The perfect trip: Costa Rica
Osa Peninsula: Best for wildlife
In the spring of 1579, Francis Drake landed on the shores of Costa Rica’s Osa peninsula. He needed a protected spot to make repairs to his ship without drawing the attention of the Spanish fleet, having recently relieved a galleon of its treasure. Here, he found just what he was looking for: a chain of isolated bays fronted by a vast tangle of rainforest. As well as providing an excellent place to hide, it had plenty of wildlife. In his journals, he records great quantities of fish, ‘alargartoes’, and ‘munckeyes’ – fish, crocodiles and monkeys are still to be found here. The views that Drake admired from his ship the Golden Hind have changed little.
The coast remains a riot of steamy rainforest, and the main way of getting around Bahía Drake – the minute Osa settlement named for the swashbuckler – is still by boat or foot. The peninsula now contains the last remaining strand of coastal Pacific rainforest in Central America, protecting the habitats of elusive jungle species such as the jaguar and puma, not to mention a roll call of other exotic characters – from squirrel monkeys and sloths to silky anteaters and poison-dart frogs.
‘You’ll see animals here that you simply can’t find anywhere else,’ says Orgel Chavarría, who was raised on the Osa. He now helps run the westernmost ranger station of the Corcovado National Park at San Pedrillo, where leggy herons patrol a tidal pool out the front. ‘This is a treasure.’
A web of footpaths connects one end of Corcovado to the other, through a carpet of lowland rainforest and past estuaries where Drake’s ‘alargartoes’ sleep off their lunch. In the upper reaches of the forest canopy, clusters of macaws cackle loudly.
Spotting some of the jungle’s shyer creatures requires patience – slaty-tailed trogon birds blend into the tangle of tree branches, and gangs of croaking frogs come out only at night. ‘This is not a zoo,’ says Orgel with a gentle smile. ‘The animals are constantly on the move. You’ll see them, but you have to be quiet and be willing to wait. Sometimes, nature decides when she is ready to come to you.’
Where to eat and stay
Set on a reserve bordering the National Park, Casa Corcovado has bright bungalows with screened-in porches, two bars, several swimming pools and a dining hall serving local specialities. Rates include meals and a guided hike (three-night packages from £500 per person)