Parque Nacional Corcovado
For many Corcovado National Park is the most magnificent jewel in the priceless green crown that is Costa Rica. The park protects roughly one third of the Osa Peninsula (42,469 ha). After Monteverde and Arenal, Corcovado National Park is probably the most recorded and researched part of Costa Rica. National Geographic called it “the most biologically intense place on the planet” (as everyone in the region is more than happy to remind you), and the BBC among countless other esteemed naturalists have filmed and written about the delights of the area, and with good reason. Although selectively logged until its creation in 1975, and only finally cleared of gold prospectors in 1985, the national park protects the largest area of humid tropical rainforest in the country.
For wildlife watchers the place is a paradise, for people who want to hike on their own it offers one of the few opportunities in Costa Rica for serious, long-distance treks through lowland rainforest that really stretch your legs. To follow the coastal path from San Pedrino to La Leona will take at least three days - without allowing for extra time spent exploring shorter trails close to La Sirena.Wildlife
As ever it's the combination of temperatures, in the high 20s, and rainfall, up to 5.5 m annually, that has created eight different lifezones. Cloudforest on some of the higher peaks gives way to montane forest, which covers over half the park. With swamp forest around Corcovado lagoon and mangrove forests along the river estuaries there are over 500 species of tree in the park including the 70-m-high silk cotton or ceiba tree - probably the largest in the country.
Wildlife is equally diverse. Corcovado is home to the largest population of scarlet macaws in the country. All six cats in Costa Rica are found in the park, and the beach to the north at Llorona is used as a nesting site by four species of sea turtles. The wildlife inventory is staggering - 140 species of mammals, 367 of birds, 177 amphibians and reptiles and 40 freshwater fish - but you'll need a guide, patience and a good deal of luck to tick significant numbers off your list.
About 40 minutes beyond Carate is
station. It's about 18 km (six hours) from Carate to Sirena which you can make in one day as long as the tides don't work against you - check with the wardens so you don't get stuck. From La Leona to the end of Playa Madrigal is another 2½-hour walk, part sandy, part rock with some rock pools and rusty shipwrecks looking like modern art sculptures. At points the trail rises steeply into the forest and you are surrounded by mangroves, almonds and coconut palms. A couple of
rivers break the beachline. The first,
, is only about 15 minutes beyond La Leona.
Clear, cool and deep enough for swimming about 200 m upstream, it's a refreshing stop if you're walking out and a good place to spot wildlife.
The best place for viewing wildlife - although increasingly popular in the dry season - is
, where there are several short trails lasting from 30 minutes to a few hours exploring the network of paths inland and Corcovado lagoon. It's definitely worth staying a couple of nights at La Sirena ranger's station, if time allows. Several visitors to Costa Rica have said that staying here is the highlight of their trip.
From La Sirena you can head inland on a trail to
(20 km, six to nine hours depending on conditions) passing several rivers full of reptiles on the way. The ranger station at Los Patos has a balcony which is a great observation point for birds especially the redheaded woodpecker. From Los Patos you can carry on to the park border, before criss-crossing the Río Rincón to
, a settlement on the opposite side of the Peninsula (13 km, six more hours). From La Palma there is transport to Puerto Jiménez.
Alternatively, from La Sirena you can walk north along the coast to
, with waterfalls nearby, continuing north on a forest trail and then along the beach to the station at
on the edge of the park. You can stay here and eat with the rangers if you've made a reservation.