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Exploring (and relaxing in) Drake Bay

Drake Bay has got to be one of the most exotic and intimate destinations in Costa Rica. It is also one of the hardest to get to.

Getting there is an adventure. First, we drove five hours from San José along the Pan-American Highway, passing through Palmar Norte before arriving in Sierpe. This town’s namesake is the Sierpe River, which serves as a transport route to Drake Bay. Here, amid small docks, we boarded a boat sent by our hotel, Aguila de Osa Inn. Traveling the river is a great glimpse of things to come as you get further off the beaten path. Along the Sierpe we explored mangroves, stopped to check out birds and reptiles, and enjoyed the rustic atmosphere until we arrived at the river’s mouth. Then things really got moving.

The view from Aguila de Osa Lodge at Drake Bay. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
The view from Aguila de Osa Lodge at Drake Bay. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Where the Pacific meets the river, waves grow large enough to widen the eyes of most landlubbers. Our captain was expert, however, and quickly we entered the tranquility of the sea, where we saw three humpback whales rise to the surface, blow columns of water skyward, and gracefully plunge into the sea again. Ten minutes later we arrived at the hotel’s dock, where an incredible view from the hotel towards the bay greeted us.

Corcovado National Park, southern Pacific 

After a thirty-minute boat ride from the hotel, we entered the park at the San Pedrillo station, where we began a four-hour guided hike. Marked trails took us through primary and secondary rainforest. Sights along the trail included exotic plants, sloths, rocky river crossings, bats sleeping in a hollow tree trunk, a refreshing swimming hole, slippery mud and more. Our guide really brought the forest to life for us with his keen eyes and descriptions. Upon returning to the ranger station, we enjoyed a delicious lunch and headed back to the hotel.

Hiking Corcovado National Park, southern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Hiking Corcovado National Park, southern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Caño Island Biological Reserve

Located twelve nautical miles from the hotel, this island holds a hidden treasure. While not as rich in vegetation as neighboring Corcovado National Park, the life below the sea’s surface has made this island a world-famous snorkeling and scuba diving site.

Caño Island is one the tours to do when in Drake Bay, southern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Caño Island is one the tours to do when in Drake Bay, southern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Island tours include special scuba-equipped boats. When we explored the island, we saw humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins from above.

The island has walking trails, and you can visit an indigenous burying ground. Of course, scuba diving and snorkeling are not to be missed. In crystal-clear waters we saw schools of white trevally, trumpet fish, a small shark and myriad sea life. Don’t forget to apply plenty of sunscreen, especially on your back.

Back on the busy island, we had lunch and waited in the shade for our boat to pick us up.

Exploring the Agujitas river at Drake Bay. Kayaks can be rented at the near the mouth of the river. Also check with your hotel or lodge. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Exploring the Agujitas river at Drake Bay. Kayaks can be rented at the near the mouth of the river. Also check with your hotel or lodge. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Other activities

Sportfishing: This is very popular here. Within 80 nautical miles from the coast, you’ll find sailfish, black, blue and striped marlin, yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi, red snapper, and more. This area holds 40 records with the International Game Fish Association.

Birdwatching: Hummingbirds, toucans, scarlet macaws, woodpeckers and tanagers are easily spotted both on private trails and in Corcovado.

Canopy tour: This tour is in the community of Los Planes and has thirteen platforms that stretch between 190 and 400 meters – a long way to travel through the rainforest canopy.

Whale and dolphin watching: Costa Rica’s southern Pacific waters are warm year-round, which is perfect for species such as humpback and pilot whales, spinner, bottlenose and pantropical spotted dolphins are frequently seen.

How to get there:

From San José, take the Pan-American Highway south towards Palmar Norte. Turn towards Sierpe and, from there, the road to Drake Bay. The last stretch should only be attempted in a 4×4 vehicle, and roads may be impassible depending on the climate and condition of the road as rivers frequently flood. Ask your tour operator or locals about conditions.

By boat: There is a small dock in Sierpe where hotels send their boats. Many other boats leave Sierpe to stock Drake Bay with supplies.

By air: Sansa (www.flysansa.com) and Nature Air (www.natureair.com) have daily direct flights to Drake Bay.

Where to stay:

www.aguiladeosa.com

www.casacorcovado.com

www.corcovadozone.com

www.lapalomalodge.com

Taking a dip during a hike at Corcovado National Park, southern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Taking a dip during a hike at Corcovado National Park, southern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Hanging out after the hike at San Pedrillo, Corcovado National Park. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Hanging out after the hike at San Pedrillo, Corcovado National Park. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Mangroves, Sierpe, southern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: andrés Madrigal
Mangroves, Sierpe, southern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Corcovado National Park, southern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Corcovado National Park, southern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
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