Yeah, I know Costa Rica’s not technically South America, but it’s actually further south than parts of Colombia, believe it or else. Besides that, it takes great care of its parks and reserves, hunting is illegal, and I love the place. Certainly, parts are being overdeveloped and some areas and towns are not so pretty, but the good places are great, and this article is about my favorite. For the most part, wild animals are treated with considerable care and respect, compared to many countries where they’re considered pests and nuisances to be eradicated. Here, they’re a big part of the family.
Costa Rica boasts 18 national parks, asylum for thousands of species and the conservation model of the third world. One of these refuges, Corcovado, is managed as a place where the wildlife rules supreme. Man is the visitor, with only slight concessions offered for our convenience, so the effort and endurance required to fully, or even partially experience the wonders there is substantial. This is how the CR government likes it, difficult for people, and low impact on the wildlife that abounds here.
Pizotes in the park
Some of the wildlife is not only wild, but downright dangerous, like the Bull Sharks and crocodiles that inhabit the bays and rivers in the park, some of which need to be crossed on foot, ideally at low tide, for obvious reasons. The only camping allowed in the entire park is on the grass at the 3 ranger stations, all situated on the Pacific coast- San Pedrillo, Sirena, and La Leona, from north to south. Besides short loops around the stations, there are only 2 actual trails, one running from north to south from San Pedrillo to La Leona, and another west to east from Sirena across the interior to Las Patos, which has no ranger station. Each of the stations is about 20 kilometers from the other, so serious stamina and wilderness savvy is compulsory. Ideally, a 4 or 5 day backpack across the park and back should be enough to get the jungle fever out of the system, and wildlife opportunities promise to be off the charts.
Another possible feat would be to get dropped off by a vehicle at the Los Patos entrance, then covering the 20 k to La Sirena, and spending the night there. Then another 20 k ramble southward, crossing both the Rio Sirena and Rio Claro rivers, and exiting the park at La Leona. The Rio Claro holds crocodiles, and the Sirena Bull Sharks, so timing the tides will be critical. This trek entails 40 jungle kilometers in two days, so maybe two nights camping at the Sirena station would be more practical.
I have stayed at the Corcovado Tent Camp, on Drake Bay and accessible from the north via the airports at Palmar Sur and Drake Bay. They offer economical packages including transportation from either airport, accommodations, meals, and guided park tours, and it’s a good value. The roads are funky and rough on the Osa peninsula, but the place can probably be accessed on the ground as well. At the time I went, it was definitely the best deal to get into the northern section of the park. The setting is idyllic.
There is no travel permitted off the trails whatsoever, as any venture off the beaten path is foolishly dangerous, poisonous snakes like the Fer De Lance and Bushmaster are numerous, and crocodiles inhabit virtually every river and stream. Lago Corcovado is a large inland lake that the ranger reported is absolutely packed with crocs and completely off limits to non reptiles, probably the closest this hemisphere gets to sub tropical Africa.
Guides are recommended for visitors, but anybody with minimal observation skills will see enough wildlife to keep scanning the bush nonstop. All four types of Costa Rican monkeys, Capuchin, Spider, Howler, and Squirrel, reside in large numbers here, along with sloths, anteaters, pizotes and lots more usually seen only in zoos. There are enough exotic birds to keep a fanatic binoculared for years, and reptile populations found elsewhere only in the Amazon basin. Because of Corcovado’s limited access points and resulting minimal human impact, the animals in the park have flourished, and that’s the key. The vibe of a primitive, primal, somewhat ominous jungle is obvious to all, and anybody looking for convenience and ease is dreaming.
But this is one of the great independent adventures still possible, and getting to the Osa very straight forward and uncomplicated. Fly or drive to Puerto Jimenez, and then take the bus or drive the sketchy 42 kilometer road to Carate, adjacent and just south of the park entrance at La Leona. Although two tent camps are slightly closer, the finest and best value accommodations are at the Lookout Inn, with luxurious open air cabinas built on the slope above the road. Outstanding meals are included, served in the main building, which sports two tremendous patios frequented by dozens of local birds. This is the place to stay before and after the jungle trek of a lifetime, and is also close enough to take day hikes into the park and make it back for a hot shower, a great meal, and a soft bed. The staff is endlessly friendly and helpful, and park passes are available, which otherwise have to be purchased on line, or in person, at the Bank of Costa Rica. Park visitors can no longer just show up at the entrance and pay the fee, passes must be procured in advance. All of this hullabaloo further insures that the human visitors will never intrude on the residents, and from all present indications, this is a place that will last.