Hiking Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula
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To Fear or Not to Fear: Hiking the Wild Osa Peninsula

Corcovado National Park

 

Many of the adventures I have undertaken this year have positively terrified me.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

I swore I would never sail again when I almost capsized in open Caribbean waters.

Could hardly believe I survived my many bus rides in Morocco.

Felt a strong desire to stay solidly on the ground after zip lining in Costa Rica.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Yet I continue to challenge my fears every day of my life.

It is one of the reasons why I travel.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

I quiet my anxiety and remember that the stories that scare me exist only where they live:

in my mind.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

The plane will not crash even though the air feels as rough as third world roads.

This bus will not overturn and roll down the rocky cliff despite the many blind corners.

That man with a machete has no intention of slicing anything but a coconut.

 

crocodile remains corcovado

 

While I refuse to live a life dictated by fear, I must ask myself, when does fear serve me?

When is fear the primal voice inside alerting me, as an animal, that I am in danger?

Should that voice ever be silenced?

 

Corcovado National Park

 

After hearing stories of shark infested water, crocodile covered shoreline, hungry pumas, aggressive wild boars, venomous snakes, ticks that latch on humans, swarms of mosquitoes, and hardly navigable trails, fear pulsed within me as I planned my excursion into the famous Corcovado National Park.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

I was unsure whether this fear was one of the many games my mind plays or a true instinctual warning.

 

Two weeks ago, I gave myself permission to find out.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

With food, clothing, and shelter on my back I began my twenty-two kilometer pilgrimage to the La Sirena Ranger Station, the least accessible but most biologically diverse base in Corcovado, if not the world.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

We walked in silence down stunning sun soaked black sand beaches.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

The ocean warned us of its dangers with each thunderous crash.

Currents could consume one who dared look to the water for reprieve from the scorching sun.

If the sharks didn’t feast first.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Rocks and reef formed cliffs we had to climb, nesting seasnails in their crevices.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Deep in the jungle tangles of leaves provided shelter for venomous snakes.

My eyes rarely left the ground.

 

Spider monkeys Corcovado National Park

 

Monkeys feasted on bananas and swung across low limbs in the trees, howling above me.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Fungi overtook fallen limbs forming extravagant mushroom bouquets.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Armies of ants marched across rotting logs carrying freshly cut leaves like surfers balancing their precious boards.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Yet somehow, to my actual disappointment, it all felt so… accessible.

Trodden paths.

Smiling backpackers.

Marked trails.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Was this the wild Osa Peninsula I had so feared?

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Lacking confidence in our own ability to navigate the wild jungle, we had hired a guide in Puerto Jimenez to lead us to La Sirena. He trekked Corcovado at least one thousand times. Did I mention he was seventy-one years old?

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Still he knew the Osa. And the trip to La Sirena had gone smoothly.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Until we reached the river.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

We stared incredulously when he claimed we would have to cross.

I worried about balancing my belongings on my head while wading in neck high water.

Marissa, with her Alabama roots, declared it crocodile paradise. We had faced those waters before in Samara.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

He laughed at our worries and I dismissed my and Marissa’s fears as foolish anxiety. The river had no crocodiles he assured. Besides it was the only path to entry.

 

I walked to the center, unable to see into the murky brown water around me, demonstrating that we could in fact cross.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

We cooled our bodies in the river while Marissa paced anxiously on land. I learned how to float.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

When our guide deemed it time to cross Marissa insisted he and two men we met on the path form a barricade around her.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

I was humored by this spectacle and made the journey on my own, carrying my sack over my head channeling Chiquita Banana.

 

La Sirena Ranger Station

 

La Sirena stood in the distance like a desert oasis.

 

La Sirena Ranger Station

 

The low hanging sun cast a golden glow over the grassy fields.

 

La Sirena Ranger Station

 

We walked hurriedly down the landing strip in disbelief that we had finally made it.

 

La Sirena Ranger Station

 

The station was beautiful, clean, had showers, and wifi.

 

La Sirena Ranger Station

 

Planes came and went down a long landing strip created by Colombian drug smugglers decades before the park was discovered .

Today it brings tourists and guides from Puerto Jimenez.

 

La Sirena Ranger Station

 

Travelers slept in dorm beds or high performance tents.

Was Corcovado a hiker’s retreat kept secret by fear-filled rumors?

 

La Sirena Ranger Station

 

Our guide made no arrangements and we laid on the hard ground on towels, wrapped in the mosquito nets we rented back in Puerto Jimenez.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

The next morning we heard stories of a hiker struck by the fer-de-lance viper, a deadly snake in Costa Rica.

He had on tall boots. I was less equipped.

 

La Sirena River Corcovado

 

We watched bull sharks swim in a transparent green river

 

La Sirena River Corcovado

 

and crocodiles float from the ocean’s mouth.

 

tapir

 

Saw endangered tapirs laze in shady mangroves

 

Baird's Tapir Corcovado

 

and bathe in cooling streams.

 

jesus-christ-lizard

 

Spotted the Jesus Christ Lizard who walks on water.

 

anteater Corcovado

 

Followed an anteater through the jungle

 

anteater Corcovado

 

until he climbed high in a tree to avoid our gaze.

 

puma Corcovado national park

 

We stopped in wonder and terror when a puma blocked our path.

Twenty feet away we watched the beautiful feline gaze excitedly at monkeys playing up in the trees.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Our guide informed us not to worry; he would take his walking stick and move the puma out of our way. I gaped in horror.

Another guide insisted we wait until it decided to leave.

 

puma Corcovado national park

 

So we sat in silence and stared at its magnificence. In that moment every penny we paid, every sweaty step we took, every bite of bread and peanut butter we ate, was worth it.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

But somehow, hours later, this incredible experience was tarnished.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

Back at the lodge, in the early afternoon, our guide slept while other groups hiked nearby trails. One lead back to the river we crossed with trepidation the day before.

 

“I saw a crocodile there this morning,” a hiker said.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

And with that my quieted fears resurfaced.

 

IMG_4435

 

I asked every guide within earshot.

All confirmed crocodiles regularly bathed in the river we had crossed.

Sharks often swam through at high tide.

The other guides looked in disbelief at the photos of Marissa shoulder deep in deadly water.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

I was sick contemplating the dangerous path I had unknowingly entered.

I wondered if I knew where the line between adventure and safety belonged.

I felt like a fool.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

The place that had once felt a little too civilized left me covered in more mosquito bites than I have ever known.

Left us picking multiple ticks off of one another for days.

Mostly it left me afraid.

 

Corcovado sunset

 

We hired a guide for security we could not conjure in ourselves, yet it was in fact him who put us in danger.

However it was precisely this false confidence that gave us the courage to enter Corcovado in the first place.

Our confidence in him gave us the strength we failed to find in ourselves.

 

Corcovado National Park

 

In the end I know we could have done it alone.

Marissa spotted nearly every animal.

We knew how to read the tides.

We would have been safer and made the trek in half the time.

 

Corcovado sunset

 

But I also know that we would not have done it alone.

 

And despite the dangers I would not un-live my experience.

 

Corcovado sunset

 

For that, our dear old sweet guide, who may have been missing a few marbles, was worth every penny.

 

 

 

How to Plan Your Excursion To Corcovado National Park

 

 

Step 1: Determine Your Route in Corcovado 

 

How much time do you realistically want to spend in Corcovado?

Do you feel comfortable sleeping in a ranger station?

Are you able to hike with your belongings on your back?

 

These are important questions to ask when planning your trip into Corcovado. Depending on your desires and needs there are wide variety of options in exploring the national park.

 

Day Trip in La Leona

One hour in a taxi or collectivo to Carate, 3 kilometer hike down the beach to La Leona

 

Fly from Puerto Jimenez directly to La Sirena

Less than one hour, $70 per person, $500 for private plane that seats six

 

Boat from Bahia Drake to La Sirena

Two hours, $45 per person

 

Hike from Carate to La Sirena

19 kilometer hike, 5-7 hours, $10 collectivo from Puerto Jimenez to Carate

 

Hike from Los Patos to La Sirena

24 kilometer hike, 7-9 hours, $10 collectivo from La Palma to Los Patos

 

 

Step 2: Choose a Base for Exploration

 

Corcovado is best accessed by either Puerto Jimenez or Bahia Drake depending on your desired mode of entry to Corcovado.

 

Puerto Jimenez

Puerto Jimenez is a small town across the Golfo Dolce from Golfito. The town itself is a dusty fishing village with modest, affordable accommodations. If you wish to fly to, hike to, or take a day trip in Corcovado it’s a good option to spend a night. We stayed one night here before taking a taxi to Carate where we began the hike to La Sirena. Tour operators advertise on the main street making it easy to arrange a trip.

 

Bahia Drake

Bahia Drake is a destination unto itself. The beaches and jungle are stunning and it’s possible to swim and snorkel in nearby islands. We chose not to begin here as there are no hostels. However, it is possible to find all inclusive jungle beach resorts for a reasonable price.

 

 

Step 3: Hire a Guide… or Don’t

 

We chose to hire a guide for several reasons.

 

1. They can spot many animals and offer a wealth of knowledge on the national park and its creatures.

2. They know the path. While the trail is navigable, a guide takes any guess work out of the equation. They also know where many of the animals like to be which increases your chances of seeing rare wildlife.

3. They simplify the process. They have cooking equipment for you to use. They book your reservation at the park. They make the experience seem more feasible.

 

Don’t let my bad guide deter you. The other guides at the station were professional, safe, and well informed. Most were booked through Osa Wild.

Find rates and options for guides here.

 

If you choose not to use a guide there are two important things to know:

1. You must reserve your place in the park in advance. They restrict the number of people who can enter each day, so be sure to reserve ahead of time.

2. Reserve your spot in La Sirena. Whether you camp or take a dorm bed you must contact the station and reserve ahead.

3. Watch the tides! There are two spots in Corcovado where tides are a concern. Be sure to check the tide schedule and time your trek accordingly.

 

Step 4: Pack Your Bag

 

Food: Bring enough food for breakfast and dinner each day and lots of snacks. There is no refrigeration at the ranger station so plan accordingly. Also, remember that you are carrying everything on your back, so the lighter weight the food the better. Freeze dried meals from outdoor stores like REI are lightweight and easy to prepare.

 

Clothing:

Athletic Shorts

Athletic Pants

Sports bras

Several pairs of socks

Water shoes

Hiking boots

Long sleeved shirt, I was very cold at night

Tank tops

 

Other:

Mosquito Net

Swiss Army Knife for cutting fruit on the trails

Headlamp or flashlight

Sheets and pillowcase

Propane stove

Lots and lots of bug spray

Sunscreen

Towel

Toiletries, trust me you will want to shower!

 

 

The Cost Breakdown: 

 

Park Entrance Fee: $12/day

Lodging in La Sirena: $8/day for dorm bed, $4/day to camp

Guide: $45/day for a group of 4 or more

Transportation: $10-$70 each way, depending on how you arrive

Food: we spent around $20 each for three days, or $7/day

 

 

Want to create a truly life changing trip to Costa Rica? My eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica will show you how!

 

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Comments

  1. wow! i felt like i was right there with you when i read this. Im happy that you didn’t let your fear stop you because, like so many others, thats the number one thing that doesn’t allow us to pursue our dreams.

    you inspire me to go out and see the world with my kids:) that i thank you for.

    leslie

  2. I did that same hike 3 years ago and can totally relate to all your thoughts/experiences. Thanks for bringing me back with your beautiful writing and incredible pictures :) Also… keep kickin ass out there in the world. you rock!

    • Elena! So great to hear from you all the way in India. Would love to hear an update. Also would love to see your Corcovado pictures sometime! I had no idea you did that trek in the past. Hope all is well on the other side of the world. xoxo Oh and you rock too!! Hope you make it back to Puerto Viejo one day :)

  3. WOW! what an adventure!! so jealous! so many crazy animals you saw!

    when i am afraid of something, i like to look at statistics. i try not to let a few bad flukes hold me back. though this is NOTHING as adventurous as your story, i was absolutely terrified of eating raw oysters after hearing about all the terrible infections/parasites/etc. you can get from eating raw oyster…but i figured, if the walrus and the carpenter has so many frequenters, that must mean they don’t have many cases of the infections, otherwise they’d probably have no business…so i gave it a try and am glad i did.

    but speaking of which, what would happen if you did get an infection or something while traveling? do you know how the medical care is at these places? i really would love to go on all the adventures that you have sometime in the future, but i think i would need to carry a bazillion different kinds of antibiotics and other drugs just to ease my nerves…

    • Yes, research definitely helps ease my worries! Have you read my post on traveling the world as a woman? http://thisamericangirl.com/2012/11/29/traveling-the-world-as-a-woman/ The first tip is do your research! But then again, research on many travel matters are usually opinions of people who might be even crazier than I am!

      Going to a travel nurse before departing definitely helped calm my anxieties when I first left for Central America. They usually give you all sorts of pills you don’t actually need as well as antibiotics and such in case you are in a bind. In Costa Rica and Panama I have purchased antibiotics from a pharmacist without a prescription… even though they’re not legally supposed to!! Eep! If you must see a doctor I’ve heard it’s inexpensive, and of course you can always purchase travel insurance ahead of time.

      What scares me most these days is snake bites… because they usually happen in remote places without antidotes.

  4. Wow! Incredible journey! I am so glad that you guys are safe! Great pictures! And it sure does make a great story!

    • Thanks Joanne! It’s sad but true that when it happened that exact thought popped in my head: “Well, now I have a story for the blog!!” My misadventures always make great conversation at beach bonfires too 😉

  5. Rachel Says: May 2, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Ok, I am totally obsessed with this blog post! I was on the edge of my seat reading every detail, seeing every terrifying yet beautiful photograph of shark and crocodile infested waters. Growing up near the ocean and surfing every day, I have always had a fascination with the ocean. It is a mix of fear, curiosity of the unknown and appreciation for how amazing nature really is. I can’t get over how green that water is, I’ve never seen anything like it.

    I live in NYC, a total concrete jungle – so I live vicariously through your blog posts. Every time I read your blog, I anticipate the next post. You inspire me, and I share your blog with many of my friends (especially those that are about to travel). You’re amazing!

    • Rachel thank you so much for your kind, kind, kind comments. I can’t even express how much it fills my heart. I’m so glad that you enjoy my stories. And surfing every day? I think YOU are amazing! Anyone who has ever tried knows how much patience, discipline, and humility it takes to get back up on the board again and again when the waves just won’t relent. THAT inspires ME! Enjoy your concrete jungle, it’s my favorite city in the world! xo

  6. […] How every day I try to challenge myself to do something that truly scares me. […]

  7. Really nicely composed post and helped me think more carefully about visiting Osa or not, as I’m in Costa Rica right now!

    Fear conquering and stepping outside comfort zones is a really important thing to do isn’t it? I’ve written about this a fair bit over on my http://myyearinflux.com blog. We don’t really know ourselves if we stick to the same routine day in, day out, sometimes you just have to get out there and DO IT…though sounds like you went beyond the call of duty a bit!

    Great blog, keep it up!

  8. […] am rarely one to discount adventure but the common sense side of my brain still functions from time to time. So, overland was […]

  9. […] The Beaches of Corcovado National Park […]

  10. Hi! Thanks for your incredible post 😀 Great story (although.. eek!) and pictures. I just had a small question: Did you walk a tour, or did you just walk two days, from ? to Sirena and back? I saw your route options, but I don`t really get it – do you stay at one station and explore around, or do you walk from station to station as well? Thanks very much for your time! 😀

    • Hi Valerie. We hired a private tour guide. We took a taxi from Puerto Jimenez to the entrance to the park at Carate then spent the day hiking directly to La Sirena. We spent two nights in La Sirena, then hiked back the way we came in to Carate and took the taxi back to Puerto Jimenez. However, you can totally stay at different stations along the way if you choose. Most decide to stay at La Sirena because it has the most wildlife and best trails. Hope that answered your question!

      • Hi! Yes, that makes it clear, thanks. 😀 So during the days that you were at La Sirena, you would just do little hikes every day and walk around the station? Thanks again! :)

  11. […] am rarely one to discount adventure but the common sense side of my brain still functions from time to time. So, overland was […]

  12. Hi! Very glad I came across this post as I am planning my own trip to Crocovado next month. I have my reservations, but no guide yet. I have reached out to a few places and am waiting to hear back.
    Where did you find your guide? Online? Or is it possible to go to Puerto Jimenez one day early and find someone to take you to Sirena? And I’m not sure if I’ll have $$ to pay for a guide 3 days, would you recommend a guide for the hike in and go solo on the way out?
    I’m traveling by myself so I’m doing as much planning as I can.

    Thanks! and looking forward to hear back!

    • This American Girl Says: December 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      If you already have your reservation into the park it will be easy to get a last minute guide I think. You also have the option of arranging a guide once you reach La Sirena. I do not think a guide is at all necessary for the hike on the way out, but I don’t ever recommended hiking alone, just because you never know what might happen. I’d recommend getting to Puerto Jimenez, staying at the Celvante Jungle Hostel there, and maybe you can meet some people to arrange a trip with, otherwise just go into town to book a guide (DO NOT BOOK WITH THE HOSTEL). A guide will be quite expensive on your own however. For trekking on the way out, you can absolutely talk with the other people staying at La Sirena and just plan to go when they head out. Lots of people do it this way. For animal spottings I do recommend going with a guide while you’re in La Sirena. No matter what you do, it will be a great time though! So if you can’t afford a guide, do it on your own :)

      • Thanks so much for the reply! It’s a little nerve-wrecking trying to plan this solo, I’m trying my hardest to find other travelers to meet up with and share a guide. However, having been to CR before, I agree with you that word-of-mouth and last-minute planning usually works out quite well. Your pictures in this post are making me very excited and I will let you know what happens! And thank you very much for the hostel recommendation, Celvante Jungle Hostel looks beautiful and I will likely be spending my stay there!

      • Hello again! I’m still in the process of planning and was wondering how you went about finding your guide?

        • This American Girl Says: December 16, 2013 at 4:53 am

          My guide was through my hostel, and as you can tell from the story he was a terrible guide! If you scroll to the bottom of the article you will see the section called “Hire a Guide.” I have a link to Osa Wild along with their rates and options. When you get to Puerto Jimenez just look for the booking office and you can arrange it there. Good luck! :)

          • A very late follow-up indeed, but it’s been almost a year since I’ve done my hike at Corcovado. A great experience for sure, and I wanted to follow up to say thanks for the tips and for sharing your experience! I wrote my own post on a blog of mine- http://www.duebyfriday.com/corcovado-beast-of-the-osa/
            I like your writing style and layout, I hope you don’t mind, but I tried to reflect it in my own post. It’s not normally my style, but I find it very fitting!

          • Camille Willemain Says: November 23, 2014 at 4:08 pm

            Thank you! And I’m so glad you had a great time. One of the most incredible places on earth for sure :)

  13. I found your blog through Google and enjoyed the peculiar way that you described the journey. I’ll soon be doing that journey, so it was great to “see” your journey before I do mine.

    Thanks for sharing the details.

    Enjoy your travels.

    • Camille Willemain Says: March 13, 2014 at 8:54 pm

      Hi Jorge so glad you enjoyed it! Please let me know how it goes for you in Corcovado, it’s SUCH an incredible adventure :) Gorgeous photos by the way, I’d love to see how you capture Corcovado!

  14. wicked blog been to jimenez myself and osa but that pic of the shark wow

  15. […] post inspired by This American Girl, a blog with poetic photo-essay-ish posts that I enjoy reading. She travels all over the world, but […]

  16. Camille,
    Wow, are you serious with these photos? Unbelievable shots!!! From the red monkeys to the bullsharks & crocodiles…. even the subtle shots of the seasnails, just incredible!
    We wrote about our experience backpacking the Osa Peninsula here: http://lucidpractice.com/backpacking-osa-peninsula/
    Had a blast, hope you enjoy it, have some shots of Corcovado & some tips on how to travel this area on the cheap :)
    Keep up the great work!
    With positive energy ~
    Paz

    • Camille Willemain Says: March 15, 2015 at 2:32 am

      Thank you so much! Corcovado and the whole Osa is just amazing isn’t it?! Love love the intention of you blog as well. So beautiful to see other travelers taking the path of self inquiry and sharing love in the process.

  17. […] The Beaches of Corcovado National Park […]

  18. What a story! Beautiful photos! How lucky you were to have seen a puma. I adore Corcovado and have hiked and overnighted there often. Since your post was first written, the regulations in Corcovado have changed. One can no longer hike in the park without a guide.

    Also, if one is going to Sirena, making reservations to stay overnight is very important. There are limited spaces available for camping and the modest dormitory rooms. (As of August 1, 2015, it will not be possible to stay in the dormitories for the remainder of this season as some renovations will begin.)

    • Camille Willemain Says: July 21, 2015 at 10:13 am

      Ah thanks for the update! I suppose it’s for the best that they changed that regulation. I’ll definitely be back in the dry season to see how it’s changed.

      • You’re welcome. I’m heading there in a few weeks and will also return in the dry season during the annual women’s trip I lead . Maybe our paths will cross!