Striking Gold: Cultural History of the Osa Peninsula

Gold Panning

A favorite thing to do when visiting the Osa Peninsula is taking a day hike ecotour to the Tigres Rivers, a former gold mining spot in Corcovado National Park. Exploring this former gold mining area is an adventure back in time. The region was a thriving area for gold prospectors who came here in droves to strike it rich beginning with the early settlers. Named by Columbus, “The Rich Coast,” the Osa Peninsula was famous for its abundance of gold deposits.   In the 1930s, the discovery of gold triggered an economic boom.  The Peninsula was one of Costa Rica’s largest gold bearing regions until the 1980s.  At 21 karats, it is some of the world’s most pure gold.  In the 1970s gold mining was declared illegal with the creation of Corcovado National Park.

Gold Mine

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When the United Fruit Company, which for a long time was the center of the economy in this region, closed the banana plantations many of its workers moved to the Osa to mine for gold. These miners are known as Oreros. When the USA stationed troops in the region prior to the Panama invasion, Costa Ricans watched Americans dredge up the rivers searching for gold with heavy equipment.  By the mid 80s relatively large placer mining operations were underway in both the Tigre and Curats Rivers. Gold fever continued until the 1980s with multi-nationals mining the area till the government ousted these companies. These foreign companies stripped most of the gold from the river banks. Today, the rivers are still scarred from these mining activities.

Gold Pan

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Today, there are only a few dozen Oreros remaining, and they are a kind of cultural fixture here. The government leaves the remaining miners alone because the available gold left to mine is scarce and their are few Oereros left. There is an extensive network of mountain trails that provide passage from Puerto Jiminez and Dos Brazos over steep and muddy trails that were once vital to these miners combing the rivers for gold.  The prime gold bearing rivers are the Tigre, Rincon, Barrigones, Agujas, Riyito, Nuevo, Conte, Madrigal and Carate.  When it rains long and hard the rivers rise tumbling the gold down from the myriad of veins high in the mountain.  The miners wait till the rain stops and the river levels fall before descending on the river banks to pan for newly deposited nuggets.  The remaining Oreros have special areas that they go to mine, and there are still a few places left in town that buy gold.

Hiking for Gold

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An ecotour of the mines is a worthwhile day adventure to learn about some of the areas cultural history.  Hiking through the beautiful Corcovado rainforest up to the mines you will spot wildlife along the way.  The hike is not too strenuous and Crocodile Bay provides day hikes to the non-operational gold mines along the Tigre River.