Osa Peninsula Costa Rica – Two – Dos Brazos to Quebrada Piedras Blancas

Sendero de Oro – Route Map

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.

Trekking route across the Osa Peninsula
Trekking route across the Osa Peninsula

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.

Swinging on a jungle vine into a pool in the Rio Tigre
Swinging on a jungle vine into a pool in the Rio Tigre

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.

Osa Peninsula Costa Rica – One – Puerto Jiménez

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.

Favor Espere por el Piloto - Please Wait for the Pilot
Favor Espere por el Piloto - Please Wait for the Pilot. Always good advice for frequent fliers!
Welcome to Puerto Jimenez
Welcome to Puerto Jimenez

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.

Fruit stand Puerto Jimenez
Fruit stand Puerto Jimenez

Costa Rica Guide and Waterproof Travel Map Update – WEEK ONE

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.



View WEEK ONE Costa Rica Map Research in a larger map
For convenience we are showing our routes using the road alignments provided by google maps. These are not always accurate and of course we are recording the actual gps routing for use on the Toucan Map publications.

We’re more than a little excited about the first week. Our good friends and colleagues from Our Costa Rica Wedding and Costa Rica Vacation 4Me Meg and Ryan are joining us so another old friend Ed from Mambo Reizen can show us around his adopted home – the Osa Peninsula.

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.

Muelle at Puerto Jimenez
Muelle at Puerto Jimenez

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.

Costa Rica Road Map Research

It’s not all fun and games

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.”

Sunset on Playa Cuajiniquil from our last round of updates a couple of months ago
Sunset on Playa Cuajiniquil from our last round of updates a couple of months ago

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.

Thank YOU!

In the past year we’ve spent approximately as much time on the road actually traveling in Costa Rica as we have at home and we’re about to set out again.

Golfo Dulce out from Puerto Jiménez

We aren’t a big multinational conglomerate like Fodor’s or Lonely Planet and we could never visit the number of place we do with the frequency we like if we didn’t get a lot of help from dozens of amazing companies around Costa Rica and the World.

Week One Thanks To:

Our Costa Rica Wedding – Lending us Meg and Ryan so they can increase their knowledge while enjoying an adventure with friends.
Costa Rica Vacation 4Me – Covering our butts giving our clients the most amazing customer service and personalized care available while we’re incommunicado.
Mambo Reizen – Ed is taking a week off from managing and leading extreme adventure groups to guide us and hopefully keep us alive!
Nature air Flying all of us half-price which gives us almost two whole extra days to explore Corcovado and the Osa!
Corcovao Tent Camp – Luxury rustic accommodations on the doorstep of Corcovado National Park.

We’ve spent almost two decades seeking out the absolute best companies to work with so I can personally assure you that if you click any of the links above you’ll be in very good hands indeed.

Environmental Cost of Transportation in Costa Rica

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.

A typical airport in Costa Rica
A typical airport in Costa Rica

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.

*The Calculations

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.

The Explanation

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.

The Disclaimer

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).

Quebrada Gata Costa Rica First Descent

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.

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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.

Naugahide-a-Bed

If you wake up in a pool of sweat it could be that you’re showing the first symptoms of some bizarre tropical disease, but unless you have red spots all over it’s more likely that you’ve discovered a naugahide-a-bed.

Especially in the budget and backpacker price ranges hoteliers sometimes try to protect their mattresses from spills, absorbed odors, sweat and other bodily fluids even more discomforting to consider by covering them with something impermeable.

Some use fake leather upholstery fabrics like naugahyde, others have plastic backed mattress pads and some simply leave the mattress in the plastic bag that it arrived from the store in.