The Osa Peninsula is the wildest and remotest part of Costa Rica. It supports at least half of all species living in the country. The Peninsula is also one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. With studies estimating that it is home to 2.5% of the entire world’s biodiversity, despite covering an area of just 700 square miles!
The highlight of the Peninsula is the spectacular Corcovado National Park. Corcovado covers about a third of the land area and is described as the ‘crown jewel’ in Costa Rica’s reserves. It’s home to an incredible range of species including the endangered Baird’s tapir, pumas, macaws, crocodiles, sloths, anteaters, four species of monkey including howlers, coatis, and jaguars. The wildlife has little fear of humans and National Geographic has labelled it “the most biologically intense place on Earth”. You can see a short video of our encounter with a pair of pumas in the Park here.
The waters of the Peninsula are also rich in biodiversity, with the nearby Cano Island Biological Reserve and Marino Ballena National Park providing a home to humpback whales, spotted dolphins, and a whole host of marine species. Most visits to Corcovado can be combined with a trip to these areas. Together they provide some of the best terrestrial and marine wildlife experiences on the planet.
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: tour prices vary depending on where you are leaving from, the duration of the tour, and the activities involved. We paid $165 dollars (including transport to and from Ojochal) for a full day with La Perla del Sur. Tours are generally cheaper the closer you are to the Park.
Best time to visit: the best time is the dry season from December to April.
How to get there: there are two main access points to the Peninsula. Drake Bay in the west and Puerto Jimenez in the east. You can stay at various hotels in these two towns, or around the Peninsula, almost all of which will be able to arrange a tour into the Park. You can also take day trips into Corcovado from nearby hotspots such as Sierpe and Uvita.
In the Park, you need to be accompanied by a guide and stick to an agreed set of trails. These range from short trips of around an hour, to full-day 8-hour hikes, and even multi-day tours. Most trips will head to one of the two Ranger Stations: San Pedrillo (close to the shore), or Sirena (further into the forest). It may be tempting to think that the deeper into the forest you go the better. However, the short trails are home to an incredible range of biodiversity including big mammals such as puma and tapir. This is due to the abundance of fruiting trees near the coastline which attract wildlife.
Typical activities: animal watching, bird watching, boat trip, jungle trek
Number of reports: 3
Last updated: 2022
Wildlife in Corcovado
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the top ten most popular species that can be seen here are:
#1 Tapir – 67% of wildside users (2/3) reported sightings
Corcovado National Park might well be the best place to see tapirs in the world. The Park is home to a sizeable population of the endangered Baird’s tapir. And unlike many jungle trips where sightings of tapir are elusive, tapirs are sighted frequently in Corcovado. We saw one from inches away lolling in the mud to avoid the midday sun. Reports on TripAdvisor suggest that such close-up encounters are not uncommon! The rainy season runs from May to mid-November so the best time to look for them is December to April. If you want a truly memorable experience, WildSide recommends booking a night’s stay at the Sirena Ranger Station. A basic campground in the middle of the park, it provides the perfect place to look for tapirs wandering past your tent at dusk.
#2 Jaguar – 0% of wildside users (0/3) reported sightings
The rich tropical forests and abundant prey in Corcovado mean it is an ideal habitat for the continent’s largest cat – the jaguar. Studies of the jaguar population in Corcovado suggest that the population density is around 7.0 jaguars per 100 km2. This is high relative to other areas such as Madre de Dios and Los Llanos. However, sightings of these elusive cats are extremely rare. There are no sightings recorded on TripAdvisor in the area, or by WildSide users. That said, there are occasional reports which suggest that jaguars can be seen in Corcovado. So if you do see one let us know!
#3 Coati – 100% of wildside users (3/3) reported sightings
The white-nosed coati is very well known in Costa Rica – they are found throughout the country, although mostly near the coast. They share some similarities with North American racoons but have an elongated snout with a white tip. Coatis also have a long tail that they use for balance and signalling. They are often found in large groups of 10 to 30. They will happily walk along the trails in Corcovado regardless of how many people are around. Make sure to keep an eye on any snacks you’re carrying – the coatis will be keen to find an easy meal!
#4 Giant anteater – 0% of wildside users (0/3) reported sightings
There are three species of anteater in Costa Rica – the Northern tamandu, silky anteater, and giant anteater. All three species can be found in Corcovado although giant anteaters are the rarest. They are thought to be extinct in the rest of Costa Rica and only found in Corcovado. Sightings of these unmistakable creatures are extremely rare. If you do spot one, the first thing you notice is their long nose which they use to eat up to 35,000 ants and termites a day. They also have large curved claws for digging into the earth and fending off hungry jaguars.
#5 puma – 33% of wildside users (1/3) reported sightings
While you may struggle to spot a jaguar in Corcovado, there is one cat that you that stand a much better chance of seeing – the puma. Pumas are notoriously difficult to see in the wild, giving them the name ‘ghost cats’. However, Corcovado is a relatively reliable place to spot them, with numerous reports of sightings on TripAdvisor.
You’re chances of spotting one are going to depend on whether they’re in the area at that time, and whether your guide has the patience to look for them. One hint they are nearby is a strange quiet in the forest and a lack of other mammals such as monkeys, agoutis, or coatis. We saw a pair of pumas on the short trail near the beach, just minutes away from the San Pedrillo Ranger Station – you can check out a video here. TripAdvisor reports suggest that Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge is a good base to look for pumas from. There’s also a nice blog about puma spotting in Corcovado here.
#6 Scarlet Macaw – 67% of wildside users (2/3) reported sightings
Costa Rica is home to two species of macaw – the scarlet and the great green. Scarlet macaws can be found along the Pacific coast while great green macaws prefer the Caribbean coast. Corcovado is one of the best spots to look out for scarlet macaws thanks to the abundance of good habitat. We saw them feeding in the trees along the beach a couple of minutes after we had landed. They are often seen in pairs, groups of 3-4, or occasionally larger flocks of up to 30. You can’t really miss macaws if they are around, thanks to their loud squawks, large size, and striking colours.
#7 Sloth – 67% of wildside users (2/3) reported sightings
There are two species of sloth that live in Costa Rica – the Hoffman’s two-toed sloth and the brown-throated sloth – both can be found in Corcovado. Sightings of these curious creatures are frequent year-round – particularly for the brown-throated sloth. The Hoffman’s two-toed sloth is nocturnal, so can be more difficult to see. While the brown-throated sloth is smaller and slightly more active. To spot them listen closely for rustling and look up at the canopy where they spend most of their time. You’ll probably need help from your guide to spot them as their camouflage and slow movement make them difficult to identify, even with binoculars or a scope.
#8 Toucan – 33% of Wildside users (1/3) reported sightings
Toucans are one of the most easily recognisable birds in Latin America, and one of the unofficial symbols of Costa Rica. There are six different species of toucan in Costa Rica. Corcovado is home to the most spectacular of these, the chestnut-mandibled toucan (a sub-species of the yellow-throated toucan). They are easily recognised by their yellow throats, green eye patches, and large yellow and brown beaks. They are the largest toucan in Costa Rica and can be bullies, gathering in flocks and chasing away other, small species of toucan from their feeding spots. Listen out for their distinctive call ‘o-YIP, a-yip, a-yip’.
#9 American Crocodile – 67% of wildside users (2/3) reported sightings
The Park’s rivers and lagoons are home to large populations of American crocodiles and spectacled caiman. The crocodiles are much larger than the caiman, and are one of the larger crocodile species, with males reaching lengths of up to 6 m and weighing over 900 kg. You can spot them gliding through the rivers or sunning themselves on the river banks. We even saw one swimming through waves just off the beach by San Pedrillo Ranger Station! If you’re taking a tour from Sierpe then you have a good chance of spotting one as the boat makes its way through the mangroves towards the Park.
#10 Howler monkey – 67% of wildside users (2/3) reported sightings
Corcovado is home to all four of Costa Rica’s monkey species, and mantled howler monkeys are one of the most common. There are good chances of seeing them on a tour and even better chances of hearing them when staying at lodges near the Park. Waking up to their booming calls as the dawn breaks is an unforgettable jungle experience! They are less active than other monkeys so can easily be overlooked – look out for brownish-black balls in the treetops. As they are canopy dwellers, look up into the tops of the trees when walking or on boat rides along the rivers.
In addition to the top ten, Corcovado is also home to a range of other species including: capuchin monkey (33% of WildSide users reported sightings), osprey (33%), spider monkey (67%), spotted dolphin (33%), and squirrel monkey (33%).
Photo credit: WildSide team member Chris White