Drake Bay is one of those places you have to make an effort to get to, but that effort is more than worth it. Despite its size, there are plenty of things to do in Drake Bay. It’s peaceful, safe and strikingly picturesque, you get to know the locals and the wildlife is hugely diverse. For me, it was definitely the highlight of Costa Rica.
To top it off, the journey there is an adventure in itself!
Our last port of call had been the surfer hot spot, Dominical. Dominical had already felt very quiet and low key in comparison with the sandy beaches further north, but on the bus south to Palmar Norte, we didn’t meet a single tourist. From there, we hired a taxi to Sierpe, where the guidebook had suggested we ask around for a boat to Drake Bay. We made a beeline for Bar Las Vegas, where we’d heard boat captains like to hang out, and the staff were more than happy to fix us up with a ride as well as a good meal at a table overlooking the river.
The boat to Drake Bay takes about one hour. It’s a very scenic and varied ride through wide stretches of river, mangrove roots and out onto the choppy Pacific Ocean. Hold on tight and don’t sit at the front of the boat if you’re of a nervous disposition. Bar the crazy horse riding, it was my scariest moment in Costa Rica, and that includes falling out of a raft in white water and zip lining in lightening!
We hadn’t booked accommodation in advance as May is not peak season. Drake isn’t the kind of place that attracts hoards of backpackers so there’s little choice in the budget arena. We decided to treat ourselves and headed for Las Cotingas Ranchitos – a collection of well-cared-for villas at the top of some steep steps with the most incredible views over the bay. Having seen how shabby and tired we looked after the early start and eventful journey, the owners, Felix and Monica, took pity on us and gave us a discount. Their hospitality was second to none, from personalised breakfasts at whatever ungodly hour we requested them to funny stories about the locals we’d met.
The next morning, we decided to settle the rest of our payment for a guided tour to Corcovado National Park, which we’d booked through Corcovado Expeditions. Kenneth, who was to be our guide on the trip two days later, really went out of his way to make us feel welcome. He took us on a tour of the bay past the local school and showed us a secluded beach we’d never have stumbled across on our own. We soon discovered that it was his birthday, which made us feel even more honoured that he’d chosen to spend it with us.
That afternoon, Kenneth’s friend Sam came to meet us for some birthday quad biking. Sam lives in the adjacent bay and had been stranded on the other side of a river for most of the morning following torrential rains the night before. I’d been disappointed that we hadn’t had a chance to get out on an ATV and this really was the perfect way to do it. Since it wasn’t an official tour, the boys took us down some questionable mud-logged paths and through a few too many rivers! The quads got stuck many times and we ended up splattered in mud from head to toe. The boys stopped in a bay at dusk and Sam climbed a tree to pick us water apples to eat as we watched the sun set over the Pacific.
That night we went to Kenneth’s birthday party with all his friends and family and the boys showed us how to tango. During the next week, we became very familiar with this favourite local hangout – La Jungla Bar, locally called ‘Tureca’ – which has a great vibe and a balcony overlooking the jungle.
One afternoon, we took a trip to the neighbouring beach of San Josecito and spent the night at Poor Man’s Paradise – a particularly secluded and gorgeous resort run by Sam and his family. The waves on this beach tend to be bigger so it’s quite good for surfing, but be careful of the rip tides. My sister started to drift out at one point and Sam had to swim out to help drag her back to safety! If you’re looking for somewhere extremely secluded and can cope with limited electricity (but candle light’s romantic, right?), this is for you. The Amaya family also run a variety of trips from spear fishing and whale watching to jungle treks and horse riding.
Of course, our overnight stay in Corcovado National Park at Sirena lodge was a particular highlight and we saw some fantastic wildlife, including tapirs, sloths, four species of monkey and coatis. A visit to Drake certainly wouldn’t be complete without visiting what National Geographic once described as the most biologically intense place on earth.
I hope to return to Drake Bay one day, and with so much of the world still to see, I rarely feel that way about a place. The whole country is beautiful, but for me, travel is also about the people you meet and the lasting friendships you form. I have remained in contact with Sam and Kenneth, and Kenneth has since been to stay with me in London. It was brilliant to have the chance to repay the favour and to show him around the city I call home.