Southern Costa Rica & Península de Osa
From the chilly heights of Cerro Chirripó (12532ft, 3820m) to the steamy coastal jungles of the Península de Osa, this sector of Costa Rica encompasses some of the country's most remote land. Vast tracts of forest remain untouched in Parque Internacional La Amistad, and the country's most visible indigenous groups – the Bribrí, Cabécar, Boruc and Ngöbe – maintain traditional ways of living in their territories.
Quetzal sightings around San Gerardo de Dota are frequent, and scarlet-macaw appearances are the norm along the coast. Monkeys, sloths and coatis roam the region's abundant parks and reserves, and in Parque Nacional Corcovado there's also the rare chance to spy on slumbering tapir. Meanwhile, the rugged coasts of the Golfo Dulce and Península de Osa captivate travelers with empty beaches, world-class surf and opportunities for rugged exploration.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Southern Costa Rica & Península de Osa.
Around 500km southwest of the Costa Rica mainland, Isla del Coco is a natural wonder that teems with wildlife, including the largest schools of hammerhead sharks on the planet. For that reason, divers descend from all corners, often venturing out on liveaboard trips with companies like Aggressor and Undersea Hunter. There's also some fascinating pirate history here, and apparently some buried treasure.
The world-class Wilson Botanical Garden is internationally known for its collection of more than 2000 native Costa Rican species. Species threatened with extinction are preserved here for possible reforestation in the future. A trail map is available for self-guided walks amid exotic species such as orchids, bromeliads and medicinal plants. Guided walks are at 7:30am and 1:30pm. The botanical garden is a choice spot for birders, as it draws hundreds of Costa Rican and migrating species, as well numerous butterfly species.
About 2km past the trailhead to Cerro Chirripó you will find the entrance to the mystical, magical Cloudbridge Nature Reserve. Covering 283 hectares on the side of Cerro Chirripó, this private reserve is an ongoing reforestation and preservation project founded by Genevieve Giddy and her late husband Ian. A network of trails traverses the property, which is easy to explore independently. Even if you don't get far past the entrance, you'll find two waterfalls, including the magnificent Catarata Pacifica.
Queso is not Costa Rica’s strong suit, but this little cheese operation, run by a former president’s son, is one example to the contrary. Abel Pacheco has been living on this remote farm with his wife since the '80s, honing his craft and hand-producing the tastiest dry-aged Swiss around.
This site, 4km north of Sierpe, offers the best opportunity to view the mysterious pre-Columbian spheres created by the Diquís civilization between 300 BCE and 1500 CE, in their originally discovered locale, near culturally significant mounds 30m in diameter. In their original setting, one can really appreciate their size and perfect sphericity. The onsite museum screens an informative video on the spheres' significance and purpose, and there are other fascinating artifacts on display here, such as stone sculptures and metates (grain-grinding stones) unique to the Diquís.
Set on a verdant hillside between Pavones and Punta Banco, Tiskita Jungle Lodge consists of 100 hectares of virgin forest and a huge orchard, which produces more than 125 varieties of tropical fruit. Trails wind through surrounding rainforest, which contains waterfalls and freshwater pools suitable for swimming. The combination of rainforest, fruit farm and coastline attracts a long list of birds (about 300 species have been recorded here). Hikes led by knowledgeable local guides are available with advance reservations.
Just past Playa San Josecito is the less famous but more impressive beach, Playa Rincon de San Josecito. It's a vast stretch of sand – 1km or more – backed by palm trees swaying in the breeze. There's one lodge fronting the beach, and little else. Picturesque rocky outcrops punctuate either end, completing the idyllic scene. Fabulous spot to watch the sunset, with the added advantage that it's accessible by car.
While much of the Cordillera de Talamanca is difficult to access, Costa Rica’s highest peak, Cerro Chirripó (3820m), is the focus of popular two-day ascents from San Gerardo de Rivas. Most hikers go up to Crestones Base Lodge and summit at sunrise the following day.
Just west of Punta Agujitas, a short detour off the main trail leads to the picturesque Playa Cocalito, a secluded cove perfect for sunning, swimming and body surfing.