The Corcovado jungle on the Osa Peninsula is probably the most unspoiled area in the entire country. Nowhere else in Costa Rica can you see so many animals and plants in such a tight space. But watch out! Like everything else, there’s a reason for that.
The Osa Peninsula
Corcovado National Park is situated on the Osa Peninsula in the far south of Costa Rica. The 424-sqare-km park was founded in 1975 and shelters one of the most spectacular ecosystems in the world. For example, Costa Rica’s green jewel harbors the largest uninterrupted virgin forest on the entire Pacific coast of the Americas and as a result is home to one of the rarest animals in the world: the tapir.
The National Geographic called Corcovado National Park “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity”—and with good reason.
Culture versus Nature
After a three-month round trip through Costa Rica, one thing was clear: the country’s trump card is not its culture but its breathtaking nature. Mass tourism, nerve-racking bureaucracy, inflated prices, and customer service a la “pura vida” come together on one of the most beautiful spots on this earth. There is probably no other place where you can marvel at such a variety of plants and animals.
So whoever thinks they can book a quick trip to the Corcovado Jungle is seriously mistaken. Basically, it’s best to book a trip to the Corcovado as early as possible, preferably directly through a trustworthy guide. Whatever your paper travel guide may say, there’s a strong likelihood that San José’s state bureaucracy has already turned the rules on their head again. The usual spectrum of hurdles ranges from “you need a bank account in Costa Rica” and “you have to make an upfront local deposit one week ahead of time” to “you can only make reservations through one telephone line (and it feels like 500 people are all calling at the same time, and you’re guaranteed to have only one person working the phones),” etc.
But don’t despair! This is an unforgettable jungle adventure and worth the trouble. What I recommend is two or, for the hardcore, even three overnight stays in the middle of the rainforest. By the way, stay away from the day trips from Drake Bay. They’re shamelessly overpriced, and you get to see hardly anything.
Anywhere.com rightfully calls Corcovado National Park “the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s national park system.”
Travel and Accommodations
Speaking of jungle adventures, the Sirena Ranger Station is the only visitor lodgings in the entire park. You can get there with a day hike or, more conveniently, with a boat from Drake Bay or—for travelers with a fat wallet—even by small plane. The ranger station was being renovated during our stay and looked more like a rathole than an accommodations option. We slept on dirty, sweaty sheets and pieces of foam, the kitchen was closed, the water was only marginally drinkable, and the sanitary facilities were perpetually filthy. On top of that, the only water available for sale was expensive. You will need to bring along to the ranger station whatever else you plan to consume. A real adventurer will love it. A glamping fan will be horrified.
Climate and Wilderness
As announced at the outset, there’s a reason for everything. So how was the Corcovado able to preserve its wilderness and rainforest? According to our guide, no one has ever hunted in the Corcovado and survived for longer periods of time. That’s also hardly surprising, with an average temperature of 30 degrees Celsius and 90–100% humidity! Speaking for myself, I have never sweat so much and so heavily as I did on those days in the rainforest. The result is that the many exotic animals are likely to perceive visitors as strange but not at all as a danger. It feels a little like being at the zoo, just without any bars and moats.
One Highlight after Another
But enough griping—the hardships were more than worth the hassle. There you can discover 500 types of trees, 375 different kinds of birds, 140 species of mammal, 116 of amphibian, 40 different varieties of freshwater fish, and because it’s so nice there, 6000-10,000 different types of insect! In addition to lots of drinking water, a large camera, a telephoto lens, spare batteries, binoculars, and good footgear, be sure to not leave your bug spray at home!
Our absolute best highlights in the Corcovado National Park were our face-to-face encounters with a tapir, kilometer-long leaf-cutting ant trails, large families of coati (a type of raccoon), cheeky spider monkeys, perfectly camouflaged sloths, fast-moving bull sharks, barely visible freshwater crocodiles, meter-long snakes, magnificently colored toucans, and an anteater that smelled like a pothead. All that and much more in just four days!
The Key Is the Right Guide
So you want to brave the Corcovado! I’m happy to recommend our guide, who did an outstanding job in exchange for very reasonable terms. You can’t count on either of those in Costa Rica. .
Demanding but Worth Every Bit of Trouble
Bottom line: I’ve never found any adventure as challenging and strenuous as this one, but it’s still absolutely worth the trouble! The unspoiled nature far from all the mass tourism is unforgettable. I’ve never shot so many photos in such a short time. Or why I give this adventure a rating of “unforgettable and one of a kind!”
About the Author
Peter Erni is a world traveler, photographer, content marketing expert, social media nerd, and partner in the digital marketing agency Brain & Heart Communication in Zurich.