South Pacific: Marino Ballena National Park, Golfito and the Osa Peninsula
It easy to be seduced by Costa Rica’s enchanting southern region, from the rocky mountains of Chirripó to the lonely shells scattered on the Pacific’s fine sand beaches, this is the place where the jungle meets the ocean.
Marino Ballena (Sea Whale) National Park
Created in 1990, the Marino Ballena National Park is Central America’s first marine park, and remains one of the best, in terms of tourism, scientific research and environmental education.
Marino Ballena is located on the Pacific coast, 20 miles southeast of Dominical Beach. It protects an important mangrove estuary, several beaches, a large part of ocean with islets and an important coral reef which gives refuge to a huge variety of species in its cavities. The park’s primary objective is the preservation of important habitat for the reproduction of many marine species, including lobsters, worms, crabs, fish, mollusks, sponges and, of course, whales. This in turn ensures the health of birds that nest on the park’s rocky islands. Wildlife living in the mountains next to the beaches also benefit.
Boredom is not an issue here (in fact, it’s impossible!) because there’s much to enjoy. You can witness a a magnificent sight, enormous whales swimming in the ocean with their offspring. Between December and April, the Humpback whales perform their majestic mating rituals in Costa Rican waters.
Other activities include quiet strolls along the beach, aquatic sports, diving and snorkeling among coral reefs, swimming in blue waters, or boat rides to small islands. Beaches include Playa Ventanas, well-known for its kayaking; Playa Ballena; Playa Uvita; and Punta Uvita, where the Tombolo (a long swath of sand) connects the coast with a small island.
After a fun-filled day, you’ll love the nighttime sounds of nature that sing you softly to sleep.
Golfito means “little gulf.” And for many years, Golfito was a established location during the boom of the banana export industry.
When the banana companies left, the community began to suffer a dramatic drop in employment. As a remedy, the government declared the town as a duty-free zone, and today, many Costa Ricans travel to Golfito to purchase household goods and appliances.
Piedras Blancas National Park and Golfito National Wildlife Refuge are two options for hiking near the city. The beaches of Zancudo and Pavones, both key surfing and sunbathing spots, are located 27 miles to the south. Pavones, a gorgeous black-sand beach, holds the distinction of having some of the longest waves in the world.
Osa Peninsula covers most of the South Pacific region and it features rich natural attractions. Both the peninsula and the Talamanca mountain range are considered to be the first land formations to emerge from the Pacific Ocean to form Central America .
About half of Costa Rica’s flora and fauna species can be found in Osa.
Costa Rica is a natural bridge between the northern and southern parts of the continent, and species of both parts make it their home. The Osa Peninsula’s Golfo Dulce is one of the few places on the planet where whales from North and South America come to breed their young. Another site of importance is the northern peninsula’s wetlands, with thousands of sea birds.
Osa’s largest town is Puerto Jiménez, a good location for sea kayaking trips on the Golfo Dulce. The town is a good location to relax before embarking on long journeys into the dense forests and virgin beaches of the area. The port offers good access to the Corcovado National Park .
Established in 1975, Corcovado park covers one-third of the Osa Peninsula and it is one of the wildest zones in the country. The park is protected for scientific research, conservation and environmental education. It is hot, rainy and very humid.
Because of its geographical location, a huge diversity of biological species appear in and around the park, combing both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, such as marshes, mangrove swamps, rainforests, rivers, shallow lagoons and cloud forests. Corcovado protects few of the humid tropical forests left on the Mesoamerican Pacific, and shelters many species in danger of extinction, such as the red macaw, wild boar, crocodiles, the ocelot, cougars, jaguars, and the leatherback, olive ridley and green turtles. Snakes, frogs and toucans are also abundant.
Drake Bay, located six miles north of Corcovado, is also a favored destination.
The bay is named after British explorer Sir Francis Drake, who sailed to the region hundreds of years ago. Today, explorers from around the world are attracted to Drake Bay, seeking secrets whispered by nature in enclosed virgin forests and magnificent blue ocean waters. And for your adventure, you can choose from hiking, horseback riding or traveling by boat. Or, you can enjoy all three activities.
The village at Drake Bay is small, but has all the amenities of Costa Rica’s largest coastal towns. There are pleasant lodges and inexpensive accommodations for backpackers. Activities include tours to national parks and beaches, sportfishing and scuba expeditions.
Legends surround this uninhabited island, located 12 miles west of Drake Bay. Most legends involve stories of pirates and hidden treasures. Others are related to the stone spheres that were discovered in the 1930’s and remain a mystery. Some archaeologists believe the spheres were crafted by the Chibcha tribe but their meaning remains an enigma.
Time hasn’t been able to erase some of the island’s wonders and the memory of previous civilizations lingers on Caño Island. Several pre-Colombian archeological artifacts have been found, including ceramics and tools, and are visible during hikes through the lush tropical forest.
The island is also a great location for scuba diving and snorkeling. Its clear waters and amazing collection of marine creatures make it is one of the country’s best locations for these aquatic sports. Wildlife is rarely scarce on the island, but its oceanic borders are replete with tropical fish and 15 species of stony coral. Other aquatic residents include dolphins, sea turtles, stingrays, manta rays and sharks.
Legend also tells that a treasure is buried beneath the island’s rocks. True or not, there is definitely treasure right before the eyes! The island and all the life around it are invaluable treasures.
The Osa Peninsula can be reached by air or land, following the Pan-American Highway to Puerto Jiménez. Corcovado is located 230 miles from San José, and can be reached by road from Puerto Jiménez. You can also travel by boat from Sierpe.
Reservations are recommended to visit Corcovado Park. As visiting researchers know, Corcovado still hides many undiscovered species which could inevitably be used to benefit agriculture, medicine and other fields. Help appreciate and protect it with your visit.
Because of its status as a Biological Reserve, diving at Caño Island is regulated. Only five diving sites are open to the public and it is prohibited to remove living and non-living marine objects.
Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips
No matter how beautiful a destination may be, it needs easy access and be reachable within the limitations of an average vacation period. Costa Rica is only two and a half hours away from Miami!