and tapirs.
As for the waterways in the park, they are home to both crocodiles and caimans. Coastal aquatic species include bull sharks and dolphins. Birders will enjoy spotting endangered species like tiger herons, black vultures, chestnut-billed toucans, and the scarlet macaw. There are venomous snakes in the park as well, including pit vipers, bushmasters, and coral snakes. The largest snake in the park is the massive (albeit non-venomous) boa constrictor.
Bahía Drake (Drake Bay) is one of the most remote outposts in the southern Pacific region, perfect for anyone who wants to escape the tourist hoards and commune with nature. The area is accessible via airstrip or boat in the principal village of Agujitas, which is a jumping off point for the peninsula's famed water activities. Inveterate divers and snorkelers typically book a quick excursion to nearby Cano Island Biological Reserve, described below.
Dolphins and whale watching
It's not uncommon to see large groups of dolphins frolicking offshore of Drake Bay. These are principally comprised of the common pantropical spotted dolphin. While these animals are impressive on their own, another aquatic mammal you're likely to spot is the humpback whale. That's because there are two migratory seasons that converge in Southern Costa Rica, and offshore of Drake Bay in particular. Northern humpbacks can be seen from December to April, while southern whales pass by from July to November. Here they are principally engaged in the act of courtship, mating, or even giving birth.
Cano Island Biological Reserve
Many who visit the northwestern end of the Osa Peninsula choose to make a combined trip to both Bahía Drake and the Cano Island Biological Reserve. Located 10 miles west of Drake, it offers the same epic scuba and snorkeling conditions as you'll find on the mainland, plus a bit of Pre-Columbian mysticism. The island was once home to an indigenous population, and evidence of their existence is seen in the perfectly round, hand-carved stone spheres that can still be found here.
Cano Island became a protected biological reserve in 1978. Park rangers often don't let visitors journey on land, instead restricting them to the marine area surrounding its coasts. That means there are many opportunities for boat tours and excursions from Bahía Drake to Cano.
Snorkeling and diving Cano Island
Snorkelers and divers who visit the island will be treated to Costa Rica's largest concentration of coral-building organisms on the Pacific coast. Various species of fish thrive here, including puffers, barracuda, moray eels, tunas, and parrot fish. Other marine life includes reef sharks, manta rays, bull sharks, and olive ridley sea turtles, the last of which travel between the peninsula and the island to lay their eggs. Like with Bahía Drake, an abundance of dolphins and whales pass by Cano Island.
And if you can't get enough aquatic adventures in Costa Rica, see our list of the best water activities in the country.
When to Go
We recommend visiting the Osa Peninsula during the dry season, between May and early November. Understand that it's not uncommon for rain showers in this southern region to occur through December. That's also the prime tourist month, meaning it's going to be more crowded (and thus more expensive) than at other times of the year. Consider traveling during January or February, when it's slightly cheaper, less crowded, and dry but with some residual greenery left over from the rainy season.
Like most other areas in Costa Rica, there are two weather seasons in the Osa Peninsula, with the rainy season officially lasts from mid-November through April. However, because the Osa Peninsula is a lowland coastal zone, you can expect hotter climates year round. Average temperatures are around 85°F but can spike to 95°F during the dry season, especially in April. December is the coolest month, with 80°F averages, and 73°F minimum temps. There's also high humidity in the Osa Peninsula, ranging from 60% to 90%.
You'll want to plan for every eventuality, regardless if you're traveling during the dry or rainy season (rain showers occur all year in this area). Pack plenty of warm-weather clothing but also water-resistant clothing and a bathing suit. Sunscreen is a must, as is bug spray. Sunglasses and hats are recommended and bring a refillable water bottle with a minimum capacity of one liter. If you're venturing into Corcovado National Park, pack all of the above plus hiking boots and rugged clothing like khakis, and, if you're overnighting, sleeping gear.
Where to Stay & Eat
You won't find a great diversity of lodging in Puerto Jimenez, although there are some rustic cabanas and high-end lodges. If you do want to splurge, consider the Iguana Lodge, a sprawling luxury resort on the beach. The staff will happily book your excursions, and the lodge features tennis courts, a "jungle spa," 55-foot pool, and not one but two yoga studios. (And if yoga is indeed your thing, be sure to see our list of the best yoga retreats in the country.)
For dining, don't miss one of the culinary stars in town: Marisquería Corcovado. They do every kind of seafood under the sun, from ceviche and sushi to paella and octopus pasta. There's nothing like enjoying fresh-caught fish and epic ocean views.
We recommend zipping across the gulf in a boat to Playa Cativo Lodge. Not only is this luxury boutique option situated on an inviting beach, but it's surrounding by the 35,000-acre Piedras Blancas National Park. Of course, the lodge runs nature excursions into the park, and you can also embark on whale watching and dolphin spotting from here. For food, their organic restaurants El Gavilán sources ingredients from the lodge's own garden. For Italian fare in Puerto Jimenez proper, enjoy the fresh grilled red snapper and romantic sunset views at Il Giardino.
The order of the day at Bahía Drake is relaxation in relative solitude. There are a number of eco-lodges in which to pull up a hammock and recharge. A solid three-star option is La Paloma Lodge, which is remote but features sweeping views of the Pacific, as well as modern conveniences like wifi. They can also arrange activities like scuba diving, sport-fishing, and whale watching. For dining in Bahía Drake, stop in at Casa El Tortugo. It offers lagoon views and you can get a hearty breakfast, a fresh seafood salad, or a fancy dinner of filet mignon.
La Sirena has the most infrastructure of any of the other ranger stations in the park. Construction has been going on here since 2017, and now there are not only camping options but lodging featuring bunk beds and mosquito nets. There's a restaurant on site, which is good because as of this writing it's prohibited to bring your own food into Corcovado.
If you plan to drive around the Osa Peninsula, be sure to rent a 4x4—the local roads here are unpaved.
While it's possible to book excursions into Corcovado from Puerto Jimenez, there are more access routes and hiking options if you enter from Bahía Drake.
Your best chance at spotting the elusive jaguar is in the more remote areas near La Sirena and San Pedrillo.
Humidity can be oppressive on Osa. If planning on hiking the park, wear fast-drying clothing and bring a microfiber towel.