The road to Corcovado National Park was once paved with gold – lots of gold – and although most of it was carried off by the Diqui Indians, miners still pan here illegally. These days, though, it’s just an unpaved track that fords half a dozen rivers during the bone-rattling two-hour ride from the nearest town, Puerto Jiménez, and which runs out at Carate, the southern gateway to the park.
The journey in doesn’t make an auspicious start to a hike in Corcovado – and it gets worse. Trekking here is not for the faint-hearted: the humidity is one hundred percent, there are fast-flowing rivers to cross and the beach-walking that makes up many of the hikes can only be done at low tide. Cantankerous peccaries roam the woods, and deadly fer-de-lance and bushmaster snakes slip through the shrub.
But you’re here because Corcovado is among the most biologically abundant places on Earth, encompassing thirteen ecosystems, including lowland rainforests, highland cloudforests, mangrove swamps, lagoons and coastal and marine habitats. And it’s all spectacularly beautiful, even by the high standards of Costa Rica.
Streams trickle down over beaches pounded by Pacific waves, where turtles (hawksbill, leatherback and Olive Ridley) lay their eggs in the sand and where the shore is dotted with footprints – not human, but tapir, or possibly jaguar. Palm trees hang in bent clumps, and behind them the forest rises up in a 60m wall of dense vegetation.
Corcovado has the largest scarlet macaw population in Central America, and the trees flash with bursts of their showy red, blue and yellow plumage. One hotel in the area offers free accommodation if visitors don’t see one during their stay – it’s never happened. And after the first sighting of the birds flying out from the trees in perfectly coordinated pairs, the long journey to reach Corcovado seems a short way to come.
It’s best to visit Corcovado during its dry season (Dec–March). Meals and camping space or lodging need to be booked six weeks in advance (+506 257-2239, [email protected]).
Top image © Cameris/Shutterstock