Posted on September 17, 2017
Southern Costa Rica
Some 25% of all land in Costa Rica is devoted to National Park. For the most part, Costa Rica was ignored by Spain when part of her empire, and not very developed; furthermore, after a rough but brief civil war in 1949, the country abolished their military. The result has been a great deal of unspoiled country, and the resources to maintain and protect it.
As such, tourism rules the roost, although not the type that is particularly accommodating to scrappy cruisers such as ourselves. There are lots of eco-lodges, several all-inclusive resorts, backpacker facilities and sport fishing marinas. Anchoring out, on the other hand, can be a bit more challenging.
We arrived in Golfito prepared to have everything stolen. The port has a bad reputation for theft, especially of dinghies; in general, for the whole country, cruisers are advised to keep their dinghies out of the water with the outboards locked to the boat in a very visible way. Katie at Land-Sea explained that people see cruisers having their dinghies stolen, and then immediately replaced by insurance companies with brand-new gear, so they think it’s no big deal. Well, it’s a big deal for us, but we’ve already gotten into the habit of keeping things locked up, and we had no problems.
Marinas recommend hiring an agent, to the tune of at $200-$400, to help you check in. Let me tell you straight up, that is BOSH. We had no problems checking in, heading first to the immigration office right near the marinas. The extremely helpful official organized all of our paperwork for us; told us exactly how many copies of which documents we needed from the copy shop down the street; and sent us on to the customs office and port captain with clear instructions. We did have to hire a cab to get between those offices, but $12 for transportation is no big deal, and cab fare and copies were the only things we paid for.
Golfito itself is pretty scrappy, but after the wilds of Pacific Panama, we were pretty appreciative of luxuries like well-stocked grocery stores and cell service. We set up the new phone; we stocked up on pastry, along with boring items like fruit and lettuce; we got our teeth cleaned; we filled up with water; and we moved on.
Two relaxing nights at Pureto Jiminez, and we headed for the outside of the Osa Peninsula. The end of a loooong, light-wind, swell-tactic passage found us hovering outside the entrance to Drake’s Bay; we’d just managed to drop and secure the main when we were blasted by a dense squall for which the area is known. The rain was coming down too hard to see past the bow of the boat; we held station right outside the anchorage until things subsided and we could creep in without hitting any of the anchored dive boats or pangas.
Drake’s Bay has so many lovely things going for it; not the least of which is a free dinghy dock inside the mouth of a little river. Exploring up the river, we saw capuchin monkeys in the trees and a caiman slip silently into the water. Even better than the short trip up the river are the trails that lead off from the dock; well-maintained paths go along the coast to a number of beaches. It was in Drake’s Bay that we saw scarlet macaws for the first time, and spent a happy hour at the resort by the dock sipping fancy smoothies and watching the birds and iguanas.
The drawback to Drake’s Bay: swell. It looks so protected on the chart! And yet…those insidious waves manage to creep around the point and knock you about. We also had some pretty wild thunderstorms zip through, including a strong 180-degree shift that knocked our anchor loose around midnight; fortunately, our trusty Mantus reset immediately. After four nights, it was time to move on.
When we can, we prefer to hop up a coast, rather than take long passages, so we made for an intermediary stop at Bahia Dominicalito. As expected, the swell found us once again, but this time we decided to take action and set a stern anchor, keeping the bow of our boat pointed into the wind. It worked! We slept well, and work up refreshed and ready for our approach to Manuel Antonio National Park.
So already, we were loving all things relating to Manuel Antonio. Staying in the area can be a challenge; choices range from “washing machine anchorage” to “$140-a-night marina.” We tucked out boat just inside Punta Quepos, narrowly dodging a few random, not-well-charted boulders, and managed to get a pretty quiet spot. Once again, we tried our stern anchoring technique, but this time, we failed painfully; the tidal current kept pushing us sideways, messing up the whole system, and we ended up wrapping the stern anchor rode around the rudder. After repeated attempts, we gave up. Still, not so bad; much less rolly than Drake’s Bay, and we were right off a lovely public beach.
Big Al, renter of fine SUPs and kayaks, offered to watch our dinghy the next day, and we caught a cab to Manuel Antonio National Park. Following the advice of pretty much everyone, we hired a guide for the morning, and walked into a zoo without boundaries.
Lest you think we were on some kind of isolated, back-country nature safari, let me just clarify: the park was packed. We walked down a road, with service cars; we were never not within sight of at least 20 people—it was a constant stream of humanity, as locals headed to the beach and tourists stuck with their guides. Still, we saw howler, squirrel and capuchin monkeys, as well as a whole bunch of other wildlife pointed out by our guide, George.