PUERTO JIMENEZ. I wake up dancing to bachata and smile while brushing my teeth. The pastry where i am meeting my guide is open at dawn.
The panaderia Monar is packed with smelling freshly baked delish. It is the first stop for all hikers and tourists going to explore Corcovado National Park, the biggest natural reserve of Costa Rica incredibly rich in biodiversity.
The park was created in 1975. It protects 13 different ecosystems : tropical forests, jungle, mangroves, beaches and seabed. It is an open zoo with 140 animal species and 370 types of birds, including 16 16 different species of hummingbirds and the largest population of Scarlett Macaw parrots in Central America.
Melvin will be my guide for the next 2 days. He was born and raised in the area, his dad was a guide and he became a guide himself at a young age. He worked for a while for a local tour operator company ,and decided a few years ago to open his own little business. He takes private tours and groups of people who contact him directly (spoiler alert: his Whatssap contact is at the bottom of this article). No one is allowed to visit or camp in the park without a licensed guide. It is mandatory to reserve a tour.
My guide Melvin usually takes a minimum of 2 persons, but the friend who was going to come visit the park with me had to cancel at the last minute. He graciously agrees to maintain our expedition. I’m in for a private tour of the park 🙂
I saved money for this backpacking experience. It is my last stop in Costa Rica. It usually costs a minimum of $250 per person for a 2 day 1 night trek. The best season to visit the park is from December to April since it is the dry season. It is mid May now and the rain season has started. Yesterday the weather forecast was not good at all, but this morning the blue sky and the turquoise sea are proving it wrong. My prayers have been heard… Gracias gracias por tanto Costa Rica, i am so grateful for everything you provided all along this journey.
Our bags filled with water, food and spare clothes, we jump in a taxi which takes us to Carate, the south entrance of the park located 1h30 away from Puerto Jimenez. We drive along tropical fields, cows and calves followed by hordes of white egrets. The sun rises above the clouds crouched over the bay. Blue Morpho butterflies are leading the way on a dirt road partially flooded by wild rivers.
CARATE. The SUV drops us at the beach. Here starts the 13 miles trail. We are going to walk for 7 hours to reach the Sirena station where we’ll sleep tonight. I watch Melvin chatting with the park rangers at the entrance. Drinking coffee with friends, stroll on tropical beaches and search the jungle for wild animals, i can imagine worst jobs than his ! We hike on the Madrigal beach, over our heads a couple of Scarlett Macaws welcome us with their vivid colors. Some others are enjoying a feast of almonds.
I learn that those parrots are very faithful, when they find their soul mate they stay together for the rest of their lives !
I immerse myself in the landscape. It feels like Planet Earth, on the other side of the screen. The beach is lined with tropical almond trees, coconut trees and strangler figs which grow around their vegetal prey like boas. The Halloween crabs are dressed in black, red and purple. The rounded belly spider monkeys are real acrobats. Melvin shows me a sloth snuggled in the creepers, its dread hair camouflaging it perfectly.
We walk by a baby Capuchin monkey. He watches us without moving, comfortably resting its head upon a branch. Later on we encounter a baby Chestnut-Mandibled toucan. Its head is so big compared to its tiny body it seems like a miracle that it can actually maintain balance. Its mom with her beautiful painted face is a few branches away. They talk to each others. Melvin whistles with them and they answer to him. He’s the birds whisperer !
The shrubs writhe, we hear without seeing them a group of young boars. Melvin can recognize them by ear and also by their smell. I try to picture this happy pack gamboling in the jungle. The squirrel monkeys (also called « titis ») have the tiniest body and head. Melvin points a Poison Dart frog that he’s never seen before. It is black with orange lines on its back and green legs, very elegant indeed.
Walking in the jungle along the beach, I come face to face with an anteater and its big clumsy legs.
Progressing with its nose on the ground it has not seen me coming. It almost walk on my shoe before realizing i’m here and then runs away to hide itself in the bushes. Right after i spot another one climbing the inclined trunk of a coconut tree. This time i’m the first one to spot it, i am pretty proud of myself.
The most wanted animal in Corcovado, after the jaguar, is the tapir.
We get to another beach and Melvin tapped my shoulder. Two tapirs are peacefully asleep under the branches. I cannot believe my eyes ! I want to scream from excitation but remain quiet. I am fascinated with their big silky nose in the sand and their ears moving with the wind. It is said that they don’t see very well. They use their smell and hearing. They seem so sweet.
One last thing before we get to the station : we need to cross the Claro River, which is unfortunately not clear at all… Melvin informs me that crocodiles and sharks swim in it to go from the river to the ocean next by where they fish. All good. The golden hour light makes the muddy river shine. When Melvin kindly offers me his plastic crocs i accept gladly. He is now in his underwear and i am in panties. We tie our shoes to our backpacks and here we go in the river with our bags on our heads. It’s not quite Indiana Jones’s hat, but it’s definitely the same sensation!
SIRENA. We get to the station at the end of the afternoon and drop our bags. Mission accomplished: 13 miles walked, 11 different species of mammals seen and a river crossed ! They show me my bunk bed in the open wall dormitory. All beds are wrapped into white mosquito net, they look like insect cocoons. I find it pretty timely.
Dinner is abundant and delicious, and very friendly. I am seated with the other guides and Melvin enjoying their jokes. 6 months that i am here and my Spanish has definitely improved, which is another good reason to travel alone.
We didn’t see pumas or jaguars, but i am sure THEY saw us 🙂
In the morning, after a solid gallo pinto breakfast, we go explore the surroundings of the station. A rainbow greets us on the river. The mist fades slowly over the shimmering jungle. Driftwood wrecks are sculptures on the beach. It’s the perfect time to do bird watching. We see some muddy-colored tinamous, some beautiful pink spoonbills, one oyster catcher with a bright red beak, a few harmless curassows who fill the jungle with terrifying breathes, hordes of green rumped parrotlets, a few tiny kingfishers waiting above the quiet river and the incredibly well camouflaged potoos disguised as dead wood.
I leave Corcovado on a small motor boat. I look away at the green lush coast, acres of virgin and untouched jungle, miles of black beaches lined with peaceful palm trees. Our boat slaloms skillfully between the waves and the rocks. I will sleep in Drake Bay tonight for my last night in Costa Rica.
Which hike, which guide?
Best option – For small budget travelers, the best option is 2 days / 1 night.
The classic tour starts in Carate : a 13 mile trek to the Sirena Station where to sleep. The day after is spent exploring around the station. It is possible to exit the station by boat to go to Drake Bay (what I did) or to return to Carate.
Budget for a 2 days / 1 night hike = $250
- Taxi Puerto Jimenez-Carate : $15
- Station Sirena = $85 (1 night, 2 meals) : $30/night/person + $30/person for diner & $25/person for breakfast (nb: it is strictly forbidden to bring your own food in the park, but the food at the station is great and abundant !)
- Park entrance = 30$ : $15/day for 2 days
- Guide’s salary = $120 : $60/day for 2 days
- (Option: boat to go to Drake Bay = $25)
Guide – After comparing prices with tour operators and private guides, I am convinced that Melvin is the best guide you can find for this adventure. He is Costa Rican and recommended by the locals. He knows all about the animals in the park, their habitats and habits. And he is incredibly nice.
Contact Melvin on Whatsapp : + 506 – 8425 – 5736 ❤
-My article: « Hiking the Cerro Chato Volcano »
-My article: « Save room for the animals »
-My article: « Humboldt – The Invention of Nature »
-My article: « Manifesto »