The Corcovado National Park, situated on the Osa Peninsula, is the biggest and wildest national park in Costa Rica, frequently mentioned as one of the biologically most diverse places on earth.
Since a couple of years now it can only be accessed in the company of an official guide.
There are two major hubs where the Corcovado is accessible from, Puerto Viejo on the south-eastern and Drake Bay Town on the north-western coast of the peninsula. In this two village there are several small local businesses affiliated with the official park authorities organizing guided day-tours. This tour includes the transportation to and back from the “entrance” of the park, a picnic style lunch and an official guide – a skilled local ranger – at the price of around $90-$100.
I was staying in the fascinating Drake Bay area, so I booked a day tour to Corcovado starting early in the morning from Drake Bay Town, where we got on a relatively small, old motor boat – it was about twelve of us tourists with two guides and the captain with two of his assistants who helped boarding and leaving the boat.
Drake Bay is reasonably well protected from the open sea, so the boarding was smooth, but as we moved out a few miles towards the open Pacific, the waves were already massive in size. It was a quite bumpy 40 minute ride following the coast line towards the Playa Corcovado – a long secluded beach which serves as one of the entrances to the park.
As we started to approach the Playa Corcovado the waves were still big, and as we got closer to the coast and the first line of breaking waves, the captain was struggling to keep the boat always between two waves. These large breaking waves would have easily thrown the boat on its side, so the captain had to stay between the waves until we were close enough to the shore where the waves actually flatten out enough to not mean a problem.
Where we jumped off from the boat, the sea was still a few feet deep so we had to walk the rest till the shore.
As soon as all of us arrived at the shore and we started to take our trekking shoes on, one of our guides spotted a tapir walking on the beach in the distance and after everyone checked it with a binocular, it disappeared behind a curve of the beach in the horizon.
We separated in two groups led by one-one guide, and our guide decided to follow the tapir along the beach, hoping we could take a closer look at the wild animal.
After a few minutes of walking, we were lucky enough to catch up with the tapir and saw it while it was just crossing a small river flowing into the ocean. The tapir was not scared at all, it absolutely ignored us which was a bit surprising, so we could get as close to it as we could. Our guide saw some scars on it’s back, probably caused by a puma, or a jaguar – as he described. It was a beautiful, majestic male specimen.
The guide told us that it is already used to tourist groups, thats why it is not scared.
After we took a close look, the tapir went towards on its way into the bush, so we also left and entered the so called secondary forest of Corcovado.
The secondary forest is between the beach and the inner parts of the Corcovado, a bit drier and less dense than the primary forest. Actually we spent the whole day in the secondary forest, as it is much easier to hike and spot animals there.
Besides the initial success of spotting the tapir on the beach, we saw a large group of howler monkeys in the forest crawling closely on the branches above us with a couple of babies, a group of capuchin monkeys and a group of spider monkeys later also. Of course we also saw a lot of interesting insects, the gorgeous blue morpho butterfly, large spiders, termites and leafcutter ants.
We also spotted a plethora of different bird species, a sloth high up in the trees, and later a scarlet macaw at the beach when we were waiting for the boats to arrive to take us back.
There are several types of felines living in the park besides the elusive and notorious jaguar; the puma, and smaller cats like the ocelot, the margay and the jaguarundi. Unfortunately the jaguars are really rare nowadays even in the Corcovado, and while they are the largest cats of all, they mean no harm to humans whereas pumas can be potentially dangerous.
As these cats are mostly nocturnal hunters – except the jaguarundis – and generally shy creatures, there is not much chance to see them, and we were not lucky enough either.
The trekking was about four hours long, with a short stop at the Sirena Ranger Station before we headed back towards the beach where we had a picnic style late lunch before we left the national park with the motor boat.
While walking on the footpaths in the secondary forest we came across a couple of other groups, which was a bit disillusive, and made you feel that this part of the Corcovado is maybe a bit too busy, a beaten track.
But on the other hand, it is well worth the price, as we did see a lot of animals and some beautiful beach and jungle scenery, but personally my favourite part was the boat ride to the national park, and the parts right next to the beach, and of course the friendly tapir.
While the park offers overnight lodging in the ranger station for tourists also (besides the researchers), the limited number of space and the high demand pushed the prices quite high, and these are usually pre-booked far ahead, and I am not exactly sure how more deep tourists are even allowed in the Corcovado, as the inner part of the park is highly protected area.