I have officially been to Drake Bay now three times in the last two years.
I can’t get enough.
It was on the third trip, pulling up into the sleepy outpost of Sierpe on the banks of the meandering, peaceful Sierpe River, that I felt this deeply rooted sense of home.
The drive from San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, into Sierpe takes approximately 4 1/2 hours. You will make your way through the busy capital slowly emerging up, out, and down the western slopes of the central mountains onto the long coastal highway which connects all of the Central American countries.
The Costanera, as it is colloquially called, will take you past the popular party towns and surfing meccas of Jaco and Playa Hermosa, past the industrial town of Parrita, beyond acres and acres of palm oil plantations lining the highway on either side. It will take you past the well trodden tourist hotspot of Manuel Antonio, rising and falling to meet the topography of the land, once more snaking south past the hippie and trendy beach town of Dominical, the famed whale watching point of Uvita, and eventually straight down into the flat wetlands of Palmar Norte and Sur.
The splendid, lush mountainscape – the central spinal cord of this awe-inspiring country – will sometime raise the highway and sometimes stay abreast of the vehicular action, but it will always remain present.
There will be glimpses of the Pacific Ocean of course – peekaboo blue showing an unbridled determination to come in crashing against the rugged, rocky southern coastline.
After crossing the bridge over the Rio Grande de Terraba, you will turn off and head eastward through more oil plantations and small homes tucked away next to them.
Sierpe awaits at the literal end of the road, blissfully unaware of the world stirring just beyond. It’s there, at the restaurant Donde Jorge, where you can put your bags down and wait for the adventure down the river to its meeting point with the vast Pacific. The back of the restaurant hosts the loading dock for all of the public and private passenger boats making the river crossings every day. There is a a car park available on-site next to Donde Jorge, a part of La Perla del Sur hotel. You will need to inquire inside the restaurant for parking instructions.
Featuring the world’s (unofficially) most skilled small watercraft captains, these pangas make the river crossing to Bahia Drake two times a day for public trips (11:30 AM and 3:30 PM) and at other privately booked times with advanced notice. The boat ride down the river is a must-do for any traveler in Costa Rica.
The pangas typically can accommodate up to 15 passengers as well as luggage. The ride, though simple and not entirely offering up the world’s most comfortable seating, still affords prime viewing of old mangroves, white faced capuchin monkeys jumping limb to limb amongst them, crocodiles, and a plethora of waterbird species preying on their next underwater meals. Fascinating to see are the isolated homes of local people, who can only access their front door via canoes or boats. *These panga rides are designed for those that are in healthful condition that are able to lift their bodies into and out of these moving watercraft, especially once arrived to Drake Bay.
The ride itself lasts approximately 45 minutes to an hour depending on the surface conditions the day of.
As the pangas make their way out of the mouth of the Sierpe, the captains will pull the motors to a slow hum, carefully watching the currents and waves that have traveled across vast expanses to meet their final destination at the river mouth. It is here over brackish water that the navigation is trickiest. The oncoming waves can get quite large, but I have yet to hear of or encounter a captain that has not been able to handle this thrilling crossing.
Crossover complete, the lush mountain ranges of the Osa Peninsula come into their full, glorious view. Entering this scene from the river is like stepping into the set of Jurassic Park. Undeveloped forest greets the travelers eyes, with small pockets of isolated sandy beaches dotting the pristine shoreline.
The boats approach the town of Drake Bay (Bahia Drake) and come to a halt. Engines raised out of the shallow bay water, the boats back up slowly towards the beach, where once more the captains put their navigation skills to show.
Passengers have a nice wet backside entry onto the beach. The amiable crew will assist in ensuring you make it to land safely, as well as hoisting luggage to the shore for you. Once onshore, you will be able to walk the shoreline up to the many lodging providers in the area or uphill into the town market and center.
If you are planning your next trip to Costa Rica, don’t hesitate to take this lesser known route down and catch the opportunity for an authentic adventure.
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