Apparently just getting in to Corcovado is a journey all its own. In my research beforehand, I had found that this was one of the coolest places to go, and one of the only places suitable for a good three day backpacking hike. Also in my research I saw there was no clear way to get into the park. Buses. Taxi. Private shuttle. Airplane. Boat. You could buy tickets at this office, but it somehow involved wiring money to a bank? That seemed weird. Or you could book a tour. Some places said it required a guide. Others did not. Online, it felt like a wash, so I decided to figure it out when I got there – surely things would be more clear then.
Except not. Here’s what I was able to find out. To get into any national park is $10 per day. It is then $4 to camp at La Sirena and $8 to have a bed in the lodge. Plus money for meals. Only a limited number of people are allowed in the park per day and sometimes it fills up fast, especially if you want to stay overnight. To get a pass directly from the Park organization, you have to go to their office, get a ticket, walk 15 minutes across town to the bank to pay the fee, then walk back and officially get your pass. The office opens at 8am, and this whole process probably takes 30-45 minutes. If there’s a line, there goes your whole morning. Besides how ridiculous all that sounds, the bank is closed on weekends so there is no way to get tickets on those days and the $8 shuttle service leaves at 6am, two hours before the office to get the tickets even opens. Sometimes, therefore, the easier way is to book through a tour company who handles all of that for you. But often they like to charge at $20 “service fee” – and that’s before they even try and sell you a guide. One day trips started around $75, 3 day trips I saw priced between $400-$700. Be careful because some of these included transportation while others did not. If you miss the shuttle (which some companies like to conveniently not mention its existence) its easily an additional $40 for a cab ride to Carate. I have heard that sometimes they will tell you La Sirena is all booked up when actually the lodge is booked and there are plenty of tent camping sites. It’s hard to tell how accurate that is.
The border is also not technically at the park, but some 3 km before it. It’s a couple hour drive to Carate. And then a couple hour hike from Carate to the park’s border at La Leona. It’s 12 miles from La Leona to La Sirena, a distance I thought could easily be hiked in a day if I could stay at the ranger station overnight. Because it skirts the beach and is used fairly often, I was told this can probably be hiked without a guide. But I then wanted to cut across the park, off the coast and through the jungle, to the Los Patos ranger station. However, I was told that the trail in this area is much less clear, and should not be attempted without a guide or GPS. Between the trail’s unuse and old gold mining paths that criss-cross the actual trail, three different groups have had to have search parties come after them this year alone. One group has still not “officially” been found – but the guy assured me that they probably found a way out of the park, just not past the ranger station.
Great. Expensive guides, stories of missing bodies, impossible tickets to find. This trip had almost come to a halt. Several places told me no more tickets were left and tried to offer me other tours outside of the park. But that’s not what I came here for. After grilling some of the guys for a while and making it clear that I was going to stare at this map all day until something worked out, one of them said I could try flying in to La Sirena. OK, I’m listening. The pilot had bought up overnight tickets ahead of time for the busy season and was giving them away if you took a plane down instead of hike in. One guy in the tourist-info-sell-you-stuff center quoted me $130. A different guy at the same place told me to go directly to the airport and sort things out with the pilot myself. His quote was $26 cheaper. For $104 I get an $80 early morning flight into La Sirena, giving me an entire day to walk around on the trails near the station, plus the $24 in park fees ($10 x 2 days and $4 for one night of camping), so the next morning I can still hike, just on the safer trail out of the park, in time to catch the 4:30pm shuttle back to Puerto Jimenez. Let’s hope it works as planned. Again, more expensive than I had hoped, but not the end of the world – maybe even the best way to do it.