"Rainforest with monkeys, macaws, trails of ants, poison-dart frogs, giant lizards and much more."
I recommend the Osa Peninsula Explorer (premium link) activity.
My favourite budget destinations are Dos Brazos (premium link) and Jungla del Jaguar (premium link); both hostel-type accommodation on the edge of the national park. They are basic but for keen wildlife watchers they have forest wildlife spilling over from the park onto their trails.
In general, the Osa Peninsula is a popular destination for wildlife tourists. This location description is based on my visits in 2013 and 2017 when I was thrilled to see large numbers of birds, insects, lizards and mammals including monkeys in the forest. Because the forests rise up to approximately 800m in the central hills I have been surprised by the variety of bird species that are possible. I have found that if you move quietly and spend time on the less popular trails (or spend time with a good local guide) you have a chance of seeing rarer wildlife such as Baird's Tapir, Puma and Jaguar. The famous rainforest of the Parque Nacional Corcovado (Corcovado National Park) makes up the south-west section of the peninsula. The Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve then forms a protected border of the park.
Mangroves line the coast of the peninsula. Farmland, grassland and other open habitats are mixed in with the forest. This additional habitat variety is good for bird diversity and therefore also for birdwatchers.
Many ecolodges and other accommodation are found on the coast. Coastal wildlife include Scarlet Macaw, mangrove-hawks, pelicans, hermit crabs and coral reef. However, if you want a chance of seeing some of the famous forest wildlife, such as mammals and rare birds, it is necessary to stay on the edge of the national park and not simply on the Osa Peninsula: if this is important to you, pick your accommodation carefully.
Parque Nacional Corcovado can be accessed by day trip from Los Planes (not open in 2017), San Pedrillo (typically people take a boat trip instead of walking in from this entrance), Los Patos (La Tarde), Dos Brazos or La Leona (Carate). You cannot enter without a guide and multi-day hikes are possible using the camping areas in the park. You can visit the park's Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/ParqueNacionalCorcovado to find out more.
- Wildlife, particularly birds, can be seen all around the small village of Dos Brazos (site 1) (premium link). (GPS coords 08.5200N 83.4000W)
- The Footpath to Puerto Jimenez and Carate (site 2) (premium link) starts from Dos Brazos and runs through a range of habitats. It starts with a river crossing that can be difficult depending on the water level. (GPS coords 08.5200N 83.4000W)
- Bolita (site 3) (premium link) is a special place where I once spent 3 weeks exploring. It is a hostel with a network of trails through the forest. (GPS coords 08.5200N 83.4100W)
- Carate (site 4) is an access point to Parque Nacional Corcovado with ecolodges and you might ask about cheap camping at the shop. At Carate and along the road are forest, mangroves and ecolodges. A public bus is available from Puerto Jimenez. (GPS coords 08.4416N 83.4518W)
- La Tarde (site 5) is a medium-priced (in 2017) ecolodge http://www.ecoturisticolatarde.com on the northern edge of the national park. Because it is right on the park edge, specialist rainforest wildlife is possible. It is convenient for the Los Patos entrance to the park and can be a place to acclimatise for one or two nights before hiking in the park.
- The protected Cano Island (site 6) has archaeological remains inland and coral reefs offshore. It is a popular snorkelling and diving area. In 2017 you had to visit with an organised tour. If you enjoy snorkelling then similar wildlife can alternatively be seen for free along the coast but in smaller numbers.
- The Coast Path (site 7) (premium link) has coastal, open-habitat and forest wildlife on this mixed-habitat trail. Many local boat/ferry services are available if you only want to walk one way. (GPS coords 08.6929N 83.6723W)
- Los Patos Ranger Station (site 8) is the northern entrance to the national park. It was open in 2017 with entry only allowed with a local guide.
- San Pedrillo Entrance (site 9) is the south-western entrance to the national park. It was open in 2017 with entry only allowed with a local guide. (GPS coords 08.6279N 83.7280W)
- La Leona Ranger Station (site 10) is the south-eastern entrance to the national park. It was open in 2017 with entry only allowed with a local guide.
- Jungla del Jaguar (site 11) (premium link) is a hostel on a section of coastal path very close to the national park. Specialist forest wildlife can be seen in their grounds and surrounds due to the continuous forest linking it to the park. (GPS coords 08.6405N 83.7319W)
- The Agujitas Trail (site 12) (premium link) is a short path 30 minutes walk from the town Agujitas. There is also a brief description of another nearby site; Ecolodge Tamadua. (GPS coords 08.6815N 83.6635W)
- Los Planes Ranger Station (site 13) is the western entrance to the national park. In 2017 it was officially not open but the locals told me the start is a form of public path. On my visit in 2017 there was a sign for a Sendero Los Planes which I followed for a few hundred metres seeing some large trees and specialist forest birds. I combined my visit with a walk from Agujitas which was long and hot but added some different, open-habitat bird species. (GPS coords 08.6477N 83.6649W)
- Dos Brazos Park Entrance (site 14) is the eastern entrance to the national park. It was open in 2017 with entry only allowed with a local guide.
- Many species of woodcreeper, antbird, flycatcher and tanager were just some of the birds that I saw in 1 week at Osa (Dos Brazos area) in winter (premium link). A list for 3 weeks is also included.
- Three species of monkey were just some of the other animals that I saw in 1 week at Osa (Dos Brazos area) in winter (premium link). A list for 3 weeks is also included.
- I saw a total of 86 species of bird in 1 week at Osa (Drakes Bay area) in summer (premium link). A mammal list is also included.
Often I see Scarlet Macaw by first noticing bits of food waste falling from a tree.
Transportation at the Osa Peninsula
There are minor roads with local buses running to get you to Drakes Bay (a good place to aim for on the north-west end of the peninsula) and Puerto Jimenez (a good place to aim for on the south-east end of the peninsula). Ask for either of these places and people will know what you mean. Both have scenic ferries you can take (from Sierpe and Golfito respectively) that are faster and more fun for the general tourist. Your accommodation may have their own transport from, say, Sierpe or Golfito so it is worth asking.
I have seen lots of tourists arrive at the Osa Peninsula by aeroplane. Osa is a long way from San Jose and Liberia (the two main international airports) so it makes a lot of sense to fly if you are trying to save time and make the most of a shorter holiday. The approximate cost in 2017 was $100 from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez by local plane.
Travel between Puerto Jimenez and Dos Brazos is with a tiny bus that I recommend asking about in case the timetable changes. When I was there in 2013 the bus to Dos Brazos left from outside the "96" food store at either 11am or 4pm or a taxi would have been $25.
A road sign at Agujitas.
I typically saw groups of female coati travelling in groups of 10-20. The males are loners which is how I decided that this coati resting in a tree was a male.
Wildlife of the Osa Peninsula
- likely mammals: squirrels, monkeys, bats (at night almost anywhere)
- likely reptiles: iguanas (large lizards often in trees), basilisks (large lizards often by water), small lizards, small snakes
- likely amphibians: poison-dart frogs, toads, small frogs and tadpoles
- likely insects: ants, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, pond skaters
- likely birds: macaws, vultures, parrots, tanagers, woodpeckers
- also: crabs and hermit crabs on the beaches
- possible birds: 234 species (of which 114 are likely)
- birds possible at this location but not in many other places in Costa Rica: (6 species) Bicolored Hawk (Accipiter bicolor), Rufous Nightjar (Caprimulgus rufus), Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis), Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor), Red-rumped Woodpecker (Veniliornis kirkii), Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager (Habia atrimaxillaris)
- resident birds: 198 species (in addition there are 14 passage, 19 winter and 3 summer species)
- birds seen on a 1 week visit to Dos Brazos (winter): 114 species
- birds most often seen on a 1 week visit to Dos Brazos (winter): (starting with the most common) Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) 22x3 (m6), Cherrie's Tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis) 12x3 (m5), Chestnut-sided Warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica) 11x2 (m2), Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii) 9x2 (m2), Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 8x3 (m7), Golden-naped Woodpecker (Melanerpes chrysauchen) 8x2 (m3), Streak-headed Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes souleyetii) 7x2 (m2), Golden-hooded Tanager (Tangara larvata) 7x2 (m2), White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi) 6x2 (m2), Riverside Wren (Thryothorus semibadius) 6x2 (m2), Stripe-throated Hermit (Phaethornis striigularis) 5x2 (m2), Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl) 5x1 (m1), Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis) 5x3 (m7), Orange-billed Sparrow (Arremon aurantiirostris) 5x2 (m2)
- average birds seen in 1 day in Dos Brazos (summer): 34 species
- birds seen on a 1 week visit to Drakes Bay (summer): 86 species
- birds most often seen on a 1 week visit to Drakes Bay (summer): (starting with the most common) Cherrie's Tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis) 24x3 (m5), Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) 17x3 (m8), Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) 12x5 (m15), Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) 12x4 (m8), Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) 11x2 (m2), Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) 8x8 (m25), Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 7x2 (m6), Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) 7x2 (m2), Variable Seedeater (Sporophila americana) 7x3 (m4), Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 6x3 (m5), Chestnut-backed Antbird (Myrmeciza exsul) 6x2 (m2), Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) 6x1 (m1), Blue-gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) 6x2 (m2), Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) 5x1 (m1), Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) 5x2 (m2), Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) 5x2 (m2), Riverside Wren (Thryothorus semibadius) 5x2 (m2)
- average birds seen in 1 day in Drakes Bay (summer): 34 species (yes it is the same as for Dos Brazos)
Leaf-cutter ants are a common and fascinating sight on the Osa Peninsula. They carry the leaves back to the colony to feed to a fungus that they farm as a food source.
The forest is the main reason that many people come to the Osa Peninsula: I really enjoy seeing the lizards, snakes and mixed flocks of birds. Mammals can sometimes be seen begging for food in tourist areas but in the forest I often see more natural behaviour. Once I even saw a Jaguar while exploring in a remote area of forest near Bolita. Jaguar are also sometimes seen on the beach path within Corcovado National Park and on the trail cameras at Jungla del Jaguar on the south-west coast.
If I am unlucky it is possible to walk for well over an hour without seeing anything: but on average during a 6 hour walk in the forest I see two good-sized mixed flocks of birds, two groups of mammals and three or four interesting-looking lizards/snakes. If exploring the forest I always allow time at the end of the walk to explore the forest-edge and/or open areas on the way back to boost the number of birds seen. However, the forest birds, although fewer in number, are always the highlight for me.
This is my typical view of a sloth, looking up through the tree canopy. They are throughout the Osa Peninsula but can be difficult to spot.
In more open areas I recommend looking out for large lizards (2m or more) in the trees (I call these iguanas although sometimes they are similar species), large lizards (up to 2m) around the rivers (I called these basilisks although sometimes they are similar species), vultures (including regular King Vultures) circling above and flocks of parrots/parakeets. Smaller birds such as flycatchers, tanagers, sparrows and forest birds that have briefly left the trees can also be seen. Open areas near the forest are often better than the forest itself for seeing the speciality birds because there are less branches in the way.
A common sound in the forest is the Chestbut-backed Antbird. Its call is three notes spread over about two seconds. Generally the first two notes are the same and the third sounds slightly different. They sometimes do one or two notes instead. Also listen out for the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan which has a very odd call: it carries a long way so often they cannot be seen. There are many other calls but these are two of the commonest and most obvious. Other louder birds include the tinamous, Orange-billed Sparrows, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanagers, trogons, the Riverside Wren and parrots/parakeets.
Fiery-billed Aracaris rarely seem to call, however they make a lot of noise breaking twigs, letting things fall to the ground, etc. When I hear noise like this it is generally them or monkeys that are responsible.
Plants and insects grow fast at Osa because there is a combination of a lot of sunlight, water and plenty of nutrients. Saplings (or branches cut from other plants) will grow amazingly fast: I often see fence posts that after being put in the ground start growing! There are incredible numbers of insects and many grow much larger than you will be used to if you live in a more temperate country. This all means there is plentiful food for the birds. On the Osa Peninsula this combines with a local community that does little or no hunting and makes for a wildlife-rich environment. To me it feels as if the colour, intensity of life and nature and speed of growth is "dialled up" here.
This is a Strangler Fig that begins life as a creeper. It grows up an existing tree, smothers it, the original tree dies and the Strangler Fig is left standing in its place.
This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on October 19th 2018.
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