Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
In the extreme south of Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula (Península de Osa) is an area of immense biological diversity. Somewhat separate from the mainland, few will fail to be moved by its beauty. A surfeit of natural wonder awaits, from the sweeping arc of Drake Bay (Bahía Drake) in the northwest, to Corcovado National Park — one of the planet’s most biologically rich pockets. Plan your trip to the Osa Peninsula with our guide to the Osa Peninsula — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
Whether you approach the Osa Peninsula by lancha from Sierpe or Golfito, on the Jiménez bus, or by air, you’ll see what looks like a floating island. The Osa Peninsula presents itself as an intricate mesh of blue and green, with tall canopy trees sailing high and flat like elaborate floral hats.
The Osa Peninsula has long been Costa Rica’s wild frontier. In the early twentieth century, it was something of a penal colony, a place to which men were forcibly sent. Consequently, frontier-lands folklore still permeates the peninsula, and old-time residents of Puerto Jiménez are only too happy to regale you with hosts of gory tales.
The road to Cabo Matapalo, at the tip of the peninsula, and on to sleepy Carate — southeastern gateway to Corcovado National Park — retains an end-of-the-world feel.
Boasting countless natural attractions, wildlife wonders and spectacularly challenging hikes, and being somewhat tricky to get to, you'll want to do your research before visiting the Osa Peninsula.
Alternatively, to take the hasssle out of planning, you could consider booking our customisable Costa Rica Eco Adventure trip, which kicks off on the Osa Peninsula.
With the biologically diverse Corcovado National Park covering the bulk of the peninsula, it'll come as no surprise that watching wildlife is one of the best things to do in the Osa Peninsula. That and hiking the park's hardcore trails.
Trekking and spotting wildlife aside, the Osa Peninsula is also a fabulous place to sail, snorkel and dive — Drake's Bay and Isla del Caño, we're looking at you.
In addition, Cabo Matapalo is a top surf spot, while the spectacularly-sited Golfito — gateway to Piedras Blancas National Park — is great for sport-fishing. Distinctly untouristy, Golfito also offers visitors a unique experience of Costa Rica.
Here are some of the best things to do in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica — there are plenty of reasons we named it one of our best travel destinations for 2023.
The lancha trip to Drake Bay (Bahía Drake) from Sierpe – gateway to the Osa Peninsula is fabulously serene. Travelling down the scenic mangrove-lined Río Sierpe also provides plenty of opportunities to spot monkeys, sloths and kingfishers.
The journey’s tranquillity 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.
Note that 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. That said, once you're out in Drake Bay, the water is calm.
Interested in basing yourself in Drake Bay? Read our guide to Drake Bay — it's top place from which to explore Corcovado National Park and enjoy water-based activities.
The tiny Reserva Biológica Isla del Caño sits in the ocean some 20km due west of Bahía Drake (1hr by boat).
Just 3km long by 2km wide, the uninhabited island is the exposed part of an underwater mountain. It’s a pretty sight in the distance, and going there is even better. Visits are restricted to the beach-landing area, so day-trips focus on the island’s prime snorkelling and diving opportunities, with five dive sites around the island.
There’s a daily cap on the number of visitors (100 people 7–11am, another 100 11am–3pm) and divers — only ten are allowed in the water at a time.
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.
Corcovado National Park protects a beautiful, biologically complex area of land. Its 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 that 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 unquestionably 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.
For more detail, dive into our guide to Corcovado National Park, and read up on Costa Rica's national parks.
If you're into wildlife-watching, our customisable Costa Rica's Wild South trip includes Corcovado National Park.
Occupying Osa’s southern edge about 17km from Puerto Jiménez, Cabo Matapalo was once the exclusive domain of surfers.
These days, while surfers still come for some of the country’s best breaks, it’s become increasingly popular as a place to build holiday homes. In addition, some excellent wilderness lodges are hidden in the primary rainforest.
The first beach on the cape, Playa Pan Dulce, is the best one for swimming and has long breaks for surfers. The most southerly, Playa Matapalo, provides the hardest tests for surfers and is a great spot to watch if your own skills aren’t quite up to the challenge.
Nearby is the largest waterfall in the area — the 90m “King Louis”. This can be reached on a short hike from the trailhead off the Playa Matapalo road.
If you’re a fan of awe-inspiring natural attractions, discover the best waterfalls in Costa Rica.
The only town of any real size in the far south, Golfito’s setting is spectacular. It's backed up against steep, densely forested hills to the east, with the glorious Golfo Dulce to the west.
The low shadow of the Península de Osa shimmers in the distance, and everywhere the vegetation has the soft, muted look of the undisturbed tropics.
With its distinctive wooden, clapboard tropical architecture Golfito has plenty of charm, and toucans frolic in the palms along the main street.
While it definitely isn’t a tourist town, Golfito is a major hotspot for sportfishing, with Pacific sailfish the main target. It's also a great base from which to explore the nearby Piedras Blancas National Park. The park's dense interior is home to many of the country’s signature mammals and birds, as well as the region’s burgeoning ecolodge scene.
South of Golfito, well off the road to Panama, are a couple of Costa Rica’s most isolated and most alluring beaches — Playa Zancudo and Playa Pavones.
From luxury lodges to basic back-packer options, to camping in Corcovado National Park, the Osa Peninsula has accommodation for pretty much every budget, taste and traveller type.
Here’s our overview of the best places and areas to stay in the Osa Peninsula.
Most Drake Bay accommodation is clustered either in the tiny village of Agujitas or on Punta Agujitas, the rocky point on the other side of Río Agujitas.
Virtually all the ecolodges in the area offer a range of tours, from guided excursions to Corcovado to boat trips around Drake Bay 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 – handy, given that there are few eating options in Bahía Drake.
Find places to stay in Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
The Osa Peninsula’s biggest town, relaxed Puerto Jiménez – known locally as Jiménez – has plenty of places to stay and eat, and good public transport connections.
Traditionally, Jiménez has catered to the budget end of the spectrum, with hotels and cabinas reasonably priced, clean and basic — very different from the luxury lodges lining the road to Carate.
Note that almost everything shuts down after lunch for siesta and many businesses remain closed throughout October and November (the rainy season).
Browse places to stay in Puerto Jiménez, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
About 25km west of Cabo Matapalo and 43km from Puerto Jiménez, Carate is literally the end of the road. The beach is just steps from where the road terminates, with Corcovado National Park a little further to the west via a hiking trail.
You can pitch your tent right outside the grocery (a charge of US$5/tent per night covers the use of toilets and showers). For those wanting more comfort, a few idyllic lodges in the area are well worth considering.
Explore places to stay in Carate, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
It’s possible to camp within the park (at the La Sirena station) for a maximum of four nights. Otherwise, La Leona Eco Lodge is the closest accommodation to the park.
Browse places to stay near Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica.
Much of Golfito’s accommodation is basic and inexpensive, catering to Costa Ricans visiting the Depósito Libre duty-free mall, though there are a couple of slightly smarter hotels too.
Be warned that the sheer number of people coming to Golfito to shop, especially at Christmas, means that rooms are often booked in advance. If you don’t have reservations, try to get to town as early in the day as possible.
Check-out places to stay in Golfito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
The colectivo from Puerto Jiménez terminates at the car park at the end of the small landing strip. From here, you must wade across the Río Carate and walk another 45min along the beach to the Corcovado park entrance at La Leona.
Local buses cruise up and down the main drag all the way to the Depósito around every hour during the day (look for the bus shelters). You can also hail red minivan colectivos that zip between the Depósito and Río Claro (at the Interamericana).
Taxis can be tend to charge just ₡800–1500 for trips within town. Hail them in the street (red cars) or call Cooperativa de Los Taxistas de Golfito (T2775 1170).
You could feasibly explore the whole peninsula in four days, but this would be rushing it, especially if you want to spend time walking the trails and wildlife-spotting at Corcovado.
Most people allot five to seven days for the area, taking it at a relaxed pace, and more if they want to stay in and explore Bahía Drake.
Hikers and walkers who come to Osa without their own car tend to base themselves in Puerto Jiménez — a place where it’s easy to strike up a conversation, and people are relaxed, environmentally conscientious and not yet overwhelmed by tourism.
Need help planning your trip? Check our Costa Rica itineraries, or talk to our Costa Rica experts.
The Osa Península, including Golfito and Golfo Dulce, does not 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.
In the rainy season, some parts of Corcovado National Park become more or less unwalkable, 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.
Also be aware that heavy rains can close the park, especially in October and November. All that considered, the best time to visit the Osa Peninsula 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.
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.
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.email@example.com) runs shuttle buses direct from San José (5.30am; 4hr 50min) to Sierpe in time for the first boat.
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.
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.
You can fly to Puerto Jiménez with Sansa, Skyway, or NatureAir Aerobell, landing at the sliver of an airstrip ten minutes’ walk from the centre.
It’s also possible to fly between Jiménez and the tiny airstrip at Carate for Corcovado with Alfa Romeo Aero Taxi (t2755 1515). This runs on a demand only basis, and the plane can seat just five people. It costs around US$185 per person and takes 7–10min.
The Transportes Blanco bus station is one block west of the football field. San José buses usually depart at 5am & 9am. Buses also run to Ciudad Neily (for onward connections to Panama) at 5.30am & 2pm.
Regular lanchas depart for Golfito (35min; ₡3000) from the pier on the north side of town. Boats depart Mon–Fri 6am, 8.45am, 11.30am, 2pm & 4.20pm; Sat 6am, 8.45am, 11.30am, 2pm & 4.20pm; and Sun 6am, 11.30am & 2pm. Lanchas return from Golfito just as regularly.
Note that Puerto Jiménez has the only petrol station on the entire Península de Osa – be sure to fill up before you leave. It’s open 24hr.
Hwy-245 runs for 75km from the Interamericana at Piedras Blancas to Jiménez (allow 1hr 30min). The turning is 32km south of Palmar Sur.
For car rental in Jiménez, two operators — Alamo and Solid/NÜ — have offices next to the airfield.
The main form of local public transport, the colectivo — a modified 4WD truck with two rows of seating — normally departs from one block south of the bus station in Jiménez for Carate.
This service runs twice daily at about 6am and 1.30pm, returning at 8.30am & 4pm.
Note that it’s an achingly bumpy drive and involves the careful negotiation of at least half a dozen small (or in the rainy season, not-so-small) rivers.
In October and November, it’s often not possible to go further than Matapalo because of the rain. At this time, buses only run once a day Tuesday – Thursday, and Sunday at 6am, returning at 3pm.
The colectivo will drop you off at any of the lodges between Jiménez and Carate, and will also pick you up on its way back to town if you arrange this in advance.
A number of local taxi drivers have 4WDs and run the route to Carate (1hr 30min), and Matapalo (30min).
You can fly to Golfito with both Sansa and NatureAir. The airstrip is in the Zona Americana, a short walk or taxi ride (₡10800–1500) from any hotel in town.
Buses to/from San José depart/terminate at the Tracopa ticket office (T2775 0365) at the southern end of the Pueblo Civil, with two services daily (5am & 1.30pm), plus an extra 2pm departure on Sunday.
Buses to Playa Pavones (daily 10am & 1pm) depart the bus stop in front of Golfito Hospital in the Zona Americana. Buses also stop along the main street, as do local buses to Ciudad Neily and Río Claro, where there are more through-buses along the Interamericana.
The ferry pier is known as the muellecito, at the centre of the Pueblo Civil. The only scheduled service is to Puerto Jiménez (35min; ₡3000).
These run Mon–Fri 7am, 10am, 11.30am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm; Sat 7.30am, 10am, 1pm, 3pm & 5pm; Sun 10am, 1pm & 3pm. Lanchas return from Jiménez just as regularly.
Always check the current schedule before making plans, and make sure your boat has lifejackets on board — the Golfo Dulce is usually calm, but winds can come up suddenly, causing unexpectedly high waves.
Central Golfito lies 22km off the Interamericana at the busy junction town of Río Claro, via the well-maintained Hwy-14.
There’s a potentially faster, unsurfaced road, that runs just 12km to Golfito from the Interamericana via the village of La Gamba and comes in from the northwest (past the airport).
While this saves 24km coming from the north, the route can be rough going, and dangerous in wet weather (normal cars can otherwise make it).
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
Looking for more inspiration? Read up on the best things to do in Costa Rica, and get yourself a copy of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica. Our Costa Rica travel tips will also help you plan your trip.
Not keen on planning? You'll love our customisable Costa Rica itineraries.
Top tip: our Costa Rica Eco Adventure trip and Costa Rica's Wild South trip both include Corcovado National Park and the Osa Peninsula.
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Header image: Rio Sirena, Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica © Shutterstock