Costa Rica

Costa Rica Itinerary Day 7: Ojochal and Osa Mountain Eco Village

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Last Updated on October 2, 2022 by Carolyn

On day 7 of our Costa Rica Itinerary, we set off to visit the nearby town of Ojochal, Ciudad Cortes, and had an insider’s glimpse into the struggles of eco-community living at Osa Mountain Village


Cascada El Pavon in Ojochal
Cascada El Pavon in Ojochal

Ojochal is a community situated in the lush hills above Playa Ventana, halfway between Uvita and Palmar Norte. It is renowned for its abundance of world-class chefs of many nationalities and has become a Costa Rica culinary destination. Restaurants in Ojochal offer a wide array of cuisine including American, French, European, Central American, Italian, Mediterranean, South American, and of course fresh seafood.

Having heard rave reviews about the dining experiences of Ojochal we headed that way to first visit the local beaches, and then have lunch. When we arrived at the beach it was beginning to rain, so we opted to skip the beach visit and head for lunch. Sadly for us, we failed to glean an important tidbit of information about Ojochal; most of the restaurants are open for dinner only. Many of the restaurants are within private houses, and in actuality, Ojochal is more of a bedroom community than a town.

We drove around Ojochal but there isn’t much to it. We’d expected more of a town but were disappointed to find it really isn’t much more than a residential community with a little bit of a main street. I saw a photo of an alluring waterfall, Cascada Pavon on the map so we went in search of it. We drove along a pretty jungle road passing cute residences along the way. The road became narrower and just about petered out, we came to a bridge but not the waterfall and we concluded that we’d taken a wrong turn. By this time we were getting pretty hungry so ironically we left Ojochal the culinary destination hungry and in search of food!

For those who want to visit Cascada El Pavon, it is apparently approximately 2km from the highway. If you follow signs for “Restaurante Tilapias La Cascada”, and then go about 50m past the restaurant you should see a sign “Cascada Pavon”. You park on the road. This access is supposedly easier than that of the paid access via the restaurant.

For those interested in seeing what Ojochal looks like, Costa Rican relocation expert Sara Elena shared this video:

Ciudad Cortés

After leaving Ojochal we drove to Ciudad Cortés. We weren’t expecting much of a town and were surprised to find a thriving city. Ciudad Cortés is a city with some history: It was colonized in 1910 though prior to that it was inhabited by the indigenous people, the Bruncas and Diquis. In 1996 Hurricane Cesar flooded the city and in 2000 many of the public institutions and population moved to higher ground.

This explains the sprawling nature of this city of almost 9000 people and why its architecture is such a mix of old and new. The city’s growth was spurred by its port which was its only connection at the time with Puntarenas. Early settlers farmed rice and livestock. Later the Banana Company of Costa Rica and the Transnational Banana Company established offices in Ciudad Cortés.

The city now has a historical walk of about 700 meters along the main street. Through murals and paintings, natural plantings, and buildings one can learn about the history of the city. We were unaware of this walk so didn’t stop to enjoy it. I had a hankering to see the scarlet macaws again, so back to Sierpe we headed.

A video of Puerto Cortes by Museo Nacional

In Sierpe we returned to the same park and sure enough in the same area, there was a tree plastered with scarlet macaws. I was in awe of seeing these magnificent birds wild and free and savored the sight.

Macaws in Tree
Scarlet Macaws in Sierpe

See those lumps in the tree? Those are all scarlet macaws (and this was also about the time I decided I needed a good camera for nature photography).

Eco-Community Struggles

On our return to Osa Mountain Village, we helped ourselves to fresh avocados fallen from the huge avocado tree that graces its entrance. This tree is the largest and most prolific avocado tree I’ve ever seen. Why I didn’t take a photo of it, I have no idea.

During our few days at Osa Mountain Village Wally and I had been speculating on what the background story was: Where was the eco-community, the chickens producing eggs, the milk goats? The community dinners? During our stay, the restaurant at the community center was closed as was the swim-up bar at the pool. The facilities were lovely but there was zero activity.

View of Osa Peninsula from Osa Mountain Village Volunteer Center
View of Osa Peninsula from Osa Mountain Village Volunteer Center

On one of our walks around the property, we found the tilapia ponds, overgrown, stagnant, and apparently without fish. We came across a building that had an awesome view, an outside kitchen where you could enjoy coffee on the patio, but again no one using it, apparently this was the volunteer housing, but there were no volunteers? What was going on, why the sense of abandonment? We were anxious to hear the story and had a meeting with the rental manager later that afternoon.

Osa Mountain Village Then and Now

Osa Mountain Eco Village Condo
Osa Mountain Eco Village Condo

We met with Patricia at her villa, just down the road from the condos.  She told us about some of the current residents and their backgrounds. What struck me odd was most were retired and not the most likely candidates for an eco-community.

We pressed for the history of the property searching for the reason that this vision had turned into a derailed train.

Osa Mountain Village was Jim Gale’s vision. He had developed other properties and wanted to create a place where people could live and enjoy the very things for which they came to Costa Rica: Eco-friendly living amongst a community of like-minded people working together to make a thriving community. Food would come from community gardens, tilapia ponds, orchards, and from chickens and goats.

The property would be developed with minimal impact on nature so that residents could enjoy living in harmony with the flora and fauna of the surrounding jungle. Sustainable living retreats and schools would be held providing visitors a chance to experience eco-friendly living in the jungle, working in the gardens,  learning sustainable gardening practices, and assisting in building the eco-community.

This vision would become Osa Mountain Village and Jim Gale built the infrastructure for the foundation of this vision. However, along the way, there were rumblings of discontentment. There were water issues, and concerns about financial mismanagement grew to a head amongst property owners. An audit was undertaken (which in itself took ages to complete) and it revealed that the books were clean. But meanwhile, Jim Gale left, and Osa Mountain Village became a ship without a captain.

Looking around, I feel the construction and marketing attracted the wrong residents. Inside the condos you’d think you were in the United States, they have all the embellishments and generic similarities of those built in the US and you wouldn’t know when inside them that you are deep in the jungle. It’s not the kind of structure I think most people interested in eco and sustainable living would be looking for. The condos attracted an over 55 crowd looking for the luxuries they were used to in their homelands while living in the jungles of OSA. The facilities, pool, restaurant, and grounds are beautiful but not what eco enthusiasts would come looking for. The best view of the property belongs to the volunteer center which sits empty as there are no volunteers. There is no school of sustainability. This kind of community requires working together but sadly I believe it attracted people who were retiring and not looking for more work and were in fact for a large part not living full-time at Osa Mountain Village.

If you look on Facebook the active page for Osa Mountain Village, is now Toucan Valley, Osa Mountain Village Condo and Resort. What a shame. It is not the thriving eco-village that its founder envisioned.

Would I Go Back?

I definitely plan on revisiting the Osa Peninsula, but Osa Mountain Village (or Toucan Valley as it has been rechristened would not be my choice of place to stay. It was comfortable and reasonably priced but so American. When I visit Costa Rica I want to stay somewhere that captures the spirit of Costa Rica. Places like Physis-Caribbean Bed and Breakfast handcrafted with love and appreciation for nature.

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