Few places on Earth are as wild, as rich, and as spectacular as Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park.

It’s secluded in the country’s far southwest, on the Osa Peninsula. National Geographic touts it as "the most biologically intense place on Earth". And they would know!

Only the truly devoted will reach this incredibly isolated park. Their reward is an oasis of incredible sights--pristine beaches, primary rainforest, waterfalls and rivers--and sightings, including humpback whales, nesting sea turtles, and an array of endangered animals, including jaguars, Central American squirrel monkeys, and Baird’s tapir.


Corcovado National Park at a glance

Corcovado National Park covers 105,168 land acres and 8,288 marine acres. The park was established on October 24, 1975, making it Costa Rica’s 10th national park.

Unlike most of Costa Rica’s parks, Corcovado has six entrance points, located at a great distance (several hours in a car, due to circuitous driving routes) from each other. They are: San Pedrillo, Sirena, La Leona, El Tigre, Los Planes, and Los Patos. The four most visited ranger stations are Sirena, San Pedrillo, La Leona and Los Patos.

Facilities include potable water, public restrooms, public telephones, and an information desk at all stations. There are no facilities between stations, so accidents en route can be quite dangerous. Food service is available at Sirena and El Tigre sectors; prior reservation required. The Sirena sector has a landing strip for small planes.

Camping is available for $4 (+ $15 park fee) at San Pedrillo and Sirena; reservations are required, and you must bring your own camping gear (including tent). Maximum stay: 4 nights.

What to do in Corcovado National Park

Trail hiking is a favourite pastime at Corcovado National Park. Long-distance trails include the Leona-Sirena route and Patos-Sirena route. Short-distance trails include paths originating in San Pedrillo, Sirena, El Tigre, Los Patos, and La Leona (trails lead to turtle nesting beaches). All ranger stations offer trails through primary and secondary rainforest.

Bird and wildlife watching are very popular, as Corcovado is home to exotic and endangered animals, including Baird’s tapir, northern tamandua anteaters, tayras, and wildcats, including ocelots, pumas and jaguars. In Río Sirena bull shark and American crocodile sightings are common.

Sea turtles can be spotted at their nesting site on Playa Llorona, which is connected from San Pedrillo by trails that weave through mangrove forest.

Horseback rides and boating are common from both Puerto Jimenez and Drake Bay. Corcovado National Park’s ranger stations are extremely isolated and often difficult to reach by vehicle, so reaching the park is a journey in itself.

Learn about land use from local palmito (heart of palm) growers, cocoa growers, and even gold miners who make their living from the land in the area.

“Biologically Intense”

National Geographic has called Corcovado National Park "the most biologically intense place on Earth" and for very good reason! The park is home to at least 375 bird species, 124 mammal species, 40 freshwater fish species, 71 reptile species, 46 amphibian species, and 8,000 insect species.

When to visit Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park has two basic climate zones: the coast and the highlands, which climb to about 2,565 feet (782m) above sea level. The coast sees about 138 inches (3,500mm) of rain a year, while the highlands are significantly wetter, with 217 inches (5,500mm) of rain yearly.

The dry (or less rainy--it is a rainforest!) season spans mid-December through mid-April. The wet season lasts mid-April through mid-December. Visitors choose Corcovado National Park year-round, although it’s important to note that the Sirena station is closed in October, and San Pedrillo is closed May 1 through December 1. While the rainy season is, of course, wetter, this is also prime whale-watching season (July-November; also December-March).

Corcovado National Park wildlife

Along the coast and lowlands, Corcovado National Park is mostly primary lowland tropical rainforest. A 1930s gold rush and the logging industry did cause some deforestation, so parts of the park are secondary rainforest. The park’s highlands climb to about 2,500 feet in altitude.

Wildlife reigns supreme in Corcovado National Park. The park is home to at least 375 bird species--white-crested coquette, parakeets, harpy eagles, turquoise cotinga, and various trogons, to name a few. Corcovado is also home to Central America’s largest populations of scarlet macaws and great curassows.

An impressive 124 mammal species inhabit Corcovado NP--think bats, pumas, Baird’s tapirs, anteaters, white-lipped peccaries, and four monkey species (spider, white-faced, howler, and squirrel).

Other park inhabitants are 40 freshwater fish species, 71 reptile species (including pit vipers), 46 amphibian species (many of them tree frogs), and 8,000 insect species.

In the water, humpback whales get top billing, but sightings also extend to sei whales, killer whales (orcas), pilot whales, beaked whales, spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, rough-tooth dolphins, Risso's dolphins, and spotted dolphins.


How to get to Corcovado National Park

Travel distance and times will depend on the station and point of entry. Drake Bay is located 228 miles (6+ hours) southwest of San José. Puerto Jimenez is 233 miles (5.5 hours) southwest of San José. There are also multiple daily flights from San José to Sierpe, Drake Bay and Puerto Jimenez.

If you’re not camping in the park, you’ll be staying at one of the towns of Sierpe, Drake Bay, or Puerto Jimenez, which means lengthy day trips into the very isolated, often difficult-to-reach ranger stations.

Since there are no roads into the park, you must arrive by air, hike, boat or horseback, often on trails that take 1-15 hours to access on foot. Overnight trips are common, and must be arranged well in advance with a guide or tour operator.

In order to protect Corcovado National Park’s incredible biodiversity (and the people who visit), visits to this park are more regulated than elsewhere. For example, many hikes may only be done at low tide, as higher rivers are not fordable, and are filled with sharks and crocs. Swimming is prohibited at several beaches due to abnormally strong currents, aggressive bull sharks and crocs, and for the protection of sea turtles. Guides are strongly recommended, and visitors should always ask for recommendations and regulations from rangers before setting out on a hike.

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