Corcovado (Costa Rica #2)

National Geographic once referred to Costa Rica’s first established national park as “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity.” From our previous station at Los Quetzales, we were headed down the Cordillera mountain range toward the Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica. Since 1975, the 164 square miles of Corcovado National Park has been considered a crown jewel of the country’s extensive system of parks and biological reserves, and we had been looking forward to the big adventure now for months.

ancient stone spheres at an archaeological site en route…

We knew that the journey to this remote Pacific wonderland would be a challenge for the average traveler but rewarding if undertaken safely. Corcovado’s 13 major ecosystems beckoned with possibilities, encompassing the last virginal old-growth forest to be found along Central America’s Pacific coast. Corcovado contains 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity, astonishingly enough. It contains more than 500 species of trees, for example, and (as I would learn) about 5% of all the planet’s animal species.

Leafcutter Ants at work…
Cherrie’s Tanager

With visions of monkeys, jaguars, and scarlet macaws dancing in my head, we secured our vehicle in the village of Sierpe, busy with arriving hikers and with giant crocodiles lounging near its central restaurant. An hour boat ride down the Rio Sierpe took us quickly through the vast Terrab-Sierpe National Wetlands, a mangrove wilderness where apprentice shamans once began incredible journeys in search of a special fungus to be used in hallucinogenic tea for guidance through seven days of fasting and drinking. Boating past the mangroves was no way to gain a shaman’s knowledge of self and place, but a sense of magic could be felt through this river journey, almost as if “being watched by lives unseen.”

my god, that grasshopper was what, 4 inches, 5-inches long?
Bare-throated Tiger Heron

Our small boat blasted into the Pacific and soon encountered a warm torrential rain that had us hunkering behind our ponchos. This was a wild West I had never experienced before. We arrived at Bahia Drake, a wet landing in the broken surf and climbed the frontier village for our reserved rooms in a quiet “eco-lodge.” Next morning, after an early breakfast courtesy of our hosts, we assembled on the beach and met our guide for Corcovado, a young Costa Rican named Daevid, who would prove to be the best birder I have ever met, an excellent, enthusiastic teacher of the Costa Rican wilds.

Bahia Drake, w/ high point of Costa Rica above the cloud layer, from which one might see both Atlantic & Pacific oceans…
main drag, Bahia Drake village…
our guide, Daevid, at center…

Because Corcovado is secured against unwarranted human impact on its pristine territory and because of the potential danger to inexperienced hikers on its system of trails, entry to the park (other than for research purposes) requires the accompaniment of a certified guide. Approaching the park on our ocean ride, we paused for a voyeuristic study (yes) of two Olive Ridley Turtles mating on the calming surface, then continued toward the shore for yet another wet landing in the surf.

Olive Ridley Turtles, duty for the future…
Palm Tanager & Golden-naped Woodpecker…

To minimize human impact on the national park, only about 150 visitors are allowed each day, so we felt lucky to merge with the monkeys (all four species), Fig and Fica trees, coatis, anteaters, sloths, tapirs, wild cats, butterflies, leaf cutter ants, and birds (more than 400 species, including the rare Harpy Eagle) that morning. You can bet that our senses were alert, our bodies easing through the awe-struck hours.

Tree Boa…

Back in Bahia Drake, we enjoyed a dinner with our park guide, Daevid, and the five other travelers who had been with us throughout the morning and afternoon. I thanked Daevid for sharing his expertise on Corcovado’s natural history. It began to rain as he mounted his motorcycle for a long ride home, and his last words of advice to me were “Never stop birding!” As if I ever doubted.

not everyone makes it out in one piece…
Great Curossow…
the uncommon Squirrel Monkey…
checking out those humans…
Adios, says Spider Monkey… heading to volcano country next….

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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12 Responses to Corcovado (Costa Rica #2)

  1. Brent says:

    Just a mind-blowing array of biodiversity in a small spot! I imagine that the boat ride to a frontier village, followed by traveling on foot into the remote jungle, carried some echoes of the great literary quests. Thankfully it had a more pleasant outcome than Heart of Darkness.

    It’s also interesting that so many of the species found there have been able to adapt to a variety of ecosystems. Coatimundis and jaguars, for example, extend north out of the jungle and into the Sonoran Desert.

    • Yes, this was not the Heart of Darkness, thankfully, though the pilot of a small plane decades ago, might have considered otherwise. Most reminiscent of the tale might have been our long boat ride down the Sierpe along the mangrove jungle (prior to reaching the ocean) where I appreciated not having to travel on foot. The biodiversity of the region seems staggering to the un-adapted journeyman.

  2. alex55manta says:

    So you weren’t worshiped by local admirers during your visit? My goodness, the amount of different species is amazing indeed! Good pics – looks like more evidence of a great trip. SRS meeting approaching – not nearly as diverse or exciting but… lol …UB

  3. Jet Eliot says:

    Dear Walt, I soaked up every lovely word of this incredible Corcovado adventure. Through your words and photos, you captured the spirit of this remarkable place on earth, the human and animal creatures, the weather, and the pure brilliance of life along the CR coast and rainforest. I am smiling because it feels like I’ve just been to Corcovado, a place I hope to someday see in person. Thank you and cheers!

  4. plaidcamper says:

    What an adventure, Walt! Oh those monkeys…
    A wonderland of biodiversity, and your enthusiasm for this place is evident in your words and pictures. And again, because I can’t help myself, those monkeys – what a joy!

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    I feel as though I’m taking the easy way out, but words fail me and my thoughts are perhaps best expressed in emoji form 😮😮😮. I can’t even imagine.

  6. Bob Matuzak says:

    Looks like a pretty neat trip!

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