The Sendero de Oro (Gold Trail) is a conglomeration of a few kilometers of abandoned 4WD road, many following the riverbeds of the Rios Tigre, Piedras Blancas and Carate, a couple of long steep climbs up and down between drainages on indigenous footpaths, and a few kilometers along the beach. It winds generally northeast to southwest across the southern Osa Peninsula starting from Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre outside Puerto Jimenez on the Golfo Dulce climbs to nearly 1,600 feet (500 meters) twice before dropping down to the Pacific at Carate Beach where you turn west to La Leona.
The first afternoon we did a warm-up hike on the north fork of the Rio Tigre exploring the arm that we would not follow with our packs the next day. We found a rope swing vine and a nice swimming hole and everyone had their eyes peeled for shining nuggets in the stream.
Walking upstream was a good test for our gear and helped with footwear choices for the trek. Sue and I were in Solomon water shoes, Edwin was testing his new hightop rubber boots and dual sock combo and Meg and Ryan both decided on Keens for the water walking and switching to light weight gortex hikers for the climbs.
Revisiting Puerto Jiménez, Trekking the Sendero de Oro, Tent Camping at Drake Bay, Across Corcovado National Park & Underwater at Caño Island Biological Reserve
We first visited the Osa over eighteen years ago when we spent a few nights in Jiménez then trekked from La Palma on the Golfo Dulce, up the Río Rincon to Los Patos, down to the Pacific at Sirena and then along the beach to La Leona and Carate.
When we were offered the opportunity to explore a new trans-peninsular hike with our friend Edwin we jumped at the chance. We flew Nature Air from Tobias Bolaños airport in Pavas (San José) to Puerto Jiménez on the Osa Peninsula.
Jiménez has undergone some major changes in the past couple of years, most notably the road from Chacharita on the Pan American highway is paved. The last new bridge was opened while we were there last week and the drive time has been cut in half.
The new modern BM supermarket includes a small soda that supplements Carolina’s as the main meeting place in town and of course a number of restaurants, hotels and lodges have come and gone.
Packing List for Travel to Costa Rica – Trek Version
If you plan to travel off the beaten path in Costa Rica you’ll need to plan a packing list for a 25 lb version of your stuff in a single rugged waterproof bag.
We’ve got at least two twenty five pound segments on this trip. First we’ll be flying to the Osa peninsula for eight days and even if we were willing to carry more on our backs while trekking Corocovado and the Golfo Dulce reserve the domestic airlines impose a baggage restriction of 25 – 35 lbs depending on your fare. When we head out on the Pacuare with Green Frog we’ll whitewater raft in to their camp, do some hiking and then out to Siquirres the next day.
The Twenty Five Pound Packing List – 15 lbs of essentials
The essentials for adventure travel in the tropics can be amazingly compact and lightweight especially if you’re trekking from shelter to shelter or rafting from camp to camp rather than tenting it. Our lightweight packing list for Costa Rica includes
The Bag – These are without a doubt the best bags ever made. Surprisingly the label isn’t Arcteryx, North Face, Moutainsmith or Black Diamond – they are made by Bike Nashbar.
It consists of two parts. A rugged 36 liter dry bag (black) fits into a cordura compression and shoulder strap and waist belt “skeleton” with front, two side holster and a top flap pocket for quick access snacks, waterproof camera etc. The whole thing is lighter weight than most mid-sized packs, the dry bag is completely waterproof and there is a detachable rigid panel that converts the bag into a pannier if you decide you’d rather mountain bike than trek.
The First Aid Kit – Our first aid kit has developed and evolved over forty years of back-country and international travel and goes everywhere with us. It’s a diminutive 4 x 8 x 2.5 inches (10 x 20 x 7 cm) but contains a whole page worth of critical items.
Clothes – We prefer plastic (recycled for the most part) or silk for light weight, durability and quick drying. One pair of convertible pants (zip-leg), one pair long pants, swim shorts, hat (nylon wide brim with stow-able neck shade flap), two short sleeve shirts, a long sleeve lightweight breathable poly shirt, a light pile (polar fleece) jacket and an ultralight Gortex rain/wind jacket with hood and pit zips, socks and underwear.
Hydration – We like the Platypus water bags which are about a quarter of the weight of most in pack water tube to your mouth hydration systems, have no valves to fail and force you to stop once in a while to take a drink and enjoy your surroundings. Our new hollow fiber MSR Hyperflow Microfilter is the smallest and lightest on the market and delvers an incredible 3 liters per minute (half the size and ten times the capacity of the Sweetwater).
We also carry a dozen packets of Gatorade G2 dry mix to replace electrolytes along the trail and a few pharma rehydrant packets in the first aid kit for emergencies.
Snacks – Bear Valley Meal Packs (best bars in the world), Power Bars, Fire Jolly Ranchers, Diamond Wasabi Almonds and orange Tic-Tacs come with us from the states and we pick up fruit and other snacks along the way.
Cameras – Between two of us we carry three cameras. A Canon SX30IS 28-880mm equiv. optical zoom for wildlife and HD video and two waterproof shockproof workhorses – the indestructible Olympus SW1030 (not shown – using it to take the photo and the Panasonic TS2 for underwater HD video. Each has spare batteries, charger and extra memory.
Our monopod trekking pole stabilization system is custom made from a Leki telemark backcountry adjustable ski pole with the head assembly from a Manfrotto 785B attached over the grip with a nylon compression ferrule. A spare quick relase mount plate means we can switch cameras in about five seconds and this system allows us to carry a single head that we thread back onto the tripod legs when we’re traveling heavy in an SUV.
GPS – the Garmin 60csx is water and shock proof. We have it loaded with the best base maps available for Costa Rica but frankly they stink and we carry it mainly because it is essential for geocoding our routes so we can provide them to you! The yellow waterproof journal and pencil are for taking geolocation notes when we’re not carrying a notebook computer to sync with the gps. We also carry topo maps and an old fashioned svea magnetic compass.
Docs – Passport, WHO immunization card, U.S. cash, traveler’s checks (AmEx), credit card, debit card and driver’s license.
Sunscreen – Waterproof, sweatproof SPF 30 or higher
Swiss Army Knife – scissors, magnifying glass, awl, tweezers with sewing needle added, corkscrew with mini glasses screwdriver added, philips and flathead screwdrivers, can opener, bottle opener and flashlight. The yo-yo is a Tom Kuhn aluminum pocket rocket.
Wear Your Heavy Stuff to Get More on the Plane
Especially if you’re taking a very restrictive domestic flight it’s worth wearing at least your boots to help sneak under the baggage weight restrictions.
Hiking shoes – These are either light boots or water shoes with good support and tread depending on the trip. White water rafting, kayaking and canyoneering are best in water shoes while hiking, trekking and climbing are boot trips.
Binoculars – It’s fun to look out the window and a pair of binocs weighs as much a couple pair of pants.
We’ve never resorted to wearing three shirts and our jackets but we’ve heard of people who have.
Not Shown or On Other People’s Lists
Binoculars/Spotting Scope – We no longer carry ours when we’re going light because the Canon SX30IS has such an amazing lens that it’s actually better than a Nikon Monarch
Sports sandals – If we’re wearing hiking boots then we also carry sports sandals. If we’re wearing water shoes we might skip the sandals.
Sunglasses – I’m usually wearing them
Carry On Versus Checked Bags
We always check bags. There’s no chance we can ever travel with just a carry-on for a number of reasons. I’m not leaving my Swiss army knife behind. Our sample maps, camera and computer gear weigh a lot, and we’ve always got a couple of extra 50 lb duffel bags filled with climbing harnesses, nursing pillows, baby backpacks, camera lenses, brown sugar, prosciutto – whatever our friends need and can’t get their hands on in Costa Rica.
Since we have to check a couple of bags we usually have the limit and you’ll see us dragging four 49.5 lb bags off the carousel, but if you can get away with just traveling with a carry on you’ll fly right through the airport and don’t have to worry about the airline losing your bag.
We’ve got about six weeks to update 2/3 of the Costa Rica Guide (the NW was covered on our November trip) and we’re excited to start with a 3 day hiking trek across Corcovado on a route we haven’t taken before.
The first couple of days we’ll base out of Puerto Jiménez to explore to the south and Cabo Matapalo, home to some of the best ecolodges in Costa Rica then west to Dos Brazos del Río Tigre and the Sendero de Oro (the gold trail) southwest across the tip of the peninsula through the Golfo Dulce reserve and Corcovado National Park to Playa Madrigal.
After the trek we’re going to make our way to the north where we’ll spend a couple of nights in the Corcovado Adventures Tent Camp on Playa Caletas an eleven kilometer walk south & west of Bahía Drake. We’ll use this as a base to hike or boat down to San Pedrillo and check out the northern extent of the National Park and all of the exceptional ecolodges in the Drake/Agujitas/Caletas region.
Nature air is flying all of us half-price which gives us two extra days (the drive/bus from San José takes a full day on the road each way) to enjoy the Osa before we fly out of Drake to pick up our SUV rental in San José and get started on WEEK TWO.
We know we’ll be trekking, doing some four wheeling and some exploring by boat, but we’re going a little by the seat of our pants so we’ll be posting updates here as we figure out exactly where we’re going when. The back country of Corcovado and the Osa is one of the last places in the world where there’s no wi-fi, 4G (or any G for that matter) data service or any internet of any kind so be patient; we’ll get the updates and photos out when we get connectivity.
We’re just days away from our next research trip to update the Waterproof Travel Map to its Fourth edition (ISBN 097637334-3) and Costa Rica Guide into its eighteenth year of dispensing advice. All of our friends have begun the requisite teasing about how we’re “packing to spend another month and a half on the beach in paradise” while claiming to “work.”
While there are some serious fringe benefits (Osa/Corcovado) associated with traveling around Costa Rica for work we want to dispel the myth that it’s all an extended vacation with adventure tours, luxury resorts, and relaxing on the beach with cool drinks.
We work hard when we’re traveling. Sure, we accept the occasional complimentary suite at a luxury resort but believe us when we tell you that’s not how we roll; we’d rather be out climbing volcanoes and sleeping in huts. It’s also a lot of work checking out every room type and all the amenities, meeting with management to hear why their property is the best, and striking up casual conversations with guests to fish for candid opinions.
If you’ve ever driven a couple hundred kilometers across Costa Rica you know it’s not always fun. A typical day for us may include ten hours in the car with the gps enabled notebook computer stopping at every hotel, lodge, resort, restaurant, tour and roadside attraction to chat, renew our acquaintance or make our introductions and take a look around. The whole time we’re lugging fifteen kilo gear bags because we follow our own advice to “never leave anything in a parked car.”
At the end of the day a Luxury Resort is the exception rather than the rule and we typically stay in modest cabinas or nondescript in-town hotels and grab a quick bite at the closest soda before falling into bed.
But, you might think, “what about the activities, those have to be fun right?” A lot of the time they are, but think for a minute about multiplying that once in a lifetime zipline through the cloud forest canopy by the 121 zipline locations in Costa Rica – can you say “too much of a good thing.”
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not complaining – we love our job, this is just a minor reality check for our friends.
It will probably surprise you to know that environmentally it’s about the same or maybe better to fly than take a bus in Costa Rica. Amazingly flying burns less fuel per person transported, creates less pollutants and carbon dioxide (see calculations*), and has lower impacts in many other ways as well.
For example, you have to count the environmental impact of the road itself against traveling by road. Bulldozing the trees, eroding the hillsides and laying down all that petroleum based asphalt aren’t necessary if you fly.
Another factor that is frequently ignored in environmental “friendliness” estimates is the manufacturing impact. There’s very roughly the same amount of raw materials and energy used to make a small plane and a bus but planes typically last four times as long. This is because planes get to their destination 5-10 times faster so they aren’t running as much and wearing out parts and they also have significantly better maintenance programs.
A rarely considered cost of road travel – when tires wear out, where is out? Mostly it’s into the atmosphere as micro-fine, carcinogenic, toxic dust released as the tires rub against the road. Another strike against the bus.
Noise pollution is probably about a toss up. Turboprops aren’t nearly as loud as jets, but still, a bus is much quieter. However, the bus trip takes more than eight times longer and the noise is much closer to both the human and rainforest residents along the way.
Comparison of flying, taking the bus or driving between San José and Puerto Jiménez on the Osa peninsula of Costa Rica.
The twin engine de Havilland Otter turboprop airplane carries 20 passengers and burns 64 gallons of fuel per hour. It takes 50 minutes to cover the 113 air miles so that’s 2.66 gallons per person.
A 38 passenger Volvo 9500 diesel coach gets 2.4 miles to the gallon takes eight hours to cover the 249 miles (via the Caldera and Costanera Sur) burning 2.73 gallons per person.
A 6 passenger Toyota Prado gets 10 miles to the gallon takes seven hours to drive the 249 miles burning 4.15 gallons per person.
You’ve probably heard how horribly inefficient air travel is from an environmental perspective and are wondering who’s right, CNN or this crackpot claiming flying is better.
The answer is both and there’s a simple explanation. In general air travel is less efficient but in Costa Rica the roads are so inefficient they more than make up the difference. You have to travel more than twice as far by road than by air to get most places in Costa Rica.
In the example calculation it’s 113 miles between San José and Puerto Jiménez on the Osa peninsula by air but 249 miles on the road.
I don’t work for any airline and don’t have any hidden motivation to try to make air travel sound “better”. In fact I co-own a small company that produces roadmaps of Costa Rica and would, if anything, have a bias towards promoting ground transportation. Mostly I’m just interested in people taking a more realistic view of the world around them – don’t even get me started on the evils of electric cars (did you know that the majority of them secretly burn coal and they pollute up to twice as much as a regular gasoline engine).
On March 8th Amazon closed all Colorado based Associate accounts that used to pay commissions to websites that sold books and other products for Amazon. I’m not sure of their motivation but the most compelling explanation I’ve heard is that Amazon is using Colorado based associates as pawns in a political battle with the state legislature.
As a result Amazon is now pocketing the proceeds that would have gone to community and conservation non-profit projects in Costa Rica (see Not For Profit Store Launched).
Our response on the six and ten o’clock news are on these links
The video links are on the right hand side of each page.
The exposure on the nightly news was nice, but it only told a small part of the story.
In late February we invested about 40 hours of our time to update our recommendations for Costa Rica Guidebooks and travel gear, not with the intention of profiting, but to earn money to contribute to non-profit projects in Costa Rica.
Christine and Suresh have owned and operated Desafio Adventure Company in La Fortuna de Arenal Costa Rica since 1992.
When the neighboring town of San Isidro decided they’d like to attract tourists the mayor gave Christine a call and a few days later we joined the Desafio proprietors on an assignment to explore a canyon that had been entered from the side at a few points but because it was so steep and isolated had never been descended from top to bottom.
The video below shows some of the story, a beautiful waterfall or two and a great natural rock waterslide, but unfortunately most of the really cool stuff and big waterfalls isn’t on the video because we were too busy making sure we didn’t break our necks in what turned out to be a very challenging canyon. Someday we’ll go back.
Ray and Sue Krueger Koplin of Toucan Maps Inc. (mapcr.com) have no idea what they are getting themselves into when Suresh and Christine Krishnan of Desafio Adventure Company (DesafioCostaRica.com) take them on a first descent of an unexplored Costa Rican waterfall canyon near Arenal Volcano.
First we stopped by their commercial operation “The Lost Canyon” which has thrilled thousands of visitors to Costa Rica to pick up some gear and then headed to the mayors office. The mayor and her assistant loaded us all into the town’s 4WD pickup and drove us to the home of the couple who manage the ranch that backs onto the primary forest encompassing Quebrada Gata.<p>After much discussion about how to actually get to the entrance to the canyon, and a delicious breakfast we finally hit the trail.
It was a little disconcerting that the mayor’s aide had to continuously stop and wait for us on the trail. After all we were the big explorers and he was a city slicker in slacks and loafers who was just going to show us to the canyon entrance then drive the mayor back to town. At sunset they ‘d meet us at the bottom where the Río Agua Gata empties into the Río Peñas Blancas along side the 4WD road to Poco Sol.
If there were just one phrase to evoke Costa Rica it would be ¡Pura Vida!
“What does it mean?” you ask.
Well, it’s roughly the equivalent of bula bula! (pronounced mboola mboola) – or more formally – ni sa bula vinaka! (pronounced nee-sahm-boola-vee-nahka!) in Fijian.
“Thanks for nothing!” you say if you’ve never visited Costa Rica or the Fiji islands.
Literally “pura vida” translates from Spanish to English as “pure life,” but it can mean much more than that. Like it’s south Pacific cousin, bula, it can mean hello, goodbye, good luck, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, now this is living, that’s life with a shrug, and even gesundheit depending on the context. When we hear Ticos use it we insert the literal translation and it always seems to make sense.
Unfortunately, both phrases seem to be falling out of popular usage as they’re absorbed by global pop-culture, utilized as marketing slogans by the tourism boards of their respective countries and converted into trademarks for clothing companies (bula fashions are a little bizarre because they specialize in snowboard apparel…) but we like the original spirit of well wishes and can’t resist saying ¡Pura Vida! for now,
We never expected big profits on book sales. Amazon was just an easy way to keep cover photos and prices up to date on books we like to recommend, but as our websites grow more popular it’s starting to add up. We’d like our recommendations to stay unbiased by sales pressure so we’ve decided to donate 100% of the proceeds from the Amazon sales to community and conservation projects in Costa Rica.
Based on growth over the last five years we hope to raise at least $2,000.00 on about $32,000.00 in sales in 2010. It could be a lot more if the idea catches on and people spread the word through blogs, tweets, facebook and websites.
Who gets the money?
Honestly, we haven’t decided. We just re-did the bookstore and decided to donate the profits this week so we haven’t worked out all the details yet. We know some organizations that could benefit and have asked friends in Costa Rica for recommendations. If you’ve got a suggestion please feel free to add it as a comment below.
One idea is to buy books! Some rural schools in Costa Rica have pretty minimal libraries and a couple hundred new books could have a big impact. We know book distributors that may sell to us at wholesale and a furniture shop to build bookshelves for cost which would make the money go even further.
Teachers and librarians could pick out shelves full of books their kids wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
How can we guarantee the profit from your purchase will be donated?
The short answer is we can’t. Toucan Maps Inc. is a for-profit corporation and doesn’t have non-profit auditing; besides Amazon strictly prohibits tracking customers so it would be impossible for you to tell if your purchase ultimately results in a contribution.
Basically you just have to trust us that it’s not worth risking our reputation for a couple thousand dollars in Amazon commissions. Besides, if we wanted to keep the money we’d just erase all this stuff about donations and keep it like we used to before we decided to donate it.