Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica is known as one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. A place where jaguars still run wild, where scarlet macaws soar above the treelines, where sloths and coatis share the trees, and where the roar of the howler monkeys permeates through the rainforest.
Corcovado National Park is the star attraction of the Osa Peninsula and the best place to spot wildlife in Costa Rica. Visiting Corcovado National Park is well worth it if you’re an animal-lover.
What to See in Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica
Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica was established in 1975 when the former president of Costa Rica declared it a protected area to ward off gold mining operations. The park encompasses an area of 424 square kilometres (164 sc miles) and conserves the largest primary forest on the American Pacific coastline.
Corcovado, Costa Rica is home to an abundance of wildlife, ranging from the elusive jaguars, ocelots, pumas, and endangered tapirs, to more common mammals, including 4 different types of monkeys (squirrel monkey, white-faced capuchin monkey, mantled howler, and spider monkey), 2 types of sloths, collared peccary, northern tamandua, silky anteater, and coatis.
The American crocodile, spectacled caiman, and numerous snakes, frogs, and other insects frequent the park’s rivers, while hermit crabs dominate the coastal areas. Many insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals are easy to spot within just a few hours inside the park, but some, particularly the felines, are reliant on some good luck.
How to Visit Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica is opened to the public and can be visited on a day trip or on an overnight trip. However, all visitors must be accompanied by a certified guide.
Park Layout and Ranger Stations
There are 4 ranger stations inside the park: Sirena, San Pedrillo, La Leona, and Los Patos, with tourist trails winding from each one. Los Patos, La Leona, and San Pedrillo stations are located on the edges of the park, while Sirena is in the very heart of the park, connected by walking trails to La Leona and Los Patos.
In the past, it was also possible to follow a trail from San Pedrillo to Sirena, however, due to the dangerous conditions of that trail (it required walking along the beach in the blazing sun for some 8 hours), that trail was recently closed to the public.
There is another entrance into the park via El Tigre trail in the East. However, that portion of the park is not connected to any of the ranger stations and thus is only accessible as a day hike.
Sirena station is surrounded by secondary rainforest, and thus attracts lots of animals to its trails. Here you’ll find monkeys, sloths, coatis, caymans, varieties of birds, and if you are lucky, you might even spot an endangered Baird’s Tapir. For anyone hiking in Corcovado National Park, this is a good option to spot the native fauna.
San Pedrillo Station
San Pedrillo station isn’t as rich in wildlife, but what it lacks in fauna, it makes up in flora. This is a primary rainforest area where anyone hiking in Corcovado National Park will get a chance to discover a hundred year old trees (if not older) and unique plants, and learn lots about the ecosystem in the park. During our visit, San Pedrillo was also the region of the park with the highest chance to spot a puma, and while we weren’t lucky on our tour, a number of Corcovado tours before us were.
La Leona Station
La Leona station, located on the southern side of the park, doesn’t have as many trails as the other two, but it is possible to hike up Leona Creek to get away from the beach and explore the forest habitat.
Los Patos Station
Los Patos station is reachable via La Palma community from Puerto Jimenez or via a long 8-10 hour hike from Sirena station. It is only visited on overnight or multi-day treks. Los Patos lies within a montane tropical and cloud forest and has a number of trails opened to the public. It is said to offer lots of opportunities for wildlife spotting.
The ranger stations have basic facilities and are used for overnight stays in the park.
Sirena station is the most developed of them all. It has a restaurant on site (albeit an expensive one) and bunk bed style accommodation with mosquito nets and sheets.
In January 2017, the Association of Integral Development (ADI) Corcovado, Costa Rica was given permits to upgrade the lodging and food facilities at the station.
The ADI is committed to creating an infrastructure that is beneficial to the surrounding communities, and they have already begun construction. The new facilities will accommodate upwards of 70 people during Corcovado tours, as well as include new washrooms, showers, and an upgraded kitchen, and dining room.
The other stations are more basic and require camping and cooking supplies, along with food to be brought in from outside the park.
For anyone hiking in Corcovado National Park, the trails inside the park are fairly flat and are easy to explore (especially because most of the time on your Corcovado National Park tours you’ll be moving at a snail’s speed while gawking at the wildlife around you).
El Tigre Trail
And finally, El Tigre trail. While not a station itself, El Tigre trail starts outside the park with a steep 1-hour climb and then levels out into a variable, up and down terrain. In total, the 8 km loop takes about 7-8 hours.
El Tigre is not an area full of mammals, but it is teeming with insects, frogs, snakes, and other crawlies. Just for the diversity, it’s worth a trek for anyone visiting Corcovado National Park.
The community where the trail begins, Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, was once a gold mining town. At its height, the town was home to over 2000 residents, but once the gold dried up from the river, many residents turned to mining or hunting within the boundaries of the park to supplement their income.
Eventually, the Conversation Association of Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre was formed to protect the area and promote eco-tourism. Amazingly, today many of those former gold miners and hunters have turned into guides for Corcovado tours and advocates for their natural surroundings.
Corcovado National Park Tours
Day trips to the park are by far the most popular option when it comes to Corcovado National Park tours. Particularly among those that are limited in their time in Costa Rica. All ranger stations and trails can be explored on a day trip, but where you go and what you see will essentially depend on where your Corcovado National Park tours depart from.
From Drake Bay:
Day tours to Sirena Station and San Pedrillo Station can be organized through a number of companies in Drake Bay. All tours leave early in the morning and navigate to and from Sirena or San Pedrillo by boat (roughly 30 mins to San Pedrillo and 1.5 hr to Sirena).
Overnight tours are offered to Sirena and San Pedrillo Station. Some spend the night in Sirena (in bunk bed accommodation), while others camp in San Pedrillo. Overnight Corcovado National Park tours to Sirena are usually a bit more expensive as the accommodation and meal prices in Sirena are set and are not cheap.
For our experience on an overnight trek from Drake Bay to Sirena and San Pedrillo Station, read the post: A Journey to one of the most biodiverse places on earth – Our visit to Corcovado National Park
If you are looking to take a Corcovado Tour out of Drake Bay, we highly recommend Corcovado Information Centre, run by Kenneth and his team of guides. This is the most well-known company in Drake Bay and one that comes with great reviews not just from us but also from other travelers. Their day tours are $80-90 and overnight tours are $280-$325 USD.
From Puerto Jimenez:
Sirena station and La Leona are the only 2 ranger stations that you can reach from Puerto Jimenez. You could technically reach Los Patos as well, but only through a special 3N/4D Corcovado National Park tour. Again, day tours are the most popular way to experience the park from Corcovado.
Day Tours take visitors to La Leona station. You will travel by car to Carate and walk through the forest and along a beach path to reach the ranger station.
Once there, you’ll explore the area near the station and get ready to head back. While the trail to La Leona is flat and is considered to be easy, by the time you get back to Puerto Jimenez that evening, you will have hiked for well over 16km (10 miles).
Overnight Corcovado National Park tours from Puerto Jimenez arrive in the park via La Leona and continue onwards until they reach Sirena station, where they stay overnight. They depart the following morning via the same route.
Multi-Day Corcovado National Park tours can commence in La Leona or in Los Patos and follow the La Leona-Sirena-Los Patos route in either direction.
Puerto Jimenez has a much better infrastructure than Drake Bay, and thus many more operators that offer day and overnight tours to Corcovado National Park. Selecting good operators in Puerto Jimenez can be overwhelming.
So we recommend going through a local eco-certified agency called Osa Wild. They use local certified guides and can organize tours to Corcovado and many other activities in the area.
What to Pack While You’re Visiting Corcovado National Park
Day Trip Packing List
If you are just visiting the park on a day trip, you don’t need much. Prepare for a hot and muggy day if you are visiting in the dry season or for a wet and rainy day if you are brave enough to make your way to Corcovado during the rainy season.
During the dry season temperatures rarely drop below 27 degrees Celsius, and the rainy season usually brings temperatures closer to 30 degrees.
During the rainy season, be wary that the trails can get quite muddy and slippery. If storms are persistent, sometimes the rivers in Corcovado National Park overflow and become uncrossable.
READ MORE: Best time to visit Costa Rica
Pack a big refillable water bottle like Hydro Flask or a Camelbak sack to stay hydrated throughout the day, shorts and a breathable t-shirt, sunscreen, bug spray, and a camera. Your lunch will be provided, but bring some nuts/granola bars just in case.
Overnight Packing List
For overnight hikes, we recommend the following:
- A good daypack is a must. If you are carrying cameras in your bag, consider investing in a Mindshift Rotation 180 bag, which has an easily accessible, well-protected compartment for cameras and lots of room for clothes and other accessories you’ll need for your day hike. For ladies, we recommend Peak Design Everyday Backpack
- 2 x shorts/bottoms. You’ll want to change into a clean pair for the evening. Girls, a pair of my Teeki leggings worked great for me as evening attire, as it did get a bit cooler at night and the bugs were pretty vicious.
- 2 x tops. We recommend sweat-wicking fabrics with a dash of silver (for its anti-stink properties).
- 2-3 pairs of underwear/bras
- 1 x bathing suit – for swimming in the waterfall
- Travel towel – showers are available at both San Pedrillo and Sirena stations.
- Hiking shoes and a pair of flip flops for the boat and evening time
- Headlamp or you can just use the flashlight on your phone
- Refillable water bottle like Hydro Flask or a hydration pack to stay hydrated
- Snacks (Cliff bars are great, so is trail mix) – breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be provided as a part of your tour, but it doesn’t hurt to carry a little extra in case you get hungry in between.
- Bug spray – we recommend this environmentally friendly kind
- Sunscreen – we recommend this eco-friendly brand
- Portable/solar charger – limited power is available but only inside the ranger office space
- Camera – For recommendations see the Complete Guide To Our Photography Gear
Staying Safe at Corcovado National Park
Due to the nature of Corcovado National Park, there is a real possibility of getting lost or putting yourself in harm’s way if you don’t remain vigilant.
Stay in a group, and don’t stray from the trails. The rainforest offers very limited visibility. It is difficult to find a point of reference when you can only see a few feet in front of you.
Follow the advice of your guide. There is a reason that every visitor is required to be accompanied by a certified guide. They are experts on everything Corcovado National Park has to offer.
Respect the environment. Don’t touch plants or harass the wildlife. When in doubt always ask your guide.
How to Get to Corcovado National Park
Corcovado’s charm comes in part due to its isolation on the Osa Peninsula. Although it’s not as hard to get to Corcovado National Park as many would lead you to believe!
As we mentioned earlier, you can not enter Corcovado without a registered guide. Therefore your guide or tour group will arrange for transport from Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez into the park. So once you get to Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez you won’t have to fret about how to get to Corcovado National Park itself, it will typically all be arranged by your tour group.
Getting to Drake Bay
The easiest and most convenient way to get to Drake Bay is by flying. Domestic airlines Nature Air and Sansa run flights from San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport to Drake Bay Airport daily. The flight is approximately 45 minutes long, and the airport lies just 10 minutes from the town center.
We wouldn’t recommend driving to Drake Bay from San Jose or other parts of Costa Rica. After Sierpe the road is largely unpaved, often unpassable due to flooding (even in the dry season), and offers poor signage. If you do insist on driving, it is essential you go with a 4Wheel Drive vehicle.
An alternative would be to drive to Sierpe and then take the boat to Drake Bay. Park your car in one of Sierpe’s covered parking lots.
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There are a number of buses leaving each day from San Jose to Sierpe. Check up to date schedules on The Bus Schedule.
All public buses stop in Palmar where you must transfer buses before continuing on to Sierpe. The fastest bus journey takes approximately 6:40 hours.
By Boat from Sierpe
The boat from Sierpe to Drake Bay leaves every day at 11:30 am and 3:30 pm. The one hour trip is jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Getting to Puerto Jimenez
The easiest and most convenient way to get to Puerto Jimenez is by flying. Domestic airlines Nature Air and Sansa run flights from San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport to Puerto Jimenez Airport daily. The airport is located just minutes from the town center.
It is possible to drive, however, ensure you do so with a 4Wheel Drive vehicle. Some parts of the road are unpaved.
An alternative would be to drive to Golfito and then take a boat to Puerto Jimenez.
There are a number of buses leaving each day from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez. However, two direct buses leave San Jose to Puerto Jimenez every day at 8:00 am and 12:00 pm. The journey takes approximately 8-10 hours.
An alternative is to take the bus from San Jose to Golfito and then a boat to Puerto Jimenez. The bus ride to Golfito is 7 hours.
Check up to date schedules on The Bus Schedule.
By Boat from Golfito
There are 3 options for getting to Puerto Jimenez by boat from Golfito.
The regular ferry takes one and a half hours, and the fast ferry takes 30 minutes. Schedules can be sporadic, and change often. The fast ferry will leave when it is full so arrive at the dock early.
Otherwise, there are a number of water-ferry’s that transport visitors to and fro Puerto Jimenez.
BEFORE YOU GO: DON’T FORGET TRAVEL INSURANCE
We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance, especially in a country like Costa Rica. Whether you just plan to explore the cities, do a little bit of hiking, or go extreme (think surfing, scuba diving, or even skydiving), being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind. We learned about the importance of travel insurance the hard way and now we never travel without coverage.
Have other questions about Corcovado National Park? Leave a comment below and we’ll be happy to help you!
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Disclaimer: Our overnight trek to Corcovado National Park was provided courtesy of Corcovado Info Centre. As with all of our posts, all opinions expressed in this article are our own, regardless of who is footing the bill for our experience.