Things to do in Drake Bay, Costa Rica: Osa Peninsula travel guide

Visiting the Osa Peninsula is one of the best things to do in Drake Bay, Costa Rica

Drake Bay feels wild. Only reachable by boat or with a few rough river crossings, bordering Corcovado National Park, and minutes away from major whale migration routes, this village is the place to get in touch with nature on your Costa Rica vacation. It feels authentically Tico (Costa Rican), spared the package tourism and surfer mobs elsewhere on the Pacific Coast. But the town isn’t just a dusty outpost — there are enough things to do in Drake Bay to keep you busy for a week or more.

Drake Bay was, hands-down, my favorite destination on my two-week Costa Rica itinerary. I spent a busy four days there and didn’t want to leave.

Planning a trip to the Osa Peninsula? Read on for all the best Drake Bay activities!

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you decide to purchase through these links, I receive a percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you.

Things to do in Drake Bay for nature lovers

Coati on a trail near Sirena Ranger Station in Corcovado National Park.
You’ll see Coati everywhere when hiking near Sirena Ranger Station.

The #1 draw to the Osa Peninsula and Drake Bay is Corcovado National Park. This enormous, wild jungle preserve is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet — 2.5% of all species on Earth inhabit it.

Conservation efforts beginning in the 1970’s mean animals have no memory of humans being a threat. So you have a good chance to get very close to tapirs, peccaries, coati, caimans, and all four species of Costa Rican monkeys. (Probably not sloths though. They hang out way up in the trees.)

Corcovado is the focal point of nature trips from Drake Bay, but not all wildlife activities take place in the park. You can see a lot along the river in town, or off the coast in the marine preserves nearby.

Here are the top things to do in Drake Bay if you want to explore the natural environment.

1. Hike the trails around the Sirena Station in Corcovado National Park.

White-faced monkeys are a common site in Parque Nacional Corcovado
Corcovado National Park features all four species of Costa Rican monkeys.

Corcovado has several entrances, two of which are accessible from Drake Bay. The wildlife concentrates around remote Sirena. It’s worth the rough 90-minute speedboat trip from Drake Bay to Corcovado National Park.

Sirena is a launch point for about 12 km of flat, muddy trails through dense jungle. Most visitors do a day-hike. You’ll probably see sloths, capuchins, coati, spider monkeys, scarlet macaws, and howler monkeys. If you’re lucky you’ll also see squirrel monkeys, tapirs, and peccaries (I saw all three).

However, wildlife is more active at dusk and dawn. So if you have the time and money, an overnight trip to Sirena is even better. You’ll sleep in a bunkhouse (bedding and mosquito nets provided) with clean toilets and a cafe.

All visitors to Corcovado National Park must have a guide — which you’ll appreciate the first time you almost stumble into a highly venomous viper or step into a fire ant nest. Plus, your guide will be much better at finding wildlife than you are, and they’ll carry a scope so you can get better views and photos.

Theoretically you could arrange a trip directly with a guide, but it’s easier and cheaper to book a small-group tour from Drake Bay. I went with Osa Wild, which is known for its community tourism efforts. My guide William was phenomenal. I paid about $100 for my day tour. Overnights cost around $300.

2. Visit San Pedrillo Station in Corcovado National Park

San Pedrillo Ranger Station is a much closer boat trip to Drake Bay, if you just want to see the jungle.
You can hike all the way to Corcovado National Park – it’s 16 km.

If you are more interested in jungle flora than wildlife, or you don’t want to endure the long boat trip on rough seas to Sirena, a hike around San Pedrillo Station is a good alternative.

You are less likely to see big mammals in the San Pedrillo area. Tapirs, squirrel monkeys and peccaries are uncommon here. But you’ll probably see coatis and capuchin, and lots of bird life.

Plus, you’ll have access to a small waterfall and a couple bridges in this section of the park. And since you’ll be near where the river meets the ocean, crocodile sightings are common.

You can also stay overnight at San Pedrillo, in either a bunkhouse (similar to the one at Sirena) or tents.

You can hike from Drake Bay to San Pedrillo independently (it’s 16 km along the coast), but you’ll need a guide to go further into the park. One option is to hike in alone, meet your guide for a trek in the park, and arrange a boat ride back. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll get the idea by hiking the public trail alone — the park itself is a whole different world, and well worth the guide fees.

Since San Pedrillo is closer to Drake Bay (i.e. less boat fuel required), day trips cost just $85.

3. Go whale watching and dolphin watching

A Bryde's Whale off Isla Cano
This whale hung out with my boat for most of the morning on my whale watching tour.

Drake Bay offers easy access to some of the top whale migration routes in the Pacific. Humpbacks travel from both the northern and southern waters, but other species like false killers, orcas and Bryde’s Whales are often spotted as well. Spotted and bottlenose dolphins hang out year-round.

In short, you never know what you’re going to see on a whale watching trip — but you’ll always see something.

The whale watching season runs from July-October and December-February. The summer season is more reliable for spotting humpbacks.

My whale watching trip with Divine Dolphin was one of the best things to do in Drake Bay. We took a tiny boat out into the middle of the ocean, where we encountered a playful Bryde’s whale who hung out with us for about an hour. Just as he was getting bored, a pod of orcas — including mothers and babies — came up, and they spent 45 minutes with us. The water was so clear that we could see them diving deep and swimming under and around the boat.

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Full disclosure: I got extremely lucky, and others report more mixed experiences. The boat captain said orcas only show up a couple times a year, and it’s rare for whales to be that interactive with boats. I also didn’t see humpbacks (although I saw them the day before on my way to Isla Caño). You have to shell out the $100 for this tour knowing you might see little more than a few dolphins.

4. Go on a night hike

A snake in Corcovado National Park
You can see snakes during the day, but the highly venomous vipers come out more at night.

More than half of Costa Rica’s wildlife is nocturnal. So if you only explore the jungles during the day, you’ll miss out on much of the biodiversity that makes the country so famous. A night hike is your best opportunity to see snakes, frogs, and spiders. (Yep, the nocturnal wildlife tends to be pretty creepy-crawly.)

Drake Bay is the best place to do a night hike in Costa Rica — especially if you’re backpacking Costa Rica on a budget. It costs just $35 for a three-hour hike. For reference, I paid $45 in Arenal for a two-hour hike, which is pretty typical in more touristic places.

The hike starts along the river in town. You’ll don rain boots and a headlamp as you slowly — very slowly — make your way through the riverbed. Your guide will point out poison dart frogs, sleeping toucans, giant tarantulas, and venomous vipers.

A word of warning: Hiking in the jungle can be extremely dangerous at night without a guide (or if you don’t follow your guide’s instructions). The Osa Peninsula is home to wildlife whose venom can kill you in less than two hours, and there’s no way to get to a hospital after dark.

You can book night hikes at any guesthouse in Drake Bay, or call/Whatsapp the folks who advertise around town.

Drake Bay activities for beach bums

A sunset from the trail to the beaches
The Osa Peninsula has tons of isolated beaches.

Looking for more of a relaxing beach holiday? No problem, Drake Bay’s got you covered.

The Osa Peninsula’s beaches are dream-like. Deserted stretches of powder-white sand, jungle-clad hills as a backdrop, howler monkeys swinging in the trees, dolphins jumping just off-shore. You’ll usually have the beaches to yourself.

You can have as active or sedentary of a beach holiday as you want in the Drake Bay area, although if you’re on a budget you’ll need to walk a bit to reach the best beaches.

1. Lounge on a beach near town

A beach on the Osa Peninsula
The beach in Agujitas is lovely and long, and it’s never crowded.

Drake Bay’s center has a long, wide stretch of sand. Unfortunately boat traffic makes it a rather unpleasant place to swim, but if you walk down the coast a bit you can find cleaner/quieter corners.

However, the best beaches near town are on the way to the airport. You can walk the gravel road to reach them.

Heading in the other direction, there are a couple nice alcoves along the trail to Kalaluna Bistro. Some of them disappear at high tide.

None of the beaches in Drake Bay have facilities, although you can pay a small fee to use the bathroom at Roberto’s.

2. Hike to a deserted beach like Playa Cocalito

Along the Drake Bay Hiking Trail, at a secret cove
The Drake Bay Hiking Trail provides access to gorgeous coves like this.

The Drake Bay Hiking Trail runs 16 km along the coast from the town center to San Pedrillo. Along the way, you’ll pass a dozen small beaches that truly feel like a desert island. Exploring these beaches is one of the best free things to do in Drake Bay Costa Rica.

The first major beach you’ll encounter is Playa Cocalito. This stretch of sand has shade and grassy areas to hang out, a protected cove for swimming, and rocks to explore. It’s not huge, but it’s also not crowded. There are no facilities anywhere nearby.

Playa Cocalito is about a 30-minute hike from Drake Bay. You can do the walk in sandals, but flip flops aren’t a great idea. Bring plenty of water.

I spotted spider monkeys, capuchin and macaws on this short trail, as well as a few giant strangler fig trees.

If you venture further, you’ll find even more deserted and isolated beaches, and the crowds thin out even further. Playa Las Caletas is about a two-hour one way hike, and perhaps the most beautiful beach in the region.

3. Snorkel or dive around Isla Caño

If you want to get underwater on your Costa Rica vacation, Isla Caño is one of the most accessible places to do so.

Isla Caño lacks the spectacular coral formations of other major diving destinations like Cozumel. But it makes up for it with abundant turtles, sharks, rays and huge schools of fish.

Visibility can be a major issue in the waters off Drake Bay. Dry season is the best time to dive, but check with operators to make sure you’ll be able to see something before you book a trip.

A typical snorkel/dive trip starts from the Drake Bay beach. You’ll hop on a boat for the 45-minute sea crossing, where you have a decent chance of spotting whales and dolphins in-season (I saw 3 humpbacks!). Once you reach the island, you’ll hop in the water for a first snorkel/dive of about 45 minutes. Then, you’ll spend an hour or so on the island itself — there’s a beautiful beach, a lookout you can hike to, and restrooms. After your surface interval it’s back on the boat for another 45 minutes in the water. You return to Drake Bay and have lunch at a restaurant on shore around 2 pm.

A word of warning: The dive trips can feel pretty crowded. Luckily the snorkel tours spread out a bit more.

Snorkel trips typically cost around $80, while dive trips run $100-120. I booked with Corcovado Info Center and was happy with my experience. If you’re diving and have a specific operator in mind, book directly with them — commissions and re-bookings are big business here and the whole industry is a bit chaotic.

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4. Kayak through the mangroves

The mangrove forest near Sierpe, Costa Rica
The rivers through the Osa Peninsula are lined with mangrove forests

Drake Bay provides easy access to some of the best-preserved mangrove forests in the region. Kayaking is the best way to see this incredibly diverse and fragile ecosystem. You’ll be able to get close to shore to spot birds and reptiles, without slogging through deep mud.

You can rent kayaks on the beach in Drake Bay if you just want to explore the immediate surroundings. But you’re better off booking a tour that will take you up one of the rivers on the peninsula, or to one of the offshore islands around Sierpe. Tours run about $70 per person and are booked through your hotel.

You could also consider an overnight kayaking tour to see bioluminescent ocean life. These run about $230 per person. Again, book through your accommodation, as most of these tours are run by independent guides.

How to get to Drake Bay, Costa Rica

A tapir, sleeping on the beach
If you drive to Drake Bay, you’ll have to traverse tapir-inhabited jungle. Take the boat instead.

Excited for these things to do in Drake Bay? I don’t blame you! But before you start booking, you should know that Drake Bay is not exactly the easiest corner of Costa Rica to reach.

If you have more money than time, you can fly directly from San Jose to Drake Bay. You’ll be on a puddle-jumper. Expect to pay around $250 round-trip.

Driving to Drake Bay

If you’ve rented a car in Costa Rica, you may be tempted to drive to Drake Bay. After all, it doesn’t look super far on the map.

But before you fill up your gas tank and head onto the Osa Peninsula, be forewarned: this is one of the roughest drives in Costa Rica. It requires multiple river crossings, long rides on extremely rough roads, and a deep-jungle traverse where you won’t find much help in the event of a breakdown.

If you have a 4WD high clearance vehicle and you’re traveling in dry season, it might be realistic to drive to Drake Bay. In wet season, or with 2WD, it really isn’t a good idea.

Additionally, driving takes a lot longer and you won’t need your car once you arrive. And you’ll spend a small fortune in gas on the rough back roads (fill up your tank in advance!). So there isn’t really a good reason to drive.

Public boat from Sierpe

A far better option is to take the public boat from Sierpe, on the mainland. This spectacular trip starts in the mangroves before you cross into the open ocean, hugging the coast and weaving in and out of gorgeous blue bays.

Public boats leave at 11:30 am and 3:30 pm from Sierpe. Reserve a spot on a boat in advance through your Drake Bay accommodation. The morning departure costs $15, the afternoon one costs $20 — you pay in cash (dollars or colones) to the captain.

While there’s a dock at Sierpe, in Drake Bay you will exit the boat offshore. Wear appropriate shoes for a wet landing.

The sea near Drake Bay can be pretty rough, even in dry season. If you’re prone to seasickness, consider bringing medication.

The boat trip takes about an hour, but plan for the whole endeavor to take more like 90 minutes-2 hours including waiting for the boat, loading luggage, etc.

Public boats return from Drake Bay at 7:15 am and 2:30 pm. Again, you need a reservation, but your accommodation can arrange this for you the night before you depart.

There is secure parking in Sierpe for 3,000 colones a day. You pay when you return (don’t lose your ticket). The parking can be tight and fills up quickly before boat departures — aim to arrive in Sierpe at least 30 minutes before your boat leaves to ensure you get a space.

Boat taxi from Sierpe

If you prefer a private boat trip from Sierpe, you can arrange this through your hotel in Drake Bay. Some high-end lodges also include private boat transport.

Before you commit to a private boat, keep in mind that these boats are much smaller. If you’re prone to seasickness or traveling in wet season, the public boat is a better bet.

Buses and shuttles

If you’re traveling around Costa Rica using public transport, you’ll still need to take the boat from Sierpe. Transport typically runs through Palmar Norte, a short taxi ride from the dock in Sierpe.

Buses depart San Jose for Palmar Norte regularly throughout the day. They take 5-6 hours and cost $8. Once in Palmar Norte, you can get a taxi to Sierpe for $15 — the drivers typically try to pool passengers together to get the cost down to $5 per person. Palmar Norte has a number of guesthouses if your bus arrival doesn’t line up with the boat schedule.

Alternatively, you can take a shuttle directly to Sierpe from destinations throughout central and southern Costa Rica, like if you’re going from Manuel Antonio to Drake Bay. This is more expensive — typically around $50 — but a lot less stressful, since the shuttles line up with boat departures. Costs often include boat transport and your shuttle company can get you a reservation on the boat.

Where to stay in Drake Bay, Costa Rica

An orca in the waters near Cano Island
Staying in town means you can roll out of bed mere minutes before your whale watching trip

When choosing Drake Bay hotels, you’ll need to weigh convenience vs. atmosphere. If you want to walk to a diversity of restaurants, have a sundowner drink at a cafe, or pop into the grocery store, you’ll want to stay in the town of Agujitas, where the boat drops you off. But if you want jungle vibes, you’re better off choosing a more remote guesthouse on a beach along the Drake Bay Hiking Trail.

No matter where you stay, keep in mind Drake Bay is an early-morning sort of place. Most tours depart between 6 and 7 am, so expect your guesthouse to be bustling by 5 am. If you prefer to sleep in, choose somewhere with maximum privacy.

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In town: Martina’s Place

The top budget choice in Agujitas is Martina’s Place. This family-run hostel is comfortable, friendly, and convenient. The owners provide a wealth of information about travel in the region, and they can get you good deals on tours.

Dorms start at $15, but private rooms with shared bathrooms are just $20. Higher-end rooms with their own bathrooms are also available in the $40-ish dollar range.

The hostel has a large communal kitchen, plenty of bathrooms relative to the number of guests, and clean showers (cold-water only but Drake Bay is hot AF so you won’t mind). Rooms are cleaned daily — a huge perk when you’ll be tracking in salt and sand all over the place. They also have laundry service, or you can wash your own clothes and hang them on the lines to dry for free.

Out of town: Drake Bay Backpackers

If you prefer solitude and remoteness, this fabulous budget resort is the perfect choice. Drake Bay Backpackers is on a remote beach well out of town, but it’s deeply integrated with the local conservation community.

Prices start at $15 for a dorm or $30 for a private room. They have a communal kitchen, but you’ll need to shop in Agujitas before heading this way. There’s also a cafe/diner on-site if you prefer not to cook.

The biggest downside to staying at Drake Bay Backpackers is you’ll have to pay for a $20 boat taxi each time you want to go into town. This doesn’t apply if you’re taking a tour that departs from the main bay, but it does apply if you need to get groceries or if you want to go to a restaurant.

Where to eat in Drake Bay

Typical Tico breakfast - gallo pinto with avocado
Breakfast from Nature Cafe — the best restaurant in Drake Bay

Despite its small size (population: 1,000), Agujitas has a decent dining scene. You can munch on fresh seafood and traditional Tico food to your heart’s content. A small selection of international meals are also available.

Here are a few options to try:

  • Drake’s Kitchen: Hands-down the best spot in town. Order the casado with fish for a cheap-but-fresh-and-huge meal. Also has amazing batidos (fruit shakes).
  • Reina del Mar: Pricey seafood place, but very high quality
  • Restaurante Mar al Bosque: Typical Costa Rican, best seafood I had in Costa Rica, but pricey
  • Delicias: Tourist-focused restaurant with decent prices, solid veggie burritos, good happy hour. The pizza and pasta looked ok if you’re craving Italian.
  • Kalaluna Bistro: High-end restaurant serving Tico and international cuisine. Reservations recommended.
  • Nature Cafe: The BEST breakfast place in town, very affordable and super friendly, good coffee. They have bird feeders that attract all kinds of birds, which the staff will excitedly point out to you while you dine. Opens early enough to get breakfast before your tour.
  • Heladeria Popis: Great ice cream and batidos.
  • Super Santa Fe: The best-stocked grocery store in town.

Make sure you bring cash for all the things to do in Drake Bay!

Birds near the Sirena Ranger Station
Most tour companies take credit card, but you’ll save money if you bring cash.

Drake Bay is the rare Costa Rican destination where money management requires some advance planning.

There are no ATM’s in town. In an emergency, you can get cash at Super Santa Fe with an advance on your credit card, but they charge a hefty commission. Sierpe theoretically has an ATM, but no one I asked knew where it was and it wasn’t on Google Maps. There are several banks along the main highway in Uvita if you need to stop along the way.

Additionally, you can’t reliably pay with credit card in Drake Bay. While most high-end lodges will be set up to charge the card you booked with, cheaper guesthouses often can’t get their card machines working. Drake Bay restaurants that theoretically take cards often can’t connect to the Internet to process payments.

Tour companies seem to be a little better set-up for card payments, but they charge big fees, and there’s always a chance their internet will be down too.

To be safe, bring enough cash to pay for everything you’ll need in Drake Bay. Your guesthouse can secure your cash while you’re out on tours.

A few other tips to make the most of your Drake Bay trip:

Tropical waterfall views on my whale watching trip
This epic waterfall flows off a deserted stretch of coastline and is only visible by boat.
  • All tours require wet entry/exit of boats. Wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet/taking off.
  • Bring plenty of bug spray. In Corcovado National Park, long sleeves and long pants are the only way to keep the mosquitoes and fire ants away.
  • Even though wildlife on the Osa Peninsula has no fear of humans, you should still keep a safe distance. Peccaries can be aggressive. Monkeys can bite. Snakes can be extremely venomous. Tapirs can trample. Crocodiles can eat you.
  • Drake Bay is super-safe for solo female travelers, but it gets very dark at night. Bring a headlamp if you go out to dinner outside Agujitas.
  • Most guided trips in Drake Bay are fairly informal. Guides often grew up in the surrounding communities and learned the jungle on their own rather than being PhD-level naturalists. You may book by What’s App-ing a phone number you see on a billboard. You could end up on a boat that has no relationship to the company you thought you booked with. It can feel confusing if you’re used to more formalized tourist infrastructure, but just go with the flow and you’ll have a good time.
  • Drake Bay’s economy was wrecked by COVID. Tip your guides well to help make up for the last two years!

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Costa Rica's wildest and most remote national park, Corcovado, is on the Osa Peninsula. Base yourself in Drake Bay and visit the park as well as whale watching, snorkeling, diving and more. Drake Bay is the premier adventure destination in Costa Rica, Central America! #costarica #travel

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simplyjolayne
4 months ago

I love posts like these, because I learn about places I had not known about recently. There seem to be lots of things to do in Drake Bay, especially the whale watching.

A Capone Connection
4 months ago

The sights and the animals look like so much fun!! (LOVE the monkey!) Would love to experience this one day. Thanks for sharing!

Bejal
4 months ago

I visited Costa Rica, and OSA Peninsula a couple of years ago but didn’t do much in Drake Bay so it’s really informative to read this great post from you. The wildlife is incredible.

Rhonda
Rhonda
4 months ago

The wildlife and whale watching really caught my eye. I only made it to Costa Rica for a short time and I loved it. Drake Bay sounds like a place I need to visit my next time through Central America.

Amina
4 months ago

Great post – I have never heard of this area of Costa Rica. Saved it for a future trip and possible photo tour I can arrange.

Linda jane
4 months ago

Drake Bay sounds amazing. I love seeing native wildlife & avoiding other tourists where possible so it sounds perfect & your rave review is the clincher. I’ll save this for future reference.

Francesca
4 months ago

Oh I love this! I would definitely love to go and do some whale and dolphin watching or to go for the night forest hike! I also love snorkeling and this location looks like so much fun. Thanks for sharing!

Josy A
4 months ago

Carrie this all sounds incredible! I love the idea of a night hike (as long as I had a guide) and seeing all that wildlife would be sooo cool! Especially the Coati and the tapir!!
Even the breakfast looks perfect!

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