As I step out of the San Jose airport into the warm, humid air a feeling of peace and relaxation washes over me, much as it does every time I arrive in this tiny country in Central America, except this visit will be different than all of the others. This adventure will take me to the Osa Peninsula, one of the least visited areas in all of Costa Rica. Suddenly I see Carlos through the crowd of Ticos waiting for friends and family. Carlos knows his country well and I'm so grateful he is willing to spend the next few days showing me a part of Costa Rica I haven't had the chance to explore before.
We leave the airport and head south and west into the Talamanca Mountain range toward Cerro de la Muerte, the highest point of the Pan American highway in Central America. We stop briefly at a small typical Costa Rican restaurant to get lunch; beans and rice, homemade tortillas, and fresh fruit before heading up higher into an ecosystem called paramo about 3,300m above sea level (around 10,000 ft), which is only found in Costa Rica and a few areas of Panama. Many endemic species live in this unique habitat. As we get out of our vehicle and start to walk a short distance into the vegetation I'm struck by how much the dwarf shrubs and trees resemble the alpine ecosystems I've studied back home in the Rockies, the Cascades and the Olympics; small, waxy leaves with tiny, white bell shaped flowers. We spend the night in a quaint lodge nestled in a valley near Costa Rica's most recently established National Park, Quetzal National Park.
Savegre Hotel Nature Reserve and Spa
I rise early to try and catch a glimpse of the beautiful Resplendid Quetzal only to be informed by one of the garden keepers that the Queztal has already visited his favorite avocado tree near the small trout pond earlier that morning and moved on to other feeding areas. I hoped this was not a foreshadowing of my luck at spotting wildlife as we headed even further south toward Sierpe on the outskirts of Central America's largest mangrove forest.
In the small town of Sierpe we board a boat and begin our voyage through the mangroves toward the Pacific Ocean and Osa Peninsula’s, Drake Bay. The number of bird and other wildlife sightings increase as we travel down river toward the ocean; frigate birds, raccoons, macaws, and caimans. Soon we can see the open ocean and the waves lapping at the mouth of the Rio Sierpe. Our captain maneuvers easily through the surf and continues on toward the northernmost tip of the Osa Peninsula. As we draw closer to shore I realize there isn't a dock...we're going to get as close to shore as possible and wade the rest of the way. Porters come to carry our luggage ashore while the passengers focus on the beauty surrounding us. I feel like I've just stepped into a scene from Swiss Family Robinson.
Approaching the Osa Peninsula after leaving the mouth of the Sierpe River
Early the next morning Carlos and I start down a small footpath into the jungle. He begins to share with me his knowledge about the plants, birds and animals we see as we walk. We stop to look at some edible fruits that have dropped from the thick rainforest canopy when Carlos notices a small band of howler monkeys watching us from the branches above. A young monkey clings to its mother, and eyes us curiously. We walk a little further and pause to look at a large tree frog clinging to the trunk of a tree when I notice that the ground seems to be moving beneath my feet. I look down and discover the reason for the strange sensation; small crabs almost completely cover the ground where I'm standing. When I move, each crab quickly scuttles away.
Gladiator tree frog (Hypsiboas rosenbergi), trying to blend in to his surroundings
I grew up on the side of a mountain in Eagle River, Alaska, and even though I now live in Montana, one of the least populated states in the contagious U.S., I'm amazed at how wild and secluded the Osa Peninsula feels. It gives me the same sensation I get when hiking and camping in remote locations in Alaska - the environment is still pristine, untouched, untamed. As I look around me, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude that there are still places like the Osa Peninsula on this planet I call home.
A remote beach on the Osa Peninsula at high tide
Austin Lehman Adventures will be offering a trip to Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula this year. We'd love to have you join us on this life-changing adventure! Come experience some of the most beautiful and remote areas in Central America.