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Corcovado National Park protects major habitats including a montane forest, which covers more than half the park; a cloud forest, located in the highest region, richly populated by oaks and tree ferns; swamp forests, flooded practically year-round; a holillo forest, predominated by palms; a mangrove swamp, located on the estuaries of the Llorona, Corcovado and Sirena Rivers; and a freshwater herbaceous swamp. The park is home to some 500 species of trees-equivalent to a quarter of all the tree species in Costa Rica. Some of the larger trees include the purple heart, poponjoche, nargusta, banak, cow tree, espave and crabwood.
Corcovado National Park contains approximately 140 species of mammals, 367 birds, 117 amphibians and reptiles, 40 types of freshwater fish, and it is estimated that there are some 6,000 types of insects. It is common to see large herds of white-lipped peccary, as well as howler, spider white faced, and squirrel monkeys. The park is sanctuary to the largest population of scarlet macaws in the country, many of which are easily accessible from the Sirena station or along the beach. Other species of birds found here are the king vulture, white hawk, short-billed pigeon, tovi parakeet and bronze-tailed sicklebill. In addition, the Park protects several endangered species including large cats and reptiles. Moreover, it is home to several species of birds, which are either endemic or whose distribution is very restricted.
Corcovado is unquestionably the most raw, challenging and rewarding park in Costa Rica. It truly is the mother of all parks. The Park has four ranger stations, Los Patos, Sirena, San Pedrillo, and La Llorona. There are three routes you can use to get into Sirena, but regardless of which route you take it will demand at least 6-8 hard hours of hiking. The route from Carate is almost all along the beach. Very little shade is present and the sand often leaves hikers with blisters for days to come. The interior route from Los Patos, while much more mountainous, is shaded and more naturally beautiful. There also tends to be much more wildlife along this route. You can also enter or depart Sirena via the San Pedrillo Ranger Station, which is situated north along the Osa Peninsula coastline. However, you can only access this trail between December and April. During the other months the rivers that empty out into the ocean are simply too high to cross. It will take about 9 hours to complete the hike, and all but 2 hours of it are along the beach. The inland portion is nearer to the San Pedrillo station. The ideal scenario would be to enter from Los Patos and depart via Carate, or visa versa. Either way, the main goal is to visit Sirena and spend a few days within the Park's interior. Below we have added helpful information about the trails and facilities at both Sirena and San Pedrillo ranger stations.
Getting to Corcovado National Park
Buses to Golfito depart San Jose daily. From Golfito you can either arrange for a shuttle flight to Puerto Jimenez or take one of the scheduled ferries that depart Golfito for Puerto Jimenez daily. This is more difficult as often the ferry schedules do not coincide with the bus schedules in Puerto Jimenez. Overnight accommodation in Puerto Jimenez is usually the result. Unless you have a particular interest in Golfito, we recommend that you take one of the direct buses scheduled for Puerto Jimenez, not Golfito.
Sansa departs daily from San Jose International Airport for Golfito, while Travel Air departs Pavas Airport daily. Other independently owned carriers, based both in San Jose and/or Golfito, can fly directly into the Sirena airport; located within Corcovado National Park. These flights are not cheap, however, they do eliminate the necessary 6-8 hour hike required in order to arrive at the Sirena Ranger Station. These charter flights also depart from Puerto Jimenez.
SIRENA RANGER STATION
The Sirena ranger station is situated in the heart of Corcovado National Park, just along the coast, midway between the San Pedrillo and Carate ranger stations. The facility can accommodate up to around 20 people, after that you will need to supply your own tent. It costs $4.00 per night to stay inside the Park, which will give you access to all the facilities. If you wish to enter or stay at Sirena ranger station it is recommended that you contact their office in Puerto Jimenez, as they can coordinate your accommodation for you.
The trails surrounding the Sirena ranger station wind through the Parks most rugged and virgin terrain, and offer some of the best opportunities in Costa Rica for wildlife viewing.
The Guanacaste Trail begins just 600 meters from the ranger station. Just follow the Los Patos trail and you will see the signs pointing to the Guanacaste Trail on the left side. Approximately 2 km. long, this trail has earned its name from the large number of Guanacaste trees found along the trail. Relatively flat and easy to navigate, the trail initially winds through primary rainforest, which is very dense and possesses taller, older trees. Later, as it nears the Sirena River, it enters into secondary rainforest, where the canopy is noticeably thinner and low lying. There are several rivers and/or streams to cross, leaving the trail quite muddy in low-lying areas, particularly during the rainy season. The hike along the Guanacaste trail takes approximately 1 hour to complete, which will bring you right down to the Sirena River.
The Espuvellas trail, is 2.5 km. long and runs through primary rainforest behind the Sirena Ranger Station. You can enter this trail off the Los Patos trail, or from just behind the Sirena Ranger Station. This trail is also quite flat, easy to navigate and crosses several small streams and/or rivers. The canopy overhead is very thick, with little direct sunlight reaching the trail floor. To complete the entire trail one should expect to hike for approximately 2 hours.
The Rio Claro trail is only 1 km long and connects the ranger station to the beach area, just to the right of the Claro River. From the ranger station walk down the grass airfield, and on the left side there is a sign pointing to the trail entrance. The initial portion of this trail is very different than the two previous trails. The canopy overhead is very thin, and the trail has a much more coastal or beach like feel to it. The first half of the trail is lined with beautiful heliconia plants and colorful berry trees, some of which hang overhead. The ground in this section is considerably drier due to the direct sunlight that hits the trail. Near the midway point of the trail the rainforest becomes denser and begins to resemble the Guanacaste and Espuvellas trails. You will, for a short time, need to straddle a river than runs adjacent to the trail, which can get muddy and wet during the rainy season. Your hike comes to an end as the trail reaches the beach, after approximately 30 minutes of hiking.
To complete these three trails one should expect to hike for approximately 3 1/2 hours, but much depends on the weather, trail conditions and your interest level. The rainforest is a very complex community of living organisms, with so much to see.
SAN PEDRILLO RANGER STATION
The San Pedrillo ranger station is the most northern of the four, stations and is located along the coast just before Drake Bay. Situated just off shore, a short distance before the entrance to the Ranger Station, is Picaros Island, which serves as a refuge for several species of marine birds including the Brown Boobie, Blue Heron and Brown Pelican. The station is open from 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., seven days a week, and has public bathrooms and showers. For those who want to stay over night, there is a $4.00 night fee, and there is plenty of ground space available out front for tents. There is no food service provided, you must bring your own food and water.
Before departing the ranger station, kindly remember to sign into the guest book. The first trail begins just behind and to the right side of the Ranger Station, alongside the river. The initial portion of the trail is a rather steep uphill climb, through secondary rainforest. Wherever necessary, large slabs of tree trunk have been strategically placed on the ground to assist you with your footing. Just before reaching the plateau, on your left side, there is a lookout area, with views of the ranger station and Pacific Ocean. This is a good spot for a brief rest, photos, or whale and dolphin watching.
Moving forward, entering primary rainforest, the trail remains relatively flat, weaving through the forest, often around and/or over fallen trees and broken branches. Your hike along the first portion of the trail will last approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours, and will bring you to the National Park boundary just north of the Ranger Station. Beyond that point the rainforest is no longer considered part of the National Park, but rather a reserve.
After reaching the National Park border you can either continue forward to Playa San Josesito, or retrace back towards the ranger station. If you choose the latter, continue walking until you reach the intersection, which is not marked, and veer left, which will lead you to the San Pedrillo River and waterfalls. The hike to the river takes approximately 45 minutes, with the latter portion of the trail being a rather steep downhill section over some slippery terrain if the ground is wet. Once again, large slabs of tree trunk have been thoughtfully positioned to help you with your footing. Upon reaching the upper portion of the river you will need to cross over it in order to pick up the same trail on the other side, which descends rather quickly, running parallel to the large waterfall that sits just off to the right side. It is recommended that you DO NOT swim under this waterfall due to its immense size. Further down river, there are other opportunities to swim under smaller waterfalls.
The remaining portion of the trail is relatively flat and hugs the river, initially along the left side, and later along the right side en route to the San Pedrillo ranger station. The water level of the river varies depending on the time of year, but you should expect to get wet here, perhaps knee deep. If you are really adventurous, you can even follow the river all the way to the ranger station, walking chest high in some locations.
The animal life in this section of the National Park is quite vibrant, with frequent sighting of monkeys, cocmundids, squirrels, spiders, macaws, bats, leaf cutting ants, and other animal species. As well, much will be mentioned about the plant and tree species, which is lush, and teeming with life.