HIKING IN CORCOVADO NATIONAL PARK, COSTA RICA

Costa Rica is a melting pot of wildlife, but no place has as much biodiversity as Corcovado National Park. Located on the Osa Peninsula on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, NatGeo once called Corcovado the most biodiverse place on the planet.


While planning for my trip to Costa Rica, I really wanted to focus on seeing wildlife. After reading about Corcovado, I knew I had to squeeze a visit there into the itinerary. I love hiking so my friend and I decided to do a 3 day, 2 night jungle trek into Corcovado to really get the full experience. Here’s how the journey panned out.



PLANNING & GETTING THERE

If you are planning to visit Corcovado National Park, you must have a guide. Once you are there you will understand, but having a guide is essential to navigating your way through the jungle as there are many things to keep in mind. Plus, a guide will help you find wildlife, which is why you are most likely there in the first place. It's best to book through a tour company as they will be booking your overnight accommodations and meals at the La Sirena Ranger Station. I used Osa Wild and had a great experience with them. Here’s a commercial I made for Osa Wild with footage I recorded on my trek.


There are two main ways to get to Corcovado: by taking a boat from Drake Bay, or by hiking in from one of two routes. Most people base themselves in Puerto Jimenez if they are going to be hiking, as the tour companies are located there and have the closest access to the trailheads.


To get to Puerto Jimenez you can either drive there with a rental car, take the bus, or fly in directly from San Jose via Costa Rica’s domestic airline SANSA Airlines. My friend and I were road tripping around the country and Corcovado was the last part of our trip, so we dropped off our rental car in Puerto Jimenez and flew back to San Jose. The flight back in this tiny plane was incredible, and felt like an experience in itself. I’d suggest flying into Puerto Jimenez if you don’t mind paying for the flights, as driving there would take a very long time (unless you are combining it with other places on a road trip).


The hikes both in and out of Corcovado are no joke, so make sure you are up for the challenge if you decide to go that route. Below I will go over the differences between hiking in and taking the boat.



HIKING VS TAKING THE BOAT

If you are an adamant hiker and want to be fully immersed in the jungle for long periods of time, I’d highly suggest hiking in and out of the park. You wouldn’t want to spend only one night and hike back out the next day, because you will be exhausted and will want to explore more of the park, so if you choose to hike I definitely would recommend staying 2 nights at La Sirena Ranger Station.


If you are going to hike you should be prepared for harsh sun, mosquitoes, beach walking, and possible torrential downpours. You will also see way more wildlife than if you take the boat. You will need to pack everything you’ll need for the 3 days/2 nights in your backpack. Here is a Packing Guide for Hiking Corcovado National Park. I love hiking and am in decent shape but I found it to be a very exhausting experience for me. The first day took about 10 hours for us to get to La Sirena, and the hike out took about 7.5 hours. One our “off day” at the La Sirena Ranger Station we still hiked an additional 4-5 hours through trails. Even with all that walking, it was still the highlight of my trip and I wouldn’t have done it any other way!


If you are a more casual hiker or like traveling in comfort, I’d definitely suggest taking the boat from Drake Bay. It drops you off with only about a 15-20 minute walk to the La Sirena Ranger Station, where you will stay for the night (or two). Staying at the Ranger Station is a whole experience in itself, which I will detail below, but I do think you need to spend at least one night in the park if you are going to make the trip. Arriving by boat in the morning and leaving by the afternoon will cheapen your experience and limit how much wildlife you will actually see.



HIKING ROUTES TO LA SIRENA RANGER STATION

Most hikes into La Sirena start from La Leona. La Leona follows the coast for most of the hike and features a combination of walking on the beach and through the jungle. We took this route to La Sirena and saw an incredible amount of wildlife.


The other trailhead is Los Patos which goes directly through the jungle, is very muddy, and features a lot of ups and downs. We hiked this trail on our exit from La Sirena.



HIKING LA LEONA TO LA SIRENA RANGER STATION

This is the trail we took to get to La Sirena from Puerto Jimenez. Osa Wild picked us up at our hotel around 4:50am and took us into town where we met our guide and the two other people that were hiking in our group. After grabbing some coffee at the meeting spot, we hopped back in the Osa Wild van and set off towards La Sirena.


It took us over an hour to arrive at the trailhead. After arriving we took some time to go to the bathroom, snack, and apply sunscreen and insect repellent. We officially started our trek around 7:30am where the sun was already beaming down on us.



This trek was one of the best day hikes I’ve done in my life, and was filled with wildlife sightings and beautiful scenery. The trail sticks pretty close to the coast - in fact you are hiking on the beach in the sand for big stretches of the hike. Walking in the sand is difficult and will slow you down. We were fortunate to have a very nice day with almost no rain, but that means dealing with the heat of the sun. Make sure to pack plenty of water - I ran out of water with 2 hours still remaining and I had a 1.5 Liter camelbak with me. The mosquitos were not so bad on this route due to us being so close to the coast, but wearing long sleeves, long pants, and repellent helped.


It was a very long first day as it took us over 10 hours to complete the trek. Our group was only 4 people plus our guide, and we were all young (ish) - I was the oldest - and in good shape. Meaning we were walking at a rather fast pace. We took a lot of time to stop and take photos of wildlife, and we saw a lot, so that added to the time. A few quick breaks were thrown between and one half hour siesta on the beach, but for the most part we kept a pretty consistent pace. Prepare for a full day of hiking. We logged over 20km and 36k steps.



Our guide was quick to point out any wildlife to us. He had a telescope which allowed us to get up close views of the animals, especially birds that otherwise my camera couldn’t pick up. He also let people take photos and videos through the telescope with their phones that looked pretty incredible.


At the beginning of the hike we came across a family of spider monkeys. As I walked closer to one of them in the trees above me, I heard something falling down through the leaves and then felt a smack on my shoulder. I looked over to see monkey poop on my shoulder! One of the other spider monkeys, hidden above me in the trees, had thrown its poop on me! Thankfully it wasn’t on my face, but lesson learned - monkeys will throw poop on you if you walk under them or get too close. Some of the other wildlife highlights were tapirs, scarlet macaws, caiman, coatis, howler monkeys, iguanas, poison dart frogs, and… a puma!




Seeing a puma (mountain lion, cougar, etc) in real life was a magical experience. Our guide had only seen a puma 5 times and had heard rumblings from the other guides that a puma had been spotted on the beach earlier that day. When we started getting close to the area where the puma was last seen, our guide started finding cougar footprints in the sand. Every Time he’d follow the cougar’s footprints they would lead from the beach back into the jungle, and no puma. Eventually, we turned a corner and our guide stopped and slowly looked back and told us to freeze and be quiet. He then pointed over to where the jungle met the beach and sitting in the sand was a beautiful puma. Just sitting and relaxing on the beach. We kept a safe distance and took as many photos and videos as we could before the puma eventually got up and walked into the jungle. It laid back down as we were able to creep a little closer and take some more photos. After about 30 minutes with the puma, it got up and walked deeper into the jungle. What a thrill it was to see a puma in the wild.




After spending some extra time with the puma, we started to become pressed for time as the sun was getting low. Not even 15 minutes after leaving the puma, our guide told us to prepare for the rain. I quickly put away my camera and my phone, and we threw on our rain jackets and backpack covers just in time as it started literally POURING on us.


To make matters worse (but more memorable!) we had one last river crossing - where the ocean tide pushes in to form the river called the Rio Claro. But the tide was high and the river was very deep. It was clear that we had taken too long to get to that crossing and should’ve probably crossed an hour or two earlier when the tide was lower.


We watched as our guide crossed first and the water went up past his waist! With no other choices, two of the other group members crossed and also went in over their waists. Then my friend crossed. I was the last left, and decided to take off my backpack and carry it over my head - and good thing I did. The water went up to near my chest as I crossed! I’m glad the adrenaline was pumping because crocodiles and bull sharks were not even on my mind when I was crossing. The next day we saw some big crocodiles near that area which led to the realization that it was entirely possible that one could’ve been swimming through the tide at that moment. Scary when looking back but what a wild experience and crazy ending to the day. We hiked another 45 minutes in pouring rain before making it to the La Sirena Ranger Station as the sun was going down and just in time for dinner.



LA SIRENA RANGER STATION

Staying at the La Sirena Ranger Station is an experience in itself. Located about 15-20 minutes from the coast, the La Sirena Ranger Station is the only place to stay in Corcovado National Park. Our guide told us that La Sirena was the most popular area to find wildlife.


It feels more like a summer camp setup than a lodge, and everything is outside with a roof over the top. The station consists of a dining area and kitchen, a bathroom area with showers and sinks, a small store to buy snacks or souvenirs, and a few large bedroom areas. The store does take credit cards.


The beds are all in one large open room. All the beds are all bunk beds with mosquito netting covering each bed.


The cafeteria offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner which we pre-purchased with our tour group Osa Wild. In the dining area they have water tanks to refill your water bottles, and a row of outlets to charge phones, electronics, etc. There is no wifi or cell phone reception at the station.


The bathroom area has common showers, bathrooms, and sinks. There is also a covered section to hang your wet clothes - although it's hard to dry clothes in the jungle with all the humidity.


The lights turn off automatically every night at 8pm, but the lodge is very easy to navigate. Night walks are not allowed at La Sirena. Both nights I spent at La Sirena there were massive rains that pounded on the roofs above us. It was deafening but soothing at the same time. Both nights we also heard a show from the howler monkeys after the rain stopped. The beautiful natural sounds of the jungle were the wake up call each day around 5am. It’s not for everyone, but staying at the La Sirena Ranger Station is a pretty wild experience.



DAY HIKES FROM LA SIRENA


During our full day at La Sirena we set off on three different hikes throughout the day and had plenty of time to relax at the station in between. There is no set schedule persay, and our guide had a plan on when he wanted to hike but was pretty flexible with us. We were up for hiking whenever he wanted to go, so we did 3 little hikes that day. If you are taking the boat in, these are some of the hiking options you will be doing from the ranger station.


We ate breakfast at 6am and then headed off for the first hike at 7am. Our guide took us along the beach where we found ourselves waiting for the waves to drop, then running between the waves to reach this pretty magical lagoon connected to the ocean. There was a good amount of wildlife at this lagoon. Upon arrival we saw many vultures and a coati scampering around. In the lagoon itself were lots of egrets and 2 crocodiles! One of them was MASSIVE, but it was swimming pretty far away from us. We looked at it through our guide’s telescope and it looked like a Nile Crocodile - it was huge. Our guide estimated it was 4 meters long! On the walk back through the forest we saw an agouti, a giant boa constrictor laying between tree roots, and a few more birds. Not a bad start to the morning!


Our second hike was around 10:30am and we went through the forests around La Sirena and our guide found a tapir bathing - well, kinda sleeping in the water. We also saw a curassow, a few trogons, a stick bird - which looked like an owl, a sloth very far away, and a few peccaries in the brush. Some other guides told our guide that they had spotted the puma again, so we decided to go try and find it again. We walked back to the beach, retracing our steps to where we saw the puma the previous day. We crossed the river again - this time only knee high thankfully - and hiked down the beach where we did indeed find the puma again! It was on the move as it clearly wanted nothing to do with us, so was a bit more difficult to get photos of this time around. We also saw a few scarlet macaws in this area of the beach. This was a longer hike, as we got preoccupied with the puma, so we got back around 1:30. But c’mon it's a puma! As one of the prized animals to spot in Corcovado, it was well worth spending the extra time looking for it again.


Third hike we did was in the primary rainforest near the ranger station and we left around 3:30pm. The primary forest had bigger trees which were very cool to see but we didn’t see as many animals as the other trails. We did however see a caiman, a trogon, some cool mushrooms (which were everywhere!), and another curassow.



THE RETURN TRIP - HIKING LA SIRENA TO LOS PATOS

Los Patos was the trail we took to leave Corcovado from La Sirena. Our guide warned us the night before that it was a more difficult hike than La Leona and that there would be a lot of ups and downs. In addition to the constant inclines and declines, it’s a very muddy trail and is not used in the rainy season. In fact, some of the guides told us they may stop using this trail soon due to how muddy the conditions can get.


The trail back to Los Patos had us walking through the interior of the jungle for the whole trek. There would be no beach on this route - which meant less sun, no sinking sand to walk through, but more bugs and more potential rain.


We set out at 5:30am and had a packed breakfast which we ate at our first stop around 7am. We crossed several rivers on this day and removed our socks and shoes each time to avoid getting our feet soaked. Still a bit traumatized from our river crossing on the journey from La Leona, I was happy that none of the rivers were really deeper than ankle deep on this route.


Our guide wanted us to walk fast this day because we needed to finish by 1/2pm to get to the car waiting for us, as it was going to drive through many deep rivers to get us back to Puerto Jimenez. So we had our heads down walking pretty fast most of the day. Our guide wasn’t lying when he said this trail was gonna be more difficult. It was pretty brutal as there were many climbs, often steep, with just as steep descents in total mud.


We didn’t see nearly a fraction of the wildlife on this path as we did at La Leona. The jungle scenery was nice, but I much preferred La Leona. Los Patos also had more bugs, but no real sun so that was a positive.


It started raining on us, and I mean POURING on us, for about an hour of our trek. Luckily we had already hiked about 6 hours and made it most of the way before getting soaked. Don’t forget a rain jacket or a poncho and a backpack cover! Or else you will walk away with everything soaked. The rain added difficulty to all the ups and downs as we slugged through puddles of mud, which made going down extra dangerous. One slip could send you on your butt, and it did for almost everyone in our group at least once. Luckily the rain died down after about an hour and the sun came back out, so I could strip off my rain jacket when the sun and humidity started heating up again.


Some of the wildlife we saw on the Los Patos trail included spider monkeys, toucans, several species of lizards, a tiny mask frog, trogons, and several interesting insects including a fluorescent beetle and a giant grasshopper.


At the end of the trail we were all relieved when we saw our Osa Wild van waiting for us. It was about an hour ride back in the van. As we drove over bumpy gravel roads I sat in the back of the van and stared at the beautiful scenery while reflecting on that wild journey we just endeavored. The van crossed several rivers (pretty deep crossings) before getting out onto the main roads back to Puerto Jimenez. We ended at the Osa Wild office where they gave us a ride to our hotel which was right in town for our last night in Costa Rica.


WILDLIFE


The 3 day/2 night trek into Corcovado National Park led to me seeing the most wildlife I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. Specifically on the hike in from La Leona, and around the La Sirena Ranger Station.


In just 3 days in the jungle, here are some of the mammals I saw:


-Puma

-Tapirs (3)

-Spider Monkeys

-Howler Monkeys

-Capuchin Monkeys

-Coatis

-Agoutis

-Peccaries

-Squirrels

-Deer

-Sloth



Reptiles & Amphibians:


-Crocodiles

-Caiman

-Poison Dart Frogs

-Boa Constrictor

-Basilisk Lizards

-Iguanas

-Blue-Tailed Lizards

-Mask Tree Frogs

-Golfo Dulce Anole Lizard



Some of the birds we saw were:


-Scarlet Macaws

-Toucans

-Black Hawks

-Roadside Hawks

-Trogons (both males and females)

-Curassows (both males and females)

-Humming Birds

-Vultures

-Pale-Billed Woodpeckers

-Common Potoo (Stick Bird)

-Tanagers

-Wrens

-Manakins

-Egrets

-Pelicans

-Tiger Herons



The trek into Corcovado National Park was an unforgettable experience where I challenged myself to keep going and also saw the most wildlife I’ve ever seen in my life. I can’t think of many places in the world where you can see so many different species of birds and animals besides probably an African safari. We walked a total of 40 miles in 3 days, logging 36k steps, 28k steps, and 33k steps.


We were fortunate, for the most part, with the weather as this helped us find a lot of the wildlife and kept us mostly dry. The hike from La Leona to La Sirena was the highlight as it was almost a nonstop wildlife spotting game that culminated with spotting a puma, then getting poured on and crossing a wild river over waist deep before arriving at the lodge at sunset. If you are up for the adventure, I highly suggest hiking into Corcovado National Park!



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