Corcovado National Park
Last Updated: Apr 05, 2013
Corcovado National Park is one of the few places in the world that truly merits the phrase teeming with wildlife. National geographic named it "the most biologically intense place on Earth" with good reason. Its proximity to the equator, and the fact that it makes up part of an isthmus that connects North and South America, create ideal circumstances for over 13 types of forest to thrive -- along with the dizzying array of wildlife inhabiting them.
Location : Osa Peninsula
Altitude : Sea level
Area : 104,900 acres
Hours : 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily
Telephone : 2735-5036 or 2735-5580
Entrance Fee : $10.00
The sheer amount of wildlife inhabiting the park is astounding. Scarlet macaws and toucans fly lazily overhead, while poison dart frogs hop underfoot – all the while, monkeys nonchalantly bask in trees, tapirs graze in nearby swamps, and crocodiles perch in wait of their next meal.
This environmental marvel has a tumultuous history. Great quantities of gold were discovered in Corcovado in the 1930's, leading to a gold rush that was detrimental to local wildlife. The area was doubly endangered due to the logging industry and its resulting deforestation. Thankfully, then President Daniel Oduber declared the area a protected zone in 1975. While this immensely improved conditions, illegal activities were not truly quashed until the 1980's – when the government completely banned the practice of gold panning in Corcovado. Citizens began to realize that tourism’s long-term economic gains would be more sustainable than the timber and precious metals industries.
The majority of the lowland tropical rainforest that comprises Corcovado National Park is original, or primary, forest – the type of habitat that many endangered species, like squirrel monkeys and jaguars, require. Baird’s tapir, white-lipped peccaries and four kinds of wildcats are also dependent upon these undisturbed lands for their survival.
Hiking or camping at Corcovado requires careful planning and an adventurous spirit – as well as a desire for– or at least not an aversion to–closely observing a variety of insects and serpents, including venomous snakes. Day and camping passes can normally be obtained without prior reservations, but advanced notice is required in order to lodge at Sirena.
All of Corcovado's ranger stations are extremely isolated, and some more difficult to reach than others. No roads connect the park to the rest of the country; instead, Corcovado is best accessed by air, boat, horseback, or on foot (a hike that can take up to fifteen hours). Trails range from one and two-hour day hikes to lengthy overnight trips.
Bird and Wildlife Watching: At least 367 species of birds, 140 mammals, 107 reptiles and amphibians, and 40 freshwater fish inhabit the zone. This list includes four types of venomous snake, all four species of monkey found in Costa Rica, and about 40 jaguars – a critically endangered cat. The park boasts significant populations of rare and endangered species like the Baird’s tapir, white-lipped peccaries, and at least four species of wildcat. It is home to the largest numbers of scarlet macaws and great curassows in Central America, and is one of only two areas in Costa Rica where squirrel monkeys prosper. Additionally, four species of sea turtle (Olive Ridley, leatherback, hawksbill and green sea turtle) nest on its shores.
Birding in Corcovado is an especially rich experience. Species such as the turquoise cotinga, white-crested coquette, red-throated caracara, slaty-tailed trogon and the harpy eagle all call the area their home. Other species include the king vulture, white hawk, short-billed pigeon, tovi parakeet and bronze-tailed sicklebill.
Over 300 types of trees can be found in Corcovado – this represents about one-third of the total tree species in the entire country. Some of the larger trees include the purple heart, cow tree, espave and crabwood.
Camping: Reservations are required to camp, especially at the park’s Sirena station, which has dorm-style lodging and a small restaurant ($8 dorm bed + $10 park entrance fee + optional board). Camping options at San Pedrillo, La Leona, and Los Patos ranger stations are rustic ($4 + $10 park entrance fee); potable water, cold showers, and toilets are available to campers at all four stations. Camping is not permitted at Los Planes. Visitors are allowed four consecutive nights in the park, although extensions can be granted under certain circumstances – it never hurts to ask the park ranger. Contact: 2735-5036 for more camping information.
Canoeing: Canoes can be rented for $20 per day at the Sirena ranger station. Availability is scarce.
Hiking: Corcovado’s main attractions are its beautiful hiking trails – the deeper into the park, the greater the chance of observing wildlife. While terrain is generally flat around the beach areas, inland areas can get quite hilly. Narrow ridges and steep ravines characterize the rugged uplands, which ascend from isolated shores and estuaries.Heavy rains from April to December can making visiting the park – let alone hiking it – difficult to impossible. The rainiest months are September, October, and November.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving: Visitors can snorkel and scuba dive off of many of Corcovado’s beaches, but it is not recommended. Strong currents and marine predators, like sharks and crocodiles, inhabit the park’s waters and estuaries. Sirena station is particularly dangerous. Visitors must not swim here, and great care should be taken at river crossings. Bull sharks are abnormally aggressive in this area, and currents are especially strong.
There are four main ranger stations within Corcovado National Park: Sirena. San Pedrillo, La Leona and Los Patos. The park’s headquarters are located at Sirena, which is equipped with an airstrip, research station, and dormitory lodging. Facilities include potable water and latrines. Tents and sheets are not provided. Ranger Stations are open year round, although some trails may be closed during the rainy season (April 15-December 15). Note: The Sirena Ranger Station is closed every October.
- The dry months of January through April are the best times to visit. Be prepared for rain year-round; bring several changes of socks, quick-dry clothing, comfortable and durable walking shoes, sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat and sunglasses. Refillable water bottles and snacks that will not melt are also recommended.
- Make reservations with plenty of advance notice.
- Hire a guide! A world of wildlife can be revealed by a knowledgeable pathfinder. They also ensure safety when navigating from one ranger station to another.
- There are no facilities along the trails, particularly the long ones – if someone becomes sick or injured, getting out safely can be a challenge.
- Check the tides. Crossing rivers at high tide is dangerous. Crocodiles, bull sharks and strong currents are very real hazards. Time crossings carefully and consult park officials for schedules.
- Bring plenty of water – Corcovado is hot and humid.
- Purchase food and other necessary supplies ahead of time in Puerto Jimenez or Drake.
Arrival to Corcovado National Park can be accomplished on foot, on horseback, by boat, or by plane. All stations can be hiked to with enough energy, planning and patience. Los Patos can be reached on horseback. Take the bus from Puerto Jimenez the town of La Palma, and from here grab a taxi to Guadalupe. Horses can be rented in order to complete the trek to Los Patos. Boats can be hired from Drake Bay to San Pedrillo and Sirena stations.
Bus: From Puerto Jimenez, a bus stops just outside the town of Carate. It is a 40-minute walk from here to La Leona station.
Plane: Chartered flights leave from Golfito, Drake Bay, Puerto Jimenez, and San Jose to the airstrip at the Sirena station.