The Osa Peninsula, curling around the Golfo Dulce at the southernmost reach of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, is the most unspoilt part of the country. Covered in virgin rainforest and - inevitably - deluged by rains, the peninsula has 2 tiny centres of population: Bahía Drake, popular for scuba diving, and sleepy Puerto Jiménez, gateway to the south of the peninsula. This is where, on the extreme tip at Cabo Matapalo, you’ll find the original rainforest lodge Lapa Rios, set in its own beautiful 1,000-acre reserve. Hike through the jungle with expert guides who’ll show you the wildlife, laze on long, beautiful beaches, or explore further into the remote Corcovado National Park. Nearby, Bosque del Cabo offers more conventional trips, such as fishing and dolphin watching. Further inland, the stunning Chirripo National Park offers cloud forest to zipline through, rapids to raft and an absolute haven for bird watchers. We love Monte Azul here.
The beaches around Cabo Matapalo, where the sheltered Golfo Dulce meets the powerful Pacific, are some of the most unspoilt in Costa Rica - long, pristine and almost entirely deserted. The waves are ideal for surfing; bird-watchers will find paradise here, as it's a major migration corridor - keep your eyes peeled for hawks, hummingbirds, parakeets, toucans and tree-fulls of rare scarlet macaws. The area is also renowned for sport fishing, with yellowfin tuna, snappers, billfish, jackfish and roosterfish in the surrounding waters.
Don't miss Jagua Arts & Crafts in Puerto Jimenez (a former gold-mining town, which now acts as a gateway to the southern end of the peninsula). All of its goods are made locally, and sourced from small businesses, indigenous groups and artists. There are stunning paintings, Boruca masks, textiles made by indigenous groups, the famous baskets made by the Embera and Wounaan, glass sun catchers and carvings by the Guyami peoples (as well as delicious handmade organic chocolates!).
Access is tricky - either by road to Carate, from where you need to walk to the biological station at La Leona, or via light aircraft to Sirena - but it’s well worth the effort. The vegetation includes cloudforest, palm swamps and mangroves, providing habitats for tapirs, coatis, jaguars, ocelots, monkeys, anteaters (pictured), poison dart frogs, raccoons, sloths, pelicans, scarlet macaws, the extremely rare harpy eagle, and more than 220 species of butterfly. The park’s lagoons and rivers are home to crocodiles, caimans and bull sharks, and 4 species of sea turtle (green, Pacific Ridley, hawksbill and leatherback) nest on its beaches.
Photo by José R
Drake's Bay (pictured) is one of the most isolated locations in Costa Rica. Said to be where Sir Francis Drake dropped anchor in 1579, it has miles of empty beaches sandwiched between calm, crystal-clear waters and dense tropical forest. Roads to the area are only passable in the dry season - in wetter months boat up the Sierpe river. This is one of CR's best spots for scuba diving, with coral reefs just offshore and boat trips to the marine reserve of Isla del Caño (visitors strictly limited; book in advance).
Photo by José R
Set in the heart of the Talamanca Mountain Range, which was formed by a variety of geologic processes. Encompassing 5 different ecosystems, there's a tremendous variety of flora and fauna (don't miss a guided tour), and bird watchers will be in their element with over 230 different species to spot, including honeycreepers, turquoise cotingas and the white crested coquette . You can zipline through cloud forest too; unforgettable.