Playa San Josecito: Hiking and Snorkeling near Drake Bay

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.


Playa San Josecito: Hiking and Snorkeling near Drake Bay | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

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.


Scarlet Macaw | Playa San Josecito: Hiking and Snorkeling near Drake Bay
A Scarlet Macaw munching on a beach almond

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 Trail

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.


One of the many secluded beaches near Drake Bay
One of the many secluded beaches on the way to Playa San Josecito


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.


Howler Monkey on the trail to Playa San Josecito near Drake Bay
Howler Monkey along the trail

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. 


Crossing the Rio Claro on the way to Playa San Josecito
Crossing the Rio Claro at low tide

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!


Playa San Josecito: Hiking and Snorkeling near Drake Bay
The gorgeous Playa San Josecito

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.


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    1. Hi Denise, That is definitely an option. Just make sure to arrange the boat in advance because there aren’t any usually waiting there. It is a very remote area. You can also take a cab (again, arranged in advance), which would probably be cheaper.

        1. Hi Robert, That’s a really remote area so we can’t imagine anyone would stop you from camping. It’s fairly common for people to camp on the beach in Costa Rica anyway.

  1. Hello,

    I was hoping to do this hike and snorkel when I arrived. However, my accommodation for Drake Bay told me that no one rents snorkel equipment outside of a tour. Is there anywhere to rent snorkel equipment?

    1. Hi Chelsea, There is a kayak rental place right near where the boat taxis come in that might have them, but we’re not sure. If your hotel told you no one in town rents them, that might be the case. If you’re not in Drake yet, you could buy a cheap set at a store…we have seen them at Maxi Pali and in the smaller stores in towns that sell a little bit of everything. Good luck!

  2. Planning on a family trip to Drake Bay early May 2018. Expecting occasional afternoon rain showers but am more concerned about the heat index, especially as planning to do plenty of hiking. How intense is the heat and humidity at this time of year?

    1. Hi Mary, Drake Bay is hot and humid most times of year (mid-80s). May is early in the rainy season so you will probably have some cloud cover, which will keep the temperature down. There’s also a nice ocean breeze and a lot of the trail is under the canopy so you’re covered. Still plan to bring a couple of liters of water per person for the hike to stay hydrated.

  3. I got my new copy of “Itineraries” last week. I really appreciated the driving times between cities. Until I had that info it was hard to plan my trip. Since I am an avid birder I plan to spend 3-4 days at the Estacion Biologica La Selva and a week around Drake Bay. I will be in triathlon training while I’m there and need a calm beach where I can swim in clearish water. Most of the pictures I see of the beaches near the town always look muddy and I rarely see a picture with anyone wading let alone swimming. Playa Josecito is perfect except it’s too far away for a quick 1/4 – 1/2 mile swim. Is there a place to swim closer to town?

    1. Hi Jack, Thanks for getting our book. Glad that it was helpful with drive times. We think you will enjoy those two destinations if you are into birding. Last time we were in Drake Bay, we saw a Red-capped Manakin and Bay-headed Tanager in Drake – 2 species that we had not seen before. There’s a great trail just south of town that you should check out. We saw a ton of birds there; you just keep walking past Drake Bay Hideaway Resort.

      Calm water for swimming is tough. The main bay is probably the best option that we know of. It can be murky but it depends on the time of year and how much river runoff there is (dry season is better). The jungle trail south of trail (the one that goes by some hotels like Jinetes de Osa, La Paloma, etc.) has beach after beach, but most of them have choppy water. It’s not too expensive to take a boat to from San Josecito if the main bay doesn’t work out. It’s around $10 each way. Ask your hotel when you arrive too, they may have some closer options that we don’t know about. Hope you have a wonderful trip!

  4. I am solo traveling to Costa Rica this May/June and am planning to visit Drake Bay for 4-5 days. I really want to make the hike to San Josecito, but as I am traveling by myself I have no one to make the trek with. I am hoping to find other backpackers in the area who may be interested in joining me. If that doesn’t work out, however, is it safe for me to take the hike by myself? Additionally, since I need to take a day pack, would it be okay to leave it on the beach while I snorkel, or how should I go about protecting my belongings while in the water? This site is awesome and has helped a bunch in planning my trip! Thanks for all of the great advice!

    1. Hi Abbie, Drake Bay is a quiet, peaceful town. You should be fine making the trek by yourself. Just be sure to leave early in the morning so that you’re not walking back after dark and have all the gear you need with you in case of an emergency (see our Day Pack Packing List for suggestions). We never recommend leaving a bag on the beach, but you won’t have much choice. We’d bring as little of value as possible and you could put what valuables you do have in a small dry container that you can bring in the water (something like this). Hope that helps!

  5. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    My wife and 8 month old and I will be in the area in a week (end of June) and are thinking about this hike. What’s your take on rain for getting into the bay? I hear the road can be washed out at times. We are staying near Piedras Blancas town and seeking some self guided (or guided) smaller hikes outside of Corcovado. Thanks for any tips! (Ps I am a Boston native myself but now in the Bay Area, California) Thanks! Adam

    1. Hi Adam, Nice to hear from a Boston native!

      Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be a good hike to do out of the Piedras Blancas area. Drake Bay is quite far from Piedras Blancas and you definitely don’t want to try driving there in rainy season because the roads are not good. You would be better off checking out the other side of the Osa Peninsula near Puerto Jimenez, which has paved roads. Day hikes can be arranged through the community association in Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre. You can also do day hikes at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge on the outskirts of Piedras Blancas National Park, but when we did this in rainy season, it was really flooded. Another idea for a fun day trip would be a boat tour through the mangroves in Sierpe. You can see a lot of wildlife there.

  6. hola jenn & matt
    we are an older couple planing on visiting ‘playa caletas’ for the third time (in march 2019) …
    this time we would stay at ‘heliconias garden cabin’ (airb&b), a few 100 meters south of larry’s ‘adventure tent camp’.
    we would appreciate it if you could give us some hints to the following questions:
    – could we take a boat from ‘playa caletas’ to ‘playa san josecito’ and then walk back?
    – would you have a timetable of a collectivo boat running from drake bay to ‘playa caletas’ and on to ‘playa san josecito’? and vice versa?
    – how long around low tide is it possible to cross the ‘rio claro’ without problems ?
    muchas gracias y saludos

    1. Hi Paul and Catherine, You could probably arrange a boat taxi from Playa Caletas to Playa San Josecito but you would need to do it in advance since I think they usually go direct from Drake Bay. We’ve never seen a schedule posted. But you could contact Pura Vida Cabins- they have a boat that does that trip (puravidacabinas(at)gmail(dot)com). Also, your Aibnb host should be able to help with these types of questions.

      We’re not sure of the exact times around low tide for crossing the Rio Claro. But in dry season like March, the river should be lower so a couple of hours before and after at least should be fine. There is a guy with a boat who will take you across if it’s high.

  7. We will be in Costa Rica in mid August. Can you tell me if San Josecito is a surfing spot or if it is close to a surfing spot?

    1. Hi Susana, Playa San Josecito is a calm cove. We don’t know of any surfing beaches between there and Drake Bay. Shortly after San Josecito, you enter Corcovado National Park and wouldn’t be able to surf there. A lot of the good surfing spots are on the other side of the peninsula, like Cabo Matapalo/Playa Matapalo, so you should check that area out.

  8. Hi, Great website, thanks. I am planning to stay in Drake Bay for three nights for an overnight stay in the jungle, and cano islands. The san josecito beach looks pretty good for snorkeling. So I am considering to stay there fore a night before heading back. We are driving, is it possible to get to this beach from drake Bay? in February?

    1. Hi Mahnie, We’re not sure if you can drive to Playa San Josecito. Visitors usually hike there as we described or take a boat taxi from Drake Bay. We don’t recommend driving to Drake Bay at all due to the remoteness and river crossings. Plus you don’t need a car once you get there.

  9. Thank you so much for this article! Arrived in Bahia Drake yesterday and did the trail to the beach today. It was absolutely amazing and I am so thankful for the tips you provided here! All the best for you! Barbara from Germany 🙂

  10. Thanks so much for this really helpful website! I have been using it a lot while in Costa Rica. we are planning a trip to Drake to stay at the Life is Life Hostel and volunteer on the turtle conservation project. Do you know of this project? Any feedback on staying at the hostel and volunteering time?


    1. Hi Barbara, We aren’t familiar with that specific turtle project or hostel but it looks great. It’s on Playa San Josecito, a beautiful, remote beach. You’ll be quite far from Drake but there are boat taxis you can take to check out town. They are affordable. Hope you have a great time volunteering.

  11. Dear Jenn and Matt I am really enjoying your blog. We are heading back to Costa Rica for the second time all very excited and exploring a completely different area travelling down the pacific coast to Osa Peninsula. We are staying four nights in Drake Bay and have booked tours to Cano Island Corcovado NP and the Bug lady tour. I really like the idea of your hike to Playa San Josecito which we plan to do. I wanted your advice as we have also booked four nights in Puerto Jimenez staying at Cabinas Jimenez and wanted to know whether we would be better to stay longer in Drake Bay or to continue onto PJ? After Osa we are travelling to climb Cerro Chirripo! Many thanks Susan

    1. Hi Susan, 4 nights in Drake Bay is plenty of time to do activities and still relax. More time might be a bit much so the way you have it broken down with Puerto Jimenez should work fine. Hope you have a great visit to the Osa!

  12. Hi there,

    We are headed to Drake Bay in March. One hotel we were looking at suggested never driving there due to river crossings and rough roads and suggested parking in Sierpe. But since it’s the dry season, is is ok to drive there? We were going to rent a normal car from the airport, nothing fancy. Thanks!

    1. Hi Risa, We also do not recommend driving to Drake Bay. We’ve heard that the route has improved but there are river crossings still and you really don’t need a car when you get there. Most people who live in Drake Bay don’t have one. The boat ride to and from Sierpe is really nice too – almost like a tour in itself. If you do decide to drive, be sure to get a car with higher clearance like an SUV.

  13. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    Really appreciate the very informative website. Thanks! For snorkeling in Playa San Josecito, are there plenty of fishes with varieties? Thanks again and Kind Regards!

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