It 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. This is Corcovado National Park, the star attraction of the Osa Peninsula and the best place to spot wildlife in Costa Rica.
What To See in Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park was established in 1975 when the former president of Costa Rica declared it a protected area to ward off gold mining operations. The park encompassed an area of 424 square kilometers (164 sc mi) and conserves the largest primary forest on the American Pacific coastline.
Corcovado 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 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.
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 you will get a chance to discover hundred (if not older) year old trees, 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 tours before us, were.
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 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 stations are the most developed of them all. It has a restaurant on site (albeit an expensive one) and bunk bed style accommodation. The other stations are more basic and require camping and cooking supplies along with food to be brought in from outside the park. The trails inside the park are fairly flat and are easy to explore (especially because most of the time you’ll be moving at snail’s speed while gawking at the wildlife around you).
And finally, El Tigre trail. While not a station itself, El Tigre trails starts outside the park with a steep 1-hour climb and then levels out into a variable, up and down terrain. El Tigre is not an area full of mammals, but it is teeming with insects, frogs, snakes and other crawlies.
Tours to Corcovado National Park
Day trips to the park are by far the most popular option for visiting the park, 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 tour departs from.
From Drake Bay:
- Day tours to Sirena Stations 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 trips 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.
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 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.
- Overnight 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 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 that uses local certified guides and can organize tours to Corcovado and many other activities in the area.
What to Pack for your trip to Corcovado National Park
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.
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.
For overnight hikes, we recommend the following:
- A good day pack 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 Gregory Sula 28L
- 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). Max loves his Y Athletics shirts, and I use primarily Lululemon.
- 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
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.