Costa Rica: The Osa Peninsula -- Pura Vida!

October-November 2003

This is an article from WaveLength Magazine, available in print in North America and globally on the web.
To download a pdf copy of the magazine click here: > DOWNLOAD

by Ted Leather
Our webmaster in the osa Peninsula, Cosat Rica
Mike Boston, biologist, local reptile expert of Osa Aventura Tours led me to this wonderful spot.
The tree is a kapok tree, or silk-cotton tree. It's latin name is Ceiba pentandra. Judging by Canadian standards, a tree of this size would have to be many centuries old, but with the climate in the Osa, things grow fast and i was told this is likely just over 100 years old.

As the webmaster for WaveLength Magazine, I normally write a small web article, but this issue I want to tell you about a magical place I visited last February, and not just ‘virtually’!

Serendipity arrived at my door a few years ago in the form of an old friend who had just bought a lodge in the wilds of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. She asked me if I would help with a website to promote Iguana Lodge.

After I finished that website, she had a friend in the Osa with a lodge who needed web help. One thing led to another and soon I found I was doing the web work for eight lodges and a couple of other businesses in the area.

One of the oddities of my business is that you can work for someone for years and never meet them. So I decided to remedy this last winter and visit Costa Rica. But even having worked with Osa websites for a few years left me unprepared for the wonder of the place.


THE OSA PENINSULA

Costa Rica map
The Osa is the southernmost peninsula on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica, just miles from the border of Panama. National Geographic describes the Osa as “one of the most biologically intense places on Earth” and it’s probably the best preserved tropical rainforest jungle in the Northern Hemisphere. The number and diversity of plant and animal species is astounding. For example, this small peninsula and surrounding area, has more species of trees—between 600 and 700—than Canada and the US combined. And don’t even get me started on the variety and splendour of the birds!

Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica map

Between the peninsula and the mainland of Costa Rica lies the Golfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf), of which Cousteau reported “the only cleaner waters in the world are the fjords of Norway”. It is extremely deep and has abundant sea life, like three species of dolphins, whalesharks, mantarays, sharks, and five species of sea turtles. But yes, I know, you want to hear about the paddling….

Our webmaster in the osa Peninsula, Cosat Rica
.
Tom Kayak of Escondito Trex took me on a kayak tour into one of the mangroves

PADDLING THE OSA

The Osa offers a wide range of paddling options, from kayaking the west coast in the open Pacific, to the quieter waters on the east side in the world famous Golfo Dulce. Or paddling up the Esquinas River into Piedras Blancas National Park to the peaceful, still waters of the mangroves. Kayak rentals are available in Puerto Jimenez.

The warm water temperatures allow you to snorkel from your kayak, or you can fish, and it’s not uncommon to see dolphins or even whales during your paddle. There is something to offer for every paddling skill level, from beginner on up. I did a mangrove kayak trip and some Golfo Dulce paddling. A word from the unwise— wear some sunscreen because even a mangrove trip involves some open water paddling and the sun is very strong at these latitudes.


OTHER ADVENTURES

Even though you may want to go to the Osa to paddle, you would be missing out on so much if you did not also set your feet on a path and explore the peninsula. You will see animal life, wild scarlet macaws, toucans, four species of monkeys, tapirs, anteaters, peccaries, and (if you are very lucky) a jaguar. Many of the trees are gigantic. The beaches are sandy and mostly deserted (there are only about 10,000 residents on the whole peninsula and half of those are in the town of Puerto Jimenez).

Our webmaster in the osa Peninsula, Cosat Rica
This is a photo I took of Joel Stewart of El Remanso Lodge rapelling down one of the four waterfalls that comprise his waterfall rapelling tour. This one is over 70 feet high. Joel is presently in Alaska, captaining one of the GreenPeace ships, Esperanza, trying to keep the forest service from clearcutting all the intact watersheds in the Tongass Forest. Joel has also captained the GreenPeace Rainbow Warrior.

Waterfall rappelling was one of the highlights of my trip, but I also highly recommend getting up into the upper canopy of the jungle, either by tree climbing or zip line. I was up 150 feet into the top of the rainforest—a whole different ecological niche where more wildlife exists than on the ground. Night time also offers great wildlife viewing, so be sure to get out on an escorted night hike.

Other activities include fishing, multi-day hiking into the Corcovado National Park, surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving, bird watching, horseback riding (a great way to explore the jungle) and—at certain times of the year—watching the hatching of the sea turtles.


WHAT TO EXPECT

Costa Ricans are well-educated people and very friendly. English will get you pretty far, but it is certainly helpful to speak a little Spanish.

After arriving in Costa Rica, there are three ways to get to the Osa Peninsula from the capital of San Jose. If your time is limited, I recommend flying (less than an hour). Both Nature Air and SANSA airlines fly to Puerto Jimenez, the largest town in the Osa. You can also rent a car and drive (around eight hours), but you need a 4- wheel drive as the roads are rough and unpaved and it is best to drive in the day time hours. For the truly adventurous, local buses are also available.

The Osa is not for the resort tourist. There are no big hotels, no high rises. Prior to ecotourism, the economy was primarily resource based (gold mining and forestry) and very destructive. But with the creation of the huge national parks, and the realization that the Osa is truly a unique ecosystem, it has been working hard to become a great wildlife/adventure destination.

Everything is on a small scale, which makes it more personal. The lodges typically accommodate from 12 to 25 people. Each of the seven lodges I stayed at offered great food and accommodations, and I was very impressed by the warmth of the owners and, as well as what they were doing to try to preserve the Osa.

The weather is warm all year. The dry season is from November to April, with February normally the driest and hottest month. Bugs and mosquitoes are not usually a problem, as I found even on my kayak trip in the mangrove.

Here are some websites to visit to get more info. I should say that many of the websites below, I have created, so in some sense I have a vested interest, but having visited these places, I can also say that in my opinion they are fantastic and what you see on the websites is what you will get.

Accommodations

Iguana Lodge www.iguanalodge.com (just outside Puerto Jimenez) owned by Toby and Lauren Cleaver. Lauren I met on my Central American travels 25 years ago and has remained a very good friend since. She and Toby were lawyers in Colorado, who decided to get off that treadmill, bought this lodge and moved themselves and their children to the Osa. Iguana Lodge has a fantastic beach, great food, access to lots of activities and a lovely ambiance. Some of my best memories of my trip are sitting around the evening meal, where everyone sits at one big table, and the discussions that would happen there, with folks from all over the world. Toby and Lauren also run a less expensive lodge right next door, The Pearl of the Osa.

El Remanso Lodge www.elremanso.com (Matapalo area) owned by Belen and Joel Stewart is 140 acres of prime rainforest jungle, with waterfalls (see the photo of Joel above), big trees, lots of wildlife, a pristine beach (see the photo index below) and is a birdwatcher's paradise. Just taking a short hike with Joel, one realizes how much he loves the ecology of the area. Arriving back afterwards, it takes him a while emptying his pockets of the seeds and nuts that he has picked up along the way, and discussing with the naturalist guide Sylvia, as to what they could be. There is so much diversity on the Osa, much has yet even to be classified.

Lookout Inn www.lookout-inn.com (Carate) is the gateway to the Corcovado National Park. It is a gorgeous setting as it sits on the cliffside with a panoramic view of the beach, ocean and sunsets, yet is just a minute walk to the beach. Did I mention it also had a pool? Must admit I did avail myself of that - still have the waterlogged wrinkles to prove it. Lots of wildlife here and is one of the very best spots for viewing scarlet macaws. Did not know before I went that scarlet macaws live to be about 80 years old.

Bosque del Rio Tigre www.osaadventures.com is a riverfront setting in the jungle. Just getting to the place is wonderful adventure in itself. Abraham, co-owner and a local Costa Rican has been walking the jungle paths for over 25 years and has a vast knowldge of the local ecology.

Activities

Osa Aventura www.osaaventura.com run by Mike Boston offers tours into the Corcovado national Park, an eco wonderland. Mike is a biologist and an expert on the reptiles of the area. The photo at the top of this article of me and the big tree was taken by Mike. I hope to get to the Osa again this winter and on the top of my list of things to do is have Mike take me into the Corcovado for a few day hike.

Escondito Trex www.escondidotrex.com is run by Tom Kayak, and offers kayaking, hiking and biking trip around the Osa and Gulfo Dulce. The kayaking photo above is one I took of Tom when he took me on the Mangrove Kayak Tour. Escondito Trex also offers kayak rentals.

Everyday Adventures www.everydaycostarica.com run by Andy and Terry, have tree climbing, waterfall rapelling, kayaking, hiking and birding tours

Aventuras Tropicales www.aventurastropicales.com is run by local Costa Ricans and offer kayaking, boating, fishing and hiking tours

Also the lodge you choose to stay with will likely be able to suggest and arrange your favourite activities, whether it be kayaking, horseback riding, fishing or any of the other activities mentioned above.

Photo Tour

Let me share a few of the photos I took on my Osa Peninsula adventure.

Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image
Me on a waterfall rapelling tour
Sunset at El Remanso Lodge
The beach at El Remanso

Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image
Me cooling off after a waterfall rapell
Joel Stewart of El Remanso cooling off
The beautiful scarlet macaw

Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image
I am getting prepared to zip line
Tom Kayak of Escondito Trex
The Osa Peninsula has great kayaking

Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image
The main rancho at Iguana Lodge
The fabulous beach at Iguana Lodge
Landing at the airport in Puerto Jimenez

Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image
Sunset at the Lookout Inn in Carate
View from the Lookout Inn in Carate
White faced monkeys

Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image
View from the deck of the Lookout Inn
A coati of the raccoon family
A toucan in the wild

Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image
Mike Boston of Osa Aventura
with a tree of the fig family

RIGHT: Same tree emerging
out of the jungle canopy
Mike Boston showing me another tree species - great example of buttress
roots

Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image Click the photo for a larger image
A trip up the Esquinas River
Sunset over the Gulfo Dulce
One of the species of anteater

Click the photo for a larger image
All of the images in this article were taken during my trip to the Osa.

Two were photographed by Joel Stewart (me waterfall rapelling)
and one by Mike Boston (the first photo of this article of me and the tree).
The rest were photographs that I took.

A scarlet macaw


© Ted Leather is the WaveLength Webmaster and owner of Clayrose Internet Creations on Gabriola Island. www.clayrose.com.