Ever since Costa Rica began allowing chartering in 2021, guests craving something different have been booking trips. After a week there this summer, I fully understand why—and why National Geographic calls it “the most biologically intense place on earth.” The size of West Virginia, Costa Rica contains about six percent of the world’s biodiversity. As a guest of Marina Bahia Golfito (which is adding slips and waterfront residences) and the knowledgeable guides from Origen Escapes, which has abundant superyacht experience, I explored the on-land and watery wonders in its southernmost region. It was, in a word, magical. Chartering in Costa Rica immerses you in Mother Nature, and successful sustainability. If your ideal charter experience involves encounters with naturally wild flora and fauna, make your plans. Likewise, if your ideal experience is the opposite of the see-and-be-seen Med, make your plans. Here’s what you can see and do.
“COMMUTERS” ON A NATURAL “HIGHWAY”
Before you even set off from Marina Bahia Golfito, you’re sure to encounter the remarkable wildlife of the region. Southern Costa Rica is, in the locals’ own words, an unpolished gem. It’s where virgin forested mountains meet unspoiled shores. It’s further where several of the hundreds of species of birds greet daylight in sound at once, and outnumber the people. In fact, all of the wildlife outnumber the people. As we flew in over the marina on arrival, we spotted a giant manta ray gliding beneath the surface. Early that evening, an American crocodile cruised by, taking advantage of what’s essentially a natural commuting corridor. The marina and the waters of Golfito Bay at its doorstep sit nestled between a national park and wildlife refuge. Notably, 25 percent of Costa Rica’s land, from beaches to inland forests, is either a national park or a reserve. Even with its expansion plans, Marina Bahia Golfito intends to remain respectfully low density.
WHALE AND DOLPHIN ENCOUNTERS
Chartering in Costa Rica gets you up close and personal with sea life. What happens, though, when the whales you and the crew of your 86-footer think you see breaching on the horizon aren’t really whales? You thank your lucky stars you grabbed your mobile phone or camera anyway. As we slowed on our approach aboard the 86-foot (26-meter) One Net, we realized we’d actually spotted dolphins. Remarkably, the 70 to 80 dolphins we encountered represent a small pod. It was plenty big to us, though, and their super-playful nature brought out our inner kids. Several people in our party were able to climb into the water and snorkel, too, at a respectful distance. The dolphins continued entertaining, surfacing and leaping. They seemed as curious about us as we were about them. As for the whales, while we weren’t lucky, one did surface that day, not far from Marina Bahia Golfito. Humpbacks migrate from Antarctica from July through November.
NIGHTTIME MAGIC: AMPHIBIANS, BIOLUMINESCENCE, AND MORE
Sometimes the smallest creatures on earth are the most magical. Similarly, sometimes the most magic happens at night, when the intense heat of the day breaks. Chartering in Costa Rica affords the chance to swim in a bioluminescent bay one night, then go hiking another to spot creatures that simply don’t come out during the day. They include frogs barely bigger than the tip of your thumb, along with lizards and snakes, too. Fair warning: Night hiking requires long sleeves, long pants, Wellies-like boots (which Origen supplies), and bug spray.
Chartering in Costa Rica isn’t just for grown-ups. Seeing and appreciating the biodiversity is just as big of a deal to kids. And, Origen Escapes is just as adept at educating them and encouraging them to put their best foot forward, literally. A particular tree found in abundance in Costa Rica rainforests makes for outstanding tree-climbing opportunities. It’s the aptly named strangler fig, which engulfs a host tree until that tree dies off and only the strangler fig’s thick growth remains. Its twists and turns create natural footholds and grab holds. Having an 11-year-old in our party put most of the adult climbers to shame speed-wise. But, she cheered just as loudly in encouraging everyone to find good footholds high into the canopy. Though a lingering foot injury prevented me from climbing the full 130 feet (40 meters) to an observation platform, those who made it said the view was worth the challenge.
Hiking isn’t only for nighttime. In fact, we took advantage of the extraordinary diversity of the Osa Peninsula, within an hour’s cruise from Marina Bahia Golfito. Specifically, Origen Escapes’ team knows the Osa Conservation Area like the back of their hands. The protected area hosts a staggering 2.5 percent of the global biodiversity, including some endangered species. We successfully spotted, and heard, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and toucans, and that’s just in the canopy. (Felipe Artinano of Origen Escapes mimics a monkey call particularly well, encouraging them to come out.) Don’t forget to look down, too, as hundreds of leaf-cutter ants wind their way past your feet. All around you, meanwhile, bird of paradise plants, strangler figs, and the aptly named suicide trees grow. (Suicide trees flower once and start to die, taking a few years.)
As much as the natural wonders are extraordinary, what makes Costa Rica even more special are the people. Complete strangers say “Hola!” to you with genuine warmth and friendliness. The country regularly ranks high among those with the happiest citizens. They’re proud of their protected natural resources, and relish sharing the wonders. Similarly, Marina Bahia Golfito staffers relish getting to know you on a first-name basis. Seasoned travelers can spot a “going through the motions” smile and attitude a mile away. That doesn’t happen here. It calls to mind the country’s former tourism tagline, “No artificial ingredients.” Chartering in Costa Rica is an immersive natural experience in multiple ways.
Marina Bahia Golfito marinabahiagolfito.com
Origen Escapes origenescapes.com