Venture into the wild side of Costa Rica without the crowds and get close to nature and all it's amazing inhabitants right at your doorstep.
Located in the southern end of Costa Rica's pacific coast in the Punterenas province, Osa Peninsula boost 2.5% of the world's species squeezed into a tiny stretch of land 35 x 20 miles.
It has been dubbed as the most biologically intense place on the planet by National Geographic with half of all species living in Costa Rica concentrated in this rugged peninsula they call home.
At the tip of Osa Peninsula is Cabo Matapalo, where you will be spoiled by the deserted beaches, find peace trekking through the pristine rainforest and wake up to the calls of the Howler monkeys. This is where we based our Nature Treasure Hunter adventure for 12 days beginning with a stay up in the mountains and then moving down to the beach.
Arrival Puerto Jimenez Airport transfer to Bosque Del Cabo Nature Lodge in the mountain (stock up on groceries before leaving Puerto Jimenez for Cabo Matapalo)
Bosque Del Cabo butterfly garden hiking trail
Bosque Del Cabo pool and hiking trails
Bosque Del Cabo private beach hiking trail at Casa Coco
Move to beach accommodation... Playa Carbonara beach day
Dolphin tour in Puerto Jimenez with Aventuras Tropicales
Grocery run before returning back to Cabo Matapalo
Lunch at Lapa Rios then pick up river hike trail at the entrance to waterfall
Afternoon massage at Encanta la Vida and guided night hike in local trails
Tree rappelling and hiking through King Louis Waterfall with Psycho Tour
Pan Dulce beach day and friday night local craft fair at Buena Esperanza
Transfer to hotel in Puerto Jimenez, explore town
Mangrove kayak and Bioluminescence Tour with Aventuras Tropicale
WHAT TO BRING
There are no stores or pharmacy in Cabo Matapalo , the closest town Puerto Jimenez is 45 mins drive on a dirt road. We suggest bringing these essentials along with your usual list for a better trip experience.
Bug Repellant - Since we were traveling to the rainforest, we were sure we will encounter a mosquito or two here and there. To our amazement, none of us got one mosquito bite because the eco system is so well balanced and it was dry season. However, we did get sand flea bites on one of the beach at dusk so you never know when the repellant will come in handy.
Anti Itch Medication - Just because there are no mosquitos doesn't mean you won't encounter other pests. Sand flea bites can itch longer then a week and when the air is damp it can be even more irritating.
Allergy Medication - Isla "Nature Treasure Hunter" came down with a cough that wouldn't go away. After speaking with some of the local residents, we realized she might be allergic to the pollen of one of the local plants.
Snake Guard - They do have a few poisonous snakes in the area and if you decide to go jungle trekking, you will be venturing into their territory. However, no one seems to wear protection as sightings are few and far in between. We found the child snake guards to limit mobility especially on the trails and found them more inhibiting then protective. If you will be hiking with a guide throughout your stay, their experience with the terrain should be sufficient to keep you and your family safe. Needless to say, there is no absolute so discretion should be made upon your own comfort level especially when traveling with children.
Amphibian Sneakers - If you are relatively agile like us, a pair of amphibian sneakers would be sufficient for trail hikes and the beach. They had enough grip for trekking and didn't get water soaked from crossing the streams and waterfalls. If you require more ankle support and stability then a pair of amphibian hiking boots might be worth the investment.
Headlamps or Flashlight - The entire Cabo Matapalo is off the grid so you will not find any street lights and most residence will limit the electricity usage at night so very little ambient lighting around. So if you believe you will venture out at night or even within the grounds of your accommodation, it is best to bring a headlamp or flashlight so you can see where you are going and try to catch some nocturnal wildlife in your path. Night hike is a popular activity in this region so it is always good to be prepared.
For International travelers, there are no direct flights to Cabo Matapalo, the closest is Puerto Jimenez regional airport. You must fly into San Jose International Airport first and then proceed by car or domestic flight. Driving the 5-6 hour trip is the most economical option since you are better off with a car for your stay in this remote area. Alternately, we took a short 50 mins domestic flight on Sansa Airlines to Puerto Jimenez Airport and then drove 45 mins on a dirt road to Cabo Matapalo.
If your international flight arrives early enough in the day, you can probably make a same day connection with Sansa Airline. Their airport is located next to San Jose International Airport and flight time is only 50 mins. However, the tickets are non refundable and flights are often full, so we opt to stay overnight at Hotel Buena Vista, Alajuela, a short 20 mins scenic drive on their free shuttle from San Jose International Airport. The setting is pleasant with breakfast included and they even have a small coffee trail to get you acclimated to Costa Rica Pura Vida.
Unless you are staying at an all inclusive and won't be venturing out on your own, the best bet is to rent a 4 wheel drive so you can explore the local area and activities freely. We rented our SUV upon arrival at Puerto Jimenez with Alamo Car Rental. The car rentals are literally down the street, a 5 min walk on a paved road from the airport. We managed easily even with kid in tow. Don't expect to just show up without a reservation. Their cars, if you require automatic 4 wheel drive, is limited and even with a reservation, they were not able to give us a car on the spot. We were told the previous renter did not return their car so they were short on inventory. However, the agent did offer to deliver the car to us the next day and drove us to Cabo Matapalo along with a grocery run beforehand. We have been back to Cabo Matapalo twice and on our first trip, we did not rent a car but opted for a taxi ride to our house rental by the beach, around $70. It is possible to get around by foot if you don't mind walking at night in pitch dark but activities and areas you can explore will be limited. Local taxi service requires advance notice and is costly though there is a regular bus schedule to town daily.
WHERE TO STAY
There are many types of accommodations in Cabo Matapalo from all inclusive ecolodge, rental homes to cabin on the beach. Most of the ecolodges are up in the mountains where there is a nice breeze along with great views of Gulfo Dulce and the Pacific Ocean. However, unless you have a car or join their excursions, you are mostly limited to activities on their property. Staying by the beach is a better option for budget travelers and those who prefer self directed travel. There are many vacation rentals scattered through out the area and a lot of them are beach front properties. The beaches and some of the trails are walkable so you don't necessarily have to hop in the car every time you go somewhere.
BOSQUE DE CABO - Mountain Nature Lodge
This incredible ecolodge nestled in the jungle on the mountain is a naturalist dream. They have 750 acres of land, mostly undeveloped rainforest, home to an abundance of wildlife and vegetation.
Numerous private trails are available to guests throughout the lodge and there are a range of accommodations for every budget from all inclusive bungalows to houses with kitchen and flexible meal option. The food they offer on the meal plan or a la carte is fantastic and sufficient variety even for the pickiest eater. Drinks are charged separately but the prices are very reasonable. We sampled two accommodations here, Casa Teka and Casa Coco, as well as their water front property 6 Peces each offering a unique experience and wildlife encounters. #bosquedecabo
Casa Teka - Rustic Bungalow
Casa Teka is across the suspension bridge in the butterfly garden. It is a 10 min walk through a jungle trail away from the common lodge area where the pool, restaurant, bar and parking lot is located. Due to it's location further inland, it tends to be hotter because of the lack of wind. The rustic house has two bedrooms, one bathroom and a basic kitchen with a refrigerator. The living area and kitchen does not have a door so unless you are in the room, you are pretty much out in the open so this cabin is not for the faint of heart. When we arrived, the fridge was not working and one of the rooms had two bats living underneath the bed. The staff at Bosque were quick to provide us with a cooler to keep our groceries cold in the heat and promised a new refrigerator the next day. However, they showed little concern for the bats in the room and assured us the country was cleared of rabies since 1980's. In hindsight with the coronavirus outbreak, we should have insisted they remove them but they seem to be flying in and out of the room freely through the cracks in the wall.
The advantage of being remote from the rest of the hotel is the privacy. We didn't see any other guest in this side of the property so it really felt like we were in the middle of the jungle. Trekking back to the main resort area at night was full of surprises as you have to traverse through the trail in darkest and cross the dimly lit suspension bridge with only your headlamps or flashlight. They do mention on their website, cabins in the garden, are more rustic and remote so it may not be suitable for people who are not used to being in the wild.
Casa Coco - Jungle Luxury
For two nights we enjoyed rainforest luxury at Casa Coco, a two bedroom, two bathroom all enclosed house. It is the largest house on the property with it's own pool and full kitchen and completely remote from the rest of the hotel. The owner of the resort initially built this for his own family so you can imagine it really feels like a home in the middle of the rainforest. You will need your own car if you decide to stay here because it's too far to walk back to the hotel proper.
To the right of the house is a private trail down to the beach with miles and miles of ocean front all to ourselves. The hike down is pretty easy but coming up is quite steep with many steps so it's not recommended for physically unfit.
6 Peces - Open Air Beach front Cabin
This water front property was probably our favorite accommodation in Cabo Matapalo. This two story house has an open layout with the kitchen and living area on the ground floor and master bedroom along with two additional beds on the second floor. The master bedroom faces the ocean with the most stunning sunrise view in the morning. The water front is very rocky and the water is rough so you cannot go in from there, however, it is a short walking distance to the local beaches in the area.
CASA BAMBU - Beach Bamboo Houses We have been to Cabo Matapalo twice and both times, we stayed at Casa Pina, one of the 4 houses on Casa Bambu 6 acre property. Casa Pina is set back a bit up on the hill and it's on a monkey trail so we enjoyed watching the Capuchins play and feast daily from our deck. It has two levels with the master bedroom and kitchen/living area on the top floor and two separate bedrooms on the ground floor with it's own entrance. It is ideal with older children so they have privacy but not recommended for young kids. There kitchen is very well equipped but on the days you do not feel like cooking, they can arrange for a staff to cook for you with your ingredients.
Our wildlife encounters by the beach was of slightly different variety. Macaws tend to like the beach where as Toucans are usually found in higher elevations. You can often see a pair of Macaws flying above and hear them squawking all day long. We also came across an armadillo at night around our house as well as a rat snake in the bushes. All four monkeys, Howler, Capuchin, Squirrel and Spider are often seen on the foot paths around the beach or on the trees lining the main road to Cabo Matapalo. Even if you don't see them, you will hear the Howlers at 4 am as they are small monkeys but have the loudest projection.
WHERE TO EAT
If you are not staying at one of the ecolodge that includes meals, here are some local options without having to venture out into town.
A 5 min drive or 20 min walk from Casa Pina is the only free standing restaurant in the area. The food is fresh made to order and the cocktails are delicious. They are usually open for lunch and dinner but might be closed during rainy season. On Friday nights local artisans gather here to sell their creations in the garden area.
Lapo Rios is the National Geographic endorsed ecolodge in the area. They are located up the hill in between Casa Bambu and Bosque de Cabo. Their restaurant is open to non-guest with a well balanced a la carte menu and they can pick you up if you do not have a car. However, you must make a reservation before showing up for dinner or lunch. Especially on a hot day, it's great to catch a breeze and enjoy a nice meal with a view.
Encanta la Vida
A 6 min walk from Casa Pina is a budget ecolodge that serves set lunch and dinner if you make your reservation a few hours in advance. The setting is comfortable and a good easy meal if you do not feel like cooking.
There are a lot of activities available to fill up the day in Cabo Matapalo without venturing too far. If you have a car and do not mind driving 45 mins back into Puerto Jimenez you will find even more options. Here are some fun activities for adults and families.
If you are staying by the beach, there are a few public trails within walking distance. Right before you enter Cabo Matapalo there is a river which you have to drive through. If you follow that river up it will lead you to a small water fall with natural mud mask in the rocks. This waterfall is also accessible through one of Lapa Rios' private trails which begins near the mouth of their driveway.
We took the tree rappelling excursion with Psycho Tours. In order to get to the tree, you will hike through the King Louis Waterfall trail, which was an added bonus, as it can get a bit difficult for children so having a guide helped. Also, he was very knowledgeable of the local vegetations so we learned a lot along the way. Tree rappelling was a lot of fun and even children have a blast. If you do get up to the top you will enjoy a good view of Playa Matapalo and a few fruit bats who snooze in the tree.
Mangrove Kayak and Bioluminescence Tour
This tour offered by Aventuras Tropicales is a great option if you are adventurous and want to experience something new. It starts out on kayak through the mangroves forest and by sunset you dock on the thin strip of land and cross over to Puntarenitas Beach to experience the bioluminescence in the dark with googles. Afterwards, you paddle with headlamps in the dark back to the original starting point. If you are afraid of the dark or not very comfortable kayaking in Cayman filled water, this would not be your tour. We made it through with no incident and Isla "Nature Treasure Hunter" was in good spirits the entire time.
If you don't want to do too much work, joining a dolphin tour at Puerto Jimenez will take you on an unforgettable boat cruise through the mirror like water of Gulfo Dulce. The spotted dolphins that inhabit these waters are very playful and will swim right up to your boat, you can almost pet them. Tourism hasn't spoiled this area yet so often times you will be on the only boat in the water. We have been to many dolphin tours in other parts of the world but nothing has been more intimate then this experience. There is a bit of snorkeling as well but it's really nothing special but it's always nice to take a dip after baking in the sun.
Surfing, Yoga and Massage
Cabo Matapalo have beaches that have gentle waves and some are rough. If you are into surfing, you can rent a board by the day or week at Encanta la Vida. They also have a yoga studio that overlooks the water and offer morning group sessions. Alternatively, they have a massage room there as well where they offer thai or swedish massage. I tried both and it was a fantastic experience listening to the jungle sounds and breathing fresh air.
If you are a nature adventurer and like to stay off the beaten path, then Cabo Matapalo at the tip of Osa Peninsula is the perfect spot for you. Take a look at our assortment of wildlife videos filmed in this incredibly bio diverse location. The rugged terrain and the lack of air conditioning has so far kept mass tourism at bay, preserving this pristine rainforest and its wild inhabitants.
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