Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica: Go there now!
This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson
If you are planning your first trip to Costa Rica, I have a bit of advice, don’t go to the Osa Peninsula. You’ll ruin your follow-up trips, kind of like drinking 25 year old single-malt your first time. If you live here or have been here before, go. Immediately. Wait, read this first, then go.
So what’s the deal with Osa? Situated in the southwestern corner of Costa Rica it’s one of the most densely bio-diverse places on earth, overflowing with flora and fauna…blah blah blah I’ll let you Google the brochure and the sciencey statistical stuff. I will say it’s beautiful, I mean rub-your-eyes-in-wonder and pinch yourself kind of beautiful. It’s the kind of place that makes you wish you had cameras for eyeballs so you never miss a shot. It’s also far away, unplugged, and wet.
My trip in July of 2011 was to photograph a wedding and so I really had to be sure all my camera equipment and my laptop made it out and back or I was going to have some really unhappy newlyweds on my hands. (What compels a couple to get married at a hotel that is a two-hour boat ride from anywhere and how that is actually a good thing, is a topic for another article). After speaking with them this is what my trip looked like: A 5 hour drive from San Jose to the town of Sierpe, then a 2 hour boat ride along the Sierpe river and out to open ocean and on to the family’s private house next door to the hotel. Next door being a 30 minute hike through the jungle. Gulp. Fortunately I had some time to shop. I wish I had done some research on preparing for the rainy season, but I did pretty well prepping myself.
My main concern was transporting my photo gear on the boat as well as through the jungle. I was budget-limited so I ended up buying a large rubber roll-top dry bag that was big enough to fit my fully-loaded camera bag, plus clothes on top. It also had detachable shoulder straps which made it useful for hiking. Your needs may vary as far as size and style but my bag was less than $100 (before int’l shipping, customs, taxes etc.). This bit of rubber awesomeness now travels with me a lot of places, since it’s big, tough and bright yellow (you know, to help prevent theft). I also spent a similar amount on a hard-sided bomb proof laptop case (also bright yellow). While I could have gone with a soft-sided roll-top bag for my laptop, I was concerned about bumps and pressure while loaded up with other travelers’ stuff.
Not all of you are going to be carrying several camera bodies, multiple lenses, filters, flashes and three trillion AA batteries. None of you should be carrying your laptops or tablets unless they are work-related. In large portions of the Osa peninsula there aren’t even roads, let alone power, cell phone service or internet. For folks carrying smaller cameras or storing their mobile phones I recommend some less expensive light-weight roll-top stuff sacks. These aren’t heavy duty but they will do the trick and they are great for trips to the beach to keep your wallet, keys and cell phone free of water and sand. Check out the different sizes, as some might be big enough to fit SLR cameras with lenses attached (yay!).Since they are light-weight you can keep them on hand while you are out with your camera in case you get caught in rain. Although I didn’t get any, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up some silica packs (you know, the little pillows that come with your shoes) to put into the bags holding your electronics. If you plan on staying more than a couple of days then you may want to consider these.
When you go to Osa, be ready to get wet. There are no docks most places so your highly skilled boat pilots will get you close but you are still gonna be at least knee deep in water to just get to check-in. Speaking of pilots, you can fly to Drake’s Bay on the Osa Peninsula in under an hour on both Sansa and Nature-Air (residents and locals keep your eyes peeled for special deals), but that’s messing with my rugged tale of adventure and moisture control, so I’ll ignore it. You’ll wish you had listened to me and brought that waterproof camera as you zip along the river and the coast. Don’t worry the ride is too bumpy, and downright scary at the river mouth, to take decent pictures with a compact digital camera. I felt the same though, itching to have my camera in-hand but the sting of July rain in my face reminded me why it was packed away. Did I mention you would be getting wet?
Once you get over the wet and the fact that you can’t take pictures you have no choice but to settle down and just enjoy the ride. That ride can vary depending on which part of the Peninsula you are headed to, but trust me it will go by in a flash. All it’s worth it when the clouds break. Here I’ll prove it:
That’s the only picture your getting, guess you’ll have to go get your own. At least your equipment will survive the trip.
Once you’re on land you’ll find hotels here have a different standard of luxury than what you might find at your 22-star-all-inclusive-sterile-mega-resorts in Guanacaste. Luxury here is the fresh fruit shared with tropical birds chirping, waking up to fresh coffee and a near tear-inducing view. Luxury in Osa is mosquito netting and a cold shower. Luxury here is a truly private beach where a weary photographer can plop into the gentle lapping waves after a jungle hike without a flashlight (next time I’ll pack 3 trillion and two AA batteries).
Health issues are something to keep in mind when heading to Osa. Communicate any allergies you have to your hotel and pack extra meds. Help is a quite a ways off so if you suffer from some chronic health issues or mobility problems then you may want to skip it (otherwise you have no excuse). There are also plenty of things that bite and sting so keep your eyes peeled and pack calamine and pain-killers.
Once you’ve soaked up all the requisite beaches and volcanoes go to Osa. Osa is a whole other level of appreciation of Costa Rica. It’s raw and wet and awesome and you need to go there. Immediately. The article is over. Go now.
Ok I lied, just one more picture, but I didn’t take it. I just wanted to prove that I did in fact hike through the jungle at night with a bright yellow pack.