For That Real Jungle Experience
With one of the world’s best systems of reserves and national parks, Costa Rica’s thirty-five wildlife refuges protect more than 25 percent of the country’s territory; choosing where to head first is a visitor’s toughest choice. Covering one third of the remote Osa Peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean, in what National Geographic called “the most biologically intense place on earth,” the Corcovado National Park is difficult to reach. You may, at times, feel like the only human interloper on the trails (there are no roads) meandering through its 100,000 acres.
Corcovado is one of the country’s largest and wildest parks, safeguarding virgin rain forest, deserted beaches, jungle-rimmed rivers, and a large, inaccessible swampland. Within its broad range of habitats live more than 140 species of mammals, from tapirs to ocelots and cougars. It has the largest remaining population of scarlet macaws, which – together with the 375 other species of birds in the park that occupy more than 850 kinds of trees – vie with four species of monkeys to be heard amid the wildlife cacophony.
At the park’s southern border, the Corcovado Lodge Tent Camp is the highlight of a Costa Rica trip for many ecotourists. There’s no electricity, shared baths only, and drinking water comes from a crystal-clear stream that runs by the twenty platformed tents. A unique “canopy tour” hoists awed guests up eight stories by pulley into the dense jungle canopy. Neither the canopy tour nor the Tent Camp is for everyone: Where the road from civilization ends, it is a forty-five-minute walk along a pristine beach for arriving guests, while luggage is transported by horse cart.
If roughing it is not to your taste, then consider Lapa Rios, a bungalow hideaway perched 350 feet above the Pacific in its own lush 1,000-acre nature reserve on the outskirts of Corcovado. Its American owners have created an intimate setup where guests can learn all about the encroaching rain forest. But school was never this much fun, or fascinating, or luxurious. Spread over three panoramic ridges above the Golfo Dolce in a self-contained corner of the Osa Peninsula, Lapa Rios’s wondrous exposures of ocean and forest are evident everywhere from open-air observation platforms, the bar-restaurant, and the fourteen simple guest rooms appointed in polished tropical woods. Days revolve around nature, beginning with an early-bird tour that lets you share the sunrise with the indigenous bird species (Lapa Rios means “Rivers of the Macaws”) and ending with shaman-guided medicinal treks and night nature walks.