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       backwash shore on a sup lesson
  - Costa Rica

Cabo Matapalo

Cabo Matapalo

    Cabo Matapalo Snapshot

  • Landscape: Beaches, Rainforest

Cabo Matapalo is tucked away at the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, in one of the most secluded corners of the country. Named after the magnificent strangler figs that populate its forests, the cape is about an hour-long trip from Puerto Jimenez – preferably in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Guests come to Cabo Matapalo to experience raw nature, which is beautifully evidenced by the area’s lush vegetation and abundance of birds and mammals.

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A trio of beaches cumulatively stretches for five miles along this part of the peninsula. The northern and most easily accessible shore is called Playa Pan Dulce, or Sweat Bread Beach. Calm waters and inviting sands make Pan Dulce the best place for swimming and sunbathing.

Backwash Bay is just a ten minute walk from Pan Dulce, and bordered by ancient, colossal trees. Most enjoyable to surf at low tide, the bay is best suited to intermediate and advanced surfers – and is a favorite among long boarders.

Matapalo’s most challenging southern break is at Playa Matapalo, where rough waves create entertaining but challenging conditions – particularly during the wet months of May to October. A terrific right break and large swells make this beach extremely popular with die-hard surfers. For those who prefer to keep dry, immaculate white sands and a heavily shaded tree line set the scene for relaxing beachside.

A handful of upscale, all-inclusive hotels cater to guests seeking an escape from the stresses of everyday life. Matapalo does not rely upon society for water, sewage, electricity, or natural gas, and as a result visitors vacation off the grid. Many lodges do not have electricity around the clock; instead, solar powered generators are turned on at specified hours of the day. A single restaurant offers food and refreshments to hungry beachgoers – and at surprisingly low prices.


Bird and Wildlife Watching

Wildlife is ubiquitous throughout the cape, and easy to encounter without long, hot hikes through the jungle. Over 315 species of birds inhabit the area, and common sightings include scarlet macaws, eagles, hummingbirds and toucans. Keep an eye out for green and black poison dart frogs along the forest floor. Because of the area’s extreme isolation, monkeys, sloths, anteaters, coatis and agoutis are also commonly seen.


A short half-mile hike from Matapalo beach leads to the beautiful King Louis Waterfall. While guides are not necessary, they are helpful in identifying plant and animal life – and often cost only slightly more than the price of a taxi from Puerto Jimenez. Miles of winding streams and trails can be picked up either from the beach or nearby hotels. Don’t forget to bring a camera, as wildlife encounters are inevitable.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding tours trot along all three of the area’s beaches. A few long stretches of sand provide perfect opportunities for more experienced riders to gallop.


When the tides are right, Cabo Matapalo’s long breaks are said to be some of the best in the country. Offshore winds most often blow from north to northwest, and the ideal swell direction is from the south. At Playa Pan Dulce, dual breaks create decent conditions for both beginner and more advanced surfers. Amateurs generally enjoy the inner break, but when the two breaks connect advanced surfers can ride both – for a total length that rivals the legendary break at Pavones. Serious surfers should consider staying a few nights to maximize Cabo Matapalo’s unbelievable surf potential.

Tree Climbing

This adventure takes about three hours, and passes by the King Louis Waterfalls. With ropes, helmets, and harnesses, daredevils climb 100 feet up to the top of a majestic strangler fig – and ring the bell at the top to prove to everyone below that they made it. 

Waterfall Rappelling

Rappel down the enormous 90-foot King Louis Waterfall, just a quick stroll from Matapalo Beach. The falls are dry during the months of December through July. Ropes, helmets, and harnesses are included on guided tours.

Getting There:

Bus: Public buses running the Puerto Jimenez-Carate route pass through Cabo Matapalo. Be sure to tell the driver where you wish to get off. The bus departs Carate for Puerto Jimenez at 8:30 a.m. and at 4:00 p.m., and passes by Matapalo en route at about 9:30 and 5:00 p.m. The trip takes about an hour and costs $1. Buses depart Puerto Jimenez at 6:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. for Carate, passing by Matapalo at about 7:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. It takes roughly one hour and costs $4.

Car: A four-wheel drive vehicle is obligatory to traverse the road between Puerto Jimenez and Cabo Matapalo, especially during the rainy season. From Puerto Jimenez, take the Carate highway 11 miles south. Turn left about a half-mile past the Buena Esperanza Bar and Restaurant, and then take a quick right toward the cape.

A taxi from Puerto Jimenez costs about $30 one way, and can be arranged by local hotels. Taxis run $40 from Carate.

Cabo Matapalo in Pictures

Cabo Matapalo Travel Guide

Cabo Matapalo Tides

Tuesday, May 21, 2024
High 1:16 a.m. 7.38 ft. (2.25 m.)
Low 6:49 a.m. 1.57 ft. (0.48 m.)

Two-week Tide Forecast >

Experiences in Cabo Matapalo