morning on a beach with palm trees and ocean

The Other Corcovado: Costa Rica’s Biodiverse Haven

For us non-Portuguese speakers, if Corcovado rings a bell, it’s because of a giant Christ overlooking Rio de Janeiro. Somewhere in Central America, though, the word evokes something different. Corcovado is one of Costa Rica’s 27 national parks, a reserve with limited human intervention that hosts around 2.5% of our planet’s biodiversity and is visited by fewer than 100,000 people per year. 

Impenetrable forests, quiet beaches, and trails where coatis are more common than people are just a few of Corcovado’s features. The lushness, however, isn’t for everyone. Exploring the Osa Peninsula grants the possibility of spotting crocodiles, harpy eagles and the four species of Costa Rican monkeys, but it requires sacrificing urban luxuries, bidding farewell to 5G, and walking on improvised paths. 

Personally, it is tapirs that convince me to venture into Corcovado. Costa Rica is one of the few places where you can spot a Baird’s tapir in the wild and according to statistics, this reserve is a good place to try your luck. With hopes of sighting Central America’s largest land mammal, I leave the remote coastal village of Carate and delve into Corcovado. 

A pristine beach leads me to Leona, the southernmost sector of the park. Gradually, the sunlight and the signal bars disappear, leaving behind hundreds of hermit crabs and almond trees full of scarlet macaws. “Why Leona?” I ask the guide, implying that lions reside on the other side of the Atlantic (leona is Spanish for “lioness”). Jaguars, he says. Although we don’t spot them easily, they’re keeping a close eye on us. 

Tucked in the jungle, La Leona Ecolodge awaits with tents too comfortable to be called camping yet too rudimentary for glamping. Like every room, mine is illuminated solely by candlelight. Outside, joined by a choir of unrecognizable animal calls, the sky reveals constellations that can no longer compete with urban glow. 

The next morning we rise with the sun to make the most of daylight. Álvaro, our local guide, is ready to hike the trail separating Leona from Sirena. We stroll without hurry, stopping more often than not. The reasons? Toucans, hummingbird nests, and Golfodulcean poison frogs endemic to the Osa Peninsula. We come across less than 20 people along the way, but when it comes to flora and fauna, we lose count. 

The hike back is more intense. The tropical heat has taken its toll, and a shower sounds heavenly. We pause when howler monkeys momentarily make me think we’re surrounded by big cats. Soon after, we continue and reach the hotel with time to rest before the night walk. After all, tapirs are often active at night. 

Equipped with rubber boots and flashlights we set out to explore the surroundings. We agree to spend about an hour outside. How naive! Three hours and several critters later, we’re wandering happily and aimlessly. It rains and stops raining in a loop. Most people wouldn’t want to stumble upon a grumpy-looking fer-de-lance, but when we spot the viper from a distance, we feel like we’ve hit the jackpot. 

Here, nature dictates everything. The trails, though always the same, are never identical. If it’s not the time of day or the number of clouds, it’s the animals encountered along the way that make Corcovado unpredictable. Every scene here is worthy of David Attenborough narration. 

Did I see any tapirs? Not one. Statistically, the trip might be considered a failure, but for me, it was quite the opposite. Corcovado left me with postcard views that rival paradise, trails shared with anteaters, and scorpions that look ghostly under UV light. Not bad for a consolation prize. 

This article was originally published in No. 33 of Globetrotting Magazine.

Share with friends and family
Marck Gutt
Marck Gutt
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Get the latest travel trends & hear about the best deals on vacations around the world.

If you’re a Globetrotter, these are the newsletters for you!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x