Costa Rica is a wonderful country if you love wildlife. Its biodiversity numbers are awsome and in my experience, very few places on earth (if any) give you the same easy access animal encounters. This is not a trip specific report, but rather a consolidated description of one of my favourite places for wildlife watching in Costa Rica – Corcovado National Park. I have visited Costa Rica six times since 1992 and it remains one of my top countries to visit.
First, a very short introduction to Costa Rica itself. Squeezed in between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south in Central America, Costa Rica is the size of Denmark. It has a coast line both to the Carribbean and to the Pacific Ocean and is quite mountaineous. Approximately 25% of Costa Rica’s land area is protected either as national parks or as other protected areas – the largest percentage in the world. It is one of the most eco tourism focused countries in the world and apart from the extreme northwest, you will not find the typical mass tourism complexes anywhere. Even in the more developed destinations like Manuel Antonio national park, development has been made in concert with nature. It is hard not to fall in love with the natural beauty and the easy going mentality of the “ticos”.
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado is located on the Osa Peninsula in the far southwest. The climate is purely tropical and humid. It was established in 1975 and encompasses an area of 425 km². It conserves one of the largest primary lowland rainforests in the Americas and the wildlife is truly spectacular. This is one place where you can spot the elusive tapir, jaguars, ocelots, four species of monkeys, sloths, toucans and scarlet macaws.
The two main entry points are Drake Bay northwest of the park and Carate just southeast of it. I have tried both. Drake Bay is easiest to access and you can find a number of great jungle lodges here. Carate is more remote, but boasts a long (and I mean long) stretch of beach along the southern coast of Corcovado. Access is typically by small Cessna-style aircraft to gravel landing strips.
I have never visited any country in the world where some of the wildlife interaction almost wears you out… Monkeys are so abundant in Costa Rica that after a while you stop being so amazed. Capuchin monkey and howler monkeys are always around. Spider monkeys (the largest species in Costa Rica) are a bit harder to spot and squirrel monkeys (the smallest species) is hardest. With a good guide (yes, get a guide – they are awsome at spotting animals) you will also see sloths up in the almond trees. They are typically quite lazy, but we had the rare opportunity to meet this guy crossing our path. He was probably running as fast as he could, but it still took him five minutes to pass us – no the fastest mammal in the world!
Birds. Yes, Corcovado is also a great place for bird lovers! Scarlet macaws are everywhere. Toucans and toucancillos (smaller versions of toucans) are also often spotted. If you are on the hunt for the elusive Quetzal though, it is better to head for the highlands.
Places to stay
In Drake Bay, I stayed at the wonderful La Paloma Lodge. A magical place with great food and ambience. I also liked the fantastic quality of their guides. They really delivered and where extremely knowledgeable.
In Carate, I stayed at what was then called the Corcovado Lodge Tent Camp, which has since ceased to exist. That is a pity, since they had a great ecologically mindet set up with large tents for the guests. I do not know what happened to them but they seems to have shut down or relocated.
For nature lovers, a trip to Corcovado should definitely be on the bucket list! The wildlife experience rivals (or exceeds) all other rainforest experiences I have had. Comparing it to Borneo, northwestern Thailand and Belize, you simply have a greater chance of true animal interaction here. Only on African Safaris have I been so overwhelmed with animals as here.
If you are planning to hike or trek Corcovado you need to bring a guide and get a permit. I have never tried this, but only made day trips from different lodges. The thing is though, you don’t need to go deep to get a great experience here.
Summing up, this is a great place on earth and well worth visiting!