There isn’t much to the airport in Drake Bay, Costa Rica.

A small airstrip only big enough for small, propeller planes reaches in from one end on the Pacific Ocean into where a small terminal building awaits.

It may be a low-key arrival but It’s the entry to a world far different from the traffic and exhaust left behind an hour ago country’s capital of San Jose.

Fresh off the plane, a first sight on this trip is of a pair of scarlet macaws flying in tandem. The flash of the ridiculously beautiful clash of brilliant red, blue and yellow combined with their graceful, long tail is the first sign that you’re in a very special place.

Drake Bay is on the Osa Peninsula on Costa Rica’s southwest coast. The name comes from Sir Francis Drake or as some locals call him: “the Pirate Drake.” It’s reportedly where he holed up and, as local legend goes, even buried some of the riches he once plundered.

A small town called Agujitas is the small hub for tourists, many from Europe, who come to see wildlife or the nearby Corcovado National Park. There’s no major road access to get here. The only way in are by plane, difficult to drive gravel road or boat up the Sierpe River from the small town of Sierpe. It’s the kind of place the average tourist can’t just stumble into.

You have to want to be there.

Locals are eager to show off the pride they have in their region to those who venture far from home.

Most of the tourists stay for just a few nights and come for the tour of the Sirena station area on the Corcovado National Park. It’s a massive second growth forest that’s home to a myriad of different wildlife. Conservation officials cap the number of tourists allowed to visit in a day and visitors only get to see a tiny fraction of the massive protected area.

The hour-long boat ride to Corcovado from Drake Bay is a tour unto itself. Stops are made to see whales or dolphins swimming by the boat.

Eagle-eyed passengers can also spot the rapid zip of blackfin tuna breaching the water’s surface.

At the park, the biologist tour guides know where to find the various monkeys, reptiles, owls and bats that call the park home. It’s one of the most fiercely biodiverse regions in the planet and it’s clear the locals know the importance of preserving the area—not only for their own livelihoods but for the good of the planet.

The area isn’t perfect. Plastic washes up on the shore and I ask our guide Roy what’s going on with the shark-finning industry that’s decimating the top of the aquatic food chain. He sadly admits that “it’s everywhere.”

While the bulk of the tourists come for the national park, a week-long stay really allows you to get to know the region, rich in wildlife and friendly people.

A mangrove tour offers a much more intimate glimpse at what else calls the area home. A first stop on the tour before entering the Sierpe River offers a look at frigatebirds as well as brown and red-footed boobies.

From there, it’s a comfortable ride up the river to spot crocodiles, turtles and sloths. The guide shares the tourists’ excitement when something rare is spotted or there’s a sighting of a group of white-faced capuchin monkeys or squirrel monkeys jumping from high up in the trees across the river.

Conversation about the ills of palm oil breaks out when a few palm trees are spotted on a nearby farm.

A walk anywhere in the area will see locals quick to smile and utter the appropriate Spanish greeting based on the time of day.

Our hotel manager (at a small, family run operation) is eager to ask how are day went, what we saw and what we learned. He also brings by his computer at dinner to show some of the wildlife that’s wandered through the property.

It’s not just the people who live the country’s mantra of “Pura Vida.” Anywhere you go in town or along the trails that hug the coastline, there’s always the chance a local dog will adopt you and join you along your hike. They’re there for the hike, as if to proudly show off the rainforests that are their playgrounds. Dashing off ahead, you’ll only see your new friends up ahead on the trail, checking to see that you’re still following.

Back at your hotel, you can’t help but head to bed early most nights.

It’s the most fulfilling kind of travel. Every day is a classroom filled with beautiful sights, mind-bendingly abundant wildlife and incredibly kind people.

The rest of the world could be so lucky.

  • Gavin Day
  • : Gavin is currently a freelance journalist based in Toronto, Canada. His career has taken him all around the world covering Canadian sport like football (soccer) and volleyball. He currently works in a television and radio newsroom in Canada's largest city but is always looking for the next adventure. Gavin hasn't really been able to call one place "home." Having moved a lot as a kid, Gavin is always itchy to be someplace new with hopefully a good story to tell at the end.
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  • : I've been to places that are tourist hubs and others considered somewhat less so. Through all that, I try to find something redeeming about every place that I visit. There's always something to admire about every region on earth. There can be food or nature that's unique or a people willing to show off what makes them different. I try to explore that on my little corner of the internet and maybe open some minds to exploring parts of the world that are less visited but no less deserving of our attention.
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  • : This is the first time this story has been published.