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Look no further than Matapalo, Costa Rica if you are a nature loving expat who’s looking for a potential destination that’s high on adventure and low on overly touristy elements.

This is one town that’s come into its own in recent years, but without losing an ounce of the wild, jungle feel that first attracted its earliest expats.

matapalo costa rica

Chris Campo

Recharge Remotely

The first thing you do when you get to Matapalo, Costa Rica is take a deep breath. You look left, and then right, then forward and back, seeing nothing but yawning forests and rising mountains, waiting to be explored. Rolling hills of tropical bliss…

Matapalos or “Strangler Fig Trees” tower over the path that leads you towards the beach. When you dig your toes in the warm sand, it feels like you’ve landed on a deserted island.

It’s only you, the monkeys and sloths, and 315 species of birds populating the region. And maybe a jaguar that you’ll see if you’re lucky.  Local Costa Ricans move to the rhythm of Tico Time, unaware of the stressors tourists try to leave behind.

Spend a few days or weeks, in Matapalo, Costa Rica and you’ll start to move to that same rhythm. Make Matapalo, Costa Rica your expat home, and you’ll develop a new pace entirely, slower and happier with an intense appreciation for the world around you.

While most expats and tourists don’t make it past Monteverde or the popular beaches, the Osa Peninsula, home to Matapalo, Costa Rica, offers a lot to the few that make it down to southern Costa Rica. Its remote location is just far enough off the beaten path to offer feelings of complete isolation.  Yet it’s still reasonably accessible.

The domestic flight from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez, and the 45 minute drive over (a taxi ride is $30-40 for those frightened of the rugged roads), might discourage your average gringo from taking the trip, but the remote paradise is well worth your traveling woes.

Perfect Playas

The town of Cabo Matapalo boasts eco-tourism galore, proximity to Corcovado National Park’s vast jungles, and some of the best surfing you can find in the world. Backwash Bay and Playa Matapalo invite daring surfers with their rough, large waves. But only the experienced surfers should attempt to conquer the choppy, strong, curling bodies of water.

Looking for a more relaxed experience in Matapalo? Then you might wander over to a gentler beach like Playa Pan Dulce. There you can find an accessible stretch of golden sand waiting for sunbathers. The sparkling water oozes with tranquility as you soak in peace and quiet in “Sweet Bread Beach.”

If you want to throw a little hiking into the mix, go and find Cabo Matapalo’s rocky beaches where you can climb up jagged rocks for a better view of the Pacific.

matapalo costa rica

Ulli Mueller

An Abundance of Adrenaline

Once your skin is perfectly tanned and you have satisfied your beach desires, there’s still plenty more that awaits you in Matapalo, Costa Rica.  Next on the list: tree climbing. No, waterfall rappelling. No, scuba diving might actually sound better.

Whatever your inner adrenaline junkie begs for, you can find in a short trip from Matapalo. Psycho Tours, located in Puerto Jimenez, offers guided tree climbing, if you’re in the mood to scale a 70-foot Strangler Fig. After you use the hanging roots to scamper to the top, take time to enjoy the view of the ocean and surrounding forests.  But be ready to free-fall your way back down to safety.

If you’re more of a water person, you might want to hike to some of the waterfalls in the area. After surveying the beautiful cascades, try rappelling down a 45-foot waterfall, or even a 100-foot waterfall, but only after completing Psycho Tours’ class first, of course.

After you’ve been in Matapalo for a while, you’ll find it’s fairly easy to locate a waterfall of your own without going through a tour company. You can hike to the nearby Nauyaca Waterfalls, where you can swim, jump, or just gaze at the rivers of water gushing down in the middle of this lush forest.

Don’t feel like walking? Hop on a horse and ride through the jungle to the falls instead! Then turn around at the end of your day and canter along the beach at sunset.

matapalo costa rica


Can’t Say No to Corcovado

If you’ve been researching Costa Rica for a while, then you already know that the country enjoys abundant nature everywhere.  But nowhere is that ecological wealth more evident than in Corcovado National Park.

There you’ll find a true nature lover’s heaven. During hikes through this 103,000-acre (41,800 hectares) biological reserve, visitors can spot scarlet macaws soaring overhead.

Howler monkeys call to each other in the distance and sloths languidly lounge in the tall trees. Baird’s tapirs, the largest land mammal in Central America, scrounge for food during the night hours. And be careful during your lunch break in Corcovado or a white-faced capuchin might steal your sandwich!

A dose of serendipity will give you a glance at a sea turtle. There are four species of sea turtles that lay their eggs in the park’s beaches. The Olive Ridley, leatherback, hawksbill, and Pacific green are some of the most majestic creatures out there, and you can find them only an hour or two from your getaway in Matapalo.

A Kaleidoscope of Sea Creatures

For sport fishing, make a trip to the small inlet of Golfo Dulce. The sea here plays host to an abundance of fish that provide challenges for deep sea fishers. Marlin, sailfish, tuna, wahoo and snapper fish swim around to every sport fishers’ delight.

If you’d rather see the fish, instead of catching them, the area near Cabo Matapalo is also perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving. Scuba divers have been known to rendezvous with dolphins, manta rays, whales, sea turtles and colorful fish while drifting under the radiant water. For being so remote, there is actually lots to do in Matapalo.

matapala costa rica

Chris Cobb

Real Comfort

At the end of your day, pack up your beach bag and give your feet a rest from your sweaty hiking boots. Head over to Cabo Matapalo’s only bar/restaurant, Buena Esperanza Bar, only 1 km from El Portón Blanco.

This open-air bar draws in a mixed crowd of locals and tourists, so it’s a great place for new expats to go to work on their Spanish while in Matapalo. There are few items on the menu, but it does include some vegetarian options, and a full bar, if you want a cerveza.

Dreaming with a Dose of Reality: Matapalo, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a welcoming country where Pura Vida, “Pure Life,” embodies the everyday way of living and interacting with people and nature. No wonder it’s one of the world’s happiest countries.

It’s a great option for nature-loving expats who won’t abuse the environment and want to join in the efforts to protect the country for future generations and like-minded travelers.

If you dream of a slower pace of life that’s a bit less encumbered, then maybe you should consider Matapalo, Costa Rica, as a possible expat destination for your family.

Whether you dream of coasting along in a kayak or chatting with locals and other expats about your great catch of the day, Matapalo has what you need to connect to nature and lead the good life.

Map of Matapalo, Costa Rica

Matapalo, Costa Rica Fast Facts

  • Population: Numbers are hard to find, but a good guestimate is 1,200
  • Typical temperature: Mid 80’s
  • Nearest airport with U.S. flights: San Jose
  • Nearest U.S. consulate: San Jose

Just off the beaten track, yet possessing all of the natural beauty of the Central Pacific, Matapalo, Costa Rica is a welcomed escape from many of Costa Rica’s typical tourist destinations.

Be warned; Matapalo is extremely remote, so your choices for restaurants, bars, shops, and and hotels is limited. But there is plenty to do; especially popular local activities which include surfing, hiking, kayaking, jungle hikes, fishing, and more.

There is no doubt, Matapalo combines dense jungles, breathtaking beaches, and world class surfing in a peaceful, remote setting. Just what you would expect of one of Costa Rica’s most ecologically diverse areas.