Tucked into the southern-most corner of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is an area known as Cabo Matapalo. There isn’t much here, and that’s what makes it special. Remote beaches, bumpy roads, and thick jungle that connects to the famous Corcovado National Park. This is a wild part of Costa Rica that stands out as a true ecotourism destination. In this post, we’ll tell you more about Cabo Matapalo and what it is like to visit.
Location & Surrounds
Cabo Matapalo is located remotely on the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, on the very southern Pacific coast.
This 700-square mile (1,813 sq. km) peninsula is known for its impressive biodiversity. According to the Osa Conservation Organization, it holds 2-3 percent of all the world’s species, has more than 700 types of trees, 10,000 kinds of insects, and 4,000 varieties of vascular plants!
The closest major town to Cabo Matapalo is Puerto Jimenez, about 30-40 minutes away. In Puerto Jimenez, you’ll find banks, grocery stores, tour operators, and a small airstrip.
Cabo Matapalo doesn’t have anything resembling a town center. Rather, things are spaced out along the main dirt road (Route 245). You’ll find some private homes among a handful of vacation rentals, eco-lodges, and surf camps.
Many of the homes and lodges are off-grid and use solar. Internet and cellphone service can be spotty in this area, making it a good place to get away from it all.
It is a far drive to Cabo Matapalo if landing in San Jose. To break up the 6.5-7 hour journey, we recommend splitting it up and spending a couple nights at a central Pacific coast destination along the way.
Some good choices are Manuel Antonio, or farther south, Dominical or Uvita. If you are looking for a reliable rental car company, check out our Rental Car Discount page.
We are reluctant to recommend flying domestically after some tragic crashes in the past, but many people do take small-plane flights from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez. The flight is only about 50 minutes. From there, the drive to Cabo Matapalo is just 30-40 minutes more.
If you are staying at an all-inclusive lodge, you probably don’t need a rental car in Cabo Matapalo. Private shuttles are available between this area and San Jose (or other destinations) but can be costly because of the distance. If you need help arranging one, you can reach out through our Costa Rica Shuttle Transfers page.
Cabo Matapalo Activities
The big draw of Cabo Matapalo is how wild and remote it is. Even just driving the roads, we saw troops of monkeys crossing the trees overhead. You can see all four species of monkey that live in Costa Rica. These include spider, howler, white-faced, and squirrel monkeys.
Birds are also a highlight. On the Osa Peninsula, over 650 bird species have been identified. Several are endemic to Costa Rica (only found here) or this specific region. Some of the endemic birds include the Yellow-billed Cotinga, Mangrove Hummingbird, and Black-cheeked Ant Tanager. It is also very common to see Scarlet Macaw parrots, toucans, and several species of trogon.
For organized wildlife viewing opportunities, guides can be arranged through your eco-lodge or tour operators in Puerto Jimenez.
Corcovado National Park
A popular activity is visiting Corcovado National Park. For serious hikers, guided multi-day treks are available. For these, you will sleep overnight at some of the park’s basic ranger stations.
Single day trips into Corcovado are also possible. You can take a boat to Sirena Ranger Station, known for its prime wildlife viewing, or walk the beach from Carate to La Leona Ranger Station.
Guides are required by law to enter Corcovado National Park. For more information, read our posts, Corcovado National Park and Spotting Costa Rica’s Most Spectacular Wildlife at Sirena Ranger Station.
Area Beaches and Surfing
The Cabo Matapalo area has several remote beaches worth exploring. These include Playa Matapalo, Backwash, Playa Pan Dulce, and Playa Sombrero. Some are also popular with surfers when conditions are right.
We spent hours watching the surfers at Playa Pan Dulce. They were catching the long break that forms off the cove’s southern point. The gentle wave was gracefully pushing them all the way across the horizon to the middle part of the beach. It is said that when conditions are perfect, this break can take you almost 1,000 feet (300 meters).
Even if you are not into surfing, the beaches of Cabo Matapalo are ideal for exploring and walking. There are big rocky outcroppings, driftwood logs, palm trees, and wildlife like iguanas, monkeys, parrots, and plenty of hermit crabs. Swim with caution as most beaches have rip currents.
King Louis Waterfall
For a short hike to a waterfall, we recommend the King Louis Waterfall.
Also known as the Matapalo Waterfall, this tall cascade is located at the end of the road, just inland from Playa Matapalo. The trail takes only about 15 minutes but is challenging and not for the faint of heart. There are steep drop offs and some slick rocks to climb over.
The final reward is worth the effort, though, as beautiful misty water drops through thick jungle surrounds. For more information about access and best times of year to visit, read our post, King Louis Waterfall in Cabo Matapalo.
Cabo Matapalo doesn’t have much of a restaurant scene since it’s so small. Most of the area’s lodges include meals.
Mar Luna Lodge & Grill
This small restaurant and bar sits next to a few villas and a pool. Mar Luna offers tasty pizzas, artisanal burgers, and pasta dishes. The friendly owners and wait staff will make you feel right at home. The open-air seating is comfortable and there is a ping-pong table for some fun entertainment. Cash only.
Martina’s serves as a bar, restaurant, and locals’ hangout. There’s even an artisan market on Friday night that continues into the evening with music and sometimes dancing.
Martina’s has a chalkboard menu with seafood, pork, chicken, and pasta dishes along with salads, smoothies, and desserts. Local plates like casados are available for lunch. Prices are higher but expected for such a remote spot. Cash only.
Cabo Matapalo Accommodations
Cabo Matapalo has only a handful of places to stay. You’ll find simple surf dorms and a couple of high-end eco-lodges. We stayed in a vacation rental and regretted the decision. Being so remote, we felt that it would have been nice to have the staff at a lodge to lean on to organize activities and have someone we could turn to with any issue or questions. With that in mind, here are couple of lodges that offer that peace of mind.
Lapa Rios Lodge
At the top end of the spectrum is Lapa Rios. This certified sustainable, all-inclusive eco-lodge is perched on the hillside with beautiful ocean views. Lapa Rios has 17 nicely appointed bungalows set in the jungle, a spa and wellness center, and an expansive 1,000-acre property of protected land. Packages include three multi-course meals a day and a large selection of activities. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa
For those looking to reconnect with themselves in a natural setting, there is Blue Osa. This eco-conscious yoga retreat and spa keeps everything natural and peaceful. From open-air yoga studios, to gardens, labyrinths, and even the beach just steps away, you are sure to find a place to set your mind and body at ease. The farm-to-table meals and optional tours make the experience at Blue Osa whole. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Cabo Matapalo is unique in that you are far from it all, but with so much life all around you. From the crashing surf to the vibrant jungle and wildlife, there is never a dull moment in this little corner of the Osa.
Have a question about visiting Cabo Matapalo or want to share your experience? Leave a comment below.
Note: Some of the links below are affiliate links. If you book a hotel using one of the links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Looking for more information to plan your trip? Check out these posts:
Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged – Just on the other side of the Osa Peninsula, this destination is a little closer to others and has more accommodation options but with a similar wild feel.
Corcovado National Park – General information on Costa Rica’s gem on the Osa. This park is every nature enthusiast’s dream.
Puerto Jimenez: An Outpost to the Osa – At around 30-40 minutes from Cabo Matapalo, Puerto Jimenez is the closest major town. There’s a real local feel to this fishing and farming town.
The overpriced Lapa Rios must have paid you a lot to push them and not mention their competitor at half their price offering even more, including a trail to the beach and two waterfalls. That is Bosque del Cabo. It was my first trip after cancer surgery and radiation treatments, thus I was limited physically, but I still found it to be one of the most beautiful and adventurous lodges in Costa Rica, very near the waterfall you featured. You can see my photo gallery from that trip at https://charliedoggett.smugmug.com/TRIPS/2021-07-22-28-Bosque-del-Cabo-Osa-Peninsula
Hi Charlie, We don’t get paid by any hotels to include them in our articles. And when we travel around, we also pay our own way. We know Lapa Ríos from having a travel agency and appreciate their good work toward sustainability and conservation. We don’t know much about Bosque del Cabo, but thank you for sharing your insight about it. We’ll look into including them next time we do an update to this post. Also, the intention of this article was just to be an overview and not include all possible accommodations.
By the way, we did include Bosque del Cabo in our article about Sustainable Hotels in Costa Rica since they have the CST.
We know you’re been following our page for a while now so hope you understand where we’re coming from. We really do have the best interests of travelers in mind when we write our articles. Pura vida!
I lived directly across the Golfo Dulce from Cabo Matapalo in Playa Zancudo for 15 years and I was fortunate to visit the Osa Peninsula many times. I’m surprised that you caution against taking a domestic flight to Puerto Jimenez. During the 15 years that I lived in Costa Rica those flights felt much safer than driving. Perhaps the roads have improved dramatically.
Hi Kate, The roads to Puerto Jiménez are all paved now and in good condition. People do take small planes every day so it’s a matter of comfort. But for us, we have personally known someone who has died in a small plane crash here within the last five years and know of several other incidents, so we prefer to recommend avoiding this method of travel.