Set amongst the largest, most biologically diverse section of lowland rainforest in Central America is the magical destination of Drake Bay, Costa Rica. Here, you’ll forget all the stresses of your everyday life. With jungle full of exotic wildlife and warm ocean waters that are a playground for marine life, it’s hard not to feel at peace and connected to nature. While this remote village is not a destination for everyone, if you’re the type of traveler who smiles instead of squeals when a gecko scurries across your wall, Drake Bay might be perfect for you. In this post, we share some of our favorite Drake Bay activities, restaurants, and lodges to help you plan your visit.
Drake Bay is situated in southwestern Costa Rica on a tract of land called the Osa Peninsula. The Osa is quite remote, and aside from one other hub (Puerto Jimenez on the eastern side), is comprised of only small towns and villages spread out among sprawling rainforest and mangroves. Corcovado National Park, one of Costa Rica’s most famous and biodiverse parks, covers a significant portion of the land and attracts scientists and nature enthusiasts from around the globe.
The village of Drake Bay sits on the Pacific side of the peninsula but is well protected from ocean swells due to its position in a wide cove. Just off the town’s main beach, Playa Colorada, are a handful of tourism businesses, including small restaurants, lodges, and a few municipal buildings like a school and medical clinic. Other accommodations are spread out along the coast in either direction or nestled into the hills. Some of these are accessible only by a jungle trail or short boat ride.
Tip: There are no banks or ATM machines in Drake Bay and many businesses don’t accept credit cards, so be sure to stock up on cash before you arrive.
One reason Drake Bay is so special is that it is difficult to access and gives you that feeling of being away from it all.
Although during certain times of the year it is possible to drive to Drake Bay, it is not recommended because of rough roads and river crossings that wouldn’t be covered by your rental car agreement. Once you arrive, you’ll see that a car won’t be very useful anyway since almost everything is accessible by walking on the beach, through the jungle, or along the few dusty dirt roads.
Tip: Be sure to bring a flashlight for getting around after dark. The main road in town has some street lighting but side roads and trails are not well lit.
The best options for getting to Drake Bay are to take a domestic flight or a boat taxi from the mainland town of Sierpe. Both are great experiences that we have really enjoyed ourselves.
Domestic flights take about 1 hour from San Jose. Flights from other destinations in Costa Rica are available but usually connect through the capital. These are smaller, propeller-run planes that hold between 10-20 passengers. They’re really fun as long as you aren’t afraid of heights, and you’ll have outstanding views of the mountains and jungle because they fly at a lower altitude. Prices vary by season, how much luggage you bring, and when you book tickets, but can be as low as $69 or as high as $200 one-way. Check prices with Nature Air or Sansa.
Arriving via boat taxi is also a great experience. These boats are about 20 feet long and are covered for shade. They leave from the small riverside town of Sierpe and bring you down the beautiful Sierpe River, through mangroves, out to the ocean, and along the coastline to Drake Bay.
The trip takes about an hour and costs $15-20 per person. Boat taxis leave the docks in Sierpe twice daily, at 11:30 a.m. ($15) and 3:30 p.m. ($20). Typically your lodge in Drake will help with the arrangements, but most people leave from either the Las Vegas or La Perla del Sur restaurants. Get there early to find your boat captain and enjoy the river view because it is beautiful. For your return to Sierpe, boats leave Drake Bay at 7:30 a.m. ($15) and 2:30 p.m. ($20).
Tip: If you’re taking a boat taxi, be prepared for a beach landing in Drake Bay. There are a couple of docks in town, but for the most part, boats pull right up on the sand near your lodge and you will need to wade through ankle- or sometimes knee-deep water to get to shore. Make sure to wear sandals or other footwear that can be easily taken off or get wet.
Parking: If you want to leave your rental car in Sierpe, there are a few secure parking lots near the docks for $6/night. Many people also choose to take a shared or private shuttle van from their previous destination to Sierpe and avoid the car altogether.
Activities in Drake Bay
Once you arrive in the village, nature surrounds you. Drake Bay is the kind of place where you could swing in a hammock all day and still see more amazing wildlife than almost anywhere else in the world. But to make the experience even better, there are lots of outdoor activities that will show you even more. Here are a few of our favorites.
Corcovado National Park
For those looking to see wildlife, Corcovado is a must. This huge 417 sq. km. (161 sq. mile) area of protected primary and secondary rainforest will awe you with its grandeur. Corcovado is one of the only places in Costa Rica where you can see all four native monkey species and is also home to Central America’s largest land mammal, the Baird’s Tapir. You can explore this remote park on a multi-day trekking trip, but most travelers visit just for the day. Tours leave by boat from the main beach early in the morning and arrive at either the San Pedrillo or Sirena Ranger Stations. A registered guide will lead you though the trails for a half-day hike, helping you spot rare birds and animals, all while teaching you about the forest. Read about our experience spotting amazing wildlife at Sirena Ranger Station here.
From the shores of Drake Bay, you can just see the shape of Cano Island offshore. This 300 hectare (741 acre) uninhabited island is about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Drake Bay and is known for great snorkeling and scuba diving. Beautiful coral reefs and ledges showcase amazingly large schools of colorful fish. Some people even get lucky enough to spot dolphins, whales, or whitetip reef sharks during their visit. Cano Island is also an important archeological site and was once a burial ground and trading post for Costa Rica’s pre-Columbian indigenous cultures. There are a few trails and artifacts on the island, but because the ranger station lacks the necessary bathroom facilities, they are currently closed (as of April 2015). Still, the waters surrounding Cano are some of the clearest in Costa Rica and definitely worth a visit.
Jungle Night Tour
Drake Bay is one of the best places in the country to strap on a headlamp and go on a night tour. If you thought there was a lot of wildlife to see during the day, you’ll be amazed at what you can see when the sun goes down. Frogs, insects, snakes, and sleeping birds are just a few examples. There are many options for night tours in Drake Bay, but we recommend Tracie the Bug Lady, a biologist and insect enthusiast. You can learn more about our recent tour with Tracie here.
Hiking to Playa San Josecito
Those looking to do some exploring on their own might enjoy the long (2.5 hrs. each way) hike to Playa San Josecito. San Josecito is also a great snorkeling beach so be sure to bring along a mask to explore the reefs. This remote beach can be accessed by walking along the jungle trail at the south end of town (follow signs) that weaves onto several secluded beaches. In the jungle surrounds, you’re likely to see lots of birds and even animals like lizards, monkeys, or coati (a raccoon-like animal). You’ll have to wade through or take a small rowboat across the Rio Claro before finally ending up at this amazing beach, but it is totally worth the effort.
Tips: The hike to San Josecito is fairly flat but very hot so be sure to bring plenty of water and whatever food you will need for the day. Also bring a flashlight in case you’re still hiking back when the sun starts to set. For more information, be sure to read our separate post Playa San Josecito, Hiking and Snorkeling near Drake Bay.
Hotels and Lodges in Drake Bay
Drake Bay may be a remote village but it does have a sizeable selection of accommodations. No-frills cabins, comfortable eco-lodges, boutique luxury resorts, and even tent camping on the beach are all available. When picking a lodge, be sure to inquire about its location. Budget options tend to be concentrated in the main area of town, close to restaurants and the two small grocery stores. More moderate and high-end options are generally located outside town, some within walking distance, others much farther away and primarily accessible by boat.
If you stay at one of the more off-the-grid hotels far from town, keep in mind that you will be relying on the hotel for your meals and activities. These hotels offer packages, which while convenient, are often more expensive. If you’re on a budget, we recommend staying in town to be closer to the more moderately priced restaurants and cafes.
Tip: Be sure to book your accommodations in advance. While some destinations in Costa Rica are set up so that you can wander through town and eventually find someplace to stay, most of the lodges in Drake Bay are smaller and have only a handful of rooms, which tend to book up fast. These places also can be very spread out, leaving you carrying your luggage through the steamy jungle, going door to door for hours.
High-End Lodging ($400-500)
Aguila de Osa
Aguila de Osa is a small eco-resort set in the jungle near the Aguijitas River. It’s about a 10 minute walk to town and the beach. Rooms are built with native wood and are well-appointed with high ceilings and balconies. The hotel enjoys sweeping ocean views and has excellent food on-site, served family-style. Rooms are equipped with fans; the ones higher up the hill have the best breeze. Rates start at $405/night for double occupancy (includes all meals). Check Rates and Availability Here.
Copa de Arbol
Copa de Arbol is a newer property with 10 luxurious, air-conditioned cabins. If you’re looking to unplug, this is the place. It’s located far from town on the trail leading to Corcovado National Park and is accessible only by boat. The resort has a nice multi-tiered infinity pool, and there’s a gorgeous, nearly deserted beach just a short walk away. Rates start at $520/night for double occupancy (includes all meals). Check Rates and Availability Here.
La Paloma Lodge
La Paloma offers 11 beautiful, well-equipped rooms and cabins tucked into the rainforest. Two-story cabins are available for families and groups. La Paloma is a 20 minute walk to main area of town and the beach. A/C is available. Rooms start at $430/night for double occupancy (includes all meals). Check Rates and Availability Here.
Mid-Range Lodging ($100-170)
Pirate Cove has a mix of 10 funky bungalows, roomy cabins, and a few air-conditioned rooms. They’re located a bit outside town so most people eat at the restaurant on the premises. If you’re into scuba diving, their sister company is a dive shop. Rooms start at $170/night for double occupancy (includes breakfast). Check Rates and Availability Here.
Hotel Jinetes de Osa
If you’re looking for a resort-type experience without the price tag, consider Hotel Jinetes de Osa. This budget-friendly resort is a short 5-10 minute walk to town. The hotel has 9 rooms, some more modern with A/C, others with fans. Opt for a superior room for the best views and the most space. Rates for double occupancy start at $96/night. An on-site restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an additional charge. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Rancho Corcovado is a nice family-run lodge in a great location, right on the main beach in town. The rooms are simple but clean and comfortable. An on-site restaurant serves excellent typical Costa Rican food. Some rooms have A/C, others just a fan. Double rooms start at $130/night (includes lodging and all meals for 2 people). Check Rates and Availability Here.
Budget Lodging ($10-70)
Las Cotingas is a locally owned affordable option right in the center of town. Although it is close to the beach and restaurants, it is set on a hill so more private. There are four simple but spacious cabins on the property, each with a deck. Some have ocean views so be sure to inquire. Cabins start at $50/night (no meals included). Check Rates and Availability Here.
Cabinas Manolo is a solid budget option a short walk from the center of town. It offers basic rooms with typical, Costa Rican hospitality. Double rooms with a private bath start at $55; rooms with shared baths start at $35. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Martina’s Place is a friendly hostel right in the middle of everything. It’s on the main strip in town, just a few blocks to restaurants and the beach. A hand-painted sign outside gives the nightly rates, which you can’t beat: $10 for a shared dorm and $25 for a private room with shared bath. Martina also has a larger room suitable for families and a bungalow (each are $55 for double occupancy). Fully-equipped common kitchen also available. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Estacion Biologica Tamandua
For the ultimate wilderness retreat, consider Estacion Biologica Tamandua. This biological station and small lodge is located in the heart of the jungle, bordering Corcovado National Park. It is managed by well-respected biologist and guide Rebeca Quirós. Estacion Biologica Tamandua does not have electricity and is about 4 km (2.5 miles) from town. Cabins start at $70/person (includes 3 meals a day). Camping is also available. Check Rates and Availability Here.
If you’re looking for an authentic experience, stay with a Costa Rican family at Casa Mariposa. They’ve built several rooms off the main house and now rent them out at very affordable prices. During our most recent visit to Drake, we stayed with Karina and her family and loved it. It was fun getting a glimpse into their everyday lives and we got to practice our Spanish every day. The rooms are rustic but clean and comfortable. Private rooms with a shared bath start at $30 (includes breakfast). Check Rates and Availability Here.
Drake Bay Restaurants
For those not dining at their hotel, Drake Bay has a handful of good, modestly priced restaurants. They’re all open air and very casual so don’t expect fine dining, but know that you’re going to get a solid, wholesome meal for less than $15 a plate. Here’s a list of our favorite spots.
La Cocina del Pirate
This super chill place right on the beach has the best location in town. It has a gorgeous view of the bay and is a fun spot to kick back with a beer and watch people coming and going. The Pirate’s Kitchen has a small menu but offers all the staples like nicely done casados and arroz con camarones (rice with shrimp). They also have burritos and nachos if you’re just looking for something small.
A favorite among visitors, Gringo Curt’s offers only a few things but they do them right. Two of their dishes feature the catch of the day, and for the non-fish eaters, there’s a vegetarian pasta option. Gringo Curt’s is best known for its plate of the day, which features fish cooked to perfection in a banana leaf, flavorful roasted vegetables, and a pile of mashed potatoes. The serving is huge and Curt himself will recommend that you split it. He doesn’t have beer or wine, but does make a mean spiked tropical fruit smoothie and invites you to grab whatever else you’d like from the grocery store next door. Located next to Café Delicias.
Café Delicious has a huge menu, with everything from chicken, beef, and fish, to pasta, salads, soups, and traditional offerings. The Ticos in the kitchen whip up some pretty good pizza too. Café Delicious opens at 5:00 a.m. and sells homemade bread if you’re looking to pack a lunch for the day. They are also open for dinner. Located next to the larger grocery store in town.
While much of the fare in Drake Bay is extremely casual, Casa Tortuga is a bit more refined. They have a wide-ranging menu with elaborate casados and pasta dishes, along with meat, seafood, and chicken specials, many of which are served with nicely balanced sauces. A popular item during our visit was the pescado entero, a whole fried snapper served traditionally on a banana leaf. Located on the road going to the airstrip near Cabinas Manolo.
This seafood restaurant near the beach serves up whatever the local fishermen just brought in. They have mains that come with veggies and fries or mashed potatoes, but it’s also a good place to grab some ceviche and watch a soccer match on T.V. with the locals. Located on the main road just as you start coming up the hill from the beach.
Mar y Bosque
This typical Costa Rican restaurant has a huge menu that is sure to satisfy. It opens at 5:00 a.m. if you need to grab breakfast before a tour and stays open through dinner. We went for a late morning snack to try some of the delicious homemade breads and rich coffee made the old fashioned way with a traditional chorreador. Located near the grocery stores in the center of town.
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The remote village of Drake Bay holds a special place in our hearts. As if it were just yesterday, we can still remember walking the long sandy beach in town, parrots flying noisily overhead, while talking about how simple and beautiful life was there. Fast forward to today and we have a completely new perspective, now living just a few hours to the north. But even having lived and traveled all around Costa Rica, Drake Bay is still one of our favorite places and is just as magical as when we first discovered it.
Not sure how to incorporate Drake Bay into your trip? Check out our new book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries, for ideas. We have three itineraries that go to this amazing destination.