Dr Duncan James > Nature Travel Guide > Planet Earth > the Americas > Costa Rica > Osa

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Nature Travel Guide

Location 1: Osa Peninsula (Costa Rica)

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.

Rainforest with monkeys, macaws, trails of ants, poison-dart frogs, giant lizards and much more.

Be an Osa Peninsula Explorer.

My favourite budget destinations are Dos Brazos and Jungla del Jaguar; 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. Birds, insects, lizards and mammals including monkeys can be seen in the forest which rises up to approximately 800m in the central hills. 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 also found. 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 includes Scarlet Macaw, hermit crabs, mangrove-hawks, coral reef and pelicans. However, if you want a chance of seeing some of the famous forest wildlife such as tapir, Jaguar 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 their Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/ParqueNacionalCorcovado to find out more.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
Often I see Scarlet Macaw by first noticing the bits of food they are dropping falling on the ground from out of the tree.


This information is a summary only and times/routes may have changed.

There are minor roads including local buses 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 the 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.

The Osa Peninsula is the place where I saw the most tourists arriving 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.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
A road sign at Agujitas.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
I typically saw groups of female coati travelling in groups of 10-20. The males are loners which is how I was decided that this coati resting in a tree was a male.

Wildlife of the Osa Peninsula

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
Leaf-cutter Ants are a common sight on the Osa Peninsula. They are carrying the leaf back to the colony to feed to a fungus that they farm as a food source.

The forest is the main reason most people come to the Osa Peninsula. I really enjoy the mixed flocks of birds, lizards and snakes and regular views of mammals in the forest (some can be seen begging for food in tourist areas but here the views are of 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 the national park and at Jungla del Jaguar on the south-west coast.

It is possible to walk for up to 2 hours without seeing anything: however on average on 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. The forest birds, although fewer in number, are always the highlight for me.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
A 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 look 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 the flocks of parrots/parakeets. Smaller birds such as flycatchers, tanagers, sparrows and also 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 they can be easier to see.

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 obviously 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 Acaris 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 usually branches cut from other plants) will grow amazingly fast: look out for fence posts that once put in the ground then 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.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
This is incredibly did not start out as a tree. It 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 June 2017.

Larger-scale information relating this page include the Planet Earth, the Americas and Costa Rica articles.

Even more articles including detailed site descriptions, illustrated wildlife-watching activities, self-guided walks, itinerary recommendations, birdwatching overviews and mammal-watching overviews are available in the premium eBooks.

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