The remote jungle town of Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula is widely regarded as the most biodiverse and beautiful region in Costa Rica. But there is one superlative that many brochures usually leave out: most expensive.
But budget backpackers dreaming of encounters with monkeys, tapirs and the mountainous coastline of Drake Bay need not despair. A trip to the famed jungle town is still within reach.
Skipping the flight
Part of Drake Bay’s allure is its nearly inaccessible location deep in the Osa jungle. Most of the area’s wealthier clientele fly into a nearby airstrip, but there are cheaper options.
The most common non-flight option is to take the ferry from Bar Las Vegas in Sierpe, which leaves twice a day at 11 a.m. for $15 per person and 3 p.m. for $20 per person. To get to Sierpe, you can either drive or take the Tracopa bus for $11 per person from San José, with stops along the coastal highway. From Palmar you can take a $15 cab ride (split between up to 4 people) to Sierpe.
Bus and ferry schedules change frequently so be sure to check with Tracopa (506-2221-4214) and Bar Las Vegas (506-2788-1082) by phone before planning your trip.
The good news is that nearly all of the accommodations in Drake Bay include breakfast, lunch and dinner. The bad news is that the prices are also two to three times as expensive as similar hotels in other parts of the country. But while the area certainly has its fair share of luxury wilderness lodges, there are also plenty of other options.
Cheap: For those looking for a jungle lodge experience, it is still possible without parting with several hundred dollars a night.
Las Caletas Lodge offers the standard three meals a day, use of sea kayaks and snorkel gear and a killer view of the ocean for between $60-$95 a night per person. The hotel is right along the coast in the Caletas area where most of the high-end lodges are located.
Hotel Pirate Cove is another budget lodge option with bungalows, cabins and air-conditioned rooms for between $75 and $135 per person per night with meals and use of kayaks included. This hotel is further away from the town of Drake Bay on a secluded beach.
Corcovado Adventures Tent Camp is a great option for those wanting to see either Corcovado National Park or Isla de Caño. The rates start at $299 per person for two nights, but that includes all meals, access to kayaks, fishing gear and snorkels, and tours of either Corcovado National Park or Isla de Caño.
Cheaper: Lower-priced and more easily accessible hotels can be found in town, but come without the included meals or the secluded jungle vibe.
Cabinas Manolo has rooms for as low as $15 a night during the low season and also offers packages with cheap Corcovado tours. There is also a new restaurant on site.
Vista Drake Lodge has different types of rooms for as low as $15 per person per night, depending on the number of days and number of people. The lodge also has two mountain cabins with beach views that can be shared between four people for as low as $25 per person per night.
Dirt Cheap: If you’re really down for roughing it, you can save even more money by deviating from the area’s traditional lodgings.
One option is Bam Bam’s. Located on the beach just before Corcovado Adventure’s tent camp, Bam Bam will let you stay in his house for $10 a night. You can set up a tent upstairs and have access to the kitchen and restrooms. It may sound sketchy, but the property is located right on the beach with a beautiful garden full of tall trees and several tadpole ponds out front.
Another little-known fact is that the first 50 meters from any coast in Costa Rica is considered public property. This means that anyone can set up a tent within that restricted zone, even near hotels. But be warned, like anywhere else in the world, camping on a random stretch of beach can pose a safety risk.
Drake Bay’s seclusion means that all the food not caught or grown in town is shipped by boat from Sierpe, making it more expensive than in other parts of Costa Rica. You can save money by packing groceries before you arrive in town, or by checking out some of the cheaper restaurants.
Marisqueria Margarita sits on the main road in town just before the hill down to the beach. You will know it from a sign featuring a crab in a chef’s hat and the word “restaurant.” The restaurant has fish options for under $8 as well as other typical Costa Rican fare.
Obviously the main attraction on the Osa Peninsula is Corcovado National Park, but tours can cost $150 per person or more if you sleep in the park.
Though it is easier with a park guide, locals will tell you that they can find the same wildlife along the trails outside of the park. A walk along the beach from town will eventually lead you to the mouth of the Río Agujitas. Across the suspension bridge are a number of hiking trails including one along the bridge.
The Río Agujitas itself is also a beautiful kayaking spot with plenty of opportunities to spot animals. Costa Cetacea offers kayak tours for $30 during the low season with a wildlife guide and snorkel gear to look below the surface along with a hike through the sacred spring garden. They also offer a night bioluminescence kayak tour for the same price.
Another low-cost tour is with “The Bug Lady.” The 2.5-hour nature night walk is for those interested in all things creepy crawly, but due to the logistics of getting to the tour’s meeting point is only available to visitors lodging in certain areas.
Corcovado Canopy Tour is located in Los Planes, just 20 minutes from Drake Bay, and the relatively affordable excursion through the treetops near the national park includes transportation, guides, coffee, water and fresh fruit.
If you’re lucky, while walking the coastline you’ll run into a man with a few horses. Play your cards right, and he’ll let you jump on for whatever you can pay.