I will simply start by saying that visiting Corcovado National Park was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of the time Costa Rica.
In a country already renowned for its eco-tourism, incredible wildlife and beautiful nature, Corcovado National Park sparkles like a jewel in this country’s crown.
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About Corcovado National Park
Located in the remote Osa Peninsula in the south-west of Costa Rica, the Corcovado National Park is situated far from the capital of Costa Rica of San José.
Populations are low here, and the rural and underdeveloped nature of the area lends itself to getting the best from the beautiful environment and landscapes this country is famous for.
Known as one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, Corcovado National Park incorporates jungle and forest ecosystems along with coastal and marine ones.
The range and diversity of the wildlife and the surrounding habitat is breathtaking.
From crocodiles to bull sharks, tapirs to anteaters – this amazing national park is home to a wealth of animals and, best of all, they are generally plentiful and easily spotted if you go looking!
Independent Travel in Corcovado National Park
I loved Corcovado National Park because it provided one of the most off-the-beaten track adventures I had in Costa Rica.
A lot of this country seemed very developed and geared towards tourists (especially after travelling in remote Nicaragua) and, in this way, I found Corcovado wonderfully refreshing.
It felt authentic, real and not at all overdone.
I loved the way I could independently explore the park and didn’t have to take a guide.
I also loved the way I could hike there and see wildlife naturally without having to take a tour or a safari.
I loved that I could camp in a simple ranger station in my own tent and awake to find jaguar footprints on the nearby beach in the morning.
Everything about Corcovado felt refreshingly genuine, whilst at the same time remaining accessible and available for a budget-conscious independent traveller.
It was easy to organise my trip there, cheap to do so and only 2 days there provided me with a ton of memories I will cherish forever – how does travel get better?!
Quite simply, Corcovado National Park was Costa Rica at its best.
When to Visit Corcovado National Park
I visited Corcovado National Park in March and it was the perfect time, as the weather was still warm, but not too hot.
Many animals are known to be active at this time of year as the temperatures are good and they can still enjoy watering holes and good shade cover.
Indeed, I can certainly vouch for the plethora of wildlife that I saw while there at this time.
Most of the animals I encountered were either surrounding the ranger station or on the nearby walking trails.
In particular, the wonderfully bizarre Baird’s Tapir could easily be seen snuffling just near my camp, while lemur-like coati intersected my walking track on more than one occasion!
Visiting in March – between the high seasons of Christmas and Easter – also meant there weren’t ridiculous amount of tourists around in the park.
This was an added bonus for wildlife spotting and meant I didn’t have to book a camp spot inside the park weeks in advance!
I’m sure that not having a ton of people on the walking tracks every day also makes seeing wildlife more common.
Going to Corcovado National Park in March also meant I visited outside of the rainy season (roughly May-November), which I was certainly grateful for as it meant I could hike and camp there more easily.
During rainy season many of the river crossings in Corcovado become dangerously high and impassable – so I really wouldn’t recommend visiting at this time.
All in all therefore, I would highly recommend March as the best time to visit Corcovado National Park.
The surrounding months from February – April would also be good as the rains will not yet have come and the humidity and heat won’t be too high.
Getting to the Osa Peninsula
Without roads or public transport, Corcovado is best accessed from the towns that sit at its borders.
I recommend making your way to Puerto Jiménez, a budget traveller haven, from where you can book your camp spot, attain your park permit or find a guide for your visit.
Needless to say, I took the budget option and travelled to Puerto Jiménez via local bus from San José. Check here for timetables and booking options.
This was a long bus ride (around 10 hours) but fairly cheap, comfortable and, as always with Central American transport, a lot of fun!
I got the early morning bus at 6am to ensure that I reached Puerto Jiménez during daylight.
You can also rent a car in San José and make the 8 hour journey to Puerto Jiménez yourself.
Alternatively, the quickest and more expensive option is to fly from the capital to Puerto Jiménez with either the domestic airline carrier SANSA or the chartered flight company Nature Air.
Flights take around 45 mins.
Once in Puerto Jiménez, I then quickly found a bed for the night by walking around this small town to enquire about the cheapest place to stay – a few questions and a bit of effort can go a long way!
Staying in Puerto Jiménez
There are plenty of budget accommodation choices in Puerto Jiménez, and most are owned by local people.
I stayed in a room above someone’s house and paid around $10 USD, which included use of the kitchen – you’ll be lucky to find anything cheaper than that!
I’ve heard that the Corcovado Wild Hostel is really good so you may want to check that one out.
If possible, find a buddy to share a room with and keep costs down!
Most hostels in Puerto Jiménez will give you plenty of advice about organising your trip to the nearby national park.
Many will also provide bag storage too, so that you don’t have lug all stuff with you into the park – a real blessing!
Getting the Latest Park Information
Almost everyone in Puerto Jiménez is either making their way to or back from Corcovado National Park.
This means you’ll also be able to gain a lot of good information from chatting to other tourists you meet here.
There is also a park office with lots of information in Puerto Jiménez too.
Visit here to book your Corcovado entrance permit and accommodation, which you need to do in advance.
You can also get a tide timetable for them, which will come in handy!
Getting into Corcovado National Park
From Puerto Jiménez, there are a number of options to get you into and enjoying the beautiful landscape of the national park.
First up, and most luxurious, is flying into Corcovado National Park in a small, chartered aircraft.
This will give you spectacular views over the jungle and direct access to the Sirena lodge, which sits at the heart of the park.
Second and cheaper option, which I obviously went for was hiking into the park.
This was the best part of the whole adventure and something that I’d definitely recommend.
It’s wonderfully refreshing that no vehicles and roads exist within Corcovado, meaning to see it you really have to make the trek.
This is part of what makes this place so special.
Hiking in Corcovado National Park
You start the hike by getting a local bus / collective from Puerto Jiménez to the hamlet of Carate and from here start your walk to La Leona Ranger Station, which marks the entrance of Corcovado.
After this you can take a trail, which having coastal and inland sections, really gives you a taste of this wild, beautiful land.
The scenery on this walk was absolutely breathtaking and featured some of the most memorable landscape views I witnessed during my whole time in Central America.
The colour of the green jungle as it sloped down to the sand and the blue waters beyond were incredible.
This is to say nothing of the flora and fauna that you encounter on the way.
Look out for monkeys in the trees above you, as well was the majestic red macaws that fill the sky and also keep your eyes peeled for any snakes – I saw plenty!
Keep your eyes pricked for rustling leaves that might indicate larger mammals such as the anteater and coati I stumbled upon!
Sloths hang in the trees above you and jaguar footprints mark the ground.
Corcovado really is like a zoo without the bars!
You also want to watch the tides as you make this hike into the national park and follow the advice given to you at the park office in Puerto Jiménez regarding any river crossings.
High tide crossings in Corcovado can be dangerous due to the presence of bull sharks and you want to keep alert for crocodiles too – told you this stuff was real!
If you follow the trail from La Leona Station all the way into the centre of the park, you will eventually arrive at Sirena station – a remote bush lodge and eco-station located in the depths of Corcovado.
It was only a 14km hike to Sirena from La Leona, but it took me most of the day to complete due to the real heat and humidity of the walk.
Plenty of water breaks and snack breaks featured and, of course, you want to stop and take photos!
Once you reach Sirena it is a wonderful feeling – now I could kick off you’re my hot sandy shoes and relax!
Staying in Corcovado National Park
I camped at Sirena for 2 nights in my trust Gelert tent I always backpack with.
Camping facilities are basic here, but it’s wonderful to roll your tent out on the simple deck of the station and enjoy the sounds of wilderness around you.
Nothing more, nothing less.
There are some basic cooking facilities available at Sirena, but I just took cold picnic snacks that were quick and easy to eat.
You don’t want to fuss with too much stuff as everything has to be carried in and out of Sirena.
Carrying simple picnic snacks also helped me keep costs and weight down!
Camping in Sirena and staying for the next day, before hiking back out of the park was bliss and afforded me a real chance to relax and enjoy the nature of Corcovado.
Spending 2 nights in Sirena, also meant I got the chance to experience the park at different times of the day i.e. sunrise and sunset, as well as night time, when animals can be more active than during the heat of the day.
There are several walking trails around Sirena that can increase your chances of spotting wildlife and give you a deeper sense of this wonderful wilderness.
Even closer however, is the beach and the Sirena river mouth which will easily afford you views of a few crocs and maybe even a bull shark fin or too.
My recommendation? Just don’t get too close to the water!
Big cat footprints were also easy to spot in the sand here and we saw a number first thing on the second morning.
It was incredible to think some globally endangered animals were roaming around so near to where we slept at night.
I mean, where else can you get this sort of experience!
Perhaps now you are starting to see believe me when I saw Corcovado is Costa Rica at its best!
Things to Pack for Corcovado
Part of what makes this park so special is, of course, the wilderness and the remoteness of the location, so do bear in mind that it’s important to be prepared for this.
As I said, the heat and humidity can be intense.
So if you are hiking you’ll certain need a lot of water, as well as a hat and some light, thin clothing, that covers your shoulders, but allows your skin to breath.
Take the park tide timetable with you!
I made the hike in my New Balance trail runners and these were totally fine.
The hiking isn’t steep or arduous in this way, it’s more just long and hot!
Trail runners worked well for me, because they were easy to walk on the sand in and allowed my feet to breath aswell.
I’d also recommend taking some natural sunscreen and bug spray / insect repellent with you into Corcovado National Park.
If you’re going to camp there, you will also need to take a tent, sleeping bag, ground mat, headlamp and other supplies too.
As I said before, you will also need to carry all your food in too.
It may sound a lot to think about, but don’t let this put you off. It really it isn’t a lot of hassle when you consider the experience this amazing place on earth can give you.
It’s quite incredible to think you can see nature as up close and personal as you can in Corcovado National Park, so if you’re ever visiting Costa Rica, make sure you take full use of the opportunity – you won’t regret it!
Check out my full Costa Rica packing list here if you want more ideas about what to take for your whole trip.
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Have you been to Corcovado National Park?
What was your experience?
What advice or tips could you share to help other readers?
8 thoughts on “Top Guide to Visiting Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica”
I loved Corcovado! We stayed at a place called Poor Man’s Paradise just on the edge of the park and took a boat into Corcovado for some hikes. If I go back I’ll definitely stay in the grounds, it looks like a blast!
Hi Kevin – glad you enjoyed this great spot too. Poor Man’s Paradise sounds right up my street!
That sure looks like a place that I would want to get to. Love your pictures – especially that of the colorful parakeet and the huge tree that does not seem to end. We have a few of these amazing wonders down South of India. Maybe you should try them out as well 😀
I would love to Ami – am very much looking forward to finally travelling to India hopefully at the end of next year!
Hey, Steph. Thank you for a very informative post. However, I read that you can’t enter Corcovado without a guide. Can you confirm this isn’t the case?
Hi Branko, thanks for the question. I certainly entered Corcovado without a guide, but this was back in 2012. Quite possible the rules mights have changed since then. Sorry, I can’t clarify, but don’t want to give you the wrong info. Best, Steph 🙂
“Through the administrative decision number; R-SINAC-ACOSA-D-011-2013 it is official that as of February 1st of 2014, all visitors to Corcovado National Park will be required to be accompanied by a local tour guide”
Also, no camping, no own food at Sirena. You will have to buy accommodation and meals from the station.
Which means this blog post only is of historical interest.
Thanks so much for the update Jan, it’s many years since I visited Costa Rica, so this is really helpful information for travellers heading there now. Best, Steph 🙂