Close your eyes and picture a tropical jungle and a calm sea. Yep! That is the Golfito area in the Osa Peninsula. The Osa peninsula is really wild. In the Golfito, the green “lush” slopes of jungle end up in reddish deserted sand beaches and a sea teeming with large marine mammals. The Golfo Dulce is a tropical fiord. The beach slope abruptly ends in a marine cliff. This is the reason why there are so many whales and giant mantas in the area. But the best is the number of birds that are around- the first day we saw Chesnut billed toucans, red macaws, caracaras, many hummingbirds, and a Jesus Christ lizard. All in the garden!
The road from Uvita to Puerto Jimenez is a well maintained asphalted road, which looks rather new. The only caveat seems to be that mudslides could be frequent during the rainy season. Almost all roads exiting from the main road are dirt roads, for which a 4WD car is needed both because the roads are really steep but also because one needs to cross many rivers.
In Osa it usually rains regularly but a little bit, mostly in the afternoon and it is over in the morning. According to the locals, the worst month in terms of rain is the month of October, when it rains non-stop for several days.
La Palma is a small village in the Golfito area, on the way to Puerto Jimenez . It has a simple but well-assorted supermarket. There were no other services, like pharmacies for which we were suggested to go to Puerto Jimenez.
Puerto Jimenez is a small town, just a couple of streets but it is well-assorted. There is a BM supermarket, a couple of pharmacies and a hospital. In the time that I was there, I couldn’t find a vet, but there seems to be one, according to the information online. The MINAE (Ministry) has a local branch there
It seems that bikes are a common means of transportation in the area. Regarding accommodation, the locals indicate that it is possible to find very nice houses with furniture, fridge, etc for about 500 US$. Unfurnished houses at 350 US$ and apartments for 200 US$.
In Puerto Jimenez one can also arrange a visit to the Parque Nacional de Corcovado, which can range from one-day visits to multi-day trekking tours. We organized our one-day visit to Corcovado with Osa Wild and we were very happy with the guide but there is no shortage of local tour operators. What we liked about Osa Wild is that they are strongly committed to wildlife conservation and community development.
Drake is barely 40 km from La Palma, on the other side of the Osa peninsula…but it took 1,5 hours to reach it. The road is a dirt road and one has to go up and down many hills and cross 5 rivers before getting there. Drake is a low-key village, far away from the image of hyper luxurious resorts that I had in my mind (they are there, but spread along the coast).
It could be a very quiet village if not because of the many motorboats (some very noisy with two engines) and lots of youngsters with very noisy motorbikes, particularly early in the morning when the day tours to the Corcovado National park start.
Corcovado National Park
The day tours start in Drake Bay. Tourists are taken to the beach and then to a boat that will take them to the Sirena Station, at the Park. Wildlife is abundant in all its forms – mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, etc. and it is definitively worth the trip to the Osa peninsula just to visit this jewel of a national park. We were there only for the day, but the Corcovado is worth several days, including spending the night at the Sirena station and enjoying a night tour. It is definitively in the wish list for our sabbatical!
Osa Conservation– Puerto Jiménez / Cabo Matapalo / Piro
Osa Conservation‘s Piro Station is located about 1 hour drive from Puerto Jimenez, through a very battered dirt road (Namibia comes to mind…). I had to cross 3 rivers which in February had a very low water level and were relatively easy to cross but one wonders about the rainy season. I also had to go up and down very steep slopes, for which I needed the 4WD. On the other hand, the road is wonderful for wildlife spotting.
The station consists of 5 buildings: an open common room with the kitchen, a laboratory for researchers and three accommodation buildings, each of them with beds for 12 people (4 per room on bunk beds) and two bathrooms.
Osa Conservation has a well-oiled volunteer program. Volunteers in OC typically divide their days into supporting the researchers in the different research projects. A weekly schedule is produced for every volunteer. In February 2019, among others they had projects related to (1) Sea Turtles; (2) Restoration of mangroves in Sierpe and development of new economic activities around the mangroves; (3) Forest restoration and rewilding of pastures; (4) Interactive botanical garden; (5) Healthy rivers, a project in collaboration with local communities (ASADAS) for the monitoring of the health of the rivers through identification of invertebrates. (6) Cats & their prey: camera traps all over the Osa peninsula to start mapping the current population of cats (each of them has a distinctive skin pattern) and their prey and (7) Agroecology.
To work as a volunteer a donation of 300 US$ is required. If the volunteers take part in the lunches at the station, the price is 10 US$ per day. If one stays overnight at the station as part of a project (intern) the price is 39 US$ per day including meals. (February 2019 prices.)
During the stay at Osa Conservation, I had the chance to take part of a night patrol with the sea turtle team, which was marvelous! During the patrols they usually do four activities: monitor turtle activity, tagging of turtles, re-location of nests and protection of the baby turtles when they hatch and until they reach the sea.
Caminos de Osa – La Palma and Puerto Jimenez
Caminos de Osa is an NGO with the objective of promoting community-based rural tourism. Their aim is to become a large tour operator (community-based) that works with different entrepreneurial activities in the rural areas of Osa around sustainable tourism. In total Caminos de Osa has 42 members managing touristic activities in all the peninsula de Osa.
The challenge that the members of Caminos de Osa have is common to many communities surrounding protected areas. Most visitors go only to the Corcovado National Park and do not leave anything to the local community. In other words, the creation of so many national parks and reserves puts many restrictions to the local communities about what they can and cannot do, but does not ensure any income when it comes to alternative activities. The members of Caminos de Osa are concerned with how to increase the economic sustainability of those touristic activities. They would be welcoming help with a web page, social networks, economic feasibility analysis, funding applications, etc. From a researcher’s perspective, Caminos de Osa is an interesting case in terms of the creation of a very strong social capital and its impact on resilience. As an example, in the natural disasters of a year ago, the members of Caminos de Osa were able to support each other and provide advice on how to deal with the impact (resilience).
In sum, Caminos de Osa is definitively a community-based initiative. The conservation dimension comes from the transformation from environmentally unsustainable activities to sustainable activities –eco-tourism-. But the most needed contribution has less to do with wildlife and nature and more to do with the economic feasibility of the touristic activities and marketing strategies to reach international tourists.
Fundación neotrópica- Rincón Golfito
The history of the Fundacion Neotropica (FN) is very interesting. For many years, the local communities in Osa depended on a banana company. At one point in time, the company decided to leave which created high unemployment in the area. Local people then turned to hunting, logging and cattle farming. With the creation of the National Park, the locals were expropriated and moved to different areas…but they never got the property rights over the land in which they were relocated. The government continued to enlarge the protected land, repeating the expropriation procedure when creating the National Park of Piedras Blancas and the Forestry reserve of Golfo dulce. Fundación Neotrópica was one of the pioneers in the area fighting side by side the local communities to have their rights recognized while at the same time supporting the conservation initiatives.
Between ’85 and ’95, the FN was involved in one of the most ambitious and long projects – the Proyecto Boscoso. The aim is to help local communities to find sustainable production alternatives like palmito and pejivalle. FN provided environmental education to the local communities. Rancho Quemado is one of the most successful outcomes of such initiatives.
Some of the projects that they are currently involved in are (1) mangrove restoration (in Sierpe); (2) Arboretum; (3) Valuation of environmental impact and mediation of conflicts; (4) Support to the fishing women association in search of alternative economic activities; (5) With the University of Costa Rica they are working in a project to develop the land for either extraction or development of manufacturing products based on the local production (for example, soaps or creams based on honey). (6) environmental education.
FN has very nice accommodation facilities where volunteers can also stay for 20 US$ a day (February 2019), including meals. There are double rooms and dormitories.
Corcovado Foundation – Drake Bay
The Corcovado Foundation works mainly helping the local communities to develop their touristic ventures [it sounded a lot like Caminos de Osa] channeling the requests that they have from tour operators to the local touristic companies. They also work with education in schools – environmental and otherwise – and have a small sea turtle conservation program. The Foundation is led and managed by locals.
In sum, Osa has almost everything that we were looking for: many national parks and protected areas, some of the best diving sites in Costa Rica (Isla del Caño), nature in its purest form, a great variety of volunteer opportunities and many community-based conservation programs. Osa, here we go!