Costa Rica

February 2023

  1. San José
  2. Drake Bay
  3. Corcovado National Park

Day 1: Arrival

We became interested in Costa Rica because it has some of the most ambitious policies in the world to combat climate change and preserve nature. It has plenty of land reserved as national parks, it has extremely high standards for ecotourism, and organic farming is the norm. We’re confident that our travel dollars will be put to good use here.

While doing our research for this trip, we read about so many beautiful places to visit in Costa Rica, but the one that excited us the most was the Osa Peninsula on the southwestern Pacific coast. This peninsula has incredible biodiversity, and it’s home to Corcovado national park, which is known for its unwavering commitment to the protection of its fauna and flora. Because the peninsula is fairly remote, it attracts only a small number of like-minded visitors. So that’s where we decided to spend most of our time.

We arrived in the capital city of San José yesterday and spent the night at a hotel where we were rattled awake by a nearby 5.2 earthquake. This is a highly volcanic area, and earthquakes are fairly common. Today we took a small plane to Drake Bay, at the north end of Osa Peninsula.

We’re staying at the Tranquilo Lodge, which is perfect for us. It’s an adult-only lodge perched on a jungle hillside, with amazing food, stunning views of the ocean, and lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing within its grounds. Its French owners bought the place about four years ago, and after spending a year renovating, they had guests for only three months before the COVID epidemic forced them to close. It must have been tough. It’s abundantly clear that the lodge is a labor of love for them and that they get great joy out of seeing their guests happy. The menu is the creation of one of the owners, who worked as an executive chef in the US. The food is both delicious and sustainably prepared, using only ingredients grown on the property or bought from a few trusted local growers.


Our hotel: The Tranquilo Lodge.

Day 2: Night hike

After a relaxing day spent exploring the hotel grounds, we were ready for a bit of adventure. We joined a guided night hike through the nearby jungle to check out all the small animals that are more active after dark. Our guide met us at our hotel and immediately gave us muck boots to wear — three sizes too large and oh so sexy!

Our guide was amazingly good at spotting animals. The only competition he had was from an eagle-eyed five-year-old kid in our group. As we scrambled up and down muddy slopes and waded through shallow streams, we got to see frogs, toads, snakes, birds, spiders, and lots of fascinating insects. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • A terciopelo (or fer-de-lance) snake — the deadliest snake in Costa Rica. According to our guide, one bite would prove fatal unless treated within five hours. Bea asked how far it was to a hospital, and the answer was “not within five hours.” From then on, all of us were more cautious in placing our feet — and more thankful for the sexy muck boots.

  • A cricket that was in the process of molting, or shedding its exoskeleton. We got to see it before and after the transformation, and it was quite beautiful.

  • A stick insect. Who knew that something that looks so much like a twig could be so cool?

  • Frogs and toads. One type of frog in particular sounded uncannily like the laser beams in a computer game: “piu piu piu.” We followed the sound to its source, and found a pond inhabited by several little frogs that kept inflating like balloons each time they emitted that sound. Those frogs were cute, and so were the tiny tree frogs (some smaller than an inch or 2.5 cm) that we saw perched in the foliage. The cane toads were more hideous than cute, though equally fascinating because they’re huge (up to nine inches or 23 cm).


A newly-molted cricket hanging out next to its discarded exoskeleton.

A stick insect.

A cane toad.

A tree frog.

Day 3: Hike to Cocalito Beach

Our goal for today was to hike the length of the Drake Bay trail, exploring remote beaches along the way. Our plans changed when we reached Cocalito Beach, after walking for about one hour from our hotel. This beach was so perfect that we just couldn’t continue with our mission, and we ended up spending the whole day there!

The trail wasn’t difficult, but it does take some effort to hike to Cocalito, regardless of where you’re staying. And that’s what keeps it pristine for those of us who do make the effort.

As the trail emerged from the lush jungle, we found ourselves standing on a beach of soft sand, with large shade trees offering shelter from the sun. The Pacific ocean was an inviting aquamarine color, and it lapped at the shore in gentle waves. We waded in, and absolutely loved the bathtub-warm water. We spent a lot of time just floating in the ocean.

When we emerged, we enjoyed exploring the tidepools among the rocks that bracket both ends of the beach. And we had fun spotting all the vividly colored birds. At one point two scarlet macaws landed on a tree just next to us — it was super cool to see them so close! We also enjoyed seeing a group of spider monkeys swinging through the jungle, including a mother carrying a baby on her back.

Cocalito Beach.

Day 4: Corcovado National Park

Today we visited Corcovado National Park, which occupies most of the Osa Peninsula where we’re staying. To get to the park entrance, we boarded a small boat from the beach near our hotel, and spent about an hour enjoying the nice breeze and beautiful sights as we traveled south along the coast.

When we arrived at the Sirena entrance to the park, it became apparent just how seriously the rangers take the preservation of the park. Every backpack is inspected, to make sure no food or single-use plastics are brought into the park. One person in our group asked why food was disallowed, and the ranger replied that it’s important to not alter the animals’ natural diet. In other parks, monkeys may approach tourists looking for food, he said, but here they retain their natural diet and behavior.

We walked for several hours and saw all kinds of animals, big and small. Our guide carried a powerful spotting scope and set it up perfectly each time he found an animal, so that we could see every detail. We saw a family of tapirs wading in a shallow river, a group of coatis digging for crabs, a sloth resting on a tree branch, an orange-throated lizard inflating its orange throat to scare another male, a snake slowly sliding across the forest floor, a howler monkey scratching its back on a tree branch… and so much more!



Garden snake.

Blue damselfly.

Strangler fig.

Day 5: Kayaking

While exploring the small town near our hotel, we came across a sign advertising a tour of the mangrove forest by kayak. We like kayaking and mangroves, so we decided on the spur of the moment to book a tour. We’re so glad we did, because this turned out to be our best day so far. It was just us and our guide, Jimmy, who was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and the kayaking was lots of fun.

We departed from the beach in town, paddling north along the Pacific coast. The water was calm and fairly clear, allowing us to see huge schools of sardines, lots of red snappers, and a few jelly fish. The most exciting moment was when we crossed paths with a small pod of dolphins. We admired their elegant swimming as they submerged on one side of us and surfaced again on the other side.

As we got further, Jimmy explained to us that the mangroves used to be accessible from the ocean, but that’s no longer the case — now a large sandbar separates the ocean from the marsh in which the mangroves grow. To access the marsh, we first had to land the kayaks on a beach with breaking waves, which was challenging. Jimmy taught us how to time our approach with a lull in the waves, then paddle as fast as possible to reach the beach ahead of the next wave. We managed to do it without capsizing, but just barely. Then Jimmy and Eric carried our kayaks across the sandbar and into a lagoon, and we headed for the marsh.

We paddled along the calm waters, checking out the dense mangroves around us and watching for wildlife. Jimmy identified several birds for us, including some that are found only in this area. As we made our way deeper into the mangroves, we traversed waterways that sometimes narrowed to just the width of the kayak, and occasionally disappeared into the marsh grass. We got lots of practice in precision steering of a double kayak, which was tricky but super fun. We were gliding quietly along one of these narrow channels when we were surprised by a sudden splash. Ahead of us, we saw a cayman that had launched into the water! It was a bit scary, but the cayman submerged as we approached and ignored us.

Throughout the morning, Jimmy pointed out useful and edible plants, and picked fruits along the way. We snacked on coyol (similar to a lychee fruit) and guaba pequeña, also known as monkey beans (a pod shaped like a fava bean but with sweet treats inside). We loved them both! Jimmy also picked up a few fallen coconuts, which he planted at the forest’s edge when we eventually returned to the beach. He explained that this small step can help mitigate beach erosion due to climate change, and he pointed out many trees at different stages of growth that he’s planted on previous tours. This concern for nature is something we’ve heard repeatedly from locals. It’s not just encoded in the country’s policies — it’s understood and lived by everyone!


Coyol and guaba pequeña.

Day 6: Snorkeling at Isla del Caño

Today, we took a twenty-minute boat ride across Drake Bay to go snorkeling near Isla del Caño. The entire island is protected as a biological reserve, meaning there are no human inhabitants other than a few park rangers. The surrounding waters are part of the reserve as well, so no fishing is allowed, and as a result, marine life thrives nearby. We snorkeled in two different spots and saw lots of colorful fish, two kinds of sea turtles (olive ridley and hawksbill), as well as whitetip reef sharks.

We always enjoy spending time in the water, and today was no exception. The ocean was calm and warm, and we had an excellent guide. As an added bonus, we got to see more dolphins playing in our boat’s wake as we returned to our hotel. Altogether, it was a very fun day!


Day 7: Enjoying the hotel

We’ve been busy with activities and explorations since we arrived in Drake Bay. On our last full day in the area, we opted to just relax and enjoy our hotel. Settling into poolside lounge chairs at the hilltop palapa, we were treated to refreshing drinks and sweeping views of the jungle, the beach, and the Pacific ocean. Whenever we felt too warm or wanted a little exercise, we went for a swim in either the freshwater pool or the saltwater pool — both pleasantly cool. One of the perks of staying in a small hotel is that we had both pools all to ourselves!

We got to observe lots of tropical birds throughout the day. We identified some of them using a book, but more often, hotel staff member Gonzalo was eager to teach us about them. We saw scarlet macaws, toucans, Cherrie’s tanager, black vultures, turkey vultures, and many more.

By late afternoon, we were ready for some time at the spa, where we got fabulous massages. And afterward, we had a delicious four-course dinner. In fact, the food has been incredible during our entire stay. Here are some highlights:

  • Homemade pasta with local seafood. So good!

  • Smoked trout, caught by a local fisherman in a nearby river, and smoked by the hotel chef. Amazing!

  • Red snapper carpaccio, made from fish caught by fellow hotel guests just a couple of hours before we ate it.

  • Pejibaye soup. Pejibaye is a local fruit that grows high up in palm trees with thorny trunks, making it difficult to harvest and therefore something of a delicacy. The taste is a cross between chestnut and squash, and it really works in soup!


Day 8: Back to San José

Today is our last day in Costa Rica. After another amazing breakfast, we took a small plane back to the capital of Costa Rica, San José. The plane followed the Pacific coast northward for a while, giving us a great view of other coastal towns that we had considered for our trip. Then it turned inland toward the capital and the mountains and jungles beyond that. We really enjoyed our time in Costa Rica, but we definitely feel like we’ve just barely scratched the surface of what this country has to offer. We will be back!