Corcovado National Park

Known as the largest lowland rainforest remaining on Central America’s Pacific coast, Corcovado National Park is a must see for the dedicated nature enthusiast. The 161-square mile parcel hosts the region’s largest populations of several endangered mammals such as jaguars, pumas, ocelots, white-lipped peccaries, and tapirs, as well as significant populations of endangered birds like Scarlet Macaws and Great Curassows. Because of its rich biological diversity, the Corcovado Foundation considers the park to be one of the world’s most important sources for future knowledge about rainforest ecosystems and conservation. The untouched wilderness and shear remoteness will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a place where nature, not man, rules the world.

 

Scarlet Macaw Corcovado Image
Scarlet Macaw

Getting There

Sometimes the best places on earth are the hardest to get to—this is definitely the case with Costa Rica’s famous Corcovado National Park. Located in the southwest-most corner of Costa Rica on a large peninsula, the park is accessed only by foot, boat, or small charter plane. Popular jumping off points are Carate (via Puerto Jiménez) and Drake Bay.

Park Setup

Much of Corcovado is not accessible at all. The jungle is either too thick or too wet. Those areas that are passable have trails leading from one ranger station to the next. The most commonly used trail runs to and from La Leona ranger station and San Pedrillo ranger station. It’s hard to get lost along this stretch because the trail either parallels the beach or is on the beach. Sirena ranger station, the mid-point of the main trail, serves as the park headquarters and is a popular spot for day tours by boat. Read our post, Spotting Costa Rica’s Most Spectacular Wildlife at Sirena Ranger Station, for everything you need to know about visiting Sirena on a day trip. Los Patos ranger station, to the east, is harder to access and less commonly used as an entry or exit point. Here is a map of the different ranger stations to help you get your bearings.

Logistics

Starting in 2014, all visitors (even day-trippers) must be accompanied by a registered guide. There are many local tour companies that employ registered guides and most area hotels have individual contacts for private tours. Because hiking between any two ranger stations is at least a full day trip, campsites or simple lodges and meals are offered by the park service. If you plan to stay overnight, it is highly recommended that you make your arrangements well in advance.

 

Jungle Corcovado Image

Conditions

Expect to get wet when hiking in Corcovado. This will either happen because of sweat, humidity, sudden rain, necessary river crossings—or all of the above. You might even be tempted to take a swim along one of the magnificent beaches. Make sure to bring proper clothing and footwear, sunscreen, insect repellant, and lots of bottled water.

Highlight

The Sirena ranger station is a big highlight because, besides by hiking, it can be accessed only via boat or charter plane. The area around the station also provides easy viewing of a variety of plant and wildlife species. Ann Becker, who guides small group experiential adventures in Costa Rica, had this to say about Sirena:

“I have hiked in Corcovado many times and from multiple points of entry in the past 8 years. I never tire of this extraordinary place and all its natural splendor. However, it is Sirena, the park headquarters and heart of Corcovado that calls me time and again. Even after one has arrived on the Osa Peninsula, it is hard work to get to Sirena (most often by boat or several hours of hiking). The trip is not for the faint of heart. With its myriad trails, rivers, primary and secondary forests, Sirena is unquestionably one of the most rugged areas of Costa Rica. It is hot, humid jungle. But the reward is worth it. Sirena is an ideal location to witness amazing biodiversity.

 

Some of my most treasured Sirena moments are those in which I have had the opportunity to experience ‘nature in action’, moments that exemplify the cycle of life: a magnificent blue morpho butterfly ensnared in the web of a golden orb spider; a crocodile floating down the Rio Sirena with a pelican tightly clasped within its jaws; a little agouti systematically and patiently readying its nest in the hollow of a fallen tree. And then there are the moments of just listening to the sounds; while the jungle may appear still, it is never silent.

 

In Sirena, the grandeur and magic of nature surrounds you. If you choose to visit, immerse yourself in all the sights, smells and sounds. Engage fully in the ‘here and now.’ ” –Ann Becker

 

Blue Morpho Butterfly Image
The Blue Morpho Butterfly at rest

Corcovado Facts

  • Park admission: $10 per day. Rates do no include lodging or meals at the ranger stations.
  • The best time to visit is from December to April, as it is the driest.
  • Temperature ranges from 27-35°C (80-95°F).
  • Annual rainfall totals are between 3,000-4,000 mm (10-13 feet!).
  • All four of Costa Rica’s monkey species live in the park.

Have you hiked in Corcovado? Let us know what your highlight was by leaving a comment below.

Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde. Updated May 19, 2014.

 

Related Posts

Pumas at La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz Waterfall Gardens: Wildlife Up Close
A Catamaran Cruise in Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio Catamaran Cruise
Hanging Bridge at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
The Famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Wilson Botanical Garden in Costa Rica
Wilson Botanical Garden at Las Cruces Biological Station

6 Comments

  1. I read your blog on Corcovado National Park and loved it. I found it so helpful
    and wanting to visit it, so I did. We had a blast ! We spent 2 nights in the park
    but found an awesome place called Lookout-Inn in Carate directly across from
    the beach and on our way to the park. We spent 4 nights there afterwards
    they have a special on now $75.00 per person per night ALL meal included!
    Great place, great owner Terry we suggest it to all.

  2. Yup, it was the adventure of my life. February 2010 — this 55 year old several-time solo female American adventurer decided to embark on the ultimate Costa Rica challenge–a 10 hour steamy, no-turn-back, danger and beauty-filled east-to-west transit of the Corcovado, and two days later, south from Sirena Ranger Station- to La Leona Station.

    I hired my guide online with the wonderful help of “Soldeosa”, a combination travel agency and internet cafe in Puerto Jimenez who also gave me advice on booking my daily entrance fee, room and meals at Sirena–and the need to do it precisely 30 days in advance.

    Starting with a sleepless night in a small hotel in Puerto Jimenez, my guide and military surplus truck picked me up at 3:30 and drove north, through a dry river bed, then inland to Los Patos ranger station arriving at sunrise. My backpack was honed to just 18 lbs, consisting of a spare pairs of Keens, flip flops, first aid items, bug/sun spray, interchangable swim suits/clothing items, bags of quick energy sugary gummy worms and chocolates, a packed lunch, two metal water bottles which I filled at the ranger station and added mango KoolAid, wet bandanas, a toothbrush and a string of dental floss. And yes, some mascara. People ask if I saw snakes and wild animals–we saw just one zippy green snake on a log, agoutis, racoons eating crabs, tapirs submerged in a river, many birds, identified by their calls, monkeys, macaws, and an exciting sighting of a smelly, snorting pack of wild peccaries pigs of which we had to stay up-wind, as we neared the clearing to Sirena Station and its airstrip. Many primary rain forest trees the circumference of a bedroom were along the way.

    Our time on foot was 5 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a “sit down” lunch on a rock in a stream. Sirena is an elevated cat-walk maze of buildings and lodging primarily for serious biologists and guides of all ilk. VIPs fly in via the landing strip and overnighters and day-trippers from Drake Bay enjoy the four cloverleaves of trails that radiate from the Station, getting a close in dramatic view of BullSharks and crocodiles battling it out at one river, and a mud-bath at another. Most actual trekkers were young Europeans and youth groups, as I figure few American vacationers enjoy such rigors. This hike is not for the faint of heart!

    There is no bailing out, no turning back, and the reality of nightfall at 5 pm will keep you moving if nothing else will. Getting wounded, bit, getting lost, falling, scraping yourself badly, or getting a disabling blister are distinct realities, and no helicopter will come get you. Now lets talk rain, mud, crossing rivers, soaked socks and blisters! The thought of wet, limping, bleeding in total darkness with a headlamp and wild animals on every side, nearly made me bail. This is not Disneyworld, and your guide can only do so much.

    My one request of my guide was that he carry a machette. He was knowledgable, but as the hours went on, I cared less about the names of trees and animals. I don’t know if it would have been different if there was the motivation others. Towards the end, I had to have him carry my pack along with his. We made it just as it was getting dusk.

    If I did it again, I would Go-pro the whole thing, or voice record what you’d like to remember. 95 degree heat and humidity is no where to try to remember things.

    I was extraordinarily fortunate to have sub-90 degree, dry weather, AND no one else in my bunk-bedded room. I retained my guide for the following day’s treks, as clients were propriatory of their guides and did not welcome tag-alongs. Dinner, even for the jungle, was unremarkable. Usually its the best thing you ever ate, regardless what it is. Plus there was the passed knowledge that a fere de lances live under the kitchen platform, so I ate with one eye off the edge.

    At 2 a.m. my guide knocked on my door to tell me a pack of tapirs were traveling so close to the tent platform railing occupied by young backpackers. I could grab my head lamp and come pat their behinds over the edge if I’d like.

    The exit day began even earlier than the entry day, as the sand beach gets unbearably hot as soon as the sun comes up. A landslide made the hiking treacherous, but finally the Salsapuedes beach and its iconic palm trees came into view — along with the earlier tracks of a puma and a tapir walking “side by side” on the sand. Tides are important, and we missed an important one, causing us to ford inland up a river to go around a huge rock on the beach, that was now awash in ocean water and unable to walk past. Finally, it was tradition to stop at a river just before arriving at the finale –La Leona Ranger Station– and have a communal swim.

    I understand the Pedrillo to Sirena beach trail is not only west facing searing sand but getting from A to B depends on hitting successive river mouth tides just so — virtually an impossibility. The remaining option(s), besides day-tripping or flying into Serena are what I described. My advice: interview your guide and discus what each will bring and be responsible for. Insist on having a progress map and plasticized field guides and grease pencils to circle what you see. Bring head lamp, extra batteries/chargers, and get an early start. The trail’s only hilly part is the first hour from Los Patos going west. Bring your questions and curiosity; have a good hiking buddy, do your field work, read blogs and be well prepared.

    1. Hi Mary Jane, Wow, that sounds like quite an adventure! We’ve explored Corcovado on day trips from Drake Bay to Sirena and also Carate/Puerto Jimenez to La Leona. The walk from Carate to the entrance in La Leona was just as you describe with nearly intolerable heat as we walked along the hot sand. The park was awesome, though, and we’ve always wanted to return to backpack the whole thing. Of course now we have a baby, so not sure that will happen anytime soon. Thanks for sharing your experience. We’re sure it will be really helpful for other travelers!

  3. Hi Guys,

    Super breakdown here!

    We wrapped up a month long stay in Rivas last week but didn’t make it to Corcovado. We did however do a 6 week house sit deep in the jungles of Buena Vista, by Bribri. Not quite as much bio diversity as Corco but we saw bullet ants, poison dart frogs and army ants marched thru the house by thousands. Sloths, monkeys, Amazon parrots, possum, hawks, owls, oropendola and yep, that brutal, overpowering heat and humidity one gets deep in the jungle.

    Panthers are said to have been spotted in the area, as well as small cats. Also, the homeowner saw a giant anteater and macheted/killed a fer de lanz that tried to enter his home to eat a frog. Nutz.

    3 hour walk cross streams and up a hill. No human beings within hours of you save 1 neighbor, who was 20 minutes away. It was amazing, frightening, freeing and challenging. Like an intense, 6 week trip off the grid, so happy I did it….even if it was a nightmare at times.

    Thanks for the share guys!

    Ryan

    1. Wow, Ryan, that sounds like quite an adventure being that far off the grid. We’ve stayed with some indigenous communities in Panama that didn’t have running water and electricity, but luckily, they weren’t too hard to access. What an amazing opportunity for you. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.