The largest national park in Costa Rica, Corcovado National Park, is, according to National Geographic, the “most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity”. The park conserves primary forest as well as one of the few remaining bigger areas of lowland tropical rainforest in the world. A huge number of species live in Corcovado, among them endangered ones like Baird’s tapir. It’s possible to spend several days in the park and camp in designated areas but reservations must be made in advance as there’s only limited capacity.
How to Visit Corcovado National Park?
We planned on spending two or three days in the park but February is high season and there was no space anymore at the camps. So we had to look for another option to visit the park.
In Puerto Jiménez, the main town on Osa Peninsula, there are lots of tour operators that offer different tours in and around the park. Just ask around until you find a tour that seems right for you and your budget.
We found ours at Escondido Trex, in an unremarkable office with only a desk, a few chairs and a huge map of the Peninsula on the wall. The owner, Erick, gave us an outline of the two-day jungle tour which included a one-day visit to the national park and an overnight stay at his family’s small house in the jungle. The third day, back in Puerto Jiménez, we’d do a kayak tour. Everything sounded right and the next morning at 6 am we met our guide, Erick’s brother Juan Carlos, and headed to Matapalo at the tip of the Peninsula.
Into the Jungle
All along the way we stopped to see animals: two- and three-toed sloths (with babies), a collared anteater, all four types of monkeys native to Costa Rica (spider, squirrel, howler and white-headed capuchin monkey), and an agouti.
Not far from Matapalo, our guide parked the car somewhere in the forest and we hiked about 30 minutes to the brothers’ house in Piro where we would spend the night. A wonderful place. The house is very simple but it has everything you need: A kitchen, a garden with tomatoes, chili peppers, and other delicacies, a sink, a shower, and a toilet with amazing views.
Hiking in the Jungle
After lunch, we went for a hike in the primary forest around the house. The jungle here is so dense it’s almost impenetrable; you can nearly see the plants and trees growing and you know that there are animals hiding all around you. The forest here is much more pristine than the coastal forest in the national park and therefore much more interesting; here, you’re really in the jungle.
Next to the house there’s a platform where we slept and from where you can watch over a clearing and the forest, all the way to Golfito. In the morning, when there are no clouds, it’s even possible to see Panama’s highest mountain, Baru volcano. The rest of the day we spent watching toucans and other birds from the platform.
A Night in the Jungle
The night in the jungle is filled with sounds of all kinds. There are frogs, night hawks, cicadas, monkeys, bushes that move when an animal passes. And then there are eyes, staring into the dark, and, invisible if you don’t have a torch, many other animals such as spiders (like the beautiful blue tarantula) and snakes.
Before we went to sleep on the platform, the guide told us about other nocturnal animals that live here but are hardly ever seen: pumas, jaguars, and other big cats. Well then, good night! Hossam didn’t sleep a lot that night. In between the night hawk’s cries, there were just too many noises and, who knows, maybe a jaguar sneaking around the platform (which doesn’t have any walls and we just slept on a mattress on the floor) or a puma staring at us from behind a tree…
In the morning, just after sunrise, we were awoken by an earthquake and all the animals shouting and screaming. What a way to wake up. I need some coffee.
Corcovado National Park
After leaving Piro, we went to Corcovado National Park where we walked along the coast to a river and then back again. It’s a beautiful walk but as I said before, the jungle here is not the same. It’s secondary forest, which means it has been cut before and it’s not as dense as primary forest and there aren’t that many animals either. Also, if you just make a one-day trip in the national park, you get to walk in the park around noon and that’s about the worst time to observe animals since it’s the hottest time of the day.
The kayak tour was great; we didn’t see any dolphins but we did see a green sea turtle, a lot of birds, small rays, and we learned how to open a coconut without a machete. Survival in the jungle 101. No photos of the kayak trip though – we’re not really adept kayakers (but we didn’t capsize either) and the camera would’ve gotten wet for sure.