One of the more remote, wild, and alluring destinations in Costa Rica renowned for its ecotourism is Corcovado National Park. Lying on the Pacific Coast of the comparatively underdeveloped Osa Peninsula, it has been referred to as one of the most biologically intense places on Earth.
Complete with 13 ecosystems and Pacific Central America’s only remaining old growth wet forests, Corcovado shelters some of the most awe-inspiring natural beauty that I’ve ever seen in my life. You can camp in the park, but I went on an exhilarating and unforgettable one-day hike.
There are several benefits to hiking with a guide: first, you won’t get lost! Corcovado National Park is a truly wild place and sometimes the trail isn’t overtly obvious. Second, a guide can point out all of the different species to you! Without my guide, I would have had no idea which species of trees were unique and why, or what the names of all the striking birds that we saw were. Also, if you’re headed to specific destinations like ranger’s stations or campsites, a guide will make sure that you get there smoothly.
There are several advantages to stopping at a ranger’s station, namely that you might be able to pack less. In a medium-sized water resistant backpack, I brought one big water bottle, because I knew I would be stopping at the station. If you’re planning on hiking to a ranger’s station or a campsite, there will be purified water available there.
The midway point of my hike was at a ranger’s station, so I had access to a bathroom and a place to rest while eating the lunch I had packed. However, the trail is long and you may want to stash hygiene and antibacterial wipes in your bag just in case. In addition to a filling-enough lunch, it’s also a good idea to pack snacks (mine were fruit and nut bars), which you can either prepare in advance or stock up at in Puerto Jiminez.
The heat and humidity on the Osa Peninsula is astounding, so I made sure to bring enough water, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunscreen. Good, strong, sweat-proof sunscreen is a necessity, especially if you’ll be hiking along the beach. Depending on where you go in Corcovado, there may be shade. However, the trail I took was along the edge of the park and the sunlight was fierce. If you’re walking along the beach, there is no shade there either, so load up on the sunscreen!
Luckily, I visited Corcovado in the dry season, so I didn’t have to worry about rain poncho. However, this did not mean I didn’t get wet. A lot of rivers flow through the park, and many trails involve at least one river crossing. Mine involved around eight – you lose track after a while – sometimes getting wet almost up to my knees. Each crossing reminded me of how glad I was that I had worn light spandex leggings, which dried quickly in the afternoon sun.
Some people in the group gingerly crossed each river barefoot, but most didn’t bother with taking off their boots before the crossings, meaning that we arrived at the end of the trail with soaking wet hiking boots. We only had one day in Corcovado, and it was our last. However, if you’re planning on hiking for more than one day, a hairdryer or something to help dry your boots before the next day would be invaluable!
Near the ranger’s station we visited, there was a waterfall about a 45 minute hike away. Because of this, some people brought swimsuits or wore them under their outfits. I didn’t end up swimming, but it was great to have the swimsuit in my pack in case I had wanted to!
Another thing I brought just in case was a headlamp, but we made it back out of the park well before dusk. However, if you’re cutting it close or if the setting sun isn’t penetrating into the deep vegetation in the park’s inner reaches, a headlamp would be essential. After the hike, I was incredibly grateful that I had proper trekking sandals instead of boots. Soaking wet socks are no what I’d like to have during the hike.
Of course, a camera is also essential, and a nature guidebook would be useful if you’re not going with a human guide. And that’s about it! Though a hike in rugged Corcovado might seem daunting, a day hike is easy, enchanting, and worth every sweaty moment.
Photos by Rebecca Schroeder and Sierra Ramirez (a hiking buddy).