Corcovado National Park is a haven for wildlife in Central America. From anteaters & tapirs to forests & beaches, find out what you’ll see on the trail from Carate to Sirena Station with Surcos Tours in Costa Rica!
Choosing a Corcovado Hike with Surcos Tours
Surcos Tours offers a variety of transportation & hiking options for visiting Corcovado National Park.
If you haven’t chosen a tour option yet, check out our post where we cover all the options to arrive at Sirena Station from a day trip to a 3 day adventure.
Whatever you choose, make sure you spend at least one night at Sirena Station for optimal wildlife spotting.
Meeting Your Guide from Surcos Tours
Surcos Tours has fully embraced the digital age and has a very responsive staff. In order to save time we here at DIY Travel HQ arranged everything via email so that the permits were ready when we arrived in Puerto Jimenez. It was great having to give only our name & have everything else taken care of. Obtaining the permits yourself would easily add an extra day & is very bureaucratic in Costa Rica.
Surcos Tours has a policy where your guide for the Corcovado National Park hike meets you the day before at 6 pm. This helps alleviate any confusion the following day when meeting at Monar Bakery. It also gives you a chance to find out the itinerary & discuss any issues you may have when visiting Corcovado National Park.
What Food Can Your Bring Into Corcovado?
For us, the main concern was what food we were allowed to bring into Corcovado National Park. Since Costa Rica has recently partnered with a private community company, they have been implementing new policies gradually.
The most recent requirement is that Surcos Tours, along with every tour company, can no longer offer camping. Instead, everyone staying overnight at Sirena Station has to sleep in dorms at $30 per night.
In terms of food, the private community company highly discourages bringing any food into Corcovado National Park in favor of their meals that cost $20 for breakfast, & $25 for both lunch & dinner.
You can bring snacks & prepared food, but no cooking is allowed within Corcovado National Park. All this was explained in the Surcos Tours emails, but our guide clarified all the minute details with enough time to still visit the supermarket that closes at 9 pm for last minute items.
Puerto Jimenez to Carate Shuttle with Surcos Tours
We met our guide, Pablo, at Monar Bakery at 5:30 am in Puerto Jimenez for a shared shuttle to Carate. The other group from Surcos Tours was doing a two day hike to Sirena Station & back, but we recommend an extra day around the ranger station.
Along the way, we stopped for sunrise over a cow pasture. The sunrise was beautiful, but it had a surreal color through the van’s tinted glass. The entire journey took about 90 minutes as we forded a few streams along the dirt road.
Carate to La Leona Station in Corcovado National Park
Once we arrived in Carate we were given the opportunity to put on sunscreen & take care of any last minute preparations before we started our hike with Surcos Tours in Corcovado National Park. It would be 3.5 km before we reached La Leona Station & the official entrance to Corcovado National Park.
The trail follows the Pacific Ocean through secondary forest filled with banana trees with the possibility of spotting Coatis. Towards the end of this section of trail you have to skirt a private lodge & continue walking on the beach until you reach La Leona Station.
La Leona Station in Corcovado National Park
La Leona Station is a large visitors complex and the entrance to Corcovado National Park.
Besides facilities for park rangers, there are also the last functional toilets until you reach Sirena Station. You can also refill your water bottles with filtered water.
Don’t forget to sign into the guest book while your Surcos Tours guide handles the paperwork with the ranger. Pablo then went over the plan for tackling the remaining 16 km hike to Sirena Station.
The key points were that we needed to cross two rivers & a section of beach near low tide. It was also preferable to avoid the Point of No Return beach during the heat of the day.
Day #1: La Leona Station to Sirena Station in Corcovado National Park
Depending on your fitness level, the La Leona Station to Sirena Station can be a ‘walk in the park’ or grueling with relentless heat. We found it to be relatively easy since the trail is largely level & we were protected from the sun from the jungle canopy.
Our guide from Surcos Tours also had a few shaded spots he liked to take breaks along the path.
The first small river crossing was a great place to stop & try to spot sloths that frequent the area. The one we spotted was high up in the trees with grey fur that resembled a nest.
We also spotted a spider monkey swinging branch to branch in a tree across the river.
By far, the most abundant wildlife were Coatis. You would occasionally see a lone adult male, but a pack of females with juveniles were more common.
We also got very lucky & saw 7 anteaters along the trail – see the cover photo for our best shot! This was one of the animals on our wish list & were delighted to spot so many. We even saw one poo in a stream where they prefer to have their feces wash away instead of lingering.
Who said wild animals weren’t potty trained & didn’t know how to flush?!
Pablo, our Surcos Tours guide, was very knowledgeable about the numerous birds we spotted along the way as well.
Some of our favorites were Macaws seen flying overhead, along with Great Corasal Turkeys found near Sirena Station. We also saw a Toucan, Wren, Heron, Hawk, Vultures, Cherry Tananin, Golden Naped Woodpecker, Black Throated Trogon, Great Tinamou, & plenty of Pelicans.
Our hike from La Leona Station to Sirena Station was pleasantly being interrupted by wildlife every 30 odd minutes. Pablo had an eye & ear for spotting animals well before we even knew they were there. Whenever they weren’t there he would take time to explain some of the vegetation along the Corcovado National Park trail.
One such plant that stands out is a white flower that attracts moths, where pollen explodes onto its wings when touching the stigma. Another wonderful example is a red flower shaped perfectly for the beak of a hummingbird. It’s beautiful how nature is symbiotic & works together to create a sustainable ecosystem.
At one of the break points, we ran into a couple from our hotel La Chosa del Manglar that started their tour the day before us. They were very fortunate to spot a Puma near Sirena Station. The search for the elusive Puma would be a consistent theme throughout the next two days.
At one point another guide saw Puma prints in the sand & spent 15 minutes trying to follow them. It wasn’t until we heard howler monkeys sounding an alarm that several guides branched off to see if a Puma was hunting them. What our Surcos Tours guide found was a mother & baby pair of Tapirs. By the time our several groups got to the location, only the baby was to be found.
As we tried to circle around the adolescent Tapir for a better view, it started to charge in our direction before realizing there were 10 odd people crouching in the jungle vines. Thankfully, it quickly diverted & we were able to watch it from a safe distance before moving on.
We later saw two more Tapirs resting in a mud hole that Surcos Tours guides know to check. What we loved about the wildlife in Corcovado National Park were that most of the animals were used to human interaction to a certain degree. They were not fed & interaction was not allowed, but they have become used to tourists taking pictures of them without any fear. This is what makes Corcovado National Park such a tremendous place to observe wildlife in their natural setting.
Sirena Station Wildlife in Corcovado National Park
Even from the start, Sirena Station had an abundance of wildlife. Once we got to the grass clearing we saw Titi & Capuchin Monkeys cruising through the trees.
On the ground, a large herd of Peccaries strolled across. It was strange how we walked all day spotting new animals & there were three new species to add to the list even after we arrived.
Sirena Station in Corcovado National Park
Sirena Station is an oasis in the Corcovado National Park jungle. Besides the cleared field, there is a cluster of buildings linked by covered boardwalks so you never need to touch the ground once you arrive.
In fact, there is a shoes off policy upon arrival to keep the property clean for all guests.
The main areas include:
- Porch to observe stragglers & wildlife
- Room with lockers ($4 per day)
- Two large pavilions filled with roughly 18 bunk beds each
- Dining area ($20-25 per meal)
- Bathroom facilities with cold showers
Similar to La Leona Station, Sirena Station has filtered drinking water as well.
All beds have mosquito netting with your guide positioned next to you to concentrate noise at early hours, even though everyone gets up roughly the same time. Lights are only on from 6-8 pm so make sure you have a headlamp for bathroom trips & packing in the morning.
Another tip is to take advantage of the lockers if you have food that is not factory sealed. I had to fend off a male Coati in the middle of the night that wanted our PB&J sandwiches! Normally, we would have kept the ingredients in jars until we needed it, but the new regulations require you to prepare all meals in advance.
This meant that the sandwiches were sweating all day in the sun & must have smelled delicious to the scavenger. If you aren’t purchasing the hot meals, make sure you discretely eat in the dorm area.
Day #2: Hiking around Sirena Station with Surcos Tours
If you want the best chances to spot wildlife, then you need to live by the adage, “Early to bed, early to rise.” We got up at 5 am & set off from Sirena Station just before sunrise.
The first thing Pablo did once we got deep enough into the jungle was pause, have us turn off our headlamps, & listen to the birds waking up. He then had us compare the abundance of sound with our hike in during the heat of the day.
Along the trail to where Sirena River meets the Pacific Ocean, we ventured slightly off-trail to see if a known mud pool had any Tapirs. There were three resting there that morning, but our best Tapir experience came later that morning.
One of the first things we saw after making it to the beach were a pair of Coatis fighting over a nest of Turtle Eggs with a vulture taking advantage of their squabble. Apparently, a battle could last for many hours.
We then took a seat on a washed up log to see the tide force the river back & swell the inlet.
Depending on the timing of the tide & time of day, it is possible to see both Crocodiles & Bull Sharks in these waters. Failing to see either at this point of our Surcos Tour, we headed back to Sirena Station for breakfast.
Our long excursion for the day would take us back along the Corcovado National Park trail to La Leona Station. Pablo was determined to find a Puma for us. Along the way we saw some of the Sirena Station resident foraging birds, but the highlight of the day came when other groups alerted us to a Tapir near the boat landing.
The Tapir had disappeared into the foliage, but we found a large opening after venturing around to the beach side. It was magnificent watching the Tapir use its flexible snout to grab & strip the leaves off branches. It didn’t mind us watching at all.
Just as we were about to leave, Pablo spotted a Caiman in the freshwater with a handful of babies sunning on a log. This was our first time spotting a Caiman in the wild as it starred us down & made sure its babies were well protected.
The other amazing aspect was having the Caiman, Tapir, & a Coati all with 15 meters of one another & us.
Continuing on our Surcos Tour guided hike, we took a more isolated trail through the jungle in search for the Puma. Things heated up when we heard a Spider Monkey going crazy in a nearby tree. They typically only sound an alarm for a big cat, or Tapir. We didn’t have any luck finding what caused the monkey’s distress, but we did learn about Lion Ants.
Along the trail, there were countless cylindrical holes in the sand. We found out that a Lion Ant lives in each one. They wait for passing bugs to fall into the ‘quicksand’, then use their tail to splash more sand on them, & ultimately pull them beneath the surface for a meal.
On the way back, Surcos Tours guide Pablo found a drawing in the sand indicating the Puma was seen on the beach recently. We then started searching the scrub lining the beach since they frequent these areas to enjoy the cooling sea breeze.
Thankfully, Pablo was armed with a stick from Puma searching as he scattered a Crocodile hiding in the seaweed as we crossed the river on our return to Sirena Station. It cautiously watched us before swimming away & venturing under the water.
The last animal we saw on our day hike was an Onide Snake. They are harmless despite being very long & move incredibly fast. It was difficult to keep up with as we followed it through the jungle. I don’t think Sheena even got a chance to see it. One of the hints to tell if a snake is poisonous is if it runs (not poisonous) or stands its ground (poisonous).
On our evening walk, departing Sirena Station at 4 pm, we covered the Guanacaste Trail. What makes the paths surrounding Sirena Station special is the abundance of wildlife, & the primary jungle that the animals call home. The Guanacaste Trail generally loops around a stream as well for increased chances of spotting wildlife that need a drink of water.
The first animals we spotted were another, or perhaps the same, group of Peccaries from the day before. They reminded us of Pumba from The Lion King. It was great to see so many foraging through the forest together.
As we walked along the path, we heard some rustling in the stunted vegetation. We never did find out what it was, but we did find a bat hiding underneath a large leaf.
Our Surcos Tours guide timed the end of our walk perfectly so that we ended at where we started in the morning, but in time for sunset.
Like magic, a lonely Tapir happened to stroll along the beach at this precise moment. It defecated in the river & went for a series of swims before we had to return to Sirena Station.
It was the perfect way to cap off the day.
Later that night after we had gone to bed, the Mexican film crew were testing their infrared camera on the deck when they spotted two Pumas interacting with each other for half a minute. We had searched all day to no avail, and they got on tape a Tapir crossing a river at sunset & two juvenile Pumas at the Guanacaste Trailhead across from Sirena Station! Unfortunately we didn’t get to spot them, but maybe you will have better luck since they are definitely around.
Day #3: Sirena Station to La Leona Station in Corcovado National Park
Our return hike to La Leona Station & Carate with Surcos Tours was different than our venture in. Instead of postponing our arrival at the beach & river crossings to coincide with low tide, we had to depart at 5 am to try to beat the tide.
There were only a few spots that became tricky on the return Corcovado National Park hike. At one point, we had to climb up a small & slippery landslide where waves were crashing into a massive tree blocking the beach route.
Another time we had to round a rocky headland in between waves. Overall, it seemed that there were always alternative jungle paths in case the tide wasn’t cooperating.
The pace returned to normal once we cleared the time sensitive sections of the Sirena Station to La Leona Station trail. There wasn’t much wildlife this time, but we did manage to see a group of Peccaries where the Tapirs had been on the first day, & there was still an abundance of Coatis around.
Another group walking with us also saw a Boa Constrictor & type of Weasel on the hike, but that is the luck of the draw when spotting wildlife.
Instead, we took the time to pose with bones from a whale that was stranded on the beach, & in a natural frame formed by a Strangler Fig.
It was also nice to observe the smaller creatures in the jungle. Two examples were the Orb Spider that spins an insanely strong web, and Leaf-Cutter Ants that clear a highway on the ground to transport specific leaves back to their nest.
After returning to La Leona Station, we signed out of Corcovado National Park & ate our packed lunch. We then hiked the remainder of the way back to Carate for our 2 pm shuttle before parting ways in Puerto Jimenez.
We couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable or better organised trip than with Surcos Tours!
Know Before You Go
Surcos Tours Location: Puerto Jiménez, Golfito 60702, Costa Rica
Corcovado Tour options: 1-3 day tours available
Corcovado Tours include: Permits, bilingual guide, transportation & accommodation (food is extra
What to Bring: Food/snacks, water bottle, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, camera and binoculars. Pack a towel & toiletries for overnight tours
Read Surcos Tours’ Tripadvisor reviews here
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***The Final Word – Corcovado National Park is less budget friendly with the new regulations from the private community company, but Surcos Tours offers a range of options to help you enjoy & spot all the wildlife on your wish list ***
Please let us know if you have any questions about Corcovado National Park as the few websites we found before our tour don’t take into consideration all the new policies.
* We received a complimentary Corcovado Tour with Surcos Tours, thank you to Niko for hosting us. We only recommend fun, value for money activities & experiences that we believe our readers would enjoy. As always, all opinions & photos are our own.
Visited in January 2017