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

25 lb Weight Limit

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.

25 lb packing list for Costa Rica
The basic 25 lb pack for heading into the remoter areas of Costa Rica. The essentials shown here only add up to about 12-15 lbs so there's plenty of room for optional items or for a bivy and food if you're going really extreme.

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.
  • Toiletries – Toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, biodegradable soap, contacts & contact solution, q-tips, kleenex, tampons, and an ultralight recycled plastic pack towel.
  • 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
  • DEET
  • 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.

Current Weather Conditions Arajuez – San José Costa Rica

Current Weather Conditions

Food Costs in Costa Rica

How much should I budget for food on my Costa Rica Vacation?

One question that we get a lot from friends and others planning travel is “how much should we budget for food?”  Many people think of Costa Rica as a budget destination but our experience is that for sustenance you’ll spend at least as much there and often a bit more, as in the U.S., Canada or Europe.

So how much should you budget for food on your vacation? The short answer is a little more than you budget for lodging.

That surprises most people, but it’s better to know in advance than be shocked after you get the bill.

Corleone’s Restaurant Cahuita
Corleone's Restaurant Cahuita

If you’re an average traveler

  • you’re staying about a week
  • you’re spending about $800 – $1,000 per person in Costa Rica for transportation, lodging and tours (not including international airfare)
  • and your average hotel or lodge costs $80-$150 per night double occupancy

Since you’re the average traveler the price estimates below are for average restaurants. Not the cheapest hole in the wall, nor the Sunset view lobster bib place on the cliff.

Breakfast is often included and sometimes pretty hearty, but if not, it’s the cheapest meal of the day if you end going to a restaurant ($3 – $8).

At lunch you might want a chicken sandwich ($9), salad ($8), burger ($8) or personal pizza ($11) and a fresh fruit drink ($3).

At dinner grilled fish ($13), shrimp pasta ($16), steak ($12), or grilled chicken ($12). Split an appetizer ($10) and a desert ($5), add a couple of beers for him ($7) and a couple of glasses of wine for her ($15).

Throw in a couple of powerbars ($3 each), two gatorades ($3 each) and a bag of chips ($2) for snacks on the road or while you’re hiking.

Add it all up and it’s $48 to $69 per person. Tack on the 13% tax and 10% service and two people spending $80-$150 per night on a lodge will be spending about $118 to $170 for food each day.

Obviously at popular vacation destinations you expect restaurants to have high prices just as they do at tourist beaches, ski areas and amusement parks all over the world, but food prices have gotten crazy in Costa Rica even in supermarkets in backwater ranching towns.

Next, Options From the Cheapest to the Most Expensive

Airfares are Down and Travel to Costa Rica is Up

Update – May 24, 2010 – in the past two weeks prices have been heading up.  They’re still lower than the past few years for all the reasons described below, but we’re not seeing the super bargains for $2-300.

The official ICT (Instituto Costarricense de Turismo) numbers are in and they confirm what we’ve noticed over the past several months; Travel is up  5% to 15% all over Costa Rica.

Although the ICT does not keep statistics on advanced reservations we’ve seen a significant increase in map, guidebook, and travel sales over this time last year and the most popular lodges are already filling up.  Whether you’d like professional travel planning assistance, or you’re doing your research and booking directly with hotels and tours of choice, please get started early or don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Despite worldwide decreases due to the economic downturn travel has remained strong in Costa Rica for a number of reasons.  Airfares that are lower than we’ve seen them any time in the past ten years ($220 – $550 round trip with all taxes etc. on kayak.com) are making Costa Rica vacations very attractive.  For example, a search a few minutes ago found one stop fares from Chicago for $237 round trip including taxes and fees on Mexicana or $287 on American Airlines or Continental.

Because Costa Rica is close enough to reach easily from anywhere in the U.S. without refueling (3½ – 5½ hours from most U.S. cities), the airlines are adding more non-stops from places like New York City ($353 on American Airlines and $408 on Continental, again round trip including all taxes and fees) and Denver($455 total on Frontier).

These result weren’t just for one seat on one flight next Tuesday.  The prices are available for dozens of dates in April all the way into the peak season in December. It’s hard to believe that they are even covering fuel costs at these prices, so if you’ve ever wanted to visit Costa Rica it would be hard to find a better time.

Another factor is people choosing Costa Rica Vacations instead of Mexico where the horrific drug cartel violence is keeping tourists away by the thousands.

Costa Rica’s warm peaceful people, stable democratic government, national parks covered in rain forest, and of course beautiful tropical beaches make it an irresistible escape even in tough times.

Costa Rica is not a magic wonderland with no crime.  Especially on the crowded streets of the capital you should exercise common sense keep an eye out for a hand that’s not yours headed for your pocket, not carry large sums of cash or wander in neighborhoods you don’t know late at night.  Leave your expensive watch and jewelery at home and use the hotel room safe box for your camera.

However, violent crimes are rare and Costa Rica is more like Disneyland than the mess that is Mexico now.

The final reason that tourism continues to grow in Costa Rica while dropping of nearly everywhere else is that it’s a nearly unbelievably wonderful place to visit.  We’ve been all over the world in four decades of travel and we keep going back to Costa Rica again and again.

Once you’ve visited you’ll be tempted to too!

A somewhat clumsy (and not in any way guaranteed to be completely accurate) translation of the letter sent to members of the ICT is posted below for the curious.

Official data on ICT Tourist arrivals grew in January and February 2010
Increases of 4.3% and 16.5% compared with 2009

San Jose, Costa Rica, 18 March 2010 – Tourist arrivals to Costa Rica, by all means,grew in January and February compared to the same period in 2009. Official data of the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) show an increase of 4.3% in January and 16.5% in February, numbers similar to those of 2008.

In the first two months of the year the country received 428,233 visitors – 37,405 tourists more than reported in January and February 2009. “These figures are similar to those recorded in early 2008, when the tourism in the country had not suffered the impact of international economic crisis, “said Minister of Tourism, Allan Flores. “Although there are regions and businesses affected by the decline in visitation recorded in 2009, these numbers bode well for recovery,” he said.

The data are grouped and analyzed by the ICT based on information from the Directorate General of Immigration.

The growth in international tourist visitation is more noticeable from the air arrivals. For Juan Santamaria International Airport the first two months of last year combined for 208,610 visitors. In January and February 2010 227,026 arrived through this port, an increase of 18,416 tourists.

The increase is also seen in the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste. Here, 50,427 tourists entered during January and February of this year, 9,863 more than the same period of 2009.