Costa Rica is well known for its diverse systems of National Parks, the biggest of which is Corcovado. For our love of getting lost in the wilderness, we spent three and a half days sloshing through the mud and the pouring rain there, being chased by spider monkeys and assaulted by coatis. Okay, so it wasn't that crazy, but it was still a pretty wild trek. Here's how it all began...
I have always been fascinated by the wilderness. While road tripping through the U.S.A., I wanted to explore the remote Boundry Waters to the north. When RV'ing from North to South Island in New Zealand, Marlborough Sounds was a highlight of the trip. And on my first backpacking trip through Southeast Asia, the isolated mountains of Northern Laos caught my attention. So when the idea to go to Panama to visit Ashley, a friend who moved down there, popped into my head, I pulled out a map to search for the nearest wilderness.
Since I was probably going to be flying into San Jose and traversing my way overland to cross the Costa Rican/Panamanian border, I set my sights on the wilderness rainforest of Parque Nacional Corcovado, the “Amazon of Costa Rica.” I decide to tackle the logistics of this possible adventure in two missions...
Mission #1: Find Some Real Life Experiences
Quite a few of my globe drifter friends had gone through Central America recently, but in regards to the Park itself, there was one very real prospective. Ashley, my friend in Panama, had been living relatively near to the Costa Rican border for several months. I knew that she'd already done a few border crossings for her visa run, and chances were she'd probably spent some time in the area there. I decide to ask her.
“Oh, yeah, I think I've been there,” she says. “That was a few years ago, though, when I was living in Costa Rica with Sayward and the boys. Why? Are you thinking of checking it out?”
“Yeah,” I respond. “Depends though...I'm still doing the research. What did you guys do there?”
“Um, I think we drove in, walked around for a little bit and walked up to the entrance or something,” she answers. “I can't really remember exactly. I know it was still pretty beautiful, though. One thing I do remember is there were a ton of parrots flying around. You know, those colorful macaw parrots? There was a whole flock of them.”
Hmmm...exotic wildlife? That sort of catches my attention. “Really?” I say, “And what did the park look like there?”
“From what I remember, it was rainforest, jungle and beaches. Pretty remote wilderness feel.” There's that word, wilderness. I'm caught. “Anyway, if you decide on going there, let me know,” she continues. “I might be down for meeting up with you there and trek around a bit or whatever.”
“Yeah, for sure,” I say. “Will do.”
Mission One? Semi-accomplished. Okay, so it isn't really that much of a real-life experience, but the potential is there, and the search results did come with a bonus: Trekking partner number one? Found.
Mission #2: Do My Research
I go online and Google Corcovado National Park. A long list of links pop up that have information about “the longest stronghold of Pacific coastline primary forest.” I take my time to do some research.
I learn that the entire 103,290 acres of national park sits on a piece of land called the Osa Peninsula, which juts out from the Costa Rican mainland into the Pacific Ocean. Not only is it the largest of the country's national parks, but it also takes up about a third of the landmass of the Osa Peninsula. There are multiple habitats, from mangrove swamps to montane forests, all of which harbor within their boundaries a huge variety of plants and animals; birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Apparently, National Geographic referred to it once as “the most biologically intense place on earth.” What are some of the wildlife that peak my interest? I'm curious about seeing all four Costa Rican monkey species, crocodiles and caimans, jaguars and pumas, and notorious tribes of peccaries.
There are, of course, some logistical facts to consider: There are two main seasons...the wet, which runs from December to April, and the dry, which goes from May to November. There are 3 main entrances into the park, all of which have stations: San Pedrillos in the north, Los Patos to the east, and La Leona from the south, and the most common villages/towns for access to these entrances/stations are Agujitas, Las Palmas and Carate respectively. I find out that I can camp at these park stations for a fee, as well as book basic accommodations at Sirena, which is the Ranger station in the very heart of the rainforest.
As I read on, I learn that there are countless trails that crisscross throughout the park, some that can be done in a few hours, others that would take the better part of a day. From what I find, it looks like I'm going to have to put aside at least three days to experience what this wilderness has to offer.
The further my interest is peaked, the more i remind myself: There are no restaurants, no hotels, not even a basic beverage cart. This is a genuine trek through the wilderness, so I'm going to have to pack in my own food and water for the duration of my trek there. I learn that the ranger station at Sirena will prepare a very simple meal for me while I'm there, for a pretty penny of course, and I'd have to give them a heads up in advance if I want to go that route. Otherwise, I'll need to plan on being entirely self sufficient.
And one final note from my research: Pack out what I pack in. There are no garbage cans.
In short, I figure that Corcovado National Park sounds like a great idea. I decide to call up Scott, a fellow globe drifter, to tell him this new undertaking that I have up my sleeve. He's a regular nomad, and he's always up for an adventure. I catch him in the middle of making a pot of spicy curry quinoa and vegetable stew with fresh saffron from his recent trip to Egypt.
“Costa Rica, huh...I went there a few years ago,” he says. “So what's the plan?”
I fill him in on all the logistics of flying in, possible transportation ideas, places to stay along the way, and of course the national park itself.
“Sounds awesome,” he says. “And that's by Panama, right? So you plan on checking out Ash while you're down there?”
“Yeah, I'll just cross over from there and make my way to Guarare,” I say. “And actually, she kind of said she was interested in trekking Corcovado, too.”
“Really?” he says, clearly interested. “Well count me in, J, that sounds like a plan.” I smile, stoked to hear his response. Trekking partner number two? Found.
I brace myself for another wilderness adventure.
Coming Up: A 5-Part series called "Trek Through the Wilderness" chronicling our time spent sloshing away through the wilderness of Corcovado National Park, so please SUBSCRIBE and stay tuned!
And now we'd like to ask you: What do you imagine when you think of the wilderness?
I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters has deeply affected my view of travel. Read more...