Costa Rica Trip Report – Hiking in Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park is the largest of Costa Rica’s national parks at about 425 km2 in size. Corcovado boasts eight different life zones with a preponderance of tropical wet forests, many of which are uncut primary forests. It has been estimated that the forest assemblages making up the park have half of all species in Costa Rica, and 2.5% of all the species on earth! This includes 140 species of mammals and over 400 species of birds, including one endemic, and 17 endemic subspecies. The park also sees many times fewer visitors than parks in the central and northern parts of the country. All of this together makes for an amazing wildlife watching experience.  National Geographic Magazine has labeled the Corcovado area ‘one of the most biologically intense places on Earth’.

I had the opportunity to visit Corcovado last month and hike from the northern end of the park beginning at the Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge, and ending at the San Pedrillo Ranger Station. Like most of the visitors to the park, my goal was to see the elusive Baird’s tapir. The tapir is an endangered species, though they have fairly healthy populations in Corcovado. Despite their large size (up to almost 4 feet in height and 850 pounds), they are shy and mostly nocturnal, making them a challenge to spot.

After hiking for a few hours and spotting myriad birds, insects, and a few mammals, we stopped for lunch at the ranger station. I had seen a few tapir tracks in the mud across the trail, and I had contented myself with the notion that I would not be seeing one today. It was exciting enough to see the evidence of their recent passage through the forest.

A group of two hikers and a guide (the only other people we saw on the trail that day) came in from the other direction, and said that they had seen a tapir a half-mile or so down the trail. I did my best “stealth speed walk” perfected in previous frantic nature quests, refused to stop to remove my shoes to cross a small river (the resulting squelching from my wet shoes somewhat hindered the “stealth” part), and left all my gear behind in an effort to make it in time.

Baird's tapir resting in the shade - Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica. (Please excuse the blurry image.)
Baird’s tapir resting in the shade – Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica. (Please excuse the blurry image.)

My persistence was rewarded (and in hindsight, I definitely had the time to take my shoes off!). A Baird’s tapir was laying in a shallow wallow between two buttress roots near the trail, and had been there long enough that it had a sleeping lizard on its back.

Baird's tapir with a basilisk lizard perched on its back - Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica.
Baird’s tapir with a basilisk lizard perched on its back – Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica.
Amy's hiking boot next to a tapir print for scale. (Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica)
Amy’s hiking boot next to a tapir print for scale. (Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica)

This blog post was written by Amy Englert, one of Reefs to Rockies’ travel consultants specializing in travel to Costa Rica. In May 2015, she explored a variety of locations in Costa Rica. May marks the beginning of Costa Rica’s “green season”, our favorite time of year for unforgettable wildlife encounters.

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