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Costa Rica’s southern zone is an area of jaw-dropping beauty, with vast expanses of virgin lowland rainforest, loads of wildlife, tons of adventure opportunities, and few cities, towns, or settlements. Lushly forested mountains tumble into the sea, streams still run clear and clean, scarlet macaws squawk raucously in the treetops, and dolphins frolic in the Golfo Dulce. The Osa Peninsula is the most popular attraction in this region and one of the premier ecotourism destinations in the world. It’s home to Corcovado National Park ★★★, the largest single expanse of lowland tropical rainforest in Central America, and its sister, Piedras Blancas National Park ★★. Scattered around the edges of these national parks and along the shores of the Golfo Dulce are some of the country’s finest nature lodges. These lodges, in general, offer comfortable to nearly luxurious accommodations, attentive service, knowledgeable guides, and a wide range of activities and tours, all close to the area’s many natural wonders.

But this beauty doesn’t come easy. You must have plenty of time (or plenty of money—or, preferably, both) and a desire for adventure. It’s a long way from San José, and many of the most fascinating spots can be reached only by small plane or boat—although hiking and four-wheeling will get you into some memorable surroundings as well. In many ways, this is Costa Rica’s final frontier, and the cities of Golfito and Puerto Jiménez are nearly as wild as the jungles that surround them. Tourism is still underdeveloped here, with no large resorts in this neck of the woods. Moreover, the heat and humidity are more than some people can stand. It’s best to put some forethought into planning a vacation down here, and wise to book your rooms and transportation in advance.

The Best Southern Zone Travel Experiences

Hiking in Corcovado National Park: The Neotropic’s largest single tract of lowland rainforest provides fabulous hiking opportunities, with beautiful forest trails, isolated jungle waterfalls, and a bounty of wildlife spotting opportunities.

Paddling a Kayak on the Golfo Dulce: The calm, protected waters of the “Sweet Gulf” are perfect for kayaking. Gorgeous sunsets and dolphin or whale sightings are additional perks that sometimes come with the territory.

Landing a Billfish: The waters of southern Costa Rica are some of the country’s richest fishing grounds, with a long list of world record catches. Hook a blue marlin or sailfish for some serious deep sea adventure.

Scuba Diving or Snorkeling at Caño Island: The clear waters around this isolated Pacific island consistently offer up Costa Rica’s best snorkeling and scuba diving. You’re almost guaranteed to see white tip reef sharks.

 

Riding a Seemingly Endless Wave in Pavones: This legendary left is well known and probably best left to serious surfers. However, even if this is beyond your ken, a host of other point breaks around the southern zone are perfect for more intermediate surfers, and even rank beginners.