Corcovado National Park Hike: A Jungle Hike for the Whole Family
Kids and adults love a good adventure!
If your planning a family getaway that will excite the kids and amaze the parents, Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is sure to delight everyone.
It’s exciting for families to explore the heart of a tropical jungle together, and to see exotic wildlife in it’s natural habitat.
One of the things to do in the park is to do a Corcovado National Park hike.
This blog post shares our experience of hiking in Corcovado National Park with kids.
About Corcovado National Park
The Corcovado National Park is located on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. While the park is one of the more remote in the national park system, Corcovado provides excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.
Flora and fauna in the Corcovado N.P.
National Geographic called Corcovado National Park the “most biologically intense place on Earth” and this is no exaggeration. All four of the monkeys species found within Costa Rica (Mantled Howler, Squirrel Monkey, Spider Monkey and White-faced Capuchin) exist in large numbers throughout the park.
- Two crocodilians (the occasionally large and saline tolerant American Crocodile and the small Spectacled Caiman) persist within all of the park’s major waterways, as do Bull sharks.
- The Jaguar population within the park is the healthiest in all of Central America, however it is still extremely unlikely for a visitor to spot one (most locals have never seen them either.)
- Many other elusive cats call the park home as well, including the Puma (which is slightly smaller and more arboreal in Central American than in the United States, probably due to competition with the Jaguar,) Ocelot, Jaguarundi and Margay.
- The park is one of the last strongholds of the Baird’s Tapir and there are hundreds within decent proximity from Sirena Station, usually found lounging in the shade or in shallow pools of stagnant water.
- There are dozens of snake species present, many of them venomous, including the Fer-de-lance (also known as terciopelo or “Costa Rican landmine”,) the Bushmaster, the Eyelash Pit Viper, and the Coral Snake.
- The largest snake within the park is the non-venomous Boa Constrictor.
- Numerous other small mammals and reptiles are common within the park including, but by no means limited to, the White-nosed Coati, Sloth, Tamandua, Giant Anteater, Basilisk, and Ctenosaur.
- Birds include the highly endangered Scarlet Macaw, the Tiger Heron, Black Vulture and the Toco Toucan, among hundreds of others including the critically endangered Harpy Eagle.
Getting there by bus
Regular bus service is available to Puerto Jimenez. Passenger truck service from Puerto Jimenez to the southern entrance at Carate occurs on a biweekly or greater basis.
The journey generally takes between 3-5 hours by road depending on weather, traffic conditions.
Getting there by 4WD
All roads on the Osa Peninsula exhibit the disrepair characteristic of Costa Rica outside of the main tourist destinations. The road from Puerto Jimenez to Carate require a 4WD vehicle as it is a gravel road with several required river fordings.
It is recommended that this drive should only be attempted during the dry season. Note that Carate is next to the beach. Take care not to pass Carate as it is poorly marked. Parking is available by paying the store/bus stop which is Carate.
4WD Taxis are available for the passage from Puerto Jiminez to Carate. They are easy to find on the main strip of Puerto Jiminez.
Fees and permits
Permits must be reserved in advance. You must have a permit to stay overnight at Sirena. In practice, the Park often allows campers with their own food to enter without advance reservations and prepayment, but during busy times of the year even the camping areas are filled, especially Sirena Ranger Station.
Sirena is the only ranger station that offers dormitory lodging and hot meals in addition to camping. La Leona, San Pedrillo, and Los Patos offer only camping with no food service.
It is possible to secure park permits directly from the Ranger Station in Puerto Jiménez. They also do accept credit cards now (visa/master).
Corcovado National Park Hike
Hiking in the tropical rainforest together as a family can help to build a foundation of love for the outdoors and create family experiences that will be remembered over a lifetime.
Hiking in the tropical rainforest jungle with kids and young adults is different experience than with a group of only adults. Kids hike slower, their perspective is from a place closer to the ground. Kids are curious and have many questions about the new environment. There is a real joy in discovering the jungle from a young persons point of view.
The most important consideration in undertaking a long hike with children is to keep them engaged and interested through out the hike. One great way to keep them engaged is to keep a list of all wildlife encountered, and then to review the list together over dinner.
Related Read: Bird Watching Tips for Costa Rica
Both kids and adults will be amazed at the number of different species that they found in the forest. There are many games that can be played on the trail together to keeps kid’s engaged, another good one is to pick a letter and search for things in the jungle that start with that letter. For example, the letter is M, and they spot Macaw, Monkey, Motmot, Morpho, etc.
It’s important to remember that kids and young adults have different abilities and stamina and parents need to honestly assess if it’s both physically and psychologically possible for their child to make a major multi-day hike to Corcovado’s Sirena Biological Station or if a shorter day trip is more appropriate. Evaluate your child’s ability to walk on their own for 6-8 hours, and be sure your kids enjoy hiking and exploring.
Corcovado National Park hike details
The best seasons for doing the Corcovado National Park hike are the dry season from mid December through April and the beginning of the Green Season in May, June and July. From mid August through mid November is the thick of the rainy season. The park is closed in October due to inclement weather.
Park reservations are necessary to enter the park, even for day trips, so be sure to arrange your reservation through the park office or your guide before hand.
Two great hikes for families into Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park both start at the La Leona Ranger Station, accessed from the small town of Carate. A third option is to charter a plane from Puerto Jimenez to fly you into the park.
1. Day trip to Rio Madrigal for kids age 6 and older and adults who prefer shorter walks
This hike starts in the morning at the La Leona Ranger Station, and takes hikers 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) to Rio Madrigal. Along the trail, look for scarlet macaws, monkeys, morpho butterflies, mushrooms, and other flora and fauna.
While this hike can be made without a guide, guides are recommended as they can spot, share and explain the natural ecosystem and animals to the entire family. Bring a picnic lunch and your swimwear for a refreshing river swim and then hike back out to the La Leona Ranger Station in the afternoon.
2. Multi-day adventure (3 or 4 days) to Sirena Biological Station for kids ~12 years old and up and adults who enjoy serious hiking
This multi-day hike also starts in the early morning at the La Leona Ranger Station and takes hikers 17 kilometers (10 miles) from La Leona to Sirena Biological Station. Along the trail your guide will point out a wide range of flora and fauna from the forest floor all the way up into the rainforest canopy. This hike should not be made without a family friendly guide, as there are several river crossings and beach outcrops to navigate in collaboration with the tides.
Day one is spent hiking to Sirena Biological Station, the middle day(s) are spent exploring the network of trails around Sirena, and can include river swimming, waterfalls, and nature walks, and the final day is spent hiking out to La Leona Ranger Station.
3. Charter a plane into Sirena Biological Station
A third option for families not able to hike into Sirena Biological Station is to charter a plane from Puerto Jimenez (seats 6) to fly in / and or / out of the park. This option skips the day long hike, and offers amazing aerial views of the Osa Peninsula. The landing on the grass airstrip in the middle of the jungle is another experience you’ll not soon forget.
Hikes along the La Leona Trail meander from beach to forest, so be sure to bring plenty of water (3 liters per person is recommended), a hat and good sunscreen for this expedition.
Tips before the hike
- Get your kids outdoors often to look around for the small stuff – insects, fungus, birds.
- Let kids participate in practicing their hiking skills before the big trip.
- Share maps, pictures of animals, insects and plants found in the tropical rainforest.
- Express and share your own sense of excitement with your kids.
Tips during the hike
- Bring plenty of snacks to eat and water to drink.
- Give kids their own daypack or camelpack filled with water, emergency whistle, flashlight and snacks.
- Emphasize fun: spotting exotic wildlife, funny plants, or river swimming is always fun.
- Embrace the pace set by the kids, stop often to let kids rest, watch, and fuel up.
- Take lots of pictures to remember the fun.
- Let kids be kids and be prepared to change the plan if it’s not working.
What to bring on the hike
- Plenty of water
- Snacks for hike in / out
- Hat & swimsuit
- Comfortable lightweight clothing
- Sunscreen & sunglasses
- Closed toe, ankle high footwear
- Insect repellent
- Camera / binoculars
- Sheets / tent for Sirena
- Flashlight / other essentials
Related Read: Must Have Hiking and Camping Gear
More Tips for hiking safely in Corcovado National Park Costa Rica
The water at the ranger station is potable, but if you are concerned, bring some type of water purifier. The park recommends you carry 1.5 liters of water for the La Leona and Los Patos hike, but I’ve seen my guests drink this within the first 2 hours. Know your self and your water needs, dehydration and heat-exhaustion are common illnesses in the park.
It’s recommended to use sunscreen, a hat, and long sleeved shirt on the hike from Sirena to La Leona. While much of the hike is through the jungle, there are long stretches along the beach that benefit from sun protection.
Recent outbreaks of Dengue Fever in Costa Rica are a concern. Currently there is no Malaria to be worried about. Also, bug spray helps with the sand flies and no-see-ums…
Solo Hiking? No
It’s best to hike with a guide or a hiking buddy. There are several tricky river crossings and tricky rocky ocean/beach crossings that need to be navigated at low tide…
Don’t hike off-trail
Each year people try to bushwack their way to discovered areas of Corcovado, and each year the local community has to preform rescue missions to find them when they go missing. For your safety and the safety of others, it’s best to stick to the marked trails.
Crocodiles and Bullsharks rule the ocean here and love to swim at the mouth of rivers. In addition, the currents and tides are quite powerful.
Cross carefully and quickly, and never risk crossing the rivers at high tide or during heavy rain.
Watch where you step and touch. There are Fer de Lance and other poisonous snakes in the region. Be especially careful around rivers and streams where they come to eat frogs, especially at night.
Seemingly harmless, their bites sting for up to one hour…
There are two different species of peccaries in Corcovado, the Collared and the White-lipped Peccary. They run in packs and can be very aggressive. If threatened by a group of peccaries, climb a tree until you are six feet or higher off the ground.
Is the Corcovado National Park hike worth it?
While it’s really a hike vs a stroll through the park, Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park hike is an experience of a lifetime. Corcovado is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity and has been described by National Geographic as the most “biologically intense” place on earth.
A trip into Corcovado will be a trip your family will never forget.
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