On a sun-splashed morning, I kayak the Agujitas River spotting a green-crested heron on the lush shoreline and marveling at the brilliance of two Scarlet Macaws scattering from a tall tree. This tranquil time is my warm-up paddle and soon, I join the rest of my group for the excitement of a day on the ocean. It doesn't take long.
"Paddle, paddle harder," shouts my guide as I meet surf that splashes over the top of my kayak. I laugh. What a terrific way to be nudged into action-- washed by the warm Pacific.
This is day two of a week-long kayak trip on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica and, along with two other couples and two guides, my husband and I are reveling in the perfection of this location. Let me count the perks: first we are tucked into a waterfront, wilderness resort where the accommodation is comfortable cabanas (read 'no camping'), the meals hearty and the hammocks idyllically laced between palm trees. The lodge straddles green space between the wildlife rich river and the ocean shoreline that, in some places, is pounded with surf which makes for occasional challenges. We have excellent equipment and guides who make sure we can maneuver into the various picture-perfect beaches.
Last, but hardly least, is Corcovado National Park, a green gem that covers 54,000 hectares along the west coast of the Osa Peninsula. The remoteness and amazing biological diversity of the lowland rainforest deems it outstanding, even in this Central American country that is renowned for its ecological wonders. Some 400 species of birds and 139 of mammals are found here. You may spot the world's largest bird of prey, the harpy eagle. You would be incredibly fortunate to see jaguar but chances of viewing a sleeping sloth are pretty good; both are endangered species. It would be unusual not to take in the glorious sight of Scarlet Macaw - perhaps a dozen - perched in a Roble Oak tree or squawking as they fly above.
Even after our introductory day of paddling, we recognize why Ben Minter, the owner guide of Gulf Islands Kayaking, who has hosted keen kayakers in Costa Rica since 1987, moved his trips to this region in 1993. "It is the best of all worlds. There is no wind in this micro-climate in the morning and when it comes up later it is seldom intimidating, "says Ben who operates out of Galiano Island for his summer BC trips. "We practice beginners on the river, teach surf landings in the ocean and even keen paddlers may be challenged as we can arrange special day trips for them."
Our days settled into a dreamy pattern where the most difficult group decision was whether to paddle back to the lodge for lunch, or have a picnic packed and land on yet-another soft-sanded beach. Each morning, we could take a warm-up paddle on the languid Agujitas River, perhaps to spot a green-crested heron or monkeys and, for sure, to watch brilliantly-coloured Scarlet Macaw scatter among the tree tops. Then, we gathered at the shallow entrance to Drake Bay (Bahia Drake) where the ocean meets the river water. The bay, by the way, was visited by its namesake Sir Francis Drake, back in 1579 when he was on his global circumnavigation.
From the bay, we head south to skirt a palm-spangled coastline backed with tangled, verdant growth and dotted with soft-sanded beaches. In places, Mother Nature has dumped intriguing black, basalt rock formations. We landed on picture-perfect beaches to spend time swimming, snorkeling, hiking and lapping up warm rays. (The temperature in February was in the high 20's and low 30's C.)
There were many highlights. Memorable for me was Bahai Paraiso. As we approached this beach which indeed, did look like Paradise, waves crashed on either side of us yet, timed just right by our guides, we paddled in the middle of a calm channel. Single file, we awaited the guides hand signal to swoop into the white sanded arc.
I found snorkeling around the Osa Peninsula much better than it usually is on the Pacific side of Central America. We floated above dazzling fish, such as the Blue
chromis, Foureye butterflyfish, and Redband parrotfish; the water was always warm and inviting.
Our kayak week included a guided day in Corcovado National Park. Interestingly, this was the only day we encountered a great number of 'gringo' tourists from a large cruise ship we had paddled by. Although we had some magical moments here - I heard the haunting call of howler monkeys and watched them dangle above me - we were happy to be back in the kayaks the next day with just a few of us amid the wilderness.
Unlike many regions where you paddle, this one boasts a network of hiking trails. One day as a group, we followed a rooted path, then, in a canoe, ended up at a pristine waterfall to plunge into cool waters and be 'massaged' under a downpour.
Another day, my husband and I combined paddling and hiking. We kayaked to Bahia Paraiso while another couple hiked, then we trekked back -- a route, roughly eight kilometres long, that laced through jungle paralleling sandy shores. We sat on beaches and watched the perfect flight pattern of pelicans, we spotted huge iguanas and watched white-faced monkeys play and dipped into the ocean to cool off. Just another day in paddling paradise.
Judi Lees is 2002 winner of Choice Hotels Award of Excellence for Best International (Travel) Article and Thailand Award for International Media. She has written for The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, many magazines and
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