Osa Peninsula

Costa Rica’s most magical corner

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Osa. For us, the word itself conjures up a sense of mysticism. Not many people call it home, making this enchanted peninsula a rare jewell for wildlife. And while stats tend to differ between sources, all of them baffle. Take this one for example: it’s estimated that this tiny plot of land, amounting to only 0.0001% of the earth’s surface area, contains a staggering 2.5% of the planet’s bio diversity.

We’ll get back to some of the atomising facts later.

The drive down to this Southwestern tip was unsurprisingly spectacular. Engulfed by the supercharged flora, we whizzed around the perimeter in a green blur, catching glimmers of the crystal blue Pacific from time to time.

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Before heading to our base for the upcoming few days, we first needed to pick up some reserves in the largest town in the region, Puerto Jimenez. With the stop off complete, and three days worth of food packed in the boot, we hurried on to a town call Dos Brazos, waving goodbye to phone connection, WiFi, and convenience stores. Dos Brazos was once a bustling gold mining village, however, it now embraces a more ecologically responsible and sustainable vision.

It was like stepping back in time. The pace of life is slow and there’s a feeling of balance and harmony that’s clearly been orchestrated by the abundant natural beauty in the area. The rough road through the town didn’t last long, and under instructions from our host we continued off road at what appeared to be a dead end, pushing our car through thick vegetation.

Within five minutes we’d landed at the idyllic home and gardens of Casa Aire Libre.

The home came equipped with an enormous kitchen suitable for any top chef, multiple hammocks and air chairs, a private garden with jungle paths, and a master bedroom up at tree level. We happily pottered about our new surroundings until the sunlight died on us, celebrating our first evening with a glass of vino and huge spread of various different tropical foods.

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A booming chorus of bird calls and a deep red sunrise was something to behold the next morning.

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Our first full day in Osa was all about acclimatising and enjoying our new space. The expansive grounds and many amenities of our temporary home meant we had ample amounts of paths to explore, wildlife to admire, and foods to feast on. Maybe it was just the novelty of it, but the removal of walls in an environment like this felt like we could unconsciously absorb even more of Mother Nature while simply sat relaxing.

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Sometimes, however, there are more obvious physical encounters that come from having no barriers. As the power of the sun waned we went to grab a layer to put on. Lifting a t-shirt, a sizeable and startled wolf spider (we think) jumped off and perched itself on a nearby shelf. After much commotion, we let the spider be, and observed a plethora of other passers-by that evening, from tree frogs, to oversized clumsy flying beetles and the odd giant moth. We were truly in the thick of it.

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Our location in the foothills of the extremely important Corcovado National, which protects over 50% of the forest in the area, meant we were walking distance to a network of incredible jungle trails. However, the park itself is only accessible with a guide, and that was a little out of our price range. Fortunately for us, the nearby Bolita Rainforest Hostel has created some its own alternative self-guided options on the fringes of the park.

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Bolita has to be one of the hardest hostels in the country to get to. It required a thirty minute strenuous hike from our home through dense, shady forest, and it wasn’t like we were staying in a connected place! The owner, an American naturist and nudist enthusiast, set up the hostel seventeen years ago. During this time span the hostel has forged out approximately fifteen kilometers worth of trails through sixty plus hectares of rainforest. On entry to the hostel we paid a small fee for path maintenance and examined the rough map of routes.

Briefing complete, we marched on to start the first of many trails. Clothes optional was the message on the entry sign. We didn’t go that far, but went on to zigzag along the various trails for hours, treading carefully along the way. The humidity was heavy, but cloud cover meant we enjoyed cooler temperatures compared to average. We encountered three fleeing snakes during the day. All our serpent friends were small and apparently non venomous. With such abundance of snake life, we also had the fortune of spotting one of their hunters, a laughing falcon. We watched from afar until the beautiful bird silently flew away.

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We followed routes to two separate waterfalls, which we’ve become so used to. Eventually, we worked our way upwards to a remarkable viewpoint above the canopy outlooking the national park and spanning out towards the sea. Within a moment of sitting down, we were greeted by two yellow throated toucans, who swooped in to perch on the tree opposite us. Such timely encounters couldn’t have been better created in our imaginations. The gifts kept occurring as we returned to the shade of the jungle. This time we stumbled across a gang of juvenile spider monkeys playing high up above our heads. One poor fella was missing a tail, but this didn’t seem to be holding him back. They freely swung between branches with poise, until forming a small huddle where they proceeded to prune one another. We waved to the smallest in the group who sat alone still playing, and maybe it was a coincidence as it moved a nearby branch at the same time, but it felt like he or she gestured back to us. Their curious gaze filled our hearts with joy. Our tally for monkeys was now at three out of the four species in the country. Seeing this group of spider monkeys out in their natural environment was by far the best.

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What a day. One that left us wishing we had more time in the region.

We parted ways the next day, fitting in one final nature activity before leaving. Rising at 5 am, we met our bird guide for the morning, Rolando. After a quick cup of coffee we ventured out as light started to fill the sky. The starting point was conveniently on our doorstep.

For anyone that cares, we did our best to list those that we remember. You can find it at the bottom of the post. A few call outs are required. Ranking number one in our sightings was undoubtedly a pair of Spectacled Owls. Having never seen an owl of any sort in the wild, seeing these two hyper-tuned broad faced characters up close during daylight hours was rare. High fives were in order! Second on the list would have to be a fleeting sighting of the Turquoise Continga. The insane bright colours of this bird are hard to fathom. Third spot goes to go to a group of Scarlet Macaw that flew overhead while letting out their lung busting squawk. It was quite the conclusion to our stay in Osa. The energy of this living, breathing landscape left us gobsmacked. It’s home to between 4,000–5,000 species of vascular plants, more than 700 species of tree, nearly 400 species of birds, 124 different mammals, thousands of insects, and 115 species of reptiles. The list could go on. We knew we’d barely scratched the surface of the place, and departed ways knowing there were many reasons to one day return.

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With only two days left in Costa Rica, we decided to break up the drive back to San Jose with a stopover in the beach town of Uvita. That evening we strolled down Playa Uvita and entered Costa Rica’s youngest national park, Marino Ballena. The park is most coveted for its whale tail feature. This giant rock and sand formation reveals itself at low tide and from overhead looks just like the tail of a whale. It also happens to be a haven for humpbacks at specific times of the year. On the other side of the tail you find Playa Hermosa (where we’d enjoyed a siesta some days before). Sun down from the whales tail will long stick in our memory. The curtains were drawing on our Costa Rica adventure and the final scene was picture perfect. The journey, spanning over 1,800 kilometres, through four of the seven provinces, across volcanic highlands, rainforests, and sublime beaches, was everything we desired and more.

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  • Common Flycatcher
  • Clay Coloured Thrush
  • Blue Crowned Motmot
  • Costa Rican Swift
  • Red Crowned Woodpecker
  • Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
  • Buff-throated Saltator
  • Turquoise Cotinga
  • Green Honeycreeper (male and female)
  • Streaked Flycatcher
  • Southern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Palm Tanger
  • Slaty-tail Trogen
  • Blue black Grosbeak
  • Eastern Wood Peewee
  • Spectacled Owl
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Orange-chined Parakeet
  • Scarlet Macaws
  • Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Scaly-breast Hummingbird
  • Golden-hooded Tanager
  • Burial-seed Eater
  • Purple-crowned fairy
  • Northern Bentbill
  • Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Great Currassow
  • Black-cheeked Ant-tanager
  • Tawny-winged Woodcreeper
  • Black-hooded Antshrike
  • River Siren
  • Swansons Thrush
  • Rose-eye Hawk
  • Black-striped Sparrow
  • Turkey Vultures
  • Gartered Trogen
  • Piratic Flycatcher
  • Chachalaka
  • Green Kingfisher
  • Blue-ground Dove

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