Herradura to Culebra
Costa Rica, 9 Days
Day 1: Herradura
Playa Herradura is a long stretch of brown sand that is home to the massive Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort and its attached marina. Board your yacht here and get comfortable with a welcome cocktail. These are the first beaches on the Pacific coast to have a tropical feel. The humidity is palpable, and the lushness of the tropical forest is visible on the hillsides surrounding town. In gardens, flowers bloom profusely throughout the year.
Because they're so close, many in Playa Herradura take advantage of the tours and activities offered out of Jacó and even those offered out of Quepos and Manuel Antonio. Just beyond Carara National Park on the Costanera Sur in the direction of Jacó is a turnoff for the Pura Vida Botanical Gardens and some beautiful waterfalls around the town of Bijagual. Admission includes free run of the gardens and trails, which lead to a couple of smaller local waterfalls. Golf, scuba, sport fishing and canopy tours are also available.
Herradura to Quepos 35 miles
Day 2: Quepos
Quepos is one of Costa Rica's billfish centers, and sailfish, marlin, and tuna are all common in these waters. In the past year or so, fresh and brackish water fishing in the mangroves and estuaries has also become popular. You can also take a tour of the mangroves; just make sure to keep an eye out for dolphins! Visit the Butterfly Garden at The Nature Farm Reserve across from Hotel Sí Como No. A lovely bi-level butterfly garden is the centerpiece attraction here, but there is also a private reserve and a small network of well-groomed trails through the forest. Other offerings in the area include horseback riding, yoga and spas.
Quepos to Isla del Cano 45 miles
Day 3: Isla del Caño
Isla del Caño with its Caño Island Biological Reserve is one of the best dive sites in Costa Rica. See whale sharks, humpback whales, manta rays and sea turtles among other sea life. The island is about 19km (12 miles) offshore from Drake Bay and was once home to a pre-Columbian culture about which little is known. A trip to the island will include a visit to an ancient cemetery, and you'll also be able to see some of the stone spheres believed to have been carved by this area's ancient inhabitants. Few animals or birds live on the island, but the coral reefs just offshore teem with life and are the main reason most people come here. This is one of Costa Rica's prime scuba spots. Visibility is often quite good, and the beach has easily accessible snorkeling.
Isla del Caño to Bahia Drake 10 miles
Day 4: Bahia Drake
Around Drake Bay and within the national park are many miles of trails through rainforests and swamps, down beaches, and around rock headlands. Keep an eye out for local wildlife including monkeys, coatimundis, scarlet macaws, parrots, and hummingbirds. Other park inhabitants include jaguars, tapirs, sloths, and crocodiles. If you're lucky, you might even see one of the region's namesake osas, or giant anteaters. It's also possible to begin a hike around the peninsula from Drake Bay. If you want to try a zip-line canopy adventure, The Drake Bay Canopy Tour has six cable runs, several "Tarzan swings," and a hanging bridge, all set in lush forests just outside of Drake Bay.
Bahia Drake to Puerto Jimenez 50 miles
Day 5: Puerto Jimenez
Don't let its small size and languid pace fool you. Puerto Jiménez is actually a bustling little burg, where rough jungle gold-panners mix with wealthy ecotourists, budget backpackers, serious surfers, and a smattering of celebrities seeking a small dose of anonymity and escape. Located on the southeastern tip of the Osa Peninsula, the town itself is just a couple of streets wide in any direction, with a ubiquitous soccer field, a handful of general stores, some inexpensive sodas (diners), and several bars. Scarlet macaws fly overhead, and mealy parrots provide wake-up calls.
Corcovado National Park has its headquarters here, and this town makes an excellent base for exploring this vast wilderness area. This is also a prime surf spot. Cabo Matapalo (the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula) is home to several very dependable right point breaks. When it's working, the waves at Pan Dulce and Backwash actually connect, and can provide rides almost as long and tiring as those to be had in more famous Pavones.
Puerto Jimenez to Golfito 9 miles
Day 6: Golfito Bahia
The waters off Golfito also offer some of the best sport fishing in Costa Rica. Most game fish species can be caught here year-round, including blue and black marlin, sailfish, and roosterfish. November through May is the peak period for sailfish and blue marlin. In 1998, much of the rainforest bordering the Golfo Dulce was officially declared the Piedras Blancas National Park, which includes 12,000 hectares (29,640 acres) of primary forests, as well as protected secondary forests and pasturelands.
About a 20-minute drive over a rough dirt road from Golfito will bring you to the Cataratas y Senderos Avellán. Admission includes a 2-hour guided hike through the forests and a visit to a beautiful forest waterfall, with several refreshing pools perfect for swimming.
Golfito Bahia to Ballena 75 miles
Day 7: Bahia Ballena
At the village of Uvita, 16km (10 miles) south of Dominical, you'll reach the northern end of the Ballena Marine National Park, which protects a coral reef that stretches from Uvita south to Playa Piñuela and includes the little Isla Ballena, just offshore. At Playa Uvita (which is inside the park), the beach is well protected and good for swimming. At low tide, an exposed sandbar allows you to walk about and explore another tiny island. This park is named for the whales that are sometimes sighted close to shore in the winter months. If you ever fly over this area, you'll also notice that this little island and the spit of land that's formed at low tide compose the perfect outline of a whale's tail.
The jungles just outside of Dominical are home to two spectacular waterfalls. The most popular and impressive is the Santo Cristo or Nauyaca Waterfalls, a two-tiered beauty with an excellent swimming hole.
Bahia Ballena to Playa Flamingo 50 miles
Day 8: Playa Flamingo
Playa Flamingo is one of the prettiest beaches in the region. A long, broad stretch of pinkish white sand, it is on a long spit of land that forms part of Potrero Bay. At the northern end of the beach is a high rock outcropping upon which most of Playa Flamingo's hotels and vacation homes are built. This rocky hill has great views.
Playa Flamingo to Bahia Culebra 15 miles
Day 9: Bahia Culebra
While most of Costa Rica's coast is highly coveted by surfers, the beaches here are mostly protected and calm. Playa Hermosa means "beautiful beach," which is an apt moniker for this pretty crescent of sand. Surrounded by steep forested hills, this curving gray-sand beach is long and wide and the surf is usually quite gentle. Fringing the beach is a swath of trees that stays surprisingly green even during the dry season. The shade provided by these trees, along with the calm protected waters, is a big part of the beach's appeal. Rocky headlands jut out into the surf at both ends of the beach, and at the base of these rocks are fun tide pools to explore.
Beyond Playa Hermosa you'll find Playa Panamá and, farther on, the calm waters of Bahía Culebra, a large protected bay dotted with small, private patches of beach and ringed with mostly intact dry forest. Around the north end of Bahía Culebra is the Papagayo Peninsula, home to two large all-inclusive resorts and one championship golf course.
Bahia Culebra to Coco Beach 10 miles
Yachts for charter in the area