145km (90 miles) S of San José; 32km (20 miles) SW of Palmar

While Drake Bay (Bahía Drake in Spanish, pronounced ba-ee-ah drah-keh) remains one of the more isolated spots in Costa Rica, the small town located at the mouth of the Río Agujitas has boomed over the years. In the 1980's there was no road, and the nearest functioning airstrip was in Palmar Sur. Today a small airstrip operates here year-round, and the gravel road connecting Drake Bay to the paved road at Rincón is usually passable. Still, the village of Drake Bay, formally known as Agujitas, remains small, and most of the lodges here are quiet and remote getaways catering to wildlife lovers and scuba divers. Tucked away on the northwest corner of the Osa Peninsula, Drake Bay is a great place to get away from it all.

The bay is named after Sir Francis Drake, who is believed to have anchored here in 1579. The tiny Río Agujitas flows into a protected bay where boats are moored. It’s a great place for canoeing or swimming, and a number of dolphin- and whale-watching tours depart from here. Stretching south from Drake are miles of remote beaches, rocky points, and stretches of primary and secondary rainforest. Adventurous explorers will find tide pools, spring-fed rivers, waterfalls, forest trails, and some of the best bird-watching in all of Costa Rica.

If you want to go to Drake Bay, be advised that almost all the visitors here have advance bookings at an all-inclusive resort. This is not the place to come if you like to “wing it,” traveling first and seeking lodging later, nor will you find a lively community here where you’ll run into other backpackers bumming around. The tourism model here is almost exclusively pre-booked with all-inclusive packages.

South of Drake Bay are the wilds of the Osa Peninsula, including Corcovado National Park, which is often described as the crown jewel of Costa Rican parks. It covers about a third of the Osa Peninsula and contains the largest single expanse of virgin lowland rainforest in Central America. For this reason, Corcovado is well known among researchers studying rainforest ecology. If you come here, you’ll learn firsthand why they’re called rainforests: Some parts of the peninsula receive up to 700cm (23 ft.) of rain per year—that’s more than three Shaquille O’Neals.

Puerto Jiménez is the best jumping-off place if you want to spend time hiking and camping in Corcovado National Park. Drake Bay is primarily a collection of high-end hotels, very isolated and mostly accessible by boat. These hotels offer great day hikes and guided tours into the park, but Puerto Jiménez is the place to go if you want to spend more time in the park. (It has hotels for all budgets, the parks office, and land transportation to Carate and Los Patos, from which visitors can hike into the various stations.) From the Drake Bay side, you’re more dependent on a boat ride/organized tour from one of the lodges to explore the park, but these lodges offer other guided outings in addition to visits to the park.