Visiting Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre: A Gold Panning Tour in Costa Rica

posted in: Costa Rica, Destinations | 0

You know what kids love? Money. And what’s the next best thing to cold hard cash? Gold. And am I willing to manipulate my children to get them excited about some form of cultural adventure on our travels? Yes, I am, and this is how our family ended up on the Gold Mining Tour in Dos Brazos — but there are several other excellent reasons to explore this quaint little town in southwest Costa Rica.  

The small community of Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre is just beginning to dip its toes in the tourism pool, so I highly recommend it if you are looking to escape the busy resorts of Costa Rica’s most developed areas. The El Tigre entrance to Corcovado National Park opened here a couple years ago, but local guides can also lead you on other hiking and birding tours, as well as our favorite: the gold mining tour.

Costa Rica Gold Panning Tour
The scenery on this little hike was top-notch, for sure.

About Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre

We stumbled upon the tiny town of Dos Brazos because we were looking for Costa Rica’s newest entrance into Corcovado National Park. Dos Brazos is located on the remote Osa Peninsula, 8.6 miles from Puerto Jimenez. It’s a small community nestled in the two arms of the Rio Tigre (hence the name, which translates to “two arms of the tiger river”), adjacent to Corcovado National Park.

When we arrived in Dos Brazos, having followed the signs from the main road in our rented SUV, we arrived at a T in the road and weren’t sure whether to go left or right. Just so you know, it doesn’t matter; you won’t get lost either way. Go right, and the road will end in a bit, but you will find a sign for the El Tigre entrance to Corcovado. This makes for good photo op, though you aren’t supposed to enter the park without a guide. Turn left, and the road will soon run into the river, but first you will see the soccer field, and beyond that, a large beautiful building that houses the tourism office.

Soccer field
The soccer field is an easy marker for directions in many communities the world over!

Dos Brazos, like many small towns, has been challenged economically in recent years. Traditionally, its residents mined gold from the river and the surrounding hills. However, since the creation of the national park, all gold mining activities in this area have been banned by the government, and the community has had to pivot toward tourism and conservation activities. They have an excellent community website that outlines the history, if you’d like to learn more.

Exploring Dos Brazos, including hiking any of the local trails, requires paying a local guide. In addition to safety concerns, the economic need of the area explains this requirement.

Corcovado National Park Sign
Many people head to Dos Brazos now in search of a hike in Corcovado National Park; however, their are other excellent trails and cultural tours to be had in this community.

Things to Do in Dos Brazos

The tourism office is Dos Brazos is easy to find — it’s in the largest building in town. The employee there was helpful, and tours are easily arranged.

If you want to hike into Corcovado National Park through the El Tigre entrance, this is where you will arrange your guide. However, the trail at this entrance does not connect to other trails in Corcovado. Furthermore, it is a loop, and is quite steep, and not suitable for children. There are other nature trails in the area that would be better if you are looking for day hikes. The tourism office can also arrange horseback riding, cooking classes, and gold panning adventures for you.

Gold panning in Costa Rica
The experienced gold miner pans for gold as my (relatively useless) family looks on.

All the guides in Dos Brazos are locals, which meant that our guide experience here was different than elsewhere in Costa Rica, where we frequently had guides with impeccable English and college degrees. The guide on our gold tour was a wizened, ageless man. His English was only a little better than our Spanish, but he gets five stars for authenticity, and he managed to get gold flecks out of a river in an hour, which I thought was pretty impressive.

Our Gold Mining Tour in Dos Brazos

I signed us up for the gold tour in Dos Brazos because I have a son who loves gold, and at the time I was having trouble getting him interested in anything in Costa Rica apart from mangoes and the swimming pool.

This tour was fascinating for all of us, although it did require more hiking than I anticipated. The guide is a “real gold miner” per the tourism office — a wiry older gentleman outfitted in a white t-shirt, shorts, rubber boots, and sun hat. We loved hearing his stories about the gold he dug out of the hills above the river decades ago, before it was banned.

Gold Mining Tour in Dos Brazos
Hiking through the jungle adjacent to the river. My son is clearly to in appropriate footwear.

Before signing up, I asked where exactly the tour would take place, as I had my mother with us and my kids (who are not great hikers). I was told “just up the river there,” and not demanding further specifics was my mistake. The tour turned out to involve a hike up the river — a lovely hike, but still, a hike.

With his large, shallow metal pan tied to his back and a walking stick in hand, our guide set off at a fast clip toward the river. He led our motley crew — my husband and myself, my mother, and our nine-year-old and three-year-old kids — through thick jungle on the banks of the river and over shallow river crossings. I estimate we walked about a mile, although it felt much farther given my travel companions. My youngest ended up on dad’s shoulders.

We didn’t stop our guide, despite complaints from the group, because you don’t stop walking when the man who knows the location of gold is leading you! I was doubtful that he could actually find gold in a river that had been panned for generations in a single afternoon, but I was wrong.

The hike was beautiful. We passed a small swimming hole, and if we’d had more time (we went later in the afternoon than was recommended), we would have rested there. Eventually we found a bend in the river, and our guide told us to sit down. He disappeared into some bushes, and reappeared with several tools, including a large shovel. Then the magic began.

Gold Mining Tour in Dos Brazos
Our guide digs a hole upstream from his metal box/Astroturf set-up.

I hesitate to describe this gold panning method, because if you plan to visit Dos Brazos, you should just take this tour and see it for yourself. We’d never seen anything like it. So if you are going to Costa Rica, stop reading now. Allow yourself to be surprised!

For the rest of you: in addition to the shovel, his other tool was a large, rectangular metal pan, the bottom of which was covered in green Astroturf. Our guide proceeded, quickly and strongly, to shuffle large river rocks and wedge his Astroturf box into the river until it created a small dam, with the water rushing through the Astroturf box.

Our guide extraordinaire then dug, dug, dug, and kept digging, just upstream from his man-made dam. He dumped the rocks from the riverbed into the pan and let the kids shift  through it, looking for gold flecks.

Gold panning in Costa Rica
Shaking the sediment out of the Astroturf. There’s gold in them there rocks….

I was initially disappointed that we didn’t find much from the rocks he removed from the riverbed. The magic didn’t happen until later, when he finally decided that enough water and sediment had run through the Astroturf box. He dismantled his setup, at which point we recognized the purpose of the Astroturf. The tiniest sediment had buried itself in there as the river ran through it, and now our guide shook the Astroturf out into the shallow metal pan that he had carried all the way from town.

And he swirled and swirled until fleck after gold fleck appeared in the pan, settling at the bottom, as the larger rocks washed back into the river. Then, in another touch that I appreciated, he removed a tiny clear bottle from his bag, filled it with river water, put the gold pieces in it, and handed it to my son.

Costa Rica Gold Tour
Our guide skillfully places the gold flecks in the bottle for us to take home.

We now have a bottle of Costa Rican gold flakes sitting on our shelf as a souvenir of our time in Dos Brazos and a memory of the kindness and skill of a gold miner.

Once the euphoria of finding gold wore off, we still had to walk back to town. You should know that there is a little shop located very close to the tourism office that carries Coke and Fanta, the promise of which kept the oldest and youngest members of our group going.  

Where to Stay in Dos Brazos

The Osa Peninsula has some very high-end ecolodges, so if you just do some quick internet searches it can be tempting to think there are no reasonably priced accommodations in the area. Not so — and in fact, if you want to stay in Dos Brazos, there are some very inexpensive options. Many of the small inns here rent their rooms on Airbnb, rather than having their own websites, so you’ll want to look there first. You can also check out the Dos Brazos community website, which has a lodging section.


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