Costa Rica's Drake Bay Wilderness - My Family Travels

In search of adventure, s single father and two teens explore Costa Rica.

Over the past decade, Costa Rica has emerged as the standout eco-adventure destination in the Americas. From its rugged, jungle and beach-lined Pacific coastline to its relaxed, funky Caribbean coast; from active volcanoes to mist-steeped cloud forests, to mile after mile of untouched virgin jungle ripe for exploration, Costa Rica has it all.

Albert Davis, a single father of two teens, asked for FTF's advice in planning a trip to the "Rich Coast," and we did some research of our own. After looking into various all-inclusive tour packages around the country, we focused on the south western Osa Peninsula, which hosts the most remote and unspoiled rainforest Costa Rica has to offer. Drake Bay, a tiny town untouched by the commercial development that has engulfed better known regions, is home to the Drake Bay Wilderness Resort ( US 561/371-3437; 561/337-8004), where basic amenities are a sure thing, service is more than adequate, and the guides excel.

Five Days at Drake Bay

The weather was cool, and rather comfortable, considering how close to the equator we were, comfortably ensconced in our room at the Hotel LeBergerac in San Jose, the metropolitan capital. Our two-legged flight from the States was uneventful–a good thing. We picked up water, nuts, wine and Kentucky Fried Chicken and were all set for our first night in Costa Rica. Our private garden was lovely, with a surprising variety of tropical plants. We even had a visit from a humming bird. The gentle pitter-patter of rain could be heard, and ended up being an appropriate theme during the trip.

Lilian Vega, of Rain Forest Tours (506/296-7074; had arranged all of our travel plans within Costa Rica, and we couldn't have done it without her. One thing that even she had no control over, though, was poor visibility the next morning that kept us on the ground until around 10 am, when we set out in a four-seat plane for a 50-minute flight to The Drake Bay Wilderness Resort. We hoped the resort would provide access to the natural tropic environment we had come to Costa Rica for.

We were met at a grass landing strip by Herbert, owner of the resort, and his rickety jeep. Bumping down a gravel road, we drove through two small streams, finally stopping near Drake Bay Beach. Herbert said quietly, "You'll probably want to roll your pants up to get on the boat." We climbed out of the jeep as rain started to fall. I struggled to get my poncho on, which had turned partially inside out (to my companion's amusement). From across the water we saw a small skiff with an outboard motor heading in our direction. Wading through warm water, climbing on the boat, motoring across the bay with wind and drizzle blowing on our faces, we knew the adventure had really begun.

Climbing out of the boat at the resort's grounds, Herbert pointed out a defender plant, which collapses when touched, exposing a thorn. Our first stop upon arrival was the dining room, where cinnamon rolls, fruit, coffee and juice were waiting for us. We met Manuel, our guide for the week, and after settling in to our room we took off for San Josesita State Park. Back on the skiff, we cruised about 40 minutes along the coastline. As we hiked, Manuel pointed out a variety of plants and fruits that we came across. I ate a bite of star fruit plucked off a tree. Near the river we met Riccardo, who lived by himself in a small hut. He let us use his bathroom, and we brought some handcrafted jewelry from him. Upon reaching the Rio Claro, my companion and I dove right in. What a great swim in the middle of the jungle! Eventually we returned to the park entrance. What a beautiful setting for a picnic; the Pacific at our feet and lush jungle at our backs.

On the way back to the resort, we came across a school of dolphins that swam along with our boat. My kids would have loved it! A moment later we spotted a flying fish. Manuel explained that the dolphins chase the fish, which fly out of the water to avoid their pursuers, only to be attacked by birds. By the time we were back on land, it was raining again. We sipped Margaritas at the bar, and I had the best nap of my life.

The following day we took a short boat ride, to go horseback riding. We met a man on a beach with four horses waiting for us, and after saddling up, we set off, a warm drizzle falling on our backs. After a while the trail veered inland through a marsh. What would have been impassable on foot, the horses managed to handle. At one point a branch caught my poncho and wouldn't let go. While my horse continued to move forward, I was held back by the insistent grasp. For a horrifying instant, I faced the prospect of leaving my horse's back and plunging backwards, four feet down into the light brown gruel below. Luckily, the poncho tore, and I was released.

We approached a brook swollen with rain. The horses calmly stepped into the swift current, and before long were immersed up to their bellies. I began to appreciate the value of a horse in these parts. Manuel managed to spot a few rare birds quite a distance away, but we missed them, as was often the case. We did notice white birds that seemed to hover about the cows that were grazing nearby. Our guide explained that they were egrets, which survived by eating flies and ticks off the cows' backs. A symbiotic relationship if ever there was one.


The Journey Continues

Arriving at our destination, we were greeted by a large black bird with a red beak. "He doesn't like women!" Manuel warned my companion. We had arrived at a butterfly farm, still dripping from the light rain. It was a mini-wonderland. An area about the size of a hotel lobby, the farm was completely enclosed with carefully crafted netting. We saw many varieties of gorgeous butterflies. Driving back to the bay where our boat was, we spotted some wild boars, also.


The next morning we boarded a larger twin-engine boat and headed out into the Pacific, to Corcovado National Park. Farther out at sea the oceans swells were larger, and the boat pounded and vibrated most of the way. At the entrance to Corcovado I was amazed at the skill of our captain in negotiating the sharp rocks, shallow water and surging surf while placing the boat right up on the beach.

Leaving the gear we didn't need, we walked uphill for about 20 minutes to a Look Out Station. After a short breather we continued, heading into the primary forest. Manuel pointed out small pieces of leaves that appeared to dancing along the ground. A closer inspection revealed industrious leaf-cutter ants busy at work carrying leaves back to their colony.

By now we were in the thick of the jungle. Trees so tall you couldn't see the tops, great twisting vines and roots dropping down hundreds of feet. There were trees that grew on top of other trees. Everything oversized. Manuel occasionally spotted exotic birds and trained his telescope on them. At one point we spotted a number of tiny, well-camouflaged bats, sleeping upside down on a nearby tree.

Heading towards a particular waterfall, we first had to cross 'the bridge' – nothing more than a tree lying horizontally across a ravine, a loose railing above it. Below, a raging torrent, 20-feet wide and 10 or more feet deep flowed swiftly toward the 50-foot falls. Manuel went first and held a weak part of the railing – first for my companion, who tensely but bravely ventured across the bridge. I brought up the rear with sweat on my brow, and was reminded of my kids, who would have thought nothing of the little adventure.

We took some pictures, walked through the stream and swam in one of the pools near the falls. It was a magical moment. The sun came through, illuminating all the extensive greenery and turning it nearly iridescent. The sound of the rushing waterfall was impressive. Wading in the cool refreshing water, beauty in every direction, it was one of those perfect moments where everything was just right with the world.

On the fifth day it was time to get back to civilization. We settled up our accounts at the resort, left tips for the friendly staff, and packed our bags. We headed by boat to a town called Sierpe, where a taxi would take us to Palmar for a flight to San Jose. The boat ride on the Sierpe River turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.

Because it was high tide, we were able to take a shortcut through a swamp. The waterway narrowed to little more than the width of our boat and we glided through a magical place of mangrove trees, their stilt-like roots stretching everywhere. Meandering around one fantastic bend after another, I stood up in the boat and took several pictures, one of which was my favorite photograph of the trip. In Sierpe we waited a few minutes for the arrival of one other boat before the taxi departed. I asked the following group what they thought of the shortcut through the mangrove swamp. "It poured rain on us!" they said. I guess 10 minutes made all the difference.

We boarded the cab and bounced and bumped our way through a part of the world that I will never forget. Little by little, the roads improved until we reached solid pavement. An hour later we were back in San Jose. I couldn't wait to get home and tell the kids about the time we had. I really can't wait to head back to Costa Rica with them.

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