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 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.

Creepy Crawlies and Airborne Annoyances

Most of the insects you’ll encounter in Costa Rica are more of an annoyance than a safety concern, but some can carry diseases.

Mosquitoes are the most significant threat, but not because of malaria which pops to mind when people think of the tropics but is uncommon in Costa Rica. Instead, mosquito borne dengue fever (bone break fever) is on the rise throughout the world and is becoming more common in the Guanacaste and Caribbean regions of Costa Rica.

The dengue virus is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which hunt most actively at dawn and dusk, in shady areas, or when the weather is cool and cloudy.

Aedes aegypti
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes transmit the dengue fever virus

There is no treatment for dengue fever. Fluid replacement is important to prevent dehydration and Acetaminophen (Tylenol) helps control the fever (Do Not take aspirin).

Purrujas (no-see-ums) are mosquito’s super evil microscopic twins that can transmit encephalitis – very rarely transmitted to humans in Costa Rica.

Africanized bees are present. We saw a miniature stampede down the main street of Puerto Jiménez when a group of horses being prepared for a tour group disturbed a hive. Dodging back and forth while running is better than running in a straight line (but don’t trip), get inside a building car or tent as quickly as possible. The Warner Brothers® standby of diving in the pond and breathing through a reed until the bees move on is not recommended since the bees can be very patient.

Scorpions like to snuggle into your shoes or crumpled up clothing while you sleep, so shake them out before you put them on.

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.

Not for Profit Bookstore Shut Down

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

ABC News story & interview

CBS News story & interview.

The video links are on the right hand side of each page.

Not for profit bookstore closed by amazon

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.

Amazon continues to accept referrals and sales from our websites, but now instead of paying commissions that we could pass on to non-profits, they are keeping the commissions as excess profit. Continue reading Not for Profit Bookstore Shut Down

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.