Osa Peninsula – Cabo Matapalo

Getting there

Cabo Matapalo in the Osa Peninsula (featured in this national geographic piece) is one of the most secluded corners of the country and boasts 5% of the world’s biodiversity. The lush vegetation and abundance of wildlife was well worth the long, bumpy ride.  We went south on 245 along the cost until we hit Puerto Jimenez.  Puerto Jimenez is a small town and the last bits of convenience and civilization for the communities that live in the coastal communities of the Osa Peninsula. Immediately out of the town paved road gives way to a dirt road.  While many parts of the road are fine, others boast giant puddles, mud pits, one lane bridge river crossings, and drive through river crossings.   The first part of the road is open ranch and farm land.  Cattle and papaya groves line the road.  Farm land gives way to rainforest at Martina’s Bar.  Once in the rainforest there is a mix of resorts nestled in various corners of the rainforest with their own private reserves, along with large and small plots of land with places to stay that are both simple or luxurious. There are quite a few American Ex-pats who have made this area home, and English is common.  Most houses are off the power grid and generate their own solar power.

Martina’s Bar

Every Friday night the locals gather at Martina’s Bar.  Local artists brought jewelry, homemade wares, and indigenous creations.  their arts and crafts to sell.  There are homemade foods and lots of hustle and bustle.  Items are pricey, but it has the small town get-together feel I grew up in.  In the mix are tourists, but there are lots of local kids running around as well.

Walking Tour

We met Rodrigo at 7am at Martina’s bar for a walking tour of Cabo Mantapalo.  Did we need an alarm to get up?  No we did not the guttural low howls of Howler monkeys start at 5am (just before first light).  Sauntering down the main dirt road we stopped periodically to learn a little about local plants, lizards, and various types of frongs as well as the area’s history.  We stopped under a tree to watch this sloth eat:

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Three Toed Sloth – 7/2016

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Cutting off the road we meandered through some small communities and watched troops of spider, capuchin, howler and squirrel monkeys move from tree to tree.  A spider monkey threw a mango at us that Rodrigo promptly cut for us to eat.  A capuchin nearly peed on us.  Rodrigo said that the capuchin’s were the gangsters of forest and we should watch our food while we eat.  In seeing a family with a nursing baby, it was hard to believe.

Along the beaches we watched flocks of scarlet macaws go to and from various almond trees loudly sharing news of the day.  Rodrigo shared that these birds mate for life and live for about 35 years in the wild.

We walked along the beaches seeing hermit crabs and iguanas.  We stopped periodically for snacks or water.  Rodrigo said all this land used be owned by his family, and he spent his days exploring it when he was growing up.  However, his father had to sell the land to pay for him and his siblings to go to college.  In his soft-spoken way he described the mixed feelings of tourism here.  “Everything has gotten so expensive, it is difficult for us to live, however tourism brings in lots of money.”   In the same breath he both lamented and extolled the effects of tourism.  “It is hard to find a middle ground.  Too many rich Americans come down and build what they think they want in this paradise, and then only live here for a few weeks out of the year. They sell, another buys and tears that down, and then builds their own idea of what should be in this place.  It’s wasteful and it hurts the local economy. More and more people move away from work that sustains the community to work that caters to the money flowing into town.”

We walked on and explored Rio Carbenaro until we got to a waterfall. In this hidden gem we spent time jumping off the cliff into the pool.  Rodrigo let the girls play for a while after their 7 hour hike.  He even told us that all the young people would come to this waterfall when they were growing up and the girls would use the clay to make beauty masks.  He helped Alyssa and Kylie with theirs.  Rodrigo was amazing.  He was one of the top guides I’ve ever had anywhere!


Adding to our adventure in the rainforest meets beach experience. We drove back to Puerto Jimenez to go kayaking in the mangroves. We decided to go with Adventuras Tropicales.  They had good reviews and as it turned out we were not disappointed.

The mangrove forests around the Osa Peninsua are some of the largest mangrove forests in the world.

We started the tour by kayaking out of the bay around the Puntarenitas Beach and to a narrow point on the beach where we ate lunch and played in the water with leaping sting rays.  We carried our kayaks across a narrow strand of beach into the river and started our journey.  It changed from wide to narrow quickly as the roar of the waves from the nearby beach were lost in the dense mangroves.  Mangroves are under attack world wide and are amongst the most endangered forest systems on the planet.  A combination of development, sediment run off, and climate change are pushing these inter-tidal dwellers to the brink.

As the river narrowed and we pushed branches aside to see more of the forest, some fabulous wildlife revealed it self to us.  We saw a variety of birds, a hummingbird nest, and some caiman sunning themselves.

Where to stay

In the small community behind Martina’s Bar there are nearly a dozen homes.  Many are rentals, where you can rent the entire home or a guest house on a larger property.  Casa Lapa was convenient and inexpensive.  There were quite a few mosquitoes in the evenings, and scorpions and wolf spiders were in the bathrooms during early morning.  The owners were expats from the USA and were very nice.  A few days later we stayed farther north west at Las Olas Beach House.   The ocean breeze kept the house very comfortable. We spent our next two days relaxing on hammocks while watching the macaws, swinging by Tarzan by the ocean, zip lining in the yard.  Pura Vida!  The surf at the beach was too rough for our two girls.  I went out for while without a surfboard and had to work very hard against the current.

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