Corcovado National Park Travel Guide
Corcovado National Park is home to a stunning array of wildlife, much of it endangered. Jaguars nearly wiped out in the rest of the Americas, thrive in the park’s dense forests as do several other feline species, among them puma, Ocilla, and ocelot. All four of Costa Rica’s monkey species – squirrel monkey, white-faced capuchin, howler monkey and spider monkey – can be found in Corcovado.
Many other exotic and rare (and sometimes downright weird) mammals call the park home, including the rhinoceros-like Baird’s tapir, sloth, anteater, and peccary. Many species of snakes, including the lethal bushmaster and fer-de-lance, are common throughout the park. Large populations of crocodile call Corcovado’s many rivers home, which are also a favorite hang out of bull sharks (don’t even think about going for a swim with them). Birdwatchers will rejoice; the park is home to hundreds of species of exotic birds, including Costa Rica’s greatest concentration of scarlet macaws.
The incredible cast of animals living in the park is due in large part to the variety of vegetation it possesses. Throughout the park, the terrain varies from low tropical rainforest to cloud forest, palm swamp and freshwater mangrove (to name a few).
View Corcovado National Park in a larger map
Corcovado National Park is open to the public year-round (though parts are occasionally closed during the wettest months of July through November) and can be visited for a single day trip or multiple day excursions. You can buy 1-day tours to Corcovado National Park in Puerto Jiménez (purple pin on map) but from this place, it’s a 2-hour ride to Carate and then 40 min walk just to reach the park. Also, you can buy tour in the Carate (Orange Mark) average cost of a tour is around $85 per person from the Carate and more expensive from Puerto Jiménez. Also, you can buy tour in Bahía Drake (green pin on map). As of March 2017, admission to Corcovado National Park costs around 15 USD per person per day but often times entry fee is included in the price of the tour. If you wish to spend multiple days in the park, you can either camp (in designated areas) or sleep in one of the ranger stations equipped with basic dorms ($30 per night).
The park’s numerous trails all begin at one ranger station and end at another. The most popular and accessible route is from Sirena to Los Patos and then on to La Leona (or vice versa), which allows you to begin and end your hike near Puerto Jiménez. The trek between Sirena and San Pedrillo is the longest and most demanding trail in the park. The first 20 kilometers of this hike take place along the beach under the hot sun, which can be exhausting.
The trails are rugged and it’s very easy to lose them, particularly after a river crossing. Unless you have the extensive wilderness experience, hiring a local guide is highly recommended. This will minimize your risk of getting lost, as well as help you spot and identify wildlife. At the very least, hike in groups and always check with park rangers before heading out about trail conditions; closures are common during the wettest months (July to November). The best hiking is during the dry season (December to April), during which time all the trails are open.
Attention: As of Feb 1, 2014, all park visitors must be accompanied by a professional guide, even for single day tours.
Exploring Corcovado National Park
Sirena to Los Patos Trail
This inland route takes you 18 kilometers (12 miles) through the heart of Corcovado and takes eight or nine hours. Peccary sightings are very common on this trail. The first 12 kilometers (8 miles) are relatively flat and require fording a couple of rivers on the way to the Corcovado Lagoon. From here on, the route is mostly uphill, which can be exhausting (and a good reason to consider doing this hike in the opposite direction). As you get near Los Patos a beautiful waterfall provides a wonderful cooling off a shower. You can camp at Los Patos, or trek another 14 kilometers to the village of La Palma. From here you can catch a bus to Puerto Jiménez, just a few kilometers down the road (buses also run from La Palma to San José).
Sirena to La Leona Trail
This 16-kilometer hike follows the shoreline through coastal forest and along deserted, pristine beaches. Just south of the Sirena ranger station you’ll need to cross Río Claro. This trek takes around six hours. You can camp at La Leona, or hike another 4 kilometers to Carate, where you can stay in a lodge or take a taxi back to Puerto Jiménez.
Sirena to San Pedrillo Trail
The trail between Sirena and San Pedrillo is the longest and toughest in Corcovado, covering 24 kilometers in 10 to 13 hours. The first 17 kilometers are along the beach; the soft sand and intense sun can be grueling, especially if you’re carrying a big pack. There are three rivers to cross on this trail. Be sure to time your trek to avoid high tide by departing around two hours before low tide. Crossing the rivers is extremely difficult during high tide, not to mention bull sharks are often present in the waters at this time. The first river crossing you’ll come to, Río Sirena, is around a kilometer from Sirena. It’s notorious as a hotspot for bull sharks and crocodiles and should not be crossed at high tide. The Río Sirena becomes impassable during the rainy season and as a result, is only open from December to April.
Getting There & Away
As mentioned above, the main entry points to the park are the towns of Puerto Jiménez or Bahía Drake. Puerto Jiménez is a lot more developed; it’s got plenty of accommodations, from budget hostels up to luxurious lodges, a wide range of restaurants and even a few bars. Bahía Drake is very remote and there’s not much there besides the basics.
While Bahía Drake has beautiful natural surroundings, I’d recommend Puerto Jiménez or Carate as being a better choice of the entry point to the park. You’ll be getting your fill of stunning nature either way once you explore the park and if you realize you’ve forgotten something at the last minute you can pick it up in Puerto Jiménez, whereas you’re probably out of luck if you’re in Bahía Drake.
NatureAir and Sansa each provide daily flights to and from San José, which cost around 120 USD (one-way). There are two buses (each way) between San José and Puerto Jiménez, which takes around eight hours and costs around 10 USD. If you wish to drive yourself (or a hire a driver), it takes around five hours to get from San José to Puerto Jiménez.
NatureAir and Sansa also have regular flights to the Drake airstrip, and also cost around 120 USD. Since Bahía Drake is so remote, getting there by land is difficult and will probably require you have your own 4WD vehicle.