Corcovado National Park goes by many names. The Amazon of Costa Rica. “The most biologically intense place on Earth”. It takes up only 3% of the country while housing over 50% of Costa Rica’s plants and animal species.
Getting there isn’t easy. It’s only accessible by plane or boat, and visitors are limited. Passes have to be purchased in advance, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. You’re only allowed in with a licensed guide. If you want to go to Corcovado, you’ve gotta be all in.
Just the day before, I had visited Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica’s tiniest and most-visited park. It was delightful, but very different to Corcovado. Getting there is easy, some even do a day trip from San Jose. Boardwalks take you through the various trails, which get packed fast.
In Corcovado, the opposite is true. There’s no dock to pull up to if you arrive by boat. You just get as close as you can to shore and wade in. Trails are just muddy foot paths with a board or two thrown over any wetter areas—if that. Sometimes you’re wading through a river or climbing over a rocky embankment trying not to fall in. It’s not for everyone.
I’m not a nature gal by any stretch of the imagination. So this was forcing me out of my comfort zone. I wanted to see animals in the wild, and at Corcovado, I got that and then some.
We got up at 5 a.m. to make it to Uvita where our tour would depart. The drive there takes about an hour, give or take.
From there, we waded through to our boat, where the 1.5 hour ride began. If you’re seasick, you won’t enjoy this. Every now and again, the boat would ride a wave and go airborne, then SMACK down onto the water with a jolt. Despite all of this, I never got sprayed with water. Our captain was a pro.
At about the one hour mark, he pointed out a game of whales that looked to be maybe 20 feet away. Then gestured to the snakes swimming much closer to our boat. Those, I was told, would kill you in 3 minutes.
Got it, stay in the boat.
Once we pulled up to shore and waded through to the Sirena sector of the park, we got an idea of what our day would look like. There are five sections of the park, and we would spend our day in the Sirena sector. Hike one trail, stop for lunch, then hike another. Go big or go home.
Our guide pointed down the river and about 30-40 feet away was a crocodile chilling on the embankment. He then told us we’d wade through the shallow part of that same river.
Now, it’s maybe two or three feet deep, and the croc was safely far away, but I still hurried through the river cause, ya know, what if?
Into the forest we went, and our guide was pointing out neat plants and little bugs left and right. Guides have a real eye for spotting the smallest creatures, as evidenced by the teeny caterpillar I found myself staring at.
We reached a clearing and we all gasped. You expect to see sloths in Costa Rica. It’s weird if you don’t. But you do not expect to see them this close.
But there they were, a mother and newborn.
Our guide whispered that the newborn had probably fallen off its mother’s back, and mom was trying to coax the baby back on. Every now and then, the baby would squeal and mom would quickly nuzzle it. It was unbelievable. We were so, so lucky.
It was hard to walk away from such a treat, but we had a trail to finish. So we meandered to the beach, where our guide pointed out a family of white-faced monkeys. And… a baby!
It really was our lucky day. The little one was fast asleep on mama’s back, totally oblivious to the enthralled audience.
We were all eager to return to the little sloth family, and see if the baby was close to getting back mom’s back. The little one was… getting there. The baby had moved behind mom, but was still squealing. Like a toddler when they fall down, and mom looked over it. Parenthood in a nutshell, I’m told.
Lunch was a buffet at the ranger station and I probably guzzled three of four full glasses of water. I was parched.
Like I said, I’m bad at nature. But hey, I was trying.
Our last hike would take us to a waterfall where we could do some swimming.
This hike was significantly more difficult than the previous one. Or maybe I was more tired. Either way, it was a climb through muddy trails over tree roots that dangled over the cliff.
Oh, look, there’s another crocodile chilling beneath us. Got it, won’t fall off.
Once we got to a shallow part of the river, we made the climb and continued the trek toward the waterfall. It was intense. The rocks are slippery and the trail is narrow. Proceed with caution.
We finally made it to the waterfall and soon either sat by the springfed pool or hopped in. I was just grateful to sit. I also hadn’t brought my swimsuit. Rookie mistake.
While we were taking a breather, our guide pointed to the other side of the river, where a spider monkey was chasing after a leaf. It’s incredible to see them use their tails to hold them up.
We started leaving the waterfall, and found out we had made it there just in time. We had the whole area to ourselves, but passed at least three tour groups making their way there.
Finally, we packed up our gear, waded through to our boat, and waved goodbye to Corcovado. I was drenched in sweat, covered in mud and ocean water. It was hands down my best day in Costa Rica.
That said, when we got back to our hotel at 5 p.m., I couldn’t wait to shower and eat a lion’s worth of food.
Things to Know Before You Go
The park is open daily from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tours usually depart from Uvita or Manuel Antonio. I recommend… this one. Bring hiking shoes, sunscreen, DEET, lots of water, a towel and a swimsuit if you’d like to swim.
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