If you’ve read our destination guide on Drake Bay, you know that it is a nature-lover’s paradise where the jungle meets the sea. And while guided excursions and tours are definitely recommended, one of the best activities in Drake Bay is exploring the rainforest and beaches on your own time. In this post, we’ll give you all the details you need for a self-guided hike to one of the best beaches in the area, Playa San Josecito.
About the Beach
Playa San Josecito is located about 6 km (4 miles) south of Drake Bay on the remote Osa Peninsula. The U-shaped beach has beautiful, fluffy tan sand and is backed by a shady row of palm and almond trees. The beach almonds are a favorite snack of Scarlet Macaw parrots, and these colorful red, blue, and yellow birds often hang out low in the branches during the day. Just offshore are a series of rocky outcroppings that protect the beach and create a calm cove for snorkeling. Underwater are some coral formations dotted with lots of tropical fish. Of course, with a description like this, you’ll want to lounge on the sand and swim with the fish, but what’s most rewarding about Playa San Josecito is the adventure in getting there.
Hiking to Playa San Josecito
Although Playa San Josecito can be accessed by boat or via the even more remote village of Rincon de San Josecito, we recommend getting the full experience by hiking the narrow jungle trail from Drake Bay. In our opinion, this is one of the most beautiful hikes in Costa Rica. It takes about 2.5 hours each direction (walking pace) so get an early start and plan to make this your activity for the entire day. The terrain is fairly flat but we would still consider it moderately difficult because it is very long and hot. When you finally make it, a refreshing dip in the calm waters of Playa San Josecito definitely will be a welcome reward.
Tip: Bring plenty of water. Temperatures can be in the 90s F (30s C) along the trail and it is extremely humid. We brought three 1-liter bottles for the two of us and by the end of the day had run dry. See below for more tips on what you’ll want to pack.
The trailhead to Playa San Josecito starts in Drake Bay where a beautiful hanging bridge crosses the turquoise waters of the Rio Aguijitas. From there, the path weaves through a short section of forest near some hotels (follow the small signs for Playa San Josecito/Rio Claro) and descends down to a beach. Get your camera ready because from here, you will follow the trail south weaving onto and off of a half-dozen secluded beaches and coves.
With the beaches on one side and thick rainforest on the other, there is a good chance you will see some wildlife too. Portions of this trail cut right through the Punta Rio Claro National Wildlife Refuge, a large reserve that protects many of the same plant and animal species as the adjacent Corcovado National Park. During our latest hike, we saw white-faced and howler monkeys, lots of cool birds like the Red-capped Manakin and Black-hooded Antshrike, reptiles like the whiptail lizards and iguanas, as well as tons of butterflies and other rainforest insects.
Crossing the Rio Claro
About two hours into the hike, you will have to cross the Rio Claro (Clear River). At low tide, this is as simple as wading through some swift moving, calf-deep water along the beach. At higher tides or after a recent rainstorm, however, the river will be much higher and you will have to cross by small boat. Luckily a local man named Ricardo offers to paddle people across for a small fee ($1-2). The money also helps Ricardo with his sea turtle conservation project and hatchery, which has been in operation for many years. Even if you don’t cross by boat, you’ll get the chance to walk through Ricardo’s place and maybe even purchase a handmade souvenir to benefit his good cause. He also offers kayak and waterfall tours.
Playa San Josecito: Your Reward
About 20 minutes or so after the Rio Claro, you will finally reach Playa San Josecito. Like we mentioned above, this is the perfect place to take a refreshing swim after the long hike. The snorkeling is also really enjoyable if you have any extra energy left. Afterwards, you can relax under the shade of a palm tree, eat a picnic lunch, and rest your muscles for the long trek back to town. Sounds like the perfect day, and really it is!
Tips for the Hike
What to Wear
- Hiking Footwear: This isn’t a flip-flop-type hike so make sure to wear something comfortable that won’t cause blisters. When crossing the Rio Claro, you’ll probably want to take off your boots/shoes or wear something like Keens that can get wet.
- Cool, Breathable Clothes: Lightweight breathable clothes are great because while you’re swimming at the beach, you can hang them up to dry on a branch and be much more comfortable on the return hike.
What to Pack
There are no facilities or changing areas at Playa San Josecito so you’ll need to carry in and carry out everything you need. Here’s a list to get you started:
- Food and Plenty of Water: The beach has a few picnic tables but that’s about it. Ask your lodge to pack you a lunch or buy some things in town before you go.
- Bathing Suit & Snorkel Equipment: Snorkel gear can be rented in town if you don’t have your own. Water shoes are also a good idea if you have them as the sand gets really hot.
- Towels or a Lightweight Beach Blanket: Like we said, there are no facilities at this remote beach so if you want something to sit on, be sure to bring it along. Regular towels will do fine or a lightweight microfiber blanket that dries quickly like this one works great too.
- Plastic Bags: To carry back your trash and wet bathing suit.
- Insect Repellent & Sunscreen: Help protect the reef by using some natural options.
- Head Lamp or Flashlight: The sun starts to set around 5:30 p.m. so if you’re still hiking back (remember it’s 2.5 hours), you’ll want one just in case.
- First Aid Kit: For the occasional blister or scrape (both of us managed to get a blister on the long hike back on our most recent visit). Here’s what we carry.
Have you ever made the long hike to Playa San Josecito? Was it worth the effort?
Read more about Drake Bay, including our recommended hotels and restaurants, here: Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged.