The Wild Osa Peninsula: 8-Day Itinerary

Most travelers who make it this far south already have a trip to Costa Rica under their belts, but feel free to break that rule. All you need is a spirit of adventure.

Day 1: Arrival

Following your arrival in San José, head to one of the several lodgings near the airport. We recommend staying out here rather than heading into San José itself, about 30 minutes away; you need to be back at the airport the next morning for your flight to the Osa Peninsula, and you’ll appreciate the extra time. You cannot get closer to the airport than the Hampton Inn, just across the highway. Wherever you stay, your hotel can arrange for transport with advance notice, whether its own shuttle vans or sending a taxi for you. Otherwise, grab one of the official orange airport cabs as you exit customs.

Day 2: San José to Puerto Jiménez to Cabo Matapalo

(1 hour by air to Puerto Jiménez and 1 hour by gravel road)

You’re back at the airport for your hour-long flight to Puerto Jiménez on domestic airlines SANSA or Skyway. Check-in is a leisurely affair, but you should arrive at the airport at least 45 minutes before departure. Arrival at the airstrip in Puerto Jiménez, Osa’s "metropolis," is even more low-key. Our recommended lodgings in Cabo Matapalo, 21 km (14 miles) south, can arrange for transfers. Each has its own style: Lapa Ríos rates as one of the world’s premier ecolodges; El Remanso is quiet and intimate; Bosque del Cabo draws an engaging, sociable clientele.

Days 3 and 4: Nature Excursions

The Cabo Matapalo lodges offer their own nature-themed activities. They range from quiet hikes to snorkeling to horseback riding to more strenuous rappelling and climbing. Highly regarded local tour operator Everyday Adventures takes you on excursions that skew toward the adrenaline-rush end of the spectrum. The end of the day puts you back at your lodge, chatting with other guests well into the evening about what you saw that day.

Day 5: Cabo Matapalo to Carate

(1 hour by road)

Carate is literally Osa’s end of the road. The lodges here can arrange for an overland transfer from Cabo Matapalo or all the way from Puerto Jiménez if you’re skipping Matapalo entirely. Accommodations here have their own personalities, too: Finca Exótica caters to nature lovers, Luna Lodge is for the yoga or wellness devotee. A trip to the beach rounds out your day. Alas, as is the case elsewhere in Costa Rica, riptides are dangerous here.

Day 6: Corcovado National Park

(45-minute hike to La Leona park entrance from Carate; half day or full day of hiking in park)

If you’ve come this far, Costa Rica’s famed Corcovado National Park should be on your agenda. The lodges here can arrange for guided walks to the park—it’s the only way to approach Corcovado from this direction. You must enter Corcovado accompanied by a guide, and you must pay your entry fee in advance. Accommodation inside the park—advance reservations are mandatory—is rustic. Any overnights would necessitate adding extra days onto this itinerary. No one ever tires of repeating the platitudes about Corcovado, most often citing National Geographic’s description of the park as "the most biologically intense place on earth in terms of biodiversity."

Days 7 and 8: Carate to Puerto Jiménez to San José

(2 hours by road and 1 hour by air to San José)

The lodges here can arrange for an overland transfer back to Puerto Jiménez, or you can take the colectivo, the public transport here. Carate does have its own tiny airstrip with charter planes making the quick jaunt back to Puerto Jiménez. If timing does not coincide with SANSA or Skyway's schedules, a night in Puerto Jiménez gives you a dose of civilization again in the style of a tropical frontier town. You can catch a flight back to San José the next morning, from where you can depart for other destinations in Costa Rica.

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