Visiting Cabo Matapalo, Costa Rica

Matapalo, as everybody calls it, is located 17km south of Puerto Jiménez, just a quick detour from the road that connects the town with the edge of Corcovado National Park. The Cabo is the southernmost place you can go on the peninsula.

The town is very small. There are several lodging accommodations and services surrounded by forest and scattered along two small roads: the Matapalo Beach Road (parallel to the beach) and the Matapalo Hills Road (perpendicular to the beach). The businesses here are known for their eco-friendly model and their actions to protect the wilderness and scenery of the area.

Walk the gorgeous Cabo Matapalo beach in Costa Rica

Therefore, those who visit Matapalo will be surrounded by wildlife, and also be able to enjoy miles of empty beaches where surfers of all levels will have an oceanic playground all to themselves.

Wilderness Protected

The natural beauty of Cabo Matapalo is the result of a private and public effort to protect the forest that borders Corcovado National Park. The Reserva Forestal Golfo Dulce, the equivalent of a National Forest, connects Corcovado with the Parque Nacional Piedras Blancas, on the other side of the gulf, and gets very close to the coast along the east side of the península, where Matapalo is, creating a big corridor for wildlife.

This big reserve is partly created by private efforts who have left their land untouched for protection. Some other reserves in Matapalo include:

  • Lapa Rios Private Nature Reserve – protects 1000 acre of rainforest
  • Bosque del Cabo – protects 750 acre of rainforest
  • Piro BioStation and Osa Verde Conservation Campus – a little west of Matapalo, in Osa Conservation, which connect the reserve with the beach

Things to Do at Matapalo


The good surfing waves are the main attraction at Matapalo, besides of course enjoying the wild and very biodiverse rainforest of the peninsula. Surfers of all experience levels can enjoy the waves here.

The first surfing beach you will encounter coming from the north is Pan Dulce. Located just at the beginning of the Matapalo Beach Road, this beach has a very good long point wave with lots of long right-breaking waves. With a big swell from the south at mid-tide, 500-yard tube rides can occur (with some very fast sections!). But if you go to the inside of Playa Pan Dulce or the right section, the waves are just perfect for beginner surfers.

Backwash Bay is a long beach, great for relaxing on the sand, right next to Pan Dulce beach. The surf here is great for longboarding, and even though it is very inconsistent, when a south/southwest swell hits, at the mid-to-low tide, it displays a large breaking wave.

Matapalo beach, one of the most private beaches in Costa Rica, has immense waves only for experienced surfers. There are a lot of sharp rocks at the bottom of the beach, which makes it unsafe for swimming. It is at the tip of the peninsula, and therefore it is a more exposed surf break and picks up more swell. Like at Backwash, the best conditions are at mid tide with a west/southwest swell.


If you are not a surfer, then you can to visit Playa Carbonera where friendlier waves make it safe for swimming during low tide. Also, at low tide little pools form for visitors to see some life or take a relaxing bath. It is located south of Pan Dulce beach, and you can reach it from there during low tide.

Nature Hikes & Bird Watching

If you stay at one of the lodges that have a private reserve, you will have the opportunity to enjoy their hiking trails. A lot of them also offer tours for day visitors.

The areas surrounding the beaches at Cabo Matapalo also give visitors the opportunity to enjoy forest and wildlife. Just hiking the little trails between the road, the hotels and the beach will be enough to encounter monkeys, sloths, all kinds of birds and other animals. And of course, you can enjoy the scenery of lush green mountains meeting the coastline.

Dolphin & Whale Watching

The Golfo Dulce is a nursery and temporary home for whales that migrate escaping the cold winters from north and south. You can take a boat tour from Puerto Jiménez into the gulf and find large groups of dolphins or mother and baby whales playing in the calm waters. Tours are priced by boat (not by person).

Waterfall, Tree Climbing & Rappelling

One of the jewels of Matapalo is King Louis waterfall, a stunning 100-foot high cascade that offers visitors a natural, refreshing pool for those who hike to it in search of close encounters with wildlife. Besides visiting the waterfall, tourists can trigger their adrenaline with tree climbing and waterfall rappelling activities, which are offered by tour operators in the area.

Sport Fishing

Leaving from Puerto Jimenez, a 45-minute ride tracing your steps back to where you came from, sport fishing is also an option. Inshore and offshore fishing are offered by local captains who know the area extremely well and will help you target key species like roosterfish, snook, sailfish, and tuna.

Other Activities

Horseback riding is a very common tour activity in Matapalo where riders can enjoy long beaches fenced by ocean and forest.

Also, from nearby beaches, and especially from Puerto Jiménez, visitors can enjoy the exciting sea and mangrove kayaking tours.

Getting to Matapalo

To reach Matapalo by land, a 4WD is required all year round since you will have to cross several streams and a river, but especially during the rainy season when roads frequently get washed out.

Drive from Puerto Jiménez on the road to Carate, and be careful not to miss the turnoff for Cabo Matapalo on the left-hand side. Also from Puerto Jiménez you can jump in the colectivo, which is a transportation service on a big truck with seats on the back and goes all the way to Carate, making a stop at Matapalo. Another option is hiring a taxi from Puerto Jiménez.

The Weather in Matapalo

The weather in Matapalo is typical south pacific weather: rainier than the rest of the country, hot and humid. The rainy season goes from mid-April to mid-December, with a strong peak in rainstorms during September and October. The driest time of the year goes from mid-December to mid-April.

Plan a Trip to Cabo Matapalo, Costa Rica

Visiting Matapalo, Puerto Jimenez and the Osa Peninsula, in general, is best done with an expert’s advice and direction. This area of the country is so beautiful because it has not been “over-developed”. The “rawness” of the area offers adventurers the ability to see the area’s nature and culture in a more authentic form. It is always a great idea to seek the guidance of a travel planner at Costa Rica Escapes to assist you in making sure your time here is well spent.

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