CW Travelogue

Costa Rica’s Best-Kept Secret
Taste of Place | By Matt Thompson, Jul 1, 2014 05:20 pm

Costa Rica’s Best-Kept Secret

Any tico can tell you about Costa Rica’s best-loved highlights: the pristine surf breaks of Tamarindo Beach, the grand swooping slope of Arenal Volcano, the Monteverde cloud forest, Manuel Antonio National Park, the castaway beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula. But ask our local friends in this eco-conscious country and they’ll tell you that there’s one special spot on the southwest coast that tends to get overlooked. Corcovado National Park is, simply put, breathtaking. A glittering jewel of wild nature and unparalleled biodiversity on the Osa Peninsula, it’s Costa Rica’s best-kept secret.

What makes Corcovado so unique? There’s a good reason why this 164-square-mile reserve was named a UNESCO World Heritage site: Corcovado is one of the last lowland tropical rainforests in the world. These rainforests, as distinguished from their highland counterparts, have been logged almost to extinction around the world. Most that remain are too small to support the full range of the biome’s biodiversity, since larger animals need a vast habitat in which to roam. Corcovado, however, was considered to isolated and inaccessible to put to the axe. As such, it remains massive, pristine, and, in the words of National Geographic, “the most biologically intense place on earth.”

One of the most exceptional features of Corcovado is the way you experience this biodiversity first hand. Thanks to the relatively light ground cover found in lowland rainforests (and the eagle eyes of our expert guides, who always have a scope and a pair of binoculars at the ready), you can witness a broad range of animals in the wild. Pig-like tapirs snuffle through the underbrush in search of fallen fruit. A broad range of birds can be seen winging from tree to tree, including scarlet macaw, white hawk, short-billed pigeon, and white-tipped sicklebill. Visitors have the opportunity to view all four Costa Rican varieties of monkey: Central American Squirrel Monkey, Mantled Howler, Geoffrey’s Spider Monkey, and White-faced Capuchin. In addition, sloth, ocelot, white-nosed coati, poison dart frogs, and spectacled caiman might make an appearance on any given expedition into this ecotourism paradise.

That’s not all Corcovado has to offer, either. Since the national park is bordered on two sides by the Pacific coast, it actually shelters a vast amount of marine life as well. In fact, on our Costa Rica: Southern Rainforest & Coast Guided Walking trip, that’s how you first experience Corcovado. Since there are virtually no roads leading into this dense network of rainforest and jungle, the best way to get there is by boat. We approach the national park across Drake Bay, passing occasional humpback whales, orcas, and dolphins, to dock at the private landing of Casa Corcovado, one of the only eco-lodges operating in the region. Once there, we have an opportunity to spot sea turtles and even manatees along the private beach.

While Corcovado is exceptional, it’s haunting how close the reserve came to never existing. Its remoteness protected it from the fate of most other lowland rainforests in the Western Hemisphere, which were clear-cut by international logging companies during the first half of the 20th century. But as time wore on, it came under ever increasing threat. In fact, by 1975, plans had been drawn up for a major logging operation to begin in the forest—one that would have effectively destroyed it. To save the region, Costa Rican President Daniel Oduber transformed it into a national park, for which he won the Albert Schweitzer Award. Even today, Corcovado’s safety is tenuous. It’s essential to partner with responsible eco-lodges and operators in this fragile region—a commitment that Country Walkers takes seriously and proudly supports.