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Corcovado National Park
For those who crave untamed wilderness, Corcovado National Park is the experience of a lifetime. Covering one-third of the Osa Peninsula, the park is blanketed primarily by virgin rain forest and holds Central America's largest remaining tract of lowland Pacific rain forest.
The remoteness of Corcovado and the difficult access to its interior make it one of the most pristine parks in the country—barely disturbed by human presence—where massive, vine-tangled primary-forest trees tower over the trails, and birds and wildlife abound. Your chances of spotting endangered species are better here than anywhere else in the country, although it still takes a combination of determination and luck. The rarest and most sought-after sightings are the jaguar and Baird's tapir. Corcovado also has the largest population of scarlet macaws in the country. Bordering the park are some of Costa Rica's most luxurious jungle lodges and retreats, all of which are contributing to the effort to save Corcovado's wildlife.
Best Time to Go
Dry season, January to May, is the best time to visit, but it's also the most popular. With so little accommodation available, it's crucial to reserve well in advance. June through August will be wetter, but may also be a little cooler. The long-distance trails are virtually impassable from September to December, when most visitors arrive in boats.
Warning signs to stay on the trails should be heeded: in 2007, the Minister of Tourism got lost and wandered around in a daze for three days after following a baby tapir off the trail and being attacked by its mother.
Best Ways to Explore
Bird-Watching and Wildlife
The holy grail of wildlife spotting here is a jaguar or a Baird's tapir. You may be one of the lucky few to see one of these rare, elusive animals. In the meantime, you can content yourself with coatis, peccaries, and agoutis on the ground and, in the trees, some endemic species of birds you will only see in this part of the country: Baird's trogon, riverside wren, and black-cheeked ant-tanager, to name a few.
Getting Here and Around
The easiest way to visit the park is on a day trip by boat, organized by a lodge or tour company in Drake Bay, Sierpe, or Uvita. The well-heeled can fly in on an expensive charter plane to the Sirena airfield. But no matter how you get there, the only way to explore is on foot. There are no roads, only hiking trails. If you have a backpack, strong legs, and a reservation for a tent site or a ranger station bunk, you can enter the park on foot at three staffed ranger stations and spend up to five days deep in the wilds.
There are two main hiking routes to Corcovado. When you're planning your itinerary, keep in mind that the hike between any two ranger stations takes at least a day. The hike from La Leona to Sirena is about 16 km (10 miles) and requires crossing a wide river mouth and a stretch of beach best crossed at low tide. Some people plan this hike before dawn to avoid the blistering sun. The 17.4-km (10.8-mile) trail from Los Patos to Sirena is the coolest trail, through forest all the way.
Top Reasons to Go
Flora and Fauna
The sheer diversity of flora and fauna and the chance to see wildlife completely in the wild are the main draws here. The number of catalogued species, to date, includes 500 trees (49 of them in peril of extinction), 150 orchids, 375 birds, 124 mammals (11 on the endangered list), 123 butterflies, 116 amphibians, and more than 8,000 insects.
Off the Beaten Track
Day visitors get to taste the thrill of being completely off the beaten track, in an untamed natural world. But for campers and guests at the park's main lodge, La Sirena, the chance to spend days roaming miles of trails without hearing a single man-made sound is a rare treat.
Test Your Limits
The physical challenges of hiking in high humidity and living very basically, along with the psychological challenge of being completely out of touch with "the real world," appeal to the kind of people who like to test their limits.
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