Location 1: Osa Peninsula (Costa Rica)
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.
- Site 1: Dos Brazos Wildlife, particularly birds, can be seen all around this small village. (GPS coords 08.5200N 83.4000W)
- Site 2: Footpath to Puerto Jimenez and Carate ( A walk starting from Dos Brazos through a range of habitats, starting with a river crossing. (GPS coords 08.5200N 83.4000W)
- Site 3: Bolita A special place where I spent 3 weeks exploring. A hostel with a network of trails through the forest. (GPS coords 08.5200N 83.4100W)
- Site 4: Carate 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. Bus available from Puerto Jimenez. (GPS coords 08.4416N 83.4518W)
- Site 5: La Tarde A medium-priced (in 2017) ecolodge http://www.ecoturisticolatarde.com on the northern edge of the national park. Right on the edge so specialist rainforest wildlife is possible. Convenient for the Los Patos entrance to the park.
- Site 6: Cano Island Protected island with archaeological remains inland and coral reefs offshore. Popular snorkelling and diving area. In 2017 you had to visit with an organised tour. If you enjoy snorkelling then similar wildlife can also be seen for free along the coast but in smaller numbers.
- Site 7: Coast Path Coastal, open-habitat and forest wildlife on this mixed trail. Many local boat/ferry services available so you only have to walk one way. (GPS coords 08.6929N 83.6723W)
- Site 8: Los Patos Ranger Station Northern entrance to the national park. Open in 2017, entry only with a local guide.
- Site 9: San Pedrillo Entrance South-western entrance to the national park. Open in 2017, entry only with a local guide. (GPS coords 08.6279N 83.7280W)
- Site 10: La Leona Ranger Station South-eastern entrance to the national park. Open in 2017, entry only with a local guide.
- Site 11: Jungla del Jaguar Section of coastal path very close to the national park. Specialist forest wildlife can be seen. Jungla del Jaguar is a hostel accommodation at this site. (GPS coords 08.6405N 83.7319W)
- Site 12: Agujitas Trail Short trail 30 minutes walk from Agujitas. (GPS coords 08.6815N 83.6635W)
- Site 13: Los Planes Ranger Station 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 had some different, open-habitat bird species. (GPS coords 08.6477N 83.6649W)
- Site 14: Dos Brazos Park Entrance Eastern entrance to the national park. Open in 2017, entry only with a local guide.
- Birds Seen in 1 Week at Osa (Dos Brazos area) (Winter) Also includes list for 3 weeks.
- Other Wildlife Seen in 1 Week at Osa (Dos Brazos area) (Winter) Also includes list for 3 weeks.
- Birds Seen in 1 Week at Osa (Drakes Bay area) (Winter) Also includes mammal list.
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.
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 was 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 (in addition there are 14 passage, 19 winter and 3 summer)
- birds seen on 1 week research trip to Dos Brazos (winter): 114 species
- birds most often seen on 1 week research trip to Dos Brazos (winter): (starting with 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 (winter): 34 species
- birds seen on 1 week research trip to Drakes Bay (winter): 86 species
- birds most often seen on 1 week research trip to Drakes Bay (winter): (starting with 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 (winter): 34 species (yes it is the same as for Dos Brazos)
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.
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.
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.
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