Peurto Jimenez, Golfo Dulce – Costa Rica
Puerto Jiménez is the largest town on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula but here, in this remote destination, ‘largest’ is very much a comparative term. Many of the peninsula’s settlements are nothing more than one dust road and a handful of houses so Puerto Jiménez with its small selection of shops, bars, restaurants and accommodation options counts as the closest thing to infrastructure which you’ll find for miles around.
Although the settlements on the Osa Peninsula are small and scattered it is in fact vastly populated but not by humans. In animal species terms this area is a crowded habitat, teeming with life and so bursting at the seams with diversity it is almost impossible to come here and not meet its natural inhabitants.
Almost half of this entire area is taken up with rain forest and protected national parkland while its shores are lapped by the sparkling waters of the beautiful Golfo Dulce. In turn these environments provide a range of habitats and diverse eco-systems for a dazzling array of wildlife ranging from monkeys to dolphins and tapirs to big cats. Such a magnificent natural wonderland is the main draw and those who arrive here are the kind of adventurous traveler who enjoys exploring far from the beaten path.
The history of the small and decidedly rustic settlement of Puerto Jiménez is one made up of logging and gold mining and still today retains something of a last outpost feel. Aside from the main center its roads are dusty tracks and you are just as likely to see scarlet macaws and monkeys in the treetops here as you are the human locals who tend their fishing boats or pause somewhere to watch the world go by from beneath old battered straw hats.
Although the neighboring Corcovado National Park is without doubt the jewel in the Osa Peninsula crown you will have no shortage of other things to see and do during your time in this wonderful area besides exploring the jungle. Activities include whale and dolphin watching, paddle-boarding, kayaking amid the hush and humidity of mangrove swamps, snorkeling, horse riding on remote beaches, visiting cacao plantations, panning for gold and so much more.
Simply put Puerto Jiménez and its surrounding marine life-filled bay and Jurassic-like lush jungles teeming with wildlife offer a magical nature-and outdoors-lover’s destination as good as it gets anywhere on the planet.
A Morning in Puerto Jiménez
There are a multitude of ways to begin your Puerto Jiménez adventure which include panning for gold in the river,wandering tropical botanic gardens or learning about the life cycle of butterflies at a butterfly farm. However, if you just want to ease yourself gently into your surroundings you can simply stroll the town, taking in gorgeous views of the bay as exotic parrots pass by in flashes of scarlet before hunting down some beautiful souvenirs.
After a pause for morning refreshments you can continue your Costa Rican day learning how cacao beans are grown and organic chocolate is made.
Wandering the Waterfront and Town
One of the undeniable charms of arriving in such an off-the-beaten-path kind of destination is to simply wander and soak up some of the atmosphere. With the waters of the beautiful Golfo Dulce lapping right at laid-back Puerto Jiménez’s shores any meander here offers you unbroken views of the lovely kind while the few downtown streets present a clustering of rustic architecture. Local citizens can be seen attending to their fishing boats, going about their day to day life or simply taking a pause on some shady bench.
The town’s noisiest locals are the scarlet macaws whose raucous calls you will normally hear long before you spot their bright red, blue and yellow plumage as they pass overhead or squabble together in the almond trees. It isn’t unusual to see white-faced capuchin monkeys either making their way through the treetops. Both the macaws and the monkeys have lived this close to their human neighbors for a long while which means getting to watch them up-close is all part of the Jiménez experience.
While the almost Wild West feel still predominates in town Puerto Jiménez is gradually introducing one or two new elements in an effort to draw in the tourists. One of these is the lovely waterfront promenade with its elegant stone balustrades, lamp-posts and paving along with a string of palm-shaded benches positively inviting you to rest your legs for a moment and drink in the views to the mainland across the bay.
The promenade itself is not long but you can if you wish extend your walk along the beach and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for dolphins which are a common sight here. Two species of dolphin are actually resident in the bay while a whole bunch more, along with whales, are frequent visitors.
If you are on the hunt for good quality souvenirs or just want to browse some beautiful handicrafts Puerto Jiménez has two lovely shops –the Artes de Osa and Jagua Arts and Crafts. Artes de Osa, right on the main street, works in cooperation with over 60 artisan families throughout the country’s southern region, helping them to showcase and sell their gorgeous products. With a little of everything including art, jewelry, clothing, wall hangings, home decor and more the true specialty here is the array of wood carvings ranging from small figures to large pieces of furniture. If something especially catches your eye this great local set up will even ship items directly to your home address.
Jagua Arts and Crafts is the town’s other exceptional offering for buying Costa Rica mementos and gifts with an array of art, jewelry, ceramics and some gorgeous woven textiles. Jagua is another outlet for small-scale artisans, helping to preserve the traditional crafts of indigenous cultures and has an especially lovely array of Boruca-made items such as masks, carvings and bows and arrows.
A Jungle Walk Alternative
Should you prefer to kick off your morning with immediate immersion into the incredible nature and wildlife for which the country is best known you can easily do just that with very little effort. Just a little south of the town can be found the accommodation complex known as Cacao Monkeys which is home to both cabinas and a restaurant. It also happens to be surrounded by almost nine acres of secondary rain forest through which a trail has been carved allowing both guests and visitors the opportunity of a one mile walk to spot monkeys, tropical birds, snakes, frogs and whatever else calls this forested enclave home. For a small fee you can set off independently but guided tours are also offered for those who want to tap into some expert local knowledge and learn both a little more about the habitat and the wildlife they are seeing.
Morning Coffee in Puerto Jiménez
When considering where to eat and drink in Puerto Jiménez it helps to know that most spots serve as cafe, restaurant and bar all at the same time, throwing open their doors from early morning for breakfast and coffees and not closing them again until the last of the evening drinkers have departed.
Widely regarded as serving the best breakfasts in town, Cafeteria Monka is also a great spot to take a coffee break with a menu of hot and cold coffee choices, tea, tropical juices and smoothies. The clean and bright interior offers a shady option or there is a little outside deck whose rustic frame of giant bamboo holds up a roof for sun protection.
If you want a morning pause with a great view head to Los Delfines which sits at the waterfront promenade’s eastern end. Like almost everywhere in Puerto Jiménez the atmosphere here is typically Tico and relaxed, encapsulating the pura vida vibe. There is a laid-back open-air terrace with wooden tables and chairs if you want a bit of shade or a couple of stone benches and seats out front if you want to be even closer to the water’s edge. Keep your eyes peeled while relaxing with your coffee or smoothie as dolphins can often be seen in the bay here.
Cacao Plantation and Chocolate Tour
Puerto Jiménez gives youeasy access to two chocolate tours, one a few minutes out of town and the other –Finca Kobo –about 10 miles north up the coast. An essential itinerary inclusion for chocoholics, the charming Kobo farm offers you the chance to get a behind-the-scenes experience of cacao bean cultivation and organic chocolate-making processes but it is also more. As it is part nature walk as well it gives you the opportunity to stroll through the surrounding tropical greenery and meet some of the country’s wildlife such as monkeys, coatis, sloths and snakes in their natural habitat.
Things kick off with a tour of the traditional plantation led by the finca owner and guide Alex whose passion for his work and craft is both inspiring and obvious. You will see how different species of cacao pods grow, learn the history of this fruit’s cultivation which stretches all the way back to the ancient Mayans who were themselves skilled chocolate makers and understand about cacao growing and its related industries in the 21st century. If you’ve ever wondered what the fruit of the ‘chocolate tree’ tastes like now is your chance to try it, picked freshly from the plant right in front of you. All of the processes involved after harvesting will also be explained and demonstrated during your tour including fermentation, drying and roasting.
Though the tour has several highlights many who come here agree the best bit of all is the finale. At this point, resting amid a beautiful and tranquil tropical garden, you get to sample a chocolate fondue made on-site and served with sweet pineapple and home-made banana bread.
Lunch in Puerto Jiménez
Compact and with its end-of-the-road feel, Puerto Jiménez doesn’t have a vast number of places to eat but those that it does have offer a good diversity and you’ll still be able to eat well. With plenty to keep seafood lovers happy, cuisine influences come from North America, Europe, Asia and South America while those looking for an authentic Tico option won’t have to look too hard. In Costa Rica the small homely restaurants which serve traditional fare are called sodas and if you want to lunch like the locals these are the places to go. Sodas are typically no-frills kind of places, often open-air and are found pretty much anywhere you go and Puerto Jiménez is no exception. The town has a handful of such options, the best known of which to the non-locals is Soda Jiménez. Lesser known but serving the same kind of good quality and large portion-size Tico fare for great value is Soda Valeria which you’ll find in the center of town. If you are the kind of person who gauges the quality of a restaurant by the number of locals eating there then Soda Valeria is hard to beat because it is always full of Puerto Jiménez workers and residents at lunchtime.
Clean, fast-serviced and offering a warm welcome to visitors and locals alike, this small family-run restaurant serves a range of chicken, fish and meat plates with specials changing daily depending on what is available. Expect the Costa Rican staples of rice and beans, freshly prepared tortillas and plantains as sides no matter what you opt for. For a very different kind of lunch and about as upmarket as it gets in rustic-themed Puerto Jiménez head to the gorgeous Il Giardino. As you might guess from the name, this is an Italian restaurant which incorporates some local cuisine twists and, being owned by an Italian family, delivers not just with regard to food quality but also for the overall dining experience. Italians take their meal times very seriously, considering what you sit on, what you eat and drink from, the surrounding decor and other such things to be of equal importance as the taste and presentation of the food. Having been part of the Puerto Jiménez scene for 20 years now, Il Giardino has perfected all of this to a fine art and has a lovely waterfront setting just to put the icing on the cake.
Located right on the promenade, you can dine on the breezy open-front terrace of this lemon and lime-colored gem which sits behind a plethora of potted plants and stone mask decorations. Alternatively, you can take one of the umbrella-shaded tables across the road which put you just steps from the waters of the Golfo Dulce bay so lunching with a view really doesn’t come better than this in town.
Seafood and pasta rule the menu here with all of the pastas, pestos and sauces produced from scratch. Recipes are family secrets passed down through the generations with some in-house specialties including the crab ravioli, a ragu lasagna, shrimp pizzas and an exquisite porcini mushroom sauce. Il Giardino also offers some great wines to complete your lunch feast.
An Afternoon in Puerto Jiménez
As a true outpost kind of destination Puerto Jiménez has plentiful charm but it also happens to have a great menu of things to see and do in the wider surrounding area too. Costa Rica’s largest national park is accessible from here while the waters of the bordering Golfo Dulce offer adventures ranging from kayak explorations deep into the mangroves to getting up close to whales and dolphins.
The Corcovado National Park
Each person’s number one reason for traveling is as individual, diverse and made up of as many varieties as the countries of the world itself. However, where Costa Rica is concerned, there is no doubt that the vast majority of those who arrive at these shores have been drawn principally because of the spectacular nature and wildlife. This is a country exceptionally blessed with natural magnificence and astonishing biodiversity and the remote Osa Peninsula is no exception. In fact almost half of it is taken up with areas of protected rain forest and it is home to one of the country’s biggest draw cards of all –the Corcovado National Park.
Representing the largest of the nation’s 29 national parks, Corcovado has been called ‘the most biologically intense place on Earth’ by the National Geographic and enfolds within its 161 square miles one of the planet’s last remaining lowland tropical rain forest. As a constant site of research for scientists from all over the world, new species of flora and fauna are constantly being discovered to add to the 140 mammal species, 400 bird species and more than 100 reptiles and amphibians along with fish, sea turtles and insects in their thousands already known to live here.
Entry into this wonderland is only allowed with official guides and with the area practically bursting at the seams with jungle creatures all kinds of wildlife sightings are as guaranteed as they can ever be in a natural environment.
The founding of Corcovado is tied up with the very history of Puerto Jiménez itself. Originally settled around 1914, logging operations began in earnest during the 1960s when a tragically large number of hardwood trees, hundreds of years old, was lost. Around this time gold was discovered in the area’s waterways and the gold rush which followed established Puerto Jiménez as a more sizeable town. With both forests and streams being pillaged and destroyed, the government finally stepped in to halt the ruin, establishing Corcovado National Park.
Visiting Corcovado to spot its monkeys, big cats, tapirs, snakes, birds and every other creature which calls the parkland home can be either a short experience or one covering multiple days and serious hiking from a range of access points. The closest of these to Puerto Jiménez is the Via Rio Tigre Station, less than 30 minutes away by road.
Made up of eco-systems which include rainforest, cloud forest and coastal habitat the Osa Peninsula also has a network of mangrove swamps which are home to an incredible array of wildlife.Kayaking amid these hushed and primeval-feel places is an unforgettable experience and as you explore silently save for the dip of the paddles in the water the chance of spotting wildlife is both elevated and exceptional. A diversity of birds is always present while the sight of monkeys in the treetops is also a regular treat. Turtles are frequently seen and if you time things right it is highly likely you will also be able to spot dolphins too, sometimes in large pods. Puerto Jiménez offers several options for an adventure of this kind including kayak rental for those who want to do things independently. The waters around the town are calm and protected making it ideal even for those who are not experienced kayakers and the Rio Platanares mangroves are easy to reach too, just east from Puerto Jiménez.
Although the complete freedom of renting your own kayak has a real appeal for many so too does the chance to take a guided kayak tour. The major advantage here is that the knowledgeable locals will be able to lead you directly to the best wildlife-watching hot-spots while also enriching your experience with insightful information regarding the eco-systems and the animals and birds which live there.
On such tours discovering the whole of the beautiful Golfo Dulce is possible so not only do you get to explore deep into the mangroves but also have the rain forest and remote beach shores to enjoy. Many of these options also include the opportunity for some ocean kayaking too with sunset-timed trips especially magical and typically giving one of the best times of day to spot the most wildlife.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner in Puerto Jiménez
Drinking and dining in Puerto Jiménez are typically low-key affairs where both visitors and locals mingle together in a range of venues which offer everything from sea views to hideaway patios. Not surprisingly, for a destination almost entirely surrounded by water, seafood features heavily on menus here with cuisine types including traditional Tico, Mexican. Italian, Asian and South American.
Like pretty much everything else in Puerto Jiménez sundowners are a laid-back affair and although there isn’t a huge choice of watering holes what there is here gives you enough diversity to find something to suit.
For those who want pre-dinner drinks by the waterside head to the Corcovado Marisqueria which puts you just a stone’s throw from the waters of the lovely bay. This no-frills restaurant and bar -really nothing more than a collection of metal poles holding up a tent roof with a few tables and chairs set out beneath -perfectly encapsulates Puerto Jiménez’s air of rustic, final-frontier town. The open-air aspect allows you to make the most of the early evening breezes while the giant tree which grows up straight through the middle of the restaurant makes for a highly unusual bar feature. Take a seat at one of the chunky wooden tables made out of hefty slices of tree trunks and order up a cocktail or ice-cold beer and then sit back and enjoy those Golfo Dulce views spread out before you.
If the hunger pangs start kicking in Corcovado Marisqueria has a wonderful selection of bocas –the Central American equivalent of tapas –with locally-caught seafood featuring heavily.
Further south in town and somewhat tucked away down a side street can be found the lovely little Lozaari bar and restaurant. Although you don’t get the water views here what you have instead is a pretty little plant-filled garden strung with lanterns to give a secret garden feel. As something of a locals’ place and a family-run concern, the vibe is authentically Tico with prices some of the best in town.
As the majority of Puerto Jiménez venues serve as both bar and restaurant you can simply pick your spot for the night and go from drinks to dining without having to swap location. If you do decide to mix and match you typically won’t have far to go as the town is compact and walkable. Besides these options there are a handful of others scattered around which need a short taxi ride although in the case of the La Perla de Osa this is certainly worth the effort.
This lovely dining choice, one of the Iguana Lodge‘s two restaurants, is located between the sands of Platanares Beach and the rain forest. Arriving here by unpaved roads gives it a remote feel and for those who want an elegant dinner this is arguably the top pick in the Puerto Jiménez vicinity. The eco-friendly Iguana Lodge resort complex in its entirety is a gem, offering a little back-to-nature seclusion and a touch of sophistication in a destination which is otherwise known for its no-frills feel. With candle-lighting and tables set well apart on its spacious terrace, this is certainly one for those looking for a romantic and intimate meal with the night chorus of the jungle serving as a soundtrack. Although you dine beneath a yellow and red painted ceiling the restaurant is completely open-sided giving you an alfresco-like experience along with direct views onto the beach and the bay.
The high standard contemporary cuisine here offers a Mediterranean/Mexican mix with some creative Asian twists and as the menu is extensive you will have no problem finding something to suit your tastes. Some of the house specialties include tuna and shrimp plates, fish tacos with ginger marmalade and some excellent pasta dishes. Additionally, portions are generous so be sure to come with a big appetite. Beers, wines and sangria pitchers are all included on the drinks menu but it is the cocktails and mocktails which really steal the show and make for a great way to finish off your evening here.
La Perla also has special themed nights twice a week –Tuesdays are beach barbecue nights while the highly popular salsa nights are on Fridays when the locals arrive to feast on nachos and dance the night away.
Another slightly out-of-town choice which is worth making the effort for is Agua Dulce, also on Platanares Beach just a little north of the Iguana Lodge. Offering the same bay views and breezes from its second-floor open-air restaurant as La Perla, the food focus this time is Italian with a variety of imaginative and tasty handmade pasta dishes. Potential treats include a range of raviolis stuffed with choices ranging from spinach and cheese to fish and a house signature dish of smoked salmon and zucchini.
An Evening in Puerto Jiménez
While no-one could describe Puerto Jiménez as a party destination it isn’t entirely devoid of a little liveliness in the evenings. Once dusk descends on this sleepy town’s dusty streets and the night chorus of frogs and insects fills the air the bars and restaurants in the center fill with locals and visitors. As options are not extensive the gatherings are focused on just a handful of places for evening drinks, a spot of karaoke or a game of pool. There is even the chance to dance some or all of the night away at such places as the Agua Luna.
For those who have still not had enough of the area’s fantastic nature and wildlife though it is also possible to fit in some last hours of this before bedtime. Several night tours into the jungle are offered from Puerto Jiménez including those of the rain forest conservation body of the Osa Interactive Gardens very close to town. Even if you have already fitted nature hiking or a jungle visit of some kind into your day returning after dark is like arriving at a whole new place. Many of the rain forest inhabitants only become active once the sun sets and night tours put you in the hands of expert guides who will be able to help you spot all kinds of frogs, spiders, snakes, bats, caimans, nocturnal mammals and other elusive creatures. Although the wildlife watching is of course the main objective of such night jaunts simply being in these environments after dark has a magic all of its own filled with incredible sights, smells and sounds.
Another after-dark activity is kayaking amid the mangroves, along the beaches or waters of the Golfo Dulce beneath a canopy of stars. While wildlife is again the focus of such tours there is also an extra-special element added at particular times of the month. If you arrive in Puerto Jiménez on one of a handful of days each month when moon-phase and tide conditions fall right you will have the chance of kayaking or swimming in the Preciosa Platanares Wildlife Refuge amid bio-luminescent waters which glow when agitated by paddles or movements of your arms.