Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula – Costa Rica

Red and green poison frogRed and green poisonous frog (Oophaga granulifera)

Drake Bay is a small settlement on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Perched between the Pacific Ocean and miles upon miles of pristine jungle environment, it is most popular as an entry point to the nearby Corcovado National Park – the biggest park in Costa Rica. Although accessible by car, the road conditions are unpredictable and driving requires skill and a 4×4 vehicle. During the wet season things are obviously worse and the best course of action is to fly into the nearby airstrip. Flights from San Jose are short and relatively cheap, and give great views over the Osa Peninsula. Even flying can have its challenges though – on our way back to the airstrip at the end of our trip a river had flooded, cutting us off completely. Luckily the locals are quite used to this type of situation and a nearby JCB was soon acquired so we could cross the river in its scoop!

Aerial view of Drake Bay

Aerial view of Drake Bay

Although primarily used as a dropping off point for Corcovado, Drake Bay does have a few attractions of its own. Several hiking trips that can be taken to nearby rivers and waterfalls, and local boat owners who offer snorkeling and whale watching trips mean it is worth spending a night or two here. We stayed at Las Cotingas, which has a great view over the ocean.

After eating lunch at a local restaurant and spotting dozens of different types of birds while sitting on the balcony, we took some vague directions for a waterfall hike from the barman and set off. Being essentially a one-street village, we rapidly found ourselves on a dirt track leading into the forest. This track quickly changed into a narrow trail, which itself abruptly stopped at the end of a clear, shallow, and slow-moving river. The barman had told us the path crossed the river many times, sticking close to it as it made its way to the waterfall. After struggling for a few minutes to find the start of the trail on the other side, we figured the surest way to find the waterfall would be to simply wade the river. The water was spectacular – cool and clear and never higher than knee-deep. With the jungle reaching down right to its edge, we felt peaceful, completely isolated from all around us – so different from the previous, highly regulated hiking we have done in El Salvador, where groups often need to be accompanied by armed guards. Even as the light afternoon rain turned into a down pour we felt perfectly cool in this oasis in the jungle.

Green honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza)

Green honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza) in Drake Bay

Drake Bay waterfall hike

Hiking down the river to the waterfall near Drake Bay

One of the other activities I would highly recommend in Drake Bay is a night walk. These cannot be done in Corcovado National Park itself, but Drake Bay is surrounded by dense jungle – and animals are unaware of the park boundaries! We arranged our local guide through our hotel, and he turned out to be an expert at spotting wildlife. He also asked which particular animals we were interested in (frogs) spotting and made special effort to find them. I wanted to say “snakes” but thought better of it! Hiking through the jungle with only a torch to break the pitch darkness is a half-exhilarating, half-frightening experience, and I tried to push out of my head thoughts of what may be lying inches from my feet.

Katydid at night, Drake Bay

Katydid resting on a leaf at night, Drake Bay

Red and green poison frog

Red and green poisonous frog (Oophaga granulifera)

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