Drake Bay (known locally as Bahía Drake, pronounced “Drah-kay”) is named after Sir Francis Drake, who's said to have anchored here in 1579. Today a favourite spot for sailors, the calm waters of Drake Bay are dotted with flotillas of swish-looking yachts. What's more, it's a great base from which to explore the outstandingly biodiverse Corcovado National Park. Plan your trip to Drake Bay with our guide to Drake Bay — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
The best travel tips for visiting Drake Bay
On the Osa Peninsula, Drake Bay is one of the most stunning areas in Costa Rica. The blue wedge of Isla del Caño floats 20km off the coast, with fiery-orange Pacific sunsets enhancing its allure.
The bay is rich in marine life, and a number of boat trips offer opportunities for spotting manta rays, marine turtles, porpoises and whales.
The bay’s lone settlement of any size is the sprawling village of Agujitas, which acts as the area’s main transport hub. Both Drake Bay and Agujitas make a good base to explore Corcovado National Park, as the park’s San Pedrillo entrance is within a day’s walk.
Visitors can combine serious trekking with serious comfort by staying at one of the region’s upmarket rainforest ecolodge-type hotels.
Note that there are very few facilities at Drake Bay. As there are no banks or ATMs, bring all the cash you will need with you.
The boat ride to Drake Bay
The lancha trip to Drake Bay from Sierpe down the scenic mangrove-lined Río Sierpe is serene and provides plenty of opportunity to spot monkeys, sloths and sometimes kingfishers.
The journey’s tranquility dissolves abruptly when you see the Pacific rolling in at the mouth of the river. The Sierpe is very wide where it meets the sea, and huge breakers crash in from the ocean. This makes it a turbulent and treacherous crossing (sharks reportedly wait here for their dinner). If the tide is right and the boatman knows his water, you’ll be fine.
While all the lanchas used by the lodges have powerful outboard motors, and there’s little chance of an accident, some find this part of the trip a little unsettling. Be assured, though, once you're out in Drake Bay, the water is calm.
What to do in Drake Bay
#1 Snorkel and dive idyllic Isla del Caño
The exposed part of an underwater mountain, the uninhabited Isla del Caño is a gorgeous sight in the distance, and going there is even better.
Around 20km due west of Drake Bay itself (1hr by boat), Reserva Biológica Isla del Caño — a mere 3km long by 2km wide — is a stunning place to be wowed by marine life.
Drake Divers runs snorkelling (US$850) and diving (US$14035) trips to Caño, as well as dolphin and whale-watching tours (from US$1195).
With visits restricted to the beach-landing area, day-trips focus on the island’s prime snorkelling and diving opportunities, with five dive sites around the island.
Underwater you’ll see coral beds and a variety of marine life, including spiny lobsters and sea cucumbers, snappers, sea urchins, manta rays and the occasional barracuda.
On the surface, porpoises and olive ridley turtles are often spotted. Less frequently, there are sightings of humpback and even sperm whales.
Be sure to book ahead as there’s a daily cap on the number of visitors (100 people 7–11am, another 100 11am–3pm). In addition, only ten divers are allowed in the water at a time.
#2 Hike and watch wildlife in Corcovado National Park
Protecting a beautiful, biologically complex area of land, Corcovado National Park is the reason most people come to the Osa Peninsula. All of Drake Bay’s cabinas and lodges can help arrange guided hikes to Corcovado.
While the park’s diverse terrain includes deserted beaches, wild waterfalls, dense forests, riverways and mangroves, hikers can expect to spend most of their time on the beach trails. These ring the outer perimeters of the peninsular section of the park.
The park’s three longest trails all lead from the peripheral ranger stations to Sirena, where you can stay in the lodge and explore trails around the Río Sirena.
While the trails are undeniably challenging, they're also incredibly rewarding, and made it into our overview of the best hikes in Costa Rica.
As for the wildlife, many people visit Corcovado National Park to spotmargay, ocelot, tapir, puma and other rarely seen animals. Among Corcovado’s resident birds is the scarlet macaw. Around 300 live in the park — more than anywhere else in Costa Rica.
If you're into wildlife-watching, our customisable Costa Rica's Wild South trip includes Corcovado National Park.
#3 Fly through the forest on a canopy tour
Drake Bay Getaway offers opportunities to fly through the forest via 12 ziplines.
It’s a hands-down exhilarating experience, with ziplining tours departing daily at 7.30am, 10.30am, 1.30pm and 4pm.
Using a combination of cables, pulleys and mountaineering harnesses, adventurers get to soar through the jungle canopy, reaching heights of up to 300 feet.
With viewing platforms and a hanging bridge, the tour takes between two and three hours and takes you into the habitats of howler monkeys, toucans and white-faced capuchins.
#4 Swim and chill on a Drake Bay Floating Tour
One of the best local tours in the Drake Bay area begins with a hike through primary forest. Note that the first stretch of hiking isn’t easy. It’s slippery in parts, so you’ll need decent footwear.
After hiking for around two hours — with a guide on hand to point out wildlife and notable flora — you’ll reach a waterfall deep in the jungle. Here you can refresh yourself by swimming in the pure water for half an hour or so.
The experience continues with a leisurely float down the river to Rio Clara beach.
Floating Tours set off at 8am and take 5-6 hours in all, with lunch in town after the experience.
#5 Uncover insects and amphibians at night
Beyond trips to Corcovado and Isla del Caño, there’s one activity not to be missed in Bahía Drake — the fascinating night time insect tour.
Led by an enthusiastic American biologist known as “Tracie the Bug Lady” (aka Tracie Stice) and Costa Rican naturalist Gianfranco Gómez, the tour explores the fascinating world of nocturnal insects, arachnids and other animals. With luck, you’ll spot a trapdoor spider or a caecilian, an extremely rare and little-known amphibian.
The 2hr30 minute trip departs from a few of the bay’s lodges and run daily at 7.30pm. Costing US$460/person, prior reservation is required.
Best places to stay in Drake Bay
Most Drake Bay accommodation is clustered either in the tiny village of Agujitas itself, or on Punta Agujitas, the rocky point on the other side of Río Agujitas.
Virtually all the ecolodges offer a range of tours, from guided excursions to Corcovado to boat trips around Bahía Drake and out to Isla del Caño.
The larger lodges often bring visitors on packages from San José, sometimes including transport from the capital, Palmar or Sierpe.
The packages usually include three meals a day. Given that there are few eating options in Bahía Drake, this is good news.
Nature-lovers interested in getting off the beaten track might want to consider staying in Campanario Biological Station. This remote field station offers courses in tropical ecology and packages for hardy ecotourists not fazed by its isolation.
The station has dorms, plus five simple but private cabins (sleeping 4–6) with cold-water bathrooms. Tours offered include short walks, long hikes or all-day expeditions to Corcovado National Park, as well as trips to deforested and impacted areas to talk to local communities.
Although hoteliers say you can’t camp in the Drake area, people do – if you want to join them, pitch your tent considerately and be sure to leave no litter. Alternatively, check out Corcovado Adventures Tent Camp, 2km west of Agujitas.
How to get around Drake Bay
In good news if you don't have your own wheels, most Drake Bay hotels can hook you up with local transportation For example, they can arrange trips to beaches, Corcovado National Park and Isla del Caño.
In addition, from most hotels, you can walk to downtown Drake Bay within a half an hour.
Taxis are also readily available — your lodge or hotel reception desk can arrange them for you.
How many days do you need Drake Bay?
While you could feasibly explore the Drake Bay area in 2-3 days, most people allocate five to seven days to explore the wider Osa Peninsula.
Given the sheer magnitude of its natural attractions, it would be a crying shame to only spend a few days on the peninsula, especially if you want to walk the trails and see wildlife in Corcovado National Park.
Indeed, most people allot five to seven days to the area, taking it at a relaxed pace.
What is the best time to visit Drake Bay?
The Osa Península, including Drake Bay, doesn’t have an especially marked a dry season. Although the months from December to April are less wet, the region gets very wet at other times. This is a result of localised wind patterns from the Pacific.
In fact, the peninsula receives up to 5000mm of rain a year, with spectacular seasonal thunder and lightning storms cantering in across the Pacific from around October to December.
Given that you’ll almost certainly be planning to visit Corcovado National Park as part of your trip to Drake Bay, note that parts of the park become more or less unwalkable in the rainy season.
In addition, local roads become impassable due to surging rivers, and everything gets more difficult. This makes it a good time to come if you want to avoid the crowds, but you’ll need a 4WD and lots of patience. You’ll also need to be prepared for the fact that heavy rains can close the park, especially in October and November.
All that considered, the best time to visit Drake Bay is between December and April.
For more on the best time to visit different destinations in Costa Rica, read our guide to when to go to Costa Rica.
How to get to Drake Bay
There are four ways to get to Drake Bay. Firstly, the really tough way i.e. hiking from Corcovado. Then there's the cheap way — by bus from San José to Sierpe, and then by boat along the Río Sierpe.
Meanwhile, the bumpy way involves driving a 4WD along the gravel and dirt road between Rincón and Agujitas.
Finally, there’s the luxury way — flying from San José to Bahía Drake Airport, and taking one of the packages offered by hotels in the area. If you choose this last option, transport to your lodge is taken care of.
By bus to Sierpe
From Palmar you can get a local bus or taxi to Sierpe (about US$20), where there are a few cabinas. Transportes Álvarez (t8703 2121, Etransportes.firstname.lastname@example.org) runs shuttle buses direct from San José (5.30am; 4hr 50min) to Sierpe in time for the first boat.
By car to Sierpe
If you’re driving to Sierpe, note that it’s possible to park your car near Restaurante Oleaje Sereno during your stay at Drake. There’s a per day charge for doing this.
By boat from Sierpe
From the waterfront at Restaurante Oleaje Sereno, boats (1hr 15min) normally depart for Bahía Drake at 11.30am (US$15) and 3.30/4pm (US$20). It’s first-come, first-served, so get here early.
The boats return to Sierpe at 7.15am (US$15) and 2.30pm (US$20).
Both NatureAir Skyway and Sansa operate daily flights to Bahía Drake Airport from San José. Be sure to arrange transport to your lodge in advance of your arrival at the tiny airstrip, 7km north of Agujitas.
Rainfall can make the road into Agujitas impassable at just about any time of year (there are three river crossings). So, if you plan on driving to your lodge, call first to find out the latest conditions.
The roads are unpaved from Rincón de Osa, where you turn off Hwy-245, and a 4WD will be essential.
Taxis will charge around US$120 between Puerto Jiménez and the Bahía Drake region.
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
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