La pura vida in Drake Bay, Costa Rica

by ccastleman

Drake Bay in Costa Rica is hard to reach. However, the reward of seeing the most beautiful beaches, diving with manta rays or just sitting back in a hammock with a beer make the trip worthwhile

Wild, exotic, remote and wonderful; travel to the four corners of the world can be rewarding and, at times, challenging. It can also present some wonderful dichotomies that cannot be experienced in our home towns. A case in point is Drake Bay in southwestern Costa Rica, a place that is about as remote as one can get in the Americas and yet, somehow very progressive as well. Eco-lodges that are off the grid and well away from roads support not only wildlife but wireless internet, mobile phone service and self-generated green power.

How to get there

Most travellers to Drake Bay arrive via Juan Santamaria International Airport near San José. We arrived on a modern wide body jet from the US. There are three common choices of transportation from there to Drake. Daily buses are very cheap, however this option is slow - it will take many hours to get to cross the countryside and is probably best suited to an adventurous traveller on a very limited budget. Some people will rent a car/truck and drive. I do not recommend this, as roads in rural Costa Rica are notoriously bad. You will find yourself driving many miles, crossing many rivers, and you may or may not be able to actually reach Drake. The third choice - and the one I recommend - is to fly to Drake directly via one of the two small local airlines. Sansa Air ( has daily flights from Juan Santamaria, Nature Air ( flies from the nearby San Jose Pava airport.

We flew with Sansa in a 10 seat single engine turboprop. Landing in Drake Bay is a bit different from most airports; essentially there is only an airstrip and a small shed that serves as a terminal. Upon arrival we were met by a taxi driver arranged by the lodge we were staying with. We piled into his 4x4 and headed out on a bumpy dirt road. Several river crossings and a few stops to pick up (or chat with) locals, landed us in the small town of Drake Bay (Bahia Drake) - a collection of small lodges and bars with a variety of houses and villas surrounding it all on a long and very picturesque beach. Our taxi driver explained that we were to walk out into the water to meet the boat from our lodge, which was awaiting us. A hundred metres from shore we were knee deep in the Pacific and greeted by the boat captain, David, who is also the owner of the lodge we were staying at. A short boat ride later we were repeating the process, in reverse, only to find ourselves on one of the most beautiful small private beaches I have ever seen. Jet planes, prop planes, 4x4, boats and a bit of walking, but we had arrived, home for the next week!

Where to stay

There are several options in Drake Bay from very rustic to quite luxurious. The majority of options are small eco-lodges that offer all-inclusive packages that are well worth considering (for $50-80 dollars a day, double occupancy, including all meals). Even within these, the accommodation varies. Some places offer simple all-season tents on platforms with communal eating and restroom facilities, others offer private suites or bungalows known locally as “cabinas”. We chose a small and relatively inexpensive lodge that turned out to be absolutely perfect for us. Las Caletas Lodge has several small cabinas supporting approximately 15 guests at a given time. The facility itself sits on a cleared bluff with wonderful views and is situated right above the aforementioned beautiful private beach. The meals were served communally and over our stay we had the chance to meet fellow travellers from England, Germany, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. Conversation was lively, bouncing between the various languages.

What to do

Travellers to this part of Costa Rica are here for two main reasons: to completely relax and to adventure in one of the last great rainforests on earth. Opportunities for activities abound, from SCUBA diving to zip lines, kayaking to unparalleled nature hikes. It is also the ideal place to spend a day in a hammock reading a good book and sipping on an ice cold beer. Over the course of the week we indulged in all we could.

The diving off Caño Island (12 miles offshore) is some of the best in the world. In a two-dive day, arranged by our lodge, but hosted by another lodge (Pirate’s Cove we had a spectacular day diving with manta rays, schools of tuna, giant groupers and even a number of white tipped reef sharks. The water was warm and clear, the equipment and local Divemaster provided were excellent.

Further down the coast is the Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park. We spent a day hiking with Las Caletas’ own guide, Erik, who showed us many of the creatures that the park is famous for, including four varieties of monkey, countless birds, bugs and even some large Bull sharks in the river mouth and one large crocodile on the river bank! Unfortunately we did not see any puma or jaguar, but it is not unheard of for the trips to capture a glimpse of these magnificent big cats. Erik also led a night tour right near our lodge where we discovered a wide variety of local frogs, spiders and other creatures of the night.

Final thoughts

Costa Rica gets under your skin; no sooner do you arrive home than you start planning the next trip there. Much like Hawaii in the 1950s, before it was overly commercialised, you feel like you are on to something very special that not everyone has discovered - the possibility of a simpler and somehow better life. The locals have a term for it: “pura vida” (pure life). It is used as a greeting, directive, and declaration and every time I hear it I can’t help but wonder if they do not, indeed, have it right.