Drake Bay



One week in Drake Bay - this was our plan for end of February 2020. A year before, in January 2019, we explored another side of Osa Peninsula (Puerto Jimenez), and we liked it. "Wild life everywhere" statement of our guide Carlos was a bit of an overstatement back then, but we did see plenty of monkeys, coatis, lots of scarlet macaws and other things. At the same time, it was a comfortable stay and we hoped that Drake Bay would be even more exciting.


Day 1: one night stay in Jaco

It's a long drive from San Jose to Drake Bay, and the last leg of the road can be done only with 4x4, so we decided not to drive all way through at the 1st day because crossing rivers in darkness can be challenging, but to stay one night in Jaco which is 1.5 hour from San Jose. We stopped at Hotel DoceLunas in Jaco and liked it very much.


I suppose during weekend it may be busy, but we were lucky to be there on working day, and everything was just nice and quiet: reception, swimming pool, restaurant.



By the way, the restaurant opens around 5-5:30PM. It seems to be a family owned place. The teenager guy who waits there is very friendly, speaks English a little, but it would not hurt if you remind him to bring the sauce basket. Food was OK but not perfect: fish my wife ordered was a bit dry, beef tenderloin I ordered was not actually tenderloin, and the size of it was very economical. But after 5 hours flight and 1.5 hours drive we were exhausted and did not want to look for a better place.

The room (#5) was very spacey, with rather quiet A/C, lots of towels and big bathroom.



Remember kitchen/bathroom episode from Friends? This was actually it:


A bit funny and unusual, but perfectly functional and spacey.

Day 2: 4x4 road to Drake Bay

Next morning we got up early, had a coffee by the pool, then waited for breakfast which starts around 7:15-7:30AM and is included in the price. Traditional CR rice with beans and easily fried eggs, some fruits, coffee and juice - all was good, nothing to complain about, and in 30 minutes we were back on the road.

Passing by Quepos, we stopped at our favorite Maxi Pali supermarket. Assuming that in wild remote area, such as Drake, groceries can cost a little extra, we filled up the trunk with some stuff for a 4 day stay.

In Bajo Bosque Cabins we rented in Drake, there was a kitchen advertised, and we decided to take full advantage of it. We always do it when possible because my wife Svetlana can cook, and her rare nowadays skills saved us a lot of money in different countries and places.

The road to Osa Peninsula is actually very good,

with the exception of the last piece, when, once you are there and see the sign, you finally make a right turn to Drake. If you try to find a route from Jaco to any hotel in the Drake Bay on Google Maps, you probably won't be able to find any. But Mr. Garmin knows his job and happy to assist.

We made a brief stop before the turn and I installed my GoPro on the top of the hood, and the adventure began.


Once I have time and process the footage, I will upload some of it to my Youtube channel, so stay in touch. Funny story is that we didn't make it to Drake in one shot, and not because of bad road, but because after 25 minutes of driving we were stopped by construction people. They were putting asphalt and completely closed the road for the entire day!


Apparently they do it now every day: work starts around 7AM and finishes around 4 or 5PM. When we asked a guy in yellow robe how long we need to wait, he said "about 3 hours". Another one said "may be 2". Then another one in a truck - "one hour". Then one more on a motorcycle who was returning in the opposite direction killed the hope with firm "4 hours at least". So we decided that it does not make sense to lose 4 hours of daylight sitting in hot and dust. We drove back, and then about 20 km to Puerto Jimenez, just to take a look what changed there during a year since we've been there last time, a to put some gas, because we figured that may be we didn't have enough, and Mr. Garmin did not show anything even remotely looking like a gas station in or around Drake Bay.

In three hours we returned back (it was about 4 or 5 PM), construction was gone, and we happily passed through 300 meters of brand new and shiny asphalt. I will post some pictures of the road from the footage. Our brave tiny 4x4 was doing well, but we knew that after 2 river crossings the biggest challenge was still ahead, and we finally got to it.

There was a river about 50 meters wide, and another car like ours just stopped before crossing it. The French speaking guy was staring at it, with his girlfriend in a car. The girlfriend was speaking English a bit and we figured that they had no idea where to cross, possible it at all or not, and hoping we or someone else could show them the way.

Facing the river, on the right side there was a rope hanging across it, and we saw motorcycle tracks going along with it on both sides, but the river seemed to be too deep and scary for a car, more than 1.5 feet deep. On another (left) side there was a small island with a lot of car tracks, dividing the river into two smaller streams, seemed easier to cross, and I decided to explore this option.

I walked through the 1st stream, it was less than a foot deep. The second stream looked even more shallow, and I made a decision to cross it there. First stream was fine, but crossing the 2nd one in this place was a big mistake: not visible, but the river at the far end, on another side, was much deeper (about 2.5 feet), and apparently the bottom there was muddy. So we got stuck.

The exhaust pipe was bubbling in the water like crazy and it all was pretty scary. In a minute or two a teenage boy on a motorcycle approached the river from another direction, put his bike aside, and with big smile and some Spanish comments rolled his pants up and just started to push the car out of the river. We did it all together with my wife, also in the river, and me on the gas pedal. It took about a minute and we were all wet, happy and free to go. We gave the boy 10 bucks, and all appreciated each other. The boy showed that the rope pass actually works, and being on another side we noticed that after getting to the island, it's much easier to drive on it about 200 meters down the stream, and there is another, shallow and firm crossing there for cars and trucks.

If we simply waited for 5 or 10 minutes, we would actually see an SUV and a bigger truck coming from Drake and crossing the river using that path, so we memorized it for our way back. Svetlana says she saw the road parallel to the river on another side leading to that better crossing, but she was busy talking to the stoned guy and his girlfriend.

Another small river crossing, more bumpy roads, and finally we arrived at Bajo Bosque Drake Cabins.


As advertised, we've got a balcony with a hammock


and a "mountain view" (from the top):

The only function of the hammock was to make the 3 feet wide balcony completely useless, but the mountain was not high enough to see it anyway, so we did not complaint. For us the most important feature of the room was the kitchen, and Svetlana made a good use of it right away.


There were no A/C in the room, but two big fans where running at level 5 and it was OK. The hosts were very friendly, unfortunately not speaking much English but using WhatsApp for translation. Only two mid size towels for everything were kind of unusual, I would say especially for such a dusty place, where you want to take a shower all the time. Another issue was water pressure. Shower was barely working, partially compensating for the towel issue because you wash and dry in that shower at the same time, and get out of it not very wet anyway.

While Svetlana was taking care of dinner, I was trying to contact Rebeca Quirós, a biologist from Tamandua Biological Station, who was supposed to be our tour guide for the next two days. Finally she showed up in WhatsApp (what is the deal with this thing in Drake?) and we decided that we'll pick her up on the road by her place at 7AM. Here there are some images of the road to Tamandua Station taken from GoPro footage.
 

Day 3: Tamandua Day Tour


Well, when I booked the tour with Tamandua Biological Station for $45 per person we had certain expectations. Fist of all, we've been to Osa Peninsula a year before and did see a lot of wildlife, including even species we did not meet before on our multiple visits to Costa Rica since 2007, like scarlet macaws or spider monkeys. In 2019 we've been to Corcovado and saw coatis, white faced capuchins, a butt of ant eater sleeping on a tree, but most of animals we actually saw were outside of the official park and tour, just in the trees around hotels, on free trails, or at beaches.
 


So in 1) such remote place as Drake Bay, 2) around a biological station called Tamandua, 3) on a 4 km hike trail in Osa Peninsula jungles, we were expecting to see at least a mammal or two. Like an ant eater (tamandua), at least in a cage, you know. Well, we did see lots of ants
 


(no ant eaters), a broken shell of an iguana egg, three or four small frogs of the same specie (cannot take a picture because they are brownish like leaves around), a tiny spider (so tiny that my camera could not focus on it), and a bird on a top of a tree. That picture I have:
 


Rebeca told us it was a hummingbird. When we asked about occasional snakes Rebecca said that we need another (night) tour to see them which costs $25. We also saw some tapir's tracks on the trail and Rebecca mentioned another client who saw 5 tapirs with her, but we were not so lucky, only tracks, sorry.

At the end of the hike there was a nice tiny waterfall with a swimming pool.

In Costa Rica we always look for a waterfall to swim in, so we spent some quality time in it. To be fair, this one probably was the best in Costa Rica we swam in, rather deep, very refreshing and quiet. Then we returned to Tamandua station, and basically that was it for $90 ($45x2). Oh, I forgot cold lemonade prepared for us by Rebeca's volunteer.

Now let's think about it: what the heck did we pay for? If it's a guided wildlife tour, I simply want my money back, subtract lemonade off course. If it's a waterfall tour, same concept like La Fortuna or Rainmaker, it's extremely overpriced. $20 with traditional CR breakfast included is more common price everywhere, $45 is just ridiculous. In my opinion, Tamandua tours as business model is not viable, they can be considered only for a charitable donation. If you don't have anything to offer, don't sell it as something fabulous, in my opinion it's misleading and misrepresentation and I just feel taken advantage of. But you can beg for money, that's OK.
 
We dropped Rebeca back where we picked her up and returned to the cabins to take a shower, have lunch, and think what else we can do today. The problem was that Svetlana had a bad knee and this up and down $45 trail simply hurt it so much she barely could walk. 
 

We had another tour booked with Rebecca next day, the boat to Sirena station (1.5 hours one way) with 6 km loop hike at Sirena and supposedly lots of wildlife to see, but at the end of the waterfall tour Rebecca told us that Sirena tour was not actually with her (biologist which was the reason why we booked a wildlife tour with her as professional at the first place), but there is some tour agency office we have to find at the beach at 6AM next morning. She drew this "map" for us so we can easily find the agency. Unfortunately she did not know the guide's name, so we could not find any reviews or recommendations in Internet, and said something like "there are much better chances to see some animals on Sirena station" than on her tour we've just completed.

Suppose there are 10 times more chances, 0x10 is still zero, and keeping in mind last year's experience in Corcovado (the tour was very exhausting but didn't worth it) and Svetlana's bad knee we decided to make the decision to go or not to go at 5AM next day and see how the knee behaves first.
 

Days 4 & 5: Drake Bay Hiking Trail beaches

Cocalito

Next morning the knee did not behave and we canceled the Sirena tour through WhatsApp. Rebecca was not happy about the cancellation because it was too late (bad things never happen at the last minute, right?) and apparently some money somewhere changed hands already. But she never mentioned anything about paying for us to anybody and did not take any deposit, so we left her problems wih her and instead of questionable Sirena decided to find the perfect beach.
 
First of all, the closest beach in Drake Bay is called Playa Colorada. We took a look of it last evening when were exploring the village using Rebecca's "map". It looks nice, especially in the morning

but people do not suggest to swim here. We did it yesterday afternoon though because were kind of desperate - being in Costa Rica for two days and not jump in the ocean even once was unusual (actually never happened to us before). So we did try Playa Colorada, it was OK to satisfy the immediate need, but water was really dirty. Once you are in, you can see some suspended matter (not sand) in it, and it's disgusting and scary.
 
Our hosts recommended Playa Cocalito, but it cannot be reached by car. 30-40 min hike required, and we did not have time for that yesterday. Today we do. The hike is mostly plain and easy, it starts at the Drake Bay Hiking Trail Head (point "A" on the map below) and goes through all the beaches till the very San Pedrillo. More pictures from the Drake Bay Hiking Trail are here.
 

Playa Cocalito (point "B" on the map below) is the closest one.
 


We were a bit slow because of the knee but finally got to Playa Cocalito in an hour or so. 
 

There is a narrow area, may be about 100 meters, without rocks and big waves. Cocalito was calm and clean, so we spent a couple of hours there, until it started to get really hot and more people were coming down from the trail. Cocalito is a morning beach. More pictures of Cocalito Beach are here

We returned to the cabin, had lunch and nap to avoid direct sun, and in the afternoon (around 3PM) decided to explore on-a-wheel option. Rebeca mentioned that the Sirena boat tour (the one we cancelled) on their way back makes a stop for lunch on San Josecito beach. We figured that there must be a reason why San Josecito. If you take Drake Bay Hiking Train from the village, it takes 3 hours to get to San Josecito. But it seems that it can be reached much faster from another side, if you drive to Playa Rincon and then hike from there. This was the option we wanted to explore.

Rincon

We did not get to San Josecito on that day, simply because Playa Rincon, where we drove to, was just amazing and we wanted to spend some time on it.


No people, no rocks, fun waves and cleanest water - it was one of the best beaches we saw. The only problem we noticed on the next day: if you sit on the logs drying, apparently there are a lot of blood suckers hiding there in the leaves: flies, flees, seed ticks, you name it, - all of them are there.


We did not know that and next day found ourselves bitten all over from the neck to feet. Now, a week later - still itchy. But not a big deal - simply don't sit on those logs or use insect repellent. Not sure how to do it together with sunscreen though, do they make both-in-one-bottle? More pictures of Playa Rincon are here.

San Josecito

Anyway, next morning we drove directly to Rincon again with the intention to hike to San Josecito which is right behind the cape you see on the picture above. The hike goes by the beach first, which in the morning is just fine, but very hot if you return back after 10AM.


Then there is a trail through the woods on the cape,


where we saw some nice and noisy birds,

and finally ends up on a nice Playa San Josecito.

The beach is very calm because of a reef protecting it, but it's good for swimming only during high tide. During low tide, when we reached it, there were a lot of rocks at the bottom. Probably good for snorkeling, but very difficult to get in and out. We checked in anyway and then returned to Playa Rincon while it was not very hot yet. At San Josecito we did see boats coming to pick up people for diving. After a lot of swimming and feeding hungry insects we drove back to the cabin and, as usual, had lunch and a nap. More pictures of Playa San Josecito and the hike from Playa Rincon are here.

Las Caletas

On the same day afternoon we tried another road to see Playa Las Caletas. The road almost reaches the beach, just last 150-200 meters are not penetrable by car and you have to walk through the woods. The beach was beautiful, but we were satisfied with swimming for a day and just enjoyed the view for a while.

More pictures of Playa Las Caletas are here.

 

Day 6: Escape from Drake Bay

Well, it was our last day in Drake. We figured out most of the beaches and they are beautiful, but frankly if you want to swim in the ocean, Drake Bay probably the worst place in Costa Rica to do it: there is no good beach in walking distance from the village where all the hotels are, and you need either a bad ass 4x4 to reach others or to hike an hour there and back just to take a swim. Doesn't make any sense.

We did update our initial plans:

Boat tour to Sirena

We did not take the boat tour to Sirena because of the knee problem. We admit that for some people it's a must, but after disappointment with Tamandua day tour we thought that it's not worth $95 per person for a remote chance to see some monkey or coati. Last reviews we saw from people who have been on Sirena were also not very optimistic: most of the time people did not see any wildlife at all, so basically it was huge risk of throwing money on just a 6 km hike through hot jungles and 3 hours of suffering on a boat full of tourists with a three or four-lingual guide. By the way, why they think that a polyglot guide is an advantage?

Snorkeling at Cano Island

Another tour offered a lot in Drake is snorkeling and/or diving at Cano Island. Being not huge fans of snorkeling activity at all we did not even consider it because bringing snorkeling equipment would cost at least one luggage piece on the flight (we normally don't check in luggage to avoid waiting time and extra charges which almost all air companies practice nowadays). Some people love snorkeling and may consider the tour, but common opinion in blogs is that it's overpriced. It takes a lot of time to get there by boat, then you have limited time for the actual activity (supervised), and then another boat ride. Knowledgeable people say it's not worth it; there are cheaper places with better snorkeling. But don't listen to me - I don't know and don't care about fish life that much. It may be good, I have no idea.

Sierpe Wetlands

Another big part of our program initially was moving to Sierpe and have full day there for two things: morning boat tour on mangroves (we met French couple on the trail to San Josecito beach who said it was fabulous), and Finca 6 Museum with sphere stones. Well, as much as I am fascinated with huge stone spheres, they barely can be considered as wild life, and the only thing I probably regret is that we did not take that Sierpe river tour. We had similar experience in Tortuguero a few years ago, and on this boat tour I would expect to see some animals. May be next time. It's just the beds in our cabin were so bad that we were waking up with pain in entire body every morning, and we expected the cabin in Sierpe to be even worse. So we cancelled the Sierpe booking at the last day and booked DoceLunas in Jaco again - the hotel we loved on the way to Drake and we wanted at least some positive experience at the end of vacation.
 
Local tour operators aggressively promote the opposite approach of exploring Drake: you drive to Sierpe, leave your car there on paid parking and go to Drake by boat. I would not do that. The reason is that Drake is just a dusty hot village, and once the boat leaves, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere without any transportation. You either have to walk miles on those dusty roads, or become a hostage of local touristic establishments who happily take advantage of you. Bad idea, don't do it, unless you are young and have a lot of energy to spare.

Worth it? The short answer is no.

Bottom line is that those are 3 "must do" things in Drake, and we did not do any of them because we feel that everything in Drake is overpriced. 

Starting with this thing which happened at our arrival day. Look, people in Drake live mostly on tourism. Which means that there are hotels booked, flights in and out people need to drive to and from. How they can close the only road for the entire day? We simply wasted half day of our vacation to this thing. Putting a simple sign before the right turn to Drake on 245 would help somewhat, - we could go to Puerto Jimenez and at least have lunch there or swim for an hour or so. Or they can work for an hour, then open the road for 10 minutes, work more, open again, etc. Do they ever consider other people who actually come to spend money in this stupid village? It seems like pura vida took them completely and visitors are just fat wallets for them

Anyway, we had enough of Drake Bay and if we did not want to waste another vacation day, the next day we needed to escape from it as early as possible, before the road closure. Rebecca told us on the tour that the road work starts at 7AM, so we've figured that we need to leave the cabins with sunrise, sometime around 5-5:30.

Same road, same river crossings, but now we knew how to deal with the biggest one. There will be pictures from GoPro footage here.

On our way to Jaco we stopped by for lunch at Soda La Cabana - rice with beans and fries bananas, beef and onion. With coffee for two people - only 7600 colones. Sodas in Costa Rica are amazing - always good food for reasonable price. The lady did not speak much English but was very friendly and gave us two small mangoes as a gift.
 


In our favorite Maxi Pali we refilled the fridge for remaining couple of days. Around 2PM we already were in Jaco. Grilled chicken they sell in Maxi Pali is just amazing. With wine, cheese and baby tomatoes it was our dinner that evening.


Day 7: El Miro & Playa Madrigal

As escape from Drake to Jaco was sort of damage control thing, we did not actually do any homework planning what to visit there, how and when. All we wanted was a quiet cozy hotel to relax and optionally get into the ocean for another swim or two.

 
Apparently there is one place everyone must see in Jaco. It's called El Miro. There is a good free parking on another side of the highway, right against Delta gas station.

 
 

It's abandoned building on the top of a hill 

with about 20 min easy hike up. Lots of graffiti on the way


and at the end - breathtaking view of the ocean, Jaco city and beach:


More pictures of El Miro and graffiti are here.

Below El Miro is Playa Madrigal, relatively calm corner of Jaco Beach, actually suitable to normal people swimming (most of the beach better fits surfers because of waves constantly coming on).


Afternoon swimming at Playa Madrigal was the perfect ending of the day and the week. It was a long day, and after cooling off in the hotel we went for dinner to Soda Garabito.



Soda Garabito is not actually a restaurant, it's more like a buffet. Big plate with rice, salad, grilled chicken for me and similar one with fried fish for Svetlana, with cold lemonade drinks - all cost just $12. Those sodas never disappoint.

After dinner we relaxed at the pool in our hotel, and that was it. Next day after breakfast we took off to San Jose and flew back home. This is our actual itinerary carefully recorded by Mr. Garmin:

 

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