The “most biologically intense place on Earth” is how organizations like the WWF or National Geographic describe Corcovado National Park. A very bold statement for a place that represents less than 0.001% of the globe’s surface, but there are several historical and geological reasons why the statement is correct.
Corcovado National Park is probably the most remote park in the country, besides Coco’s Island. Visiting this raw and wild kingdom can be a challenge if you decide to hike within it. It will be very different if you either boat or fly in. But no matter how you decide to visit, you must do it with a local guide, not only for your own safety but also because it is the best way to enjoy and discover all the treasures it possesses.
Day tours inside the park are the easiest and probably best way to explore for families with young children (although children under 10 years old might want to skip the trip for now). Couples and small groups should definitely take the time to explore the park for one day or why not spend a night camping or at the very rustic accommodations in one of the ranger stations.
To reach Corcovado National Park you must stay in Drake Bay and Puerto Jiménez, in opposite sides of the península. Accommodations are plentiful in both areas, where you can find from simple tent options to a handful of luxury eco-lodges that offer the best comfort and pampering surrounded by the wild fauna and flora of Osa.
Corcovado’s Biodiversity Extravaganza
Corcovado National Park is home to one of the few remaining original patches of lowland rainforest in the Pacific of Central America. Thousands of years ago when North and South America joined and Central America emerged from the ocean to complete the bridge, fauna, and flora from both north and south met in Costa Rica’s territory, making this land rich in biodiversity. And Corcovado has been able to preserve it almost untouched.
Hiking along the park’s trails, you’ll be amazed at sights such as any of the four kinds of monkeys that exist in Costa Rica; five different kinds of wild cats, including the elusive jaguar and puma; Baird’s tapirs sleeping in mud pools or swimming in the ocean; bull sharks swimming into a river for fish, joined by American crocodiles; owls hiding from the sun but curiously looking at those passing by; or if you are really lucky you might see a powerful harpy eagle up in the canopy.
Close to 400 species of birds can be seen inside the park (half of the entire bird list of Costa Rica!), including the biggest population of scarlet macaws in the country. There are more than 120 species of mammals who are also close to the entire list of mammals of Costa Rica. Some of those mammals include various species of bats, rodents and anteaters. The rivers and lagoons host 40 species of freshwater fish. More than 8,000 species of insects hide in every fold of the flora, where also the more than 40 species of amphibians and 70 species of reptiles find shelter. And if you look into the sea, you can also find four kinds of sea turtles that come to nest in the park’s beaches.
If we talk about the flora, the count is even more impressive. Big giant trees populate every corner of the park, among smaller trees, and there have been more than 600 species identified, which is over 25% of the entire species of trees found in Costa Rica! Lastly, you can find 13 major ecosystems inside the park including lowland tropical rainforest, mangrove swamps, highland cloud forest, coastal marine, and beach habitats and palm forest.
Getting to Know Corcovado
Located on the outside of the Osa Peninsula in the south pacific, Corcovado National Park covers 40% of the peninsula’s land, which is around 450 square kilometers (or 175 square miles).
Until the 1960s this part of the country was forgotten-land. Then loggers turned their eyes towards the untouched forest filled with giant trees and turned it into a profitable commercial logging business. For the next 1.5 decades the forest was exploited and inhabited, but in October 1975, the government decided to declare it National Park in order to stop the excessive use and protect the park’s wildlife.
In the early 1980s, another threat to the biodiversity of Corcovado was stopped. It turns out that this part of Costa Rica not only has gold, but it is considered some of the purest gold in Central America. Artisanal gold mining had thousands of families living on the north edge of the park, but in 1985 the government decided to expand the park’s territory to include those mountainous areas in order to protect them from mining. Artisanal miners were evicted and their trade was officially banned.
For many years afterward, the national park was a spark for social unrest in the area because miners and loggers claimed that they were taken away from their land. Nonetheless, and after many years of lawsuits, which ended in cash settlements, the conscience of protecting nature and the realization of how much more sustainable it is to make a living through tourism has prevailed. Today Corcovado is a symbol of national pride.
The borders of the park are long and open, and they are still vulnerable to small-scale mining, poaching, and hunting. To keep it protected, there are four park ranger stations that serve as headquarters for regular ranger patrols but are also the doors to the magic of Corcovado for tourists.
Sirena Ranger Station is probably the most famous station. It is located on the coast right in the middle of the park. This ranger station is the preferred one-day or overnight visiting place because it’s the most remote one, even though one can reach it by boat or plane from Puerto Jimenez or Drake Bay very easily. Sirena also hosts many scientists during their research inside the park.
San Pedrillo Ranger Station is also along the coast but on the northwest end of the park. To reach San Pedrillo you have to take a boat from Drake Bay or Uvita. Most of San Pedrillo’s visitors come from Drake Bay, only 20 min away by boat.
Los Patos Ranger Station is located inland, on the north part of the park. Reaching to this ranger station can be a challenge since there are no roads in place. Visitors can hike or hire a 4×4 taxi from La Palma town. The taxi will have to cross several rivers, consequently, the service is provided only certain times of the year.
La Leona Ranger Station, also a well-known station, is where most people start their hike into Corcovado. It is located on the southwest end of the park, also along the coast, and people can reach it hiking 3.5 km from the town of Carate, the farthest town coming from Puerto Jiménez by bus, car or taxi.
All ranger stations provide visitors with access to toilets, showers, potable water, paying phones, camping areas and many hiking trails. Sirena also offers very simple sleeping amenities (shared rooms with three bunk beds) and people can pre-order meals which are served on a strict schedule in a common dining room.
Corcovado’s Incredible Hiking Trails
When hiking into Sirena you can choose trail routes such as La Leona Ranger Station to Sirena (19.5 km) route or Los Patos Ranger Station to Sirena (25 km). This last trail is known as Río Pavo Trail.
When coming in from the east, from La Leona, the hike is 16 km long inside the park, but you have to add the 3.5 km hike on the beach from/to Carate. Many hikers choose this trail as their way in and out of the park. The trail goes along the coastline, both inside the coastal forest or traversing some deserted beaches. You have to cross a river very close to the ranger station of Sirena, so a change of shoes is a must.
The trail coming from Los Patos will take you through the heart of Corcovado. You can hike it in any direction, but if you hike southward you will basically go downhill for the first 6 km and then
hike on flat terrain for the rest of the way, enjoying the primary and secondary forest. This trail offers you the only possibility of enjoying the highlands of the park, as well as the lowlands, and also a beautiful waterfall where the trail begins. A recommended route to hike in and out of the park is entering via Los Patos and exiting via La Leona.
Once in Sirena you have a selection of short trails that interconnect in a 24 km long net. All of these trails are mostly flat and traverse 30-year-old secondary forest and primary forest. The opportunities to see wildlife here are immense.
On the west side of the ranger station, you can hike the Sirena Trail which will take you to the beach. Then go north through the Guanacaste Trail to enjoy the impressive Guanacaste trees, Costa Rica’s National Tree, and several glimpses of the Sirena River. This trail is crossed by several creeks and could be muddy. And to go back to the station you can either take the beginning part of the Pavo Trail (which is the same trail that would take you to Los Patos Ranger Station) or the Espaveles Trail, which loops north going back to the station. This last trail mostly crosses primary rainforest, therefore is thicker in vegetation than some of the other trails. This set of trails is short and very easy to hike.
On the east side of the ranger station, you can hike a much longer trail net. You can start with the Ollas Trail that actually has a bit of uphill hiking. This trail will connect to the Sendero Corcovado Trail that turns south and connects to the Río Claro Trail, the beginning of the trail to La Leona, where you can either hike westward towards the station or keep going south to reach the beach. After hiking for a few minutes on the beach the Naranjo Trail will take you back northward to the ranger station.
If you visit the San Pedrillo Ranger Station, you have a smaller set of trails that you can hike in search of wildlife and landscapes, although these trails do not loop back to the station. Here you can visit the San Pedrillo Waterfall, only 1 km away from the station (2 km round trip). A 7 km long trail (14 km round trip) takes you along the coast on a forest trail that lets you visit the deserted beaches of the area and crosses the San Pedrillo river. This trail can only be hiked during low tide.
At La Leona Station there are no actual trails except the one that takes you to Sirena. Nonetheless, a river flows towards the ocean right next to the station, and you can explore it a bit and refresh yourself in it.
Another trail opened to the public in 2015, on the northwest end of the park: El Tigre trail. This trail starts in the community of Dos Brazos de Río Tigre, reachable by car from Puerto Jimenez. This trail is 8 km long but a bit more challenging than the other trails inside the park. It only enters the park in a 2.5 km section, but it takes you to a viewpoint that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Also, it gives you access to two cultural aspects of the region, artisanal gold mining and indigenous culture, since this community is starting to move away from gold mining and appreciating the value in the natural and archeological history of their land.
Getting to Corcovado National Park Without Hiking
From Drake Bay, you can take a boat to either San Pedrillo or Sirena Ranger Stations. We highly recommend you to consider both visits, since you will have a very different feel of the park once you have seen these two wonderful areas. A visit to San Pedrillo it will only take 20 minutes, and it’s 1.5 hours to Sirena.
From Puerto Jimenez, you can either boat or fly into Sirena Ranger Station. The boat ride is long and not as easy as coming from Drake Bay. The flight will literally take you a few minutes, but pilots are usually more than willing to show you a bit of the park from the air.
If you want to reach La Leona Ranger Station or Los Patos Ranger Station you can take a bus or a taxi from Puerto Jimenez. Remember that you will reach a point where driving is not possible anymore, and from there you will have to hike to reach both stations. To La Leona it will be a 3.5 km long hike on the beach. To Los Patos, where the river doesn’t let the 4×4 taxi reach the station, you have to hike 5 km.
What to bring when hiking in Corcovado
- A water bottle or two, depending on the length of your hikes the availability of potable water
- Snacks (remember to bring a bag for collecting your trash)
- Small first aid kit (including a good set of bandages)
- A hat
- A small towel
- Good hiking shoes and/or rubber boots
- Good and comfortable rain poncho
- Mosquitoes repellent
- Your camera!
If you are spending the night at any of the stations, remember you must bring all of your camping gear, including tent and mosquito net. Only Sirena station offers prepared meals, so you also need to think about food and cooking. No trash can be left behind while inside the park.
The Weather at Corcovado
The weather in Corcovado is hot, rainy and very humid. The driest time of the year goes from mid-December to mid-April. It is rainier from mid-April to mid-December, with a strong peak in rainstorms during September and October.