CABO MATAPALO, OsaPeninsula – Rare is the day when one wakes to a view of the sea through the front doors and the jungle through the back window. If that is a regularity in your life, consider yourself in a vast minority of lucky.
The 2009 State of the World report by Worldwatch Institute estimated that almost 80 percent of people living in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean live in places considered “cities” or urban sprawls. But on southwestern Costa Rica’s OsaPeninsula, there are places to remind you of what else is out there, and what natural endlessness there is to explore.
On the remote southernmost tip of the peninsula, a handful of eco-lodges and eco resorts provide gifts of tourism to the world in the thick of the most diverse and naturally pristine region of Costa Rica.
Phillip Davison, a biologist who has lived at Bosque del Cabo lodge for 10 years researching the biodiversity of the area and leading tours of the property, describes the amount of natural wonders and wildlife in the area as “stupefying.” There isn’t a better word for it.
From Puerto Jiménez, the small port town in the southeast corner of Osa, one road leads inland and then traces the southern coast of the peninsula. As you plod along this rocky, pothole-laden byway, the encroaching density of the forest begins to engulf you as you ford several low-lying streams snaking their way toward the Pacific. With the blue of the ocean to the south and the thick greenery of CorcovadoNational Park to the north, civilization seems long lost in the rearview mirror.
Then, the entrances of Lapa Ríos and Bosque del Cabo eco-lodges appear in the thick of it all.
“Most people might not exactly understand what they’re getting here when they make a reservation,” Davison says of Bosque del Cabo. “It seems they come here with an idea of what it will be like, but when they see what is available to them and they realize they are in one of the most ecologically rich areas in the world, they are usually amazed that such a place exists.”
It is almost difficult to wrap your head around at first. When you enter Bosque del Cabo, for example, you experience a sort of sensory overload that requires an adjustment period as your eyes move from the sun disappearing into the Pacific, to the glory of scarlet macaws flying frequently overhead, to the small coatis scampering across the property as calmly as if they were the neighbors’ dogs.
A similar scene is found at Lapa Ríos, as well as at El Remanso and Encanta La Vida lodges, all on the tip of the peninsula, Cabo Matapalo. Lapa Ríos owner John Lewis says that by simply standing in the parking lot of the resort, guests can see up to 45 species of birds, including toucans and macaws, four species of monkeys, coatis and “just all kinds of stuff.”
“When people stay with us, they experience the rain forest,” Lewis says. “Something like a website can’t possibly describe the environment, scenery and wildlife. … We are happy we can provide people with an experience they can’t get anywhere else.”
On the grounds of these locations, numerous paths have been etched across the jungle floor to lead you into places the imagination of a city-dweller couldn’t create. Each path has its own menu, from 50-meter waterfalls, to an arrival at a deserted beach, to a glimpse of yellow-beaked toucans chatting to one another, to gangs of monkeys skipping across tree branches overhead.
“It’s been so neat for them to see everything in a natural environment, versus seeing stuff like this in a zoo,” says visitor Jackie Harris of her three children, whom she brought to Bosque del Cabo in June. “I think it gives them a different perspective of nature. Here, they are getting to see it as it actually occurs.”
Throughout their stay, Harris’ children participated in many of the activities provided at the lodge, including waterfall rappelling, horseback riding, dolphin-watching, visiting the animal sanctuary and surfing. But the southern Osa road doesn’t stop there. As you continue west from Cabo Matapalo, other tourism splendors, including Lookout Inn and Luna Lodge, appear in this almost untouched sliver of the country.
After fording several more streams, the road begins to head north on the west side of the peninsula. As the beach nears on the west, Lookout Inn appears on the east, welcoming you to the small town of Carate, where locals can still be seen panning for gold in some of the rivers that flow into the Pacific.
Lookout Inn is unique in that it provides immediate beach access, as well as immaculate views of the ocean and surrounding forest from its elevated location atop a hill. Bird-watching is so spectacular from Lookout Inn that owner Terry Conroy once told The Tico Times, “If you don’t see a scarlet macaw while you’re here, your lodging is free” (TT, March 26, 2004).
Of all the stunning spots in this southern corner of the Osa, Luna Lodge is perhaps the most unique. Located northwest of Lookout Inn, Luna Lodge is actually where the rocky road from Puerto Jiménez comes to an end. Literally. The long, treacherous road winds and climbs and weaves up the side of a mountain, finally, finally running into the parking lot of Luna Lodge. The road is so challenging that, a few hundred meters prior to arriving at the lodge’s parking lot, a sign encourages you: “The worst is over! Keep going!”
And it’s worth the trek.
The improbability of Luna Lodge’s location is what distinguishes itself from the others. While all the tourism venues along the southern tip of the Osa are magical, Luna Lodge is flabbergasting. Somehow an opulent hotel – pool, restaurant, bar and thatched bungalows – has been created in the rain forest, on the side of a mountain, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
“We want guests to experience all the wonderful nature available in this part of Costa Rica,” says Edwin Barquero, general manager of Luna Lodge. “It’s pretty easy to do that here.”
It’s pretty easy to do anywhere along the southern tip of the OsaPeninsula.
Osa Peninsula South
Bosque del Cabo, www.bosquedelcabo.com,
2735-5206, 8389-2846, $155-230 per person, double occupancy, including meals; houses $325-550.
El Remanso Lodge, www.elremanso.com,
2735-5569, 8814-5775, $145-225 per person, double occupancy, including meals.
Encanta La Vida, www.encantalavida.com,
2735-5678, 8376-3209, $100-130 per person, double occupancy, including meals.
Lapa Ríos, www.laparios.com,
2735-5130, 2735-5281, $255-490 per person, double occupancy, including meals.
Lookout Inn, www.lookout-inn.com,
2735-5431, (757) 644-5967 from the U.S., $115-175 per person, double occupancy, including meals.
Luna Lodge, www.lunalodge.com,
8380-5036, 2206-5859, 2206-5860, (888) 409-8448 toll-free in U.S., $100-175 per person, double occupancy, including meals.
Also, Kapú Rancho Almendros (home.earthlink.net/~kapu),
three rustic cabins with kitchen and bath, and ISEAMI (www.iseami.com), small cabins near Carate, often hosts student groups.
By air: Domestic airlines Nature Air (www.natureair.com) and Sansa (www.flysansa.com) serve Puerto Jiménez daily. Fares vary but generally range from about $95 to $130 one way. From Puerto Jiménez, private taxis will make the trip to Carate for about $85 for up to six people. The colectivo bus to Carate is about $9 per person and leaves from the Puerto Jiménez bus station twice a day at 6 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Locally owned Alfa Romeo Air Taxi (2735-5178) can take up to four people from Puerto Jiménez to Carate for $175.
By car: From San José, there are two main roads, the Costanera (coastal highway) and Route 2, which winds through the Central Valley and passes through the mountains. Both roads meet up in Palmar Norte. From here, go south to Chacarita, where there is a gas station. Turn right and you are on the OsaPeninsula. Follow this road until you come to Puerto Jiménez (about eight hours). From Puerto Jiménez, continue south to the gas station and turn right. This road leads to all of the southern Osa lodges.
By bus: Transportes Blanco-Lobo offers service from San José to Puerto Jiménez leaving at 8 a.m. and noon daily (Ca. 12, Av. 7/9, 2257-4121, ¢6,250/$12).