Corcovado: Making Friends With Wild Rainforest Animals!

Corcovado Costa Rica

Corcovado National Park

Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica

Corcovado National Park is a remote and extremely biodiverse environmental reserve in Coast Rica. Full of deserted beaches, refreshing waterfalls, pristine rainforest, and ridiculous amounts of wildlife.

Costa Rica has many different National Parks, and Corcovado isn’t exactly the easiest of them to visit. There’s no road access to any of the park’s boundaries. But even if you’re not a big fan of long hikes, it’s still possible to arrive via boat or with a flight to a grass airstrip within the park.

To maintain my backpacking budget, I opted for the most exhausting and least expensive option. My own two feet.

A physical challenge for sure — but it turned out to be a great choice. After 4 days of solo-trekking through Corcovado, I was able to meet a wide variety of animals I’d never seen in the wild before. Up close & personal!

Snake in Corcovado Costa Rica

Boa Constrictor Guarding Bananas

Entering Corcovado National Park

My journey into Corcovado started in the village of Puerto Jiminez. Camping in the reserve is only allowed at ranger stations, and these spots can be booked up for weeks. So after securing the documents needed to enter, I had to wait around town for 5 days before I could begin.

A small price to pay for what I was about to experience.

Next it was time to jump into the back of a livestock truck with 20 other people for a bumpy 3 hour trip driving into rivers over a rutted jungle road towards the village of Carate.

The 4X4 truck was filled with local families heading back to their homes along with two other tourists and their guide.

Monkey in Corcovado Costa Rica

White Faced Capuchin Monkey

Hiking Along the Beach

Once I arrived at Carate I re-checked my gear, food, & water, then started the first day of hiking along the beach through pouring rain. Arriving the La Leona Ranger Station park entrance about an hour later, the storm continued to pound down as I set up camp.

A wet afternoon was spent wandering around nearby trails in the rain watching spider monkeys get angry at me, gangs of scarlet macaws flying overhead, a toucan, and some frogs. There’s something special about hiking under the rainforest canopy in the pouring rain!

Halloween Crabs for Breakfast?

After a comfortable night’s sleep in my camping hammock, I rose before sunrise on the second day to prepare for the long trek ahead. A 9 hour hike over secluded beaches and through winding rainforest trails to the Sirena ranger station.

Right away more animals came out to greet me on my travels. The first was a large family of about 20 Coatis digging for a delicious breakfast of Halloween Crabs.

While those colorful crabs looked kinda tasty, I had a long trip ahead of me and couldn’t join them. But the sky was finally clear and I was off to a great start.

Coati in Corcovado Costa Rica

Coati Eating a Crab

Wild Animals Everywhere!

As the sun rose higher, Spider Monkey families continued to angrily squawk at me while shaking the trees & branches over my head. I eventually spotted some White Faced Capuchin monkeys too. They were not nearly as pissed-off with my presence…

Spider monkeys need to take some anger management classes. :)

Hiking further into the jungle, a brown snake of some kind darted out from under the leaves near my feet. Luckily it wasn’t in a striking kind-of mood!

The dark & humid rainforest trail eventually led back to the beach where the sun proceeded to relentlessly beat me into submission. Trekking for miles over soft sand under the burning sun with a pack full of food, water, camping, and camera gear is pretty exhausting…

I secretly hoped the rain would come back!

Sections of beach were absolutely covered in hermit crabs, making it look alive. Beautiful groups of Scarlet Macaws were having conversations with each other as they flew low over my head.

Beach in Corcovado Costa Rica

Stopping for a Snack

Alone in the Wilderness

Eventually I stopped for lunch. Resting under the shade of a large palm tree, I went for a quick swim in the pounding waves. A cold waterfall back near the edge of the trees served as my fresh-water shower.

I could get used to this.

The rest of the trip was spent crossing rivers, wading through tide-pools, losing the trail, running after Jesus Christ Lizards, climbing palm trees, and having a blast. Finally after a long & exhausting (but scenic) 9 hour day on the trail, I arrived at Sirena Ranger Station in the heart of the reserve.

Throughout the hike I hadn’t seen a single person until I set up camp and made dinner with 4 others on a platform at Sirena. Howler monkeys roared at us from the trees in the twilight as I quickly fell soundly asleep.

Ranger Station in Corcovado Costa Rica

Sirena Ranger Station & Airstrip

Poaching in Corcovado

The morning of the 3rd day I rose and prepared a hardy breakfast of canned tuna and refried beans wrapped in tortillas. Yum! Refreshed and ready to explore Corcovado’s network of trails, I marched into the dense jungle yet again.

While shooting images of giant vine-entangled trees along the muddy banks of the Rio Claro, I was surprised when a group of armed local men came trudging by. I said hello as they took off their boots and began to cross the river.

Only then did I notice that two of the men were in handcuffs!

Unfortunately poaching & illegal gold mining in Corcovado is a constant problem. The park rangers had arrested 2 young men and were leading them out of the forest. It was comforting to see that Costa Rica’s laws were being enforced to protect the area.

Hiking in Corcovado Costa Rica

Hiking Rainforest Trails

Scary River Monsters!

There are several river crossings on the way to Sirena, and they can be dangerous to cross at high tide. Not only can the water be up to your neck, but 12 foot (4m) long Crocodiles and agressive Bull Sharks are often found in the rivers feeding on schools of fish.

This is why proper timing of your hike with tidal charts is so important, as I was about to find out.

I decided to follow a trail that led me to the Rio Sirena. The tide was starting to rise, but there seemed to be enough time to cross it, explore the other side for a bit, then get back before the river monsters came out to feed.

So after removing my boots and finding a tree branch to help support me in the deep water, I started across.

Suddenly a pair of eyes broke the surface of the water right in front of my legs!

Crocodile in Corcovado Costa Rica

The Crocodile that Wanted to Eat Me

Say Hello to My Little Friend

A large Crocodile was staring me down less than 3 feet (1m) away. 8O

After freezing for a second not sure what to do, I slowly backed out of the water, pulled out my camera, and took this photo.

Unfortunately my river crossing attempt had been canceled for the day.

I waited around for high-tide to see if I could spot some Bull Sharks swimming into the mouth of the river looking for fish. It wasn’t long before I saw their fins darting over the top of the water in the area where I had been planning to cross…

What the #%@$ is That!?

The sun had started to set, which meant it was time to head back to the ranger station for the night. Secretly hoping to see a Puma or Jaguar before I left the next day, my senses were on high-alert.

Without warning something came crashing through the jungle behind me.
I turned just in time to see a giant beast disappear towards the beach…

Running back out the way I came, I found the strange animal eating on the edge of the sand. It looked like a crazy combination of pig, donkey, and anteater rolled into one.

Tapir in Corcovado Costa Rica

Baird’s Tapir

It’s called a Tapir, and I was surprised at how big it was. At almost 4 feet tall, and at least 6 feet long, it’s the largest land mammal in Central America. It’s also in danger of extinction due to hunting & loss of habitat.

I watched this guy munch on leaves for a while, and soon it wandered right up next to me. It’s snout moves around independently like an elephant’s trunk, which looks quite funny up close.

I think he was trying to chat with me. Another new rainforest animal friend! :)

Goodbye Corcovado…

Finally on the 4th day it was time to part with the animals and return to civilization. But there were still plenty of things to see along the trip back. This is a complete list of all the animals I saw after 4 fun days of trekking through Corcovado National Park:

Not included in the list are other frogs, snakes, fish and birds that I couldn’t identify.

After an 7 hour trek back to the village of Carate, I greedily slurped down a few tasty beers and fired-up my last Nicaraguan cigar while waiting for the dreaded 3 hour truck-ride-from-hell back into town.

Making new friends with the rainforest animals in Corcovado National Park was definitely a unique backpacking experience that I will not soon forget. ★

Watch Video: Corcovado In Costa Rica

(Click to watch Hiking Corcovado National Park: Costa Rica on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica [Map]
Accommodation: Cabinas Thompson
Cost: $93 US in park fees, camping, & food for 4 days.
Useful Notes: My hike times are an hour or two longer than normal because of all the photos & video I shot along the way. For complete instructions on how I did the whole trip so cheaply, check out my guide: Corcovado on a Backpacker’s Budget.

Do you travel for wildlife? Ever been to Costa Rica? Share with us in the comments below!

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Hi! My name is Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for 3 years. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with entertaining stories, beautiful images, and money saving tips. Please join thousands of others who receive exclusive monthly updates!


Comments & Questions

34 Comments

  1. Joe
    October 19, 2014

    Hi Matthew,

    Just came onto your page while looking for information about the corcovado national park and hiking routes through it. Looks like this will be a must see stop for me while in Costa Rica :)

    I have two questions however, perhaps you know the answer to it.
    1. You also took with you some photography gear. Photography is definitely something I would love to do there however I am a bit concerned about the effects of the climate on my gear (my camera and lenses are my most precious good so far :)). Did you had any problems with the moisture?
    2. It looks like since the beginning of 2014 you are only allowed to enter the park with a guide. I can’t afford that for long so how are the surroundings of the park? Can you see similar scenery without the need of those hazzles?

    Thanks a lot. Your page is very inspiring :)

    Reply
  2. Andrew
    September 1, 2014

    Great summary of one of my favourite parks in Costa Rica! I’m so jealous you got to see a tapir (and up so close!).

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      September 2, 2014

      Other than a jaguar, it was the animal I wanted to see most while I was there. Not everyone sees them either, it was good timing at sunset when they come out of the forest to eat near the beach.

      Reply
  3. britt
    January 25, 2014

    This is so great! Did you by chance keep a copy of a checklist of what you needed to bring? Or what you would need next time to make anything easier? Thibking about doing this soon with some friends . Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  4. Dreamy Hiker
    September 1, 2013

    I love your post and wish I had read it before I went to Corcovado. You were lucky to have seen that crocodile and turned back at Rio Sirena! My friend and I thought it was safe to cross, so we did, and now we are lucky to be alive. Read about our story at my URL link.. It’s such a beautiful place, you don’t realize how dangerous it could be. :)

    Reply
  5. Samantha
    June 9, 2013

    Great story! I would be scared to death if I saw two eyes staring up at me in a river…that’d be the end of my hiking day for me haha! I’m glad I live at the beach so I don’t need to worry about that. I’m so jealous of the picture Coati, they’re so cute!! Haven’t made my way to Corcovado yet but it’s on my list and after reading your post I’m even more excited to go. Thanks for sharing such a great article :)

    Reply
  6. OdysseyExplorer
    March 22, 2013

    I found your site via your YouTube video on Corcovado. This is all great! I am headed to Costa Rica in mid-April and I am trying to plan out a trip to Corcovado myself. I just emailed the station to get a permit reservation, hopefully everything works out. I prefer to sleep in a jungle hammock, do you know if they would allow me to set mine up around the station? Is there a suitable place to even hang a hammock or do most people sleep in tents? Any advice is much appreciated!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      March 23, 2013

      They have covered areas for setting up tents, but you can also hang a hammock. At Sirena Station there are raised wooden platforms, like outdoor decks with a roof. Not sure they’ll let you hang your hammock in trees, but you can hang it off the wooden posts holding up the roof. Some people just bring a mosquito net and bedroll to sleep on the covered deck. Corcovado is an incredible place, have fun!

      Reply
  7. TammyOnTheMove
    January 8, 2013

    Just saw this post advertised in one of the FB travel blogger groups. Great post and awesome video. That is my type of trekking. Did you have a map or are the trails marked? Would love to do this trek (perhaps minus the river crossings-that croc encounter is soo scary!)

    Reply
  8. Stephanie Mayo
    November 30, 2012

    Absolutly amazing! Thanks for bringing me to the heart of Costa Rica with your post! This post reinforces the fact that this is the NP I want to go to in Costa Rica!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      December 5, 2012

      Glad you enjoyed it Stephanie. Thanks for stopping by! There is a lot to see in Costa Rica. :)

      Reply
  9. Dusty
    December 30, 2011

    Firstly, you rock for doing all this work that is so helpful to other travelers and so entertaining to many others. I hope you’re making ends meet. I’m landing in Costa Rica in three weeks and am probably not nearly as prepared as you, but hope to have some similar journeys. Think I can get away with hammock camping everywhere? How did you find out you had to make arrangements for the national parks? I had no idea. I’ll share your blog with friends to possibly help you out.

    Thanks!
    Dusty

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 2, 2012

      Thanks Dusty! I don’t hammock camp everywhere, but I don’t see why you couldn’t. You can ask locals if you could spend a night or two in their backyard, or when all else fails, “stealth” camping works too. :D

      Corcovado doesn’t allow camping on your own in the park, but you can camp at their ranger stations. The rules are different for each park though. Most of the parks will have a website explaining the rules. I also use the Lonely Planet Forum to research places and ask questions.

      Reply
  10. the wandering who
    December 9, 2011

    I ook so forward to the new editions of your blog… It is one of my favourite ones yet. The photos of the animals in your entry about Corcovado National Park were wonderful…as is your response to them. MOre , please…MORE! (smile!)
    THANK YOU!

    Reply
  11. NLM
    October 20, 2011

    This is terrific! Loved the tapir especially. Very inspiring. Thanks for posting. Nancy

    Reply
  12. Scot
    October 19, 2011

    Dude, you shoot some amazing videos.

    Reply
    • Scott
      October 19, 2011

      Also what are Coati? Bears?

      Reply
      • Matthew Karsten
        October 19, 2011

        They are actually part of the Raccoon family. I have no idea where the nickname came from… I guess they kind of look like little bears?

        Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      October 19, 2011

      Thanks Scot. I work hard on the videos, so I love knowing people are enjoying them. :)

      Reply
  13. Pat
    October 10, 2011

    Great photography and such interesting companions-colors are so vivid. The snake on the bananas is just awesone.

    Reply
  14. Nomadic Samuel
    October 9, 2011

    These are some great shots! When I was in Argentina I was surrounded by about 20 coatis all keen on stealing my tripod that I had left about 5 meters from where I was taking photos. I’ve got to admit I had never heard of the Baird’s Tapir – that would have definitely been a surprise!

    Reply
  15. Traveling Ted
    October 8, 2011

    Excellent synopsis of the park. I can’t believe you had to wait in town for 5 days to begin. I got in the next day, but I had to hire a guide and fly into the park. I only had 10 days in Costa Rica, so I did not have time for the lengthy permit process. Next time I come though I want to make the hike from Carate. Great post and awesome video. I am sitting at home in Chicago drinking my Costa Rican coffee reliving some of my Corcovado memories through your post and video.

    I was taking pictures of a crocodile at the river crossing you were talking about when downstream some Danish people crossed. I showed them pictures of the croc further upstream and they were quite amused. Glad you were able to backtrack out of danger.

    Reply
  16. Jasmine
    October 5, 2011

    Your photos are so bad ass! I love the snake one, I want to wrap it around my neck ;)

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      October 6, 2011

      I didn’t know you were a snake-lover Jasmine! :D

      Had I known what it was at the time, I might have let it wrap around my arm. But I wasn’t sure if it was poisonous or not until later on when I showed the photo to a ranger…

      Reply
  17. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures
    October 5, 2011

    Beyond, beyond incredible!!! I loved this post! That 1st shot is AMAZING!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      October 6, 2011

      Thanks Andi! The coastline along Corcovado is very easy on the eyes. :)

      Reply
  18. Sebastian
    October 5, 2011

    Like always a great video matt!

    Reply
  19. The Curmudgeon
    October 5, 2011

    “Making friends with wild rainforest animals.” Then you come home and cook AND eat a chipmunk! That Croc knew what you were going to do and was going to get even. You’d better watch your back. A Jesus Christ Lizard just could be your Last Supper. A bunch of Howler monkey’s is just like being with a bunch of teachers at a get-together. How could you fall asleep? You might damage your hearing.

    Reply
  20. Carlo Medina
    October 4, 2011

    The tapir is awesome! Looks like a stepchild of a rhino and an elephant. haha.

    Reply
  21. Michele
    October 3, 2011

    Just found your blog today, and I’m hooked! I don’t know if I’m quite that adventurous yet, but my backpacking trip with my husband is scheduled to begin next spring. It’s going to be an incredible 20-year anniversary trip! ;)

    Thank you for sharing so many gorgeous photos and the video as well as the blog post itself. I can’t wait to browse through the rest of your blog!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      October 3, 2011

      Glad you’re enjoying it Michele! I’m sure you’ll have a blast on your trip. You can make it as adventurous as you want to. :)

      Reply

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