Corcovado National Park

In Corcovado National Park, a hundred or more scarlet macaws may glide in a single group across the forest canopy, dazzling against a tropical blue sky, each crimson bird almost a yard (84 cm) long with gold and azure wings and trailing tail feathers, noisily seeking fruits and nuts or nightly roosts.

White-lipped and collared peccaries rummage about the forest floor, sometimes several hundred together, soft grunts showing their pig-family connection.

Harpy eagles, largest birds of prey in the world, with powerful feet capable of picking off a sloth or howler monkey, watch and listen. Howler’s penetrating wails can be heard miles away, audible over all other jungle sounds except the jaguar.

Corcovado National Park is one of Costa Rica’s largest and wildest protected areas, covering a third of the Osa peninsula on the country’s southwest Pacific coast. So remote is it that wild creatures often are observed only by other wild inhabitants—although campers and backpackers have returned with lively tales. One was marooned in his tent all night by a trio of roaring, circling, courting jaguars. Another was treed by a herd of 150 nearsighted peccaries clacking sharp teeth menacingly before deciding he was not dangerous.

Corcovado became a national park in 1975 after a squeaker of a conservation success story. Squatters had settled on lands where a North American/Japanese timber firm planned massive logging. Delicate negotiations by the world scientific community and then-President Daniel Oduber Quiros saved the day and won for Sr. Oduber the 1977 Albert Schweitzer award.

Corcovado’s wet forests are among the most species-rich in Central America, with 367 kinds of birds, 140 species of mammals, 117 reptiles and amphibians, 40 freshwater fish, and 10,000- plus insects.

Huge trees rise unbranched to the canopy, especially in northern uplands above Punta Llorona— more than 500 species, a quarter of all those found in Costa Rica. A census in one two-acre (1-ha) plot alone found 108 species, the largest 213 feet (65 m) tall and 6.5 feet (2 m) in diameter.

Would-be visitors should be warned: facilities in this remote spot are few. Most trails accommodate foot travel only, with park headquarters at Sirena a day’s walk or charter flight away. On a hot day a swim might be tempting, but watch out for crocodiles in freshwater and hammerhead sharks in salt.

With all that, Corcovado is an ecological treasure well worth the trouble to visit. Best time is dry season December–March. Main threats are illegal logging, gold-panning, and poaching.