The welcoming committee at Corcovado isn’t the kind you meet everyday.
As our boat docked on the northwestern edge of the Osa Peninsula, a group of five White Capuchin Monkeys ran out from the trees, playfully greeting us as we disembarked. They would disappear moments later, before anyone had time to take out their camera, but their appearance would set the stage for our visit to Corcovado—one that was teeming with life and wonder.
Corcovado National Park has been dubbed by National Geographic as ‘one of the most biologically intense places in the world’. With thirteen different ecosystems and some 2% of the world’s biodiversity, it’s hardly any wonder why. What’s more, Corcovado National Park is the last remaining Pacific lowland rainforest of sustainable size, boasting the region’s densest population of tapirs, jaguars, and scarlet macaws.
When we learned these astonishing facts, we knew there was just no way we could spend two months traveling around Costa Rica without experiencing the legendary park for ourselves. But it’s no easy feat to arrive at Corcovado National Park. A lack of infrastructure surrounding the park, the restriction of commercial development, and the necessity to obtain various park permits means that even the most intrepid of travelers must do some extra research prior to arrival.
As such, we looked into all the different ways we could experience Corcovado. Below we outline the various options for accessing and hiking the national park, along with the pros and cons to each alternative.
Stay With Style
This is ultimately the route we chose, and honestly we’re so very glad that we did. You’ll have to pay a bit more for the luxury and convenience, but it will streamline the entire process of arriving at the park, and certainly enhance the park experience.
There are a variety of accommodation options that are situated outside Corcovado. We chose Casa Corcovado, an eco-luxury resort that’s just about as close to the park as you can get. Because of Casa Corcovado’s close proximity, many of the animals that can be found inside Corcovado National Park also make appearances on the hotel grounds; a highlight of our time was spent at the hotel, sipping on coffee under a pavilion as rain bucketed down around us, joining in harmony with the sounds of the rainforest. We can appreciate camping just as much as the next person, but when you can enjoy a similar experience from the comfort of a well-equipped bungalow, well… you have our attention.
The well-trained guides at Casa Corcovado led us on a half-day excursion into the National Park. We hiked to San Pedrillo Ranger Station, along the beach and through a muddy jungle trail. The wildlife was spectacular, and the majority of the photos in our final Wildlife in Costa Rica post were taken during our time in and around Corcovado National Park.
It’s important to note that Casa Corcovado is a self-sustaining eco-luxury lodge. Since its beginning in 1994, the lodge has set an example of responsible and sustainable tourism, making great efforts to show that alternative energy sources are not only practical but actually the best option for remote locations. Casa Corcovado has won the prestigious 5 Leaves Award for sustainable tourism, and continues to serve as a leader in the community. The owner of Casa Corcovado is also the co-founder and president of the non-profit Corcovado Foundation, which works to preserve the natural heritage of Corcovado for future generations. Our recent visits to off-the-grid eco-resorts in Costa Rica has truly peaked our interest in green travel, and the more we learn, the more we want to do our part to support the movement.
The pros to staying at a resort like Casa Corcovado are obvious. Luxury accommodation, convenience to the park, and all the paperwork/park permits are obtained for you. Casa Corcovado thought of all the details, even provided hiking boots, lunch and water for our excursion! What’s more, because of the close proximity to the park, your entire time at the resort feels like a bit of an extended stay in the National Park itself.
The cons to accessing the park through one of the neighboring hotels is that it’s not in the budget for all travelers, and of course it lacks a bit of the adventure that a DIY approach would encompass. You also don’t get to venture into the heart of the park if you want to make it back to the comfort of your bed by nightfall. Our next trip to Corcovado we would like to explore deeper, so we will likely utilize the option below.
Arrive Via Puerto Jimenez
Puerto Jimenez doesn’t offer much to tourists, but it is the hub for arranging permits and guides for the National Park. Specifically, if you want to hike all the way to Sirena Station (a 3 day hike at minimum), then this is where you should arrive. Here is what you’ll need to know:
Head to the Parks and Recreations office to book your ‘pass’ into the park, as well as your spot at the ranger stations.
It is a $10 daily fee for foreigners, with a maximum allowance of 5 days in the park. To stay in the dorm rooms at the ranger station is $8; to camp is $4. Meals must be ordered in advance and cost between $20-$25 per meal. Alternatively, you can bring your own food to cook, but you will have to carry it. All reservations must be made in advance and are limited, so it is possible that you could arrive in Puerto Jimenez only to wait a few days before there is an opening for your group. This is especially relevant if traveling during high season or with a large amount of people. Bookings can be made in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, but reservations aren’t final until payment ahs been received, which you will have to wire to the Parks and Recreations office.
If arriving via Puerto Jimenez, you will likely follow some or all of the following itinerary:
Day 1: Take a taxi/bus/hitchhike to Carate. From Carate, walk 3.5km to the Leona Station.
Day 2: Hike 16km from Leona Station to Sirena (approximately 7 hours). The hike is primarily along the beach, although there is also a shaded section inland. It’s particularly important to know the tides. There is a river crossing, and during high tide crocodiles and bull sharks call the river home.
Day 3: Hike back the way you came. Alternatively, hike to Los Patos, 20 km, or 8 hours hiking.
As you can imagine, this is a hike, not a walk. You will be carrying all your gear on your back, including food, water, camping gear, etc. We didn’t follow this route ourselves, so we can’t give any first-hand accounts or advice. However, if you want to experience the depths of the park, this is the route for you. As mentioned previously, it’s also the route we will take if we ever return to the park.
It’s highly advisable to hire a tour guide to take you into the park. It’s not completely necessary, and travelers successfully venture into the park on a regular basis. However, on all our jungle trekking, we wouldn’t have seen anything without the expert eye of a guide. Keep in mind that in Corcovado is particularly rugged. There have been stories of hikers getting stranded or lost, and we heard from a local that there are deaths in the park every year. A knowledgeable guide is a fantastic resource. (But on that note, do your research and be sure to hire a reliable and reputable guide.)
Pros: You get to venture into the heart of Corcovado National Park, and exponentially increase your chances for wildlife encounters. It’s difficult, but it’s a true adventure, one that won’t easily be replicated any time soon.
Cons: There’s a bit of planning that goes into a successful multi-day hike. If you don’t already have necessary gear and equipment, then this isn’t necessarily a budget option either. You’re going to sweat. A lot.
Arrive Via Drake Bay
Drake Bay is a popular hub for tourists who want easy access to Corcovado National Park, but also the convenience and affordability of staying in a small town. Almost all the hotels in the area offer guided day trips to Corcovado National Park. If you’re interested in spending multiple days in the park, the Corcovado Information Center can also arrange tours. Access to the park is primarily via boat, so Drake Bay is a more difficult place to arrange a ‘DIY’ excursion into the park. We do believe it is possible, but from our research Puerto Jimenez would serve as a better place to base oneself.
Pros: The hotels in Drake Bay are more accessible, and thus less expensive than some of the luxury eco-resorts around the park. If you only want to spend one day in Corcovado National Park and split the rest of your time at the beach, whale watching, snorkeling, etc, then Drake Bay could provide all the opportunities you’re looking for.
Cons: You won’t have the same immersive experience at Drake Bay as you would at one of the closer resorts or in the National Park itself. Activities such as SCUBA diving at Cano Island and whale watching can also be done at the closer resorts, like Casa Corcovado, for added convenience.
Corcovado National Park lived up to all the hype—so much that we are already planning our return to experience more. If you are in Costa Rica, it is an experience not to be missed.