Boasting 13 major ecosystems, including lowland rain forest, highland cloud forest, costal marine and beach habitats, there can be little doubt that the Corcovado National Park is quite simply in a league of its own when it comes to presenting the backpacking opportunity of a lifetime.
Given that the park is both wet and rugged for most of the year, it makes for a unique place to stop and admire the many endangered species you’ll find here such as Scarlet Macas, Harpy Eagles and White-lipped Peccaries. You’ll also find all four of the monkey species, over 40 species of frogs and dozens of different snake types, so always be very careful where you tread!
Sharks can be seen very close to beaches at Corcovado. Photo by Christian Haugen
To truly immerse yourself in the whole experience of Corcovado National Park you can also stand beneath stunning waterfalls or take advantage of the park’s 23 mile stretch of beautiful beaches – just remain mindful of the hammerhead sharks (although there’s never been a reported attack here). Most rivers within the park can be extremely dangerous, particularly at high tide and for novice explorers who might not be familiar with tidal activity. Rio Sirena, for example, is locally renowned as being one of the most treacherous crossings, particularly given that it flows directly into the unforgiving Laguna Corcovado in a very remote part of the park. It’s also inhabited by bull sharks which are often seen at the river mouth during high tide and smaller sized American crocodiles.
The National Park welcome campers of all abilities but overnight visitors are reminded that an official guide must be with you at all times. If you’re planning an overnight visit then simply book in Puerto Jimenez which you’ll find on the east side of the peninsula and if you want to order any basic meals then you’re well advised to book these a good few days in advance – just don’t expect anything too elaborate in terms of culinary delights. Food here is basic and supplies are naturally limited. The Park itself has six ranger stations; five of which are inside the park and have designated camping areas, water and telephone contact. These are certainly advisable for the less experienced traveller and are a good base to relax with your guide before planning the next day ahead.
You can enter the park itself via Carate, which is around 26 miles south west of Puerto Jimenez. From here you can enter the park on foot at the La Leona Ranger station (which again has basic camping facilities, including an outdoor shower).
The Sirena ranger station is a further 9 miles west along the beach but be sure to take advice on when to tackle it since several rock formations can quite easily block the way at high tide – and often without much notice. The camping facilities here include an old bunkhouse and there’s also an airstrip, should you choose to travel into the park by plane. Either way, be sure to book either facility well in advance.
Walking on the beach towards Sirena Ranger Station at Corcovado. Photo by Christian Haugen
After a night at the Sirena ranger station you can continue mostly along the beach (although again, only during low tide) to the San Pedriollo ranger station. It’s about 14 miles in total so, for the more experienced, can be achieved within a day. Here you’ll find basic bunk accommodation and showers although you may, of course, wish to sleep under the stars (where your experienced guide permits it). Just be sure to protect against mosquito bites since these are virtually unavoidable.
From this base you can then turn north and head inland past Laguna Corcovado towards the Los Patos ranger station (approximately 10 miles) or alternatively carry on for a further 8 miles up to the main road at La Palma. In all honesty, you can make the trail whatever you want it to be but always be sure to ask for guidance and advice from the rangers so that you don’t find yourself quite literally stuck in the middle of nowhere when night falls. New visitors to the park often make the mistake of over-estimating what they believe they’ll achieve within just one day so be sure not to fall foul of this taking into external accounts such as fatigue, the weather conditions, river crossings and photo opportunities etc. Also remember that there are dangerous river crossings in Corcovado, some of which are occupied by crocodiles and sharks. Always try and cross rivers at the shallowest point and as far upstream as possible. If you have any doubts about river crossings then always be sure to consult with your guide.
Crocodile in Corcovado National Park
For visitors wanting to gain access into the park on a ‘day only’ basis then there are several lodging options nearby on both the north and south sides of the park – otherwise you can also fly into it, which makes for a truly unique photo opportunity in its’ own right.
One trail experience recommended trial for ‘day only’ visitors to the park is the relatively new trial in Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre. At the present time, Sendero El Tigre is the most accessible trial into the park and given that it’s only 5 miles long can easily be completed within a day. In fact, the average time takes between 6 and 8 hours, making it a much more accessible trail for those not physically able to tackle the much longer or overnight ones.
The best time to visit Corcovado National Park is probably between January and April when it tends to receive the least amount of rain (on average!). Between May and December the park tends to receive the most precipitation which can often leave some of the trails unrecognisable so always be sure to do your homework in advance to hopefully avoid any disappointment. That said, there really isn’t a bad time to visit the park – it makes for an unforgettable experience all year round – but depending on what you want to see might require a visit at a specific time of year or during a certain season.
Cover image credits to Bernard Dupont .
You may also like to read about other national parks in Costa Rica:
Other articles on Costa Rica that will help you plan your trip: