If where you always wanted to go was “there and beyond,” and even beyond that, then we have the place for you: Punta Marenco Lodge. On a hillside near DrakeBay, on the southern Pacific coast’s OsaPeninsula, the lodge is about as far away as you can get from anywhere.
And getting there is part of the fun. We drove.You can do this in dry season only, and even then you might want to think about it first. Four-wheel drive is a must, and you should check the brakes before heading out.
From San José, we headed five hours south on theInter-American Highway
to Palmar Norte. Then we went west (a right turn) to Chacarita, where we proceeded another 42 kilometers southwest to Rincón on a raked, unpaved road. From Rincón, we took the bone-crushing, scenic route 32 km west and forded nine rivers to arrive at tiny Agujitas, the village in DrakeBay.
Once there we left our car at Doña Emilse’s ($10 per night).
We got there late – that’s when we learned that the last water taxis leave at 11:30 a.m. Never mind. We connected with the lodge (having a cell phone handy is a very good idea) and they got in touch with a young man who was willing to bomb us across the water for a price. That was OK. The sun had set and we really wanted to get there before complete nightfall. Realizing we were going to get wet, we rolled up our pants, took off our shoes and socks and, with cameras and bags held high, tumbled into the small outboard motor boat, which proceeded to bounce us wildly across the water.
In 15 minutes (the trip usually takes 25), we reached the landing place for our hotel. After sloshing back into the water, we slogged up onto the beach, then found an uphill path and followed it blindly, hoping that at the end our hotel would be there. It was.
Friendly staff in the main lodge showed us to one of the 15 thatched-roof ranchos, all facing the sea and sparsely furnished with beds draped in mosquito nets, side tables and a couple of chairs on a small porch.
The refreshing rush of cold water from the shower spout in the unpainted, concretefloored bathroom revived us and we grabbed our flashlights to make it up the path to the lodge for a cold beer (hah! at last) and a delicious, generous dinner.Here we shared tables and tales with other guests and eventually headed off to bed before the generator-produced electricity was turned off (at 10 p.m.).
We sat for a while on our porch and listened to the night sounds as we gazed at the moonlit sea. Then we pulled all the curtains wide to allow a light breeze in through the screened windows and slept despite the jungle heat.
The morning sun woke us. Breakfast consisted of lots of coffee, fresh fruit and large, light, fluffy pancakes dusted in confectioner’s sugar. As we ate, we watched scarlet macaws swoop in and land in a nearby tree for convenient picture taking. Then we hiked down to the beach, where we sat in a perfect, protected little cove with graceful palm trees bending in the breeze and planned what to do next if we only had more time. Options abound.
For all its beauty and isolation, the lodge is also known for its ecological philosophy. It is surrounded by 540 hectares of privately owned primary forest, the Punta Río Clara Wildlife Refuge, originally created by lodge founder Guillermo Miranda. Hiking in the reserve is one option. Or how about some snorkeling or horseback riding?
Guided adventure tours to CañoIsland and into nearby CorcovadoNational Park are other alternatives.
An uninhabited island, Caño Island Biological Reserve (an hour’s boat ride from Drake Bay), is a renowned diving spot and the site of a pre-Columbian cemetery with trails leading to the famous, fascinating stone spheres found here and in the Southern Zone town of Palmar Sur. In addition, humpback whales frequent the area year-round and are sighted especially often from January to March.
Widely regarded as one of world’s most biologically diverse regions, CorcovadoNational Park comprises 54,540 hectares on land, 2,400 on sea, stunning waterfalls and the country’s largest tract of primary forest.
Home to myriad species of birds, 140 mammal species, 116 different kinds of amphibians and reptiles, 500 tree species and 6,000 kinds of insects, the park has six distinct ecosystems that shelter scarlet macaws, jaguars, pumas, tapirs, poison-dart frogs and other endangered wildlife.
Kayaking, canoeing and bird-watching are other possibilities.
How to decide? Our best bet is to return and spend at least three nights here so that all these decisions will be a matter of when, not what.
Rates and Contact Info
A double at Punta Marenco Lodge costs $150, including meals. Four-day, three-night packages go for $500 per person. For information and reservations, call 297-0771, fax 241-4678 or visit www.puntamarenco.com.
Excellent, interactive directions are available on the lodge’s Web site.
By Plane. Sansa (221-9414, www.flysansa.com, $92 one way) and Nature Air (220-3054, www.natureair.com, $102 one way) make the 45-minute flight from San José to DrakeBay daily. Taxis offer transport from landing strip to bay. Flights also go to Palmar Sur, from which taxis ($10-15) transport guests 17 km (30 minutes) south to Sierpe for the one-hour boat trip to DrakeBay.
By Bus. Take the 5 a.m. bus (Tracopa, 223-7685) from San José to Palmar Norte, then taxi or bus to Sierpe to reach the water taxis, which leave at 11:30 a.m. only. Warning: Water taxis in Agujitas (DrakeBay) also leave at 11:30 a.m. only. The Agujitas taxis have wet landings.