Corcovado National Park


Natural History

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Geography and Climate

Corcovado National Park is centered around a broad lowland plain on the western Osa Pensinsula that prominently features the approximately 1000-hectare freshwater Corcovado Lagoon comprising a large swamp that is seasonally replaced by grasslands.  The boundaries of the park extend into the surrounding mountains and include the watersheds that drain into the basin.  The park highlands include the peninsular divide as well as portions of watersheds (Tigre, Agujas, and Rincon Rivers, mainly) that drain to the Golfo Dulce as well as those draining to the Pacific.  Elevation varies inside the park from a low of sea level to the highest point on the peninsula, Mount Muehler at 745 meters above mean sea level.

Physiographic features of the park in addition to the steep but low-lying inland mountain ranges and the park's predominant water feature, the large lagoon in its center, include three rivers, the Llorona that drains the northern part of the Corcovado Basin, the Corcovado River that drains the middle part, and the Sirena and Claro Rivers that drain the southern part of the the Corcovado basin.  To the southwest, the Madrigal River is also within the park margins and drains a portion of the inland highlands near the southeastern park boundary.


The low-lying mouths of the main rivers give rise to locally restricted mangrove swamps, but the primary coastal feature is that of broad sandy beaches stretching emptily for miles along the Pacific length of the park.  Rocky bluffs and promontories are found on both the northwestern and southwestern shorelines, alternating with sheltered sandy and very picturesque coves.   Coral reef development is notable in only one of these rocky areas, Salsipuedes Point, about five kilometers southwest of Sirena Ranger Station.  The coral development is nowhere near the scale, however, observed in the nearby Cano Island, which is nearly completely ringed by well-developed framework and individual corals, providing spectacular diving and snorkeling in its high visibility waters.

The semi-equatorial location of Corcovado, only eight degrees north of the Equator, ensures that the climate is tropical.  The mean annual temperature is 27.5 degrees centigrade, but daytime temperatures regularly reach 35 degrees.  Humidity is high year round.  The high amount of rain varies a bit with elevation, with the Corcovado basin receiving about 3500 mm of rainfall per year and the surrounding mountains getting 5000.  The highest peaks and ridges are thought to receive as much as 6000 mm of rainfall annually, which would rate among the planet's rainiest places.  The latitude is below that in which cyclonic storms occur and rarely experiences gale force winds.

There is a pronounced dry season from mid-December through mid-April, perhaps the most agreeable time to visit the park.  The rainy season extends from mid-April through mid-December, but rains are torrential only between September and November. 

Geology and landforms of Corcovado National Park

The land forming Corcovado National Park last rose above sea level a mere two million years ago, and its total history is a relatively recent one, at least in geologic terms.  Still, the Osa Peninsula has a very colorful geologic history that leaves its mark very clearly on the biota and environment.  Two things stand out in this geologic record:  1)  the oceanic crust that largely comprises the peninsula was gold bearing, dramatically impacting the social and cultural environment;  and 2)  current rates of peninsular uplift are among the highest uplift rates in the entire world, dramatically contributing to the ruggedness of the mountains in the enhanced erosive down-cutting that is a result of rapid uplift.

The geologic history of the Central American isthmus as a whole is one controlled by the interactions of several tectonic plates across geologic time, including the North American Plate, the Caribbean Plate, the South American Plate, and the Cocos Plate.  Tectonic activity resulting in the formation of the isthmus may be considered to have begun about 60 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs roamed the continents and shallow seas of the Earth. 

At that time, the Caribbean Plate—then located in the Pacific Ocean—began a northeasterly migration between the North and South American landmasses.  At about the same time, the East Pacific Plate, located to the west of the Caribbean Plate in the Pacific Ocean, began a similar northeasterly migration.  Later it would divide into the Nazca and Cocos plates that we recognize today.  What is now nuclear Central America, that is the crustal Chortis block that today is comprised by parts of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and northern Nicaragua, was at that time an undifferentiated part of the North American plate.  What is today Costa Rica and Panama was then nothing more than a future bump on the floor of the eastern Pacific Ocean.  Because the proto-Cocos-Nazca Plate was moving faster than the Caribbean Plate, it bumped into its northeastern neighbor and began to over-ride the Caribbean Plate.  This caused a subduction zone to be developed in the late Cretaceous in which Caribbean Plate material was subducted beneath the Cocos Plate in a southwesterly direction, exactly the opposite of what we have today.

Molten oceanic crust rising from the active subduction broke the surface of the ocean to form islands in a classic inter-oceanic island arc configuration, a tectonic feature analogous to the Aleutian Islands and Indonesia of today.   However, way farther west, the East Pacific spewed submarine lava in a new oceanic spreading center and pushed the East Pacific Plate ever more forcefully against the more sluggish Caribbean Plate.  This caused the subduction to reverse direction about 150 million years ago with the proto-Cocos Nazca Plate now being over-ridden by the Caribbean Plate to create the subduction zone that still remains active today.

The reversal in subduction zone orientation created tectonic uplift that gave rise to a new crustal element which has subsequently been named the Noba Block, or the Central American orogen.  Today it is recognized that this block, which comprises what we know today as Costa Rica and Panama, actually consists of two fault-separated blocks, the larger Chorotega Block, comprising all of Costa Rica and most of Panama, and the smaller Choco Block, comprising the eastern part of Panama.

Nearly all of today’s Costa Rica was still underwater 28 million years ago during the Oligocene Period, when a spreading center formed in response to mantle convection patterns in the middle of the East Pacific Plate, cleaving it into today’s familiar Nazca and Coco Plates.  The Cocos continues to be subducted beneath the Caribbean Plate on the western margin of Central America, and the Nazca Plate continues to be subducted beneath the South American Plate off the coast of present-day Colombia.   The molten igneous rocks that rose from the subduction zone through the Chorotega and Choco blocks created new proto-Continental crust that formed the Central American cordillera.  Closure of the Central American isthmus occurred as these volcanic rocks connected the Chortis Block, which was adhered to the North American Plate, with the South American landmass during the Miocene and Pliocene Periods (from 23 to 2 million years ago).

The first emergence of the Osa Peninsula occurred approximately the same time as the Oligocene-aged reversal of the subduction zone as a result of related thrust faulting.  This brought oceanic crust above water to form a landmass, a geologic terrain known as an ophiolite sequence, which is dominated by the mafic and ultramafic rocks typical of oceanic crust.

Subsidence and uplift continued to the present day, causing the Osa Peninsula to alternately subside beneath and re-emerge above sea level two and in places three times in the ensuing few million years, the most recent emergence having occurred a mere 2 million years ago in the late Pliocene.  For this reason, modern sea shells can be incongruously found to this day high in the Osa Mountains in marine sedimentary rock units overlying the old ocean crust rock that is also widely exposed across the peninsula.

Unlike the similar ophiolite sequences that have been mapped from northern Costa Rica to southern Colombia, the Osa Peninsula and the very nearby Burica Peninsula are the only ones that carried gold mineralization.  Although primary gold vein deposits have never been found and are hypothesized by some researchers to have been completely removed by erosion, a wealthy and widespread alluvial gold deposit remained, one that has been exploited for centuries and which gave rise in the 1980’s to a regional gold rush that quintupled the population of the peninsula almost overnight.  Today, most of the commercially attractive deposits outside the boundaries of Corcovado National Park have been exhausted, though large amounts of un-mined gold remain inside the park boundaries. 

A final geologic curiosity that has given rise to the steep and rugged terrain of the peninsula derives from the active subduction off the southwestern shores of the Peninsula.  A submarine ridge rises from abyssal depths to an average of 2.5 km above the ocean floor and extends from just off the Osa Peninsula shores to the southwest for hundreds of kilometers and and includes Cocos Island, the only place where this ridge of seamounts (analogous geologically to today’s Hawaiian islands) breaks the surface of today’s sea level.  The subduction of this thickened portion of oceanic crust beneath the Osa Peninsula causes uplift rates to be exaggerated with respect to the regional average.  The high rate of uplift (among the highest in the world) causes rivers to dissect the land surface more aggressively, leading to the steep mountain slopes observed on the Peninsula and dramatically increasing the incidence of earthquakes in the area.

Botany of Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park, which comprises about 70% of the total landmass of Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, is perhaps most noted for the diversity of its ecosystems.  Half the animal and plant species in Costa Rica and 2.5% of all the planet's species occur on the Osa Peninsula.  A total of 13 distinct vegetation assemblages have been identified and described in close proximity inside the boundaries of Corcovado National Park.  Each of these habitats possesses a distinctive clustering of both plant and animal populations.  Researchers speculate that these assemblages actually are likely to expand to 35-40 distinct habitats.   It is this variety of habitat and species numbers that has led National Geographic to famously name Corcovado the most biologically intense place on the planet and to rank its biodiversity as the second greatest worldwide.  Although the biodiversity is in keeping with the intrinsic biodiversity of tropical rain forest habitats in general, the geographic location of Corcovado along a land bridge separating the North and South American continents is an additional reason for the biodiversity observed in the Central American isthmus in general and in Corcovado in particular.  The nine most common forest types observed in Corcovado are listed below precisely as described (i.e. plagiarized) from this excellent summary.   The references listed are all detailed on the links page.   In general, these forest types are found sequentially moving from the coastline to the mountain uplands.

1. Mangrove swamps (with the tallest trees to 30 m). Up to five tree species occur, including Pelliciera rhizophorae (cf. Jiménez 1984) and Rhizophora racemosa, as well as Crinum erubescens and C. brevilobatum (FNT 1992).

2. Corcovado Lagoon, which each rainy season is infused with up to 1 m of standing fresh water, and supports a floating central mat of ample herbaceous vegetation including Eichhornia crassipes, Pistia stratiotes, Salvinia sp. and Utricularia spp. (FNT 1992).

3. A herbaceous marsh c. 50 cm in height and 10 km² in expanse bordering the lagoon, with Hymenachne sp., Panicum maximum, Ludwigia sp., Polygonum sp. and Aeschynomene sp.

4. A palm swamp (jolillo forest) in a band around the marsh, dominated by virtually pure stands of Raphia taedigera, which has leaves nearly 15 m long (Devall and Kiester 1987).

5. Varied swamp forests, for example peripheral to the palm swamp at first with Andira inermis, Carapa guianensis, Crateva tapia and Luehea seemannii, and beyond large well-buttressed canopy trees, stilt-rooted subcanopy trees and a fairly open palm understorey (Crysophila guagara, Prestoea decurrens), commonly including the trees Carapa guianensis, Erythrina lanceolata, Grias fendleri, Mouriri sp., Pterocarpus officinalis and Virola koschnyi. On particularly poorly drained alluvium and estuaries are lower forests, for example with Mora oleifera (which has the largest dicot seed - averaging c. 500 g), Pterocarpus officinalis (Janzen 1978), Hasseltia new sp. and Pachira aquatica.

6. Gallery forest on well-drained alluvial flats and terraces, with giant Anacardium excelsum (to 50 m tall and 3 m in dbh) and other large trees of Caryocar costaricense, Hernandia didymantha, Pterygota excelsa, Terminalia oblonga and Ceiba pentandra - an epiphyte-rich emergent of this species on the plain is possibly the largest tree in Central America, at over 70 m or even 80 m tall and over 3 m in diameter above buttresses 10 m high (Boza 1978, 1988).

7. Plateau forest: awe-inspiring with the very high density of large trees (a Vantanea barbourii was 65 m tall and 2 m in dbh). Other common trees include Anaxagorea costaricensis, Aspidosperma spruceanum, Brosimum utile, Calophyllum longifolium, Carapa guianensis, Caryocar costaricense, Chrysochlamys sp., Couratari guianensis, Minquartia guianensis, Qualea paraense, Symphonia globulifera, Tetragastris panamensis, Trichilia sp. and Welfia georgii.

8. Mountain or uplands forest: this extensive, 5-stratum ecosystem has a high diversity of species (c. 100-120 tree species per ha), very tall canopy trees (many over 50 m) sometimes unbranched up to 35 m or with spectacular buttresses, and abundant palms (Iriartea deltoidea, Socratea exorrhiza), lianas and vines. The absence of dominance is characteristic among the common tree species, which include Ardisia cutteri, Aspidosperma spruceanum, Brosimum utile, Heisteria longipes, Poulsenia armata and Sorocea cufodontisii. A site found north of the park (c. 5.5 km west of Rincón de Osa) had 22 species over 50 m tall, five over 60 m and an emergent of Minquartia guianensis that reached 73 m. On narrow ridges, Brosimum utile and Scheelea rostrata are characteristic; trees can still grow large, when well anchored upon both sides of a ridge (e.g. Caryocar costaricense, Peltogyne purpurea).

9. Cloud forest, with many epiphytes, tree ferns (perhaps Cnemidaria choricarpa, Cyathea trichiata), Quercus spp. (e.g. Q. insignis, Q. rapurahuensis), Alfaroa guanacastensis, Oreomunnea pterocarpa and Ticodendron incognitum (FNT 1992).

In the Holdridge life-zone classification, Corcovado National Park is reported to contain eight separate life zones.  The Corcovado basin consists of tropical premontane wet forest.  The uplands are tropical wet forest.  The highest peaks that have the greatest rainfall are considered premontane rain forest.  Species diversity is controlled by different factors across the different habitats.  In the Corcovado basin and its low-lying forested plain, species diversity varies mostly as a function of soil conditions (edaphic assemblages) and water saturation (hydric associations), whereas in the highlands, species diversity is predominantly influenced by climate (climactic associations), that in part explain the diversity of epiphytes observed in the cloud forests of the peninsula.  The Osa is characterized by a high degree of endemism, with 2-3% of all flora occurring nowhere else in the world.

Corcovado is home to at least 500 species of trees which is thought to be 25% of all the species found in Costa Rica.  Of the endangered plant species of Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula is home to a mind-boggling one half of their remaining numbers.  The Corcovado forest exemplifies the classic features of tropical rain forests, in which poor soils lead to great buttress root systems and the fierce competition for energy causes trees to grow to heights as great as 65 meters, with an abundance of woody vines, open airy understory, and a habitat in which the vast majority of the animal life actually resides in the canopy and rarely if ever descends to the forest floor.  The tallest tree in the park is a ceiba located on the Corcovado Lagoon plain, measuring in at 80 meters in height.

Zoology of Corcovado National Park

Corcovado's variety of animals derive from three factors that converge uniquely in the Osa Peninsula:  1)  it is located along the land bridge separating the North and South American continents;  2)  Corcovado comprises a wide range of botanical habitats and life-zones as described in the preceding section;  and 3)  The region is geographically remote and except for the past stressors of logging, poaching, and mining, has remained relatively intact and protected, particularly since the formation of Corcovado National Park in 1975 and the 1986 criminalization of mining within park boundaries.  The table below summarizes estimates for the numbers of animal species the reside within the park's boundaries.

Animal Type

Number of Species




>400; 1 endemic specie and 17 endemic subspecies

Freshwater fish







8000 (est.)

The region's many zoologic superlatives are repeated in so many commercial and research sites and publications on the Internet and in the white and grey academic literature as to appear redundant here, though remarkable nevertheless.  Together with portions of the Guatemalan Peten, Corcovado remains one of the last remaining intact habitats of the New World's largest feline, the jaguar.  Corcovado is home, in fact, to five species of cats:  1) jaguar; 2) puma; 3) ocelot; 4) jaguarundi; and 5) margay.  Of the four species of monkeys native to Costa Rica, all inhabit the forests of Corcovado.  The great variety of bird species includes at least 17 subspecies and one specie not found anywhere else in the world, including the yellow-billed cotinga.  The Osa Peninsula boasts the highest natural population of scarlet macaws remaining in the New World.  The nearly mythic harpy eagle, thought to have been driven to local extinction in 1986, was spotted in 2003, indicating that while tenuous and highly threatened, the fearsome raptor still makes his living off poorly positioned sloths and monkeys in the canopy that carpets the land.  Four sea turtles--Pacific hawksbill, Ridley, green, and leatherback turtles--nest along the sweeping beaches that define Corcovado's western boundary from June-November and provide the jaguar with its most important food source during the rainy season.  The threatened Baird's tapir maintains healthy populations in Corcovado, where it is easy to view and study the timid and reclusive nocturnal animal.  Two types of peccaries, the large white-lipped peccary and the small, collared peccary roam the park in herds of as many as several hundred of the former to fifteen-thirty of the latter and are the jaguar's main food when not eating turtles.  In addition, both two- and three-toed sloths, silky, tamandua, and great anteaters, nutrias, raccoons, a variety of opossums, and deer also contribute to the mammalian diversity inside Corcovado.  The inland lagoon is home to large crocodiles, and all the river mouths feature both the crocodiles and caymans among their predatory denizens.  Bull sharks feed in the mixing zone of the fresh and salt water and hunt upstream at high tide, giving pause to hikers that forget to take the tide schedule into account.  With an insect count thought to number around 6000 species, the insect population of Corcovado has been reported to encompass the entire spectrum of Central American insect types found from southern Mexico to Panama.  Caught in a swarm of biting deer flies along the Los Patos trail, it is certainly possible to imagine it's true.

An excellent pictorial introduction of many of the species of animals described from Corcovado National Park is provided in Ambicor's extensive pages of online Corcovado content.

Culture and Society of Corcovado National Park

The pre-history of the Osa Peninsula is indistinct and can at best be pieced together however incompletely by the archeological plunder of Amerindian graves and the very few actual archeological sites from the region that have been described from digs.  In fact, the native American history of Central America as a whole is not rigorously documented and appears to have been predominated by nomadic tribes with little taste for empire nor ambitions for the trappings of civilization.  Whereas the Pitahaya archeological site on the Chiriqui Bay coast of Panama suggests that maize agriculture was central to Amerindian occupation of that part of what is now the nearby Panamanian coast, there is no evidence from the few Golfo Dulce and Osa archeological sites to indicate that agriculture was practiced.  It appears that the Osa Amerindians may have subsisted wholly on hunting, gathering, and coastal fisheries.

Nevertheless, pre-historical curiosities from the region include the world-famous Diquis spheres from the Terraba valley that date to as early as the third century AD.  These spheres have been found all around the Golfo Dulce and in abundance on Cano Island, which was used exclusively for funerary services by the Amerindians.  The wide dissemination of the spheres around the region suggests alliances between the semi-agricultural Diquis, who made the spheres, and more nomadic and smaller tribes of the Osa and Coto areas.  The Diquis appear to have been the dominant regional power but to enjoy trade benefits from the coastal tribes that focused on fisheries for protein, likely exchanging this for agricultural products from the Diquis, in addition somehow to the mysterious spheres, the precise significance of which continues to elude archeologists.  Nobody knows what they were for, but they are perfectly spherical and carved out of rock and made in sizes from eight centimeters up to two meters in diameter.  Besides the unknown technology employed in the fabrication and transport of the spheres, there was also a relatively advanced lost-wax technology for gold casting that was known to the Amerindian people of the Osa and used extensively to create figurines depicting animals and androgynous depictions of human beings.  Ornate gold necklaces, figurines, and plates were widely uncovered in graves.  There has been an active trade in these figurines since their first discovery, and it is safe to say on the basis of the importance of gold to the pre-historical society, that gold has played a prominent role in mankind's interaction with the Osa environment since the very earliest times of human occupation.

The first known discovery of the Osa Peninsula by a European is believed to have been made in 1515 by the Spaniards Hernán Ponce and Bartolomé Hurtado.  Their report propelled their patron, Gil González Dávila, on an overland mission from Panama upon which he would discover Nicaragua.  On the Burica Peninsula Gonzalez established an alliance with a local cacique named Osa, for whom the peninsula across the gulf was later named.  Dávila returned alive to the Old World and coined the name Costa Rica.  The other sixteenth century European luminary to have purportedly stirred the waters of the Osa Peninsula's shores was none other than that scourge of the Spanish Main himself, the English privateer and explorer, Sir Francis Drake.  He is alleged to have buried a treasure somewhere along the coast in 1569.  The tourism Mecca of Drake's Bay to the north of Corcovado National Park bears testimony in its name to the legendary pirate's reputed visit to the area.  No one has yet claimed his treasure, nor the three hordes believed to be hidden on Cocos Island 400 kilometers to the west.

In the nineteenth century, the Osa Peninsula was an acknowledged exile for criminal and political refugees fleeing jail terms or other undesireable circumstances from nearby Panama.  Popular conception now has it that the Osa was a penal colony in which criminals and other societal misfits were marooned on its shores, but this is not actually the case.  Persons that fled justice to its shores were not pursued, and in its earliest days the human populace of the Osa peninsula comprised an isolated outpost of hunter-gatherer half-wild lawless mountain men that subsisted on wild meat, native fruits, seafood, and what limited agricultural products as could be coaxed from the unforgiving forest.  In response to increasing numbers of Panamanian immigrants, the Costa Rican president of the time sent a mission of colonists to compete with the immigrants and empowered them with land grants for cattle production.  Generous land grants issued by presidential decree sponsored the first wave of development on the peninsula, which consisted of the razing of tens of thousands of hectares of low-lying tropical rain forest for conversion to pasturage for cattle.  In the earliest days, cattle was king on the peninsula, and a few cattle barons provided law and order and the other amenities of government.

The remoteness and environmental difficulty of the region kept the Osa a backwater until the latter end of the 19th century.  The town of Santo Domingo shows up in the earliest nautical charts where today's Pueblo Viejo is located, from which mangrove kayak trips launch daily in today's world.  Santo Domingo was wiped out in a tsunami in the late nineteenth century, and the town's graveyard has not quite fully disintegrated back into the jungle and can still be visited to this day.  Town moved inland to the approximate location of what is today Hotel Choza del Manglar, only to find the higher ground that presently comprises town a few years later.  Shaking off a string of bad luck and perhaps embracing the future, the town changed its name in honor of the first president to ever visit.  The rest is history.

In the late sixties and early seventies, the wealth in timber was identified by market forces, and the second wave of deforestation followed.  Unlike the first pioneer wave, which burned the felled forest to convert to pasturage, the new wave of deforestation fed mills and churned out exotic tropical hardwood for construction.  As ambitions turned toward the vast lowland forest tract now preserved in Corcovado, environmental pressures rose up the political food chain, and in 1975, President Daniel Oduber established Corcovado National Park by presidential degree.

The discovery in the early '30's of prodigiously rich gold deposits along the Madrigal beach sands near what is now the Sirena Ranger Station began a social and cultural current that was arguably one of the peninsula's most pronounced 20th century effects.  It was reported that the discovers of gold in the Rio Claro and Madrigal beach could produce an entire kilogram of placer gold from a day of work, a prodigious amount of gold that spawned decades of gold fever among both nationals and expatriates alike and led to a colorful and turbulent society and culture.

By the outbreak of World War II, Carate boasted one of only two offshore gold-dredging operations in the entire world, the second one being off the African coast of Sierra Leone.  The mine was American operated and closed at that time to turn US technological attention toward the defeat of the Axis powers.  Afterwards, mining companies returned, though the difficulty of access and the challenges of the environment left the Osa Peninsula still in the backwaters.  Then, the eighties exploded with a perfect storm of calamities that included the collapse of the banana business in the gulf and widespread unemployment as well as the spillover from the wars of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and the contagious narco-militarism of Panama.  Once gold peaked in 1980 at atmospheric levels, the gold rush of the eighties was in essence pre-ordained by the constellation of circumstances that would make it inevitable.  The Osa Peninsula received a wave of prospectors and hand-miners in its gold rush that boosted the population from perhaps five thousand in 1980 to 25,000 or more during the peak of the gold rush, many of them of questionable character, all trying their hand in a frontier province at gold mining.

In 1978 approximately 300 farmers then dwelling inside what are today's park boundaries were successfully relocated outside the park along with their livestock without an enduring backlash.  However, the miners working the rivers inside the park boundaries were a more entrenched and vocal lot and were allowed to pursue their trade inside the park for several years more.  Estimated to number as many as three thousand at their period of peak occupancy, not counting family and the businessmen that made livings supplying miners, the pressure on wildlife from poaching grew unsustainable.  In light of the threat of illegal logging, the trafficking in live wildlife, all in addition to the environmental degradation from mining drive the government of Costa Rica to the contentious expulsion of all miners from the park boundaries.  The eviction of the miners was completed in 1986 but fifteen years later the government was still embroiled in lawsuits and compensation battles for the citizens that were effected by this geographic and socio-economic purge.

During the 1990's the government of Costa Rica largely married its economic future to the relatively new concept of eco-tourism and at the time of this writing in 2008 Costa Rica is one of the world's most prominent examples of sustainable development.  The challenge in bringing about protection has been to provide an economic alternative to destructive sources of income (like slash and burn agriculture; logging old growth forest, poaching, mining, etc.) to encourage land-holders to protect their forests and streams and habitat rather than to exploit their lands destructively.  The wealth of tourism dollars that flows into the region from environmental tourists has largely achieved this end, with today's peninsular citizens enjoying a high degree of health, educational opportunity, employment options, relative affluence, and general social contentment.

Corcovado National Park has played a large role in the evolution of attitudes among the local populace.  Once the site of pitched and fevered rhetoric between gold miners being displaced and armed federales enforcing a hard-hand policy placing the environment over human needs, most of today's Osa residents are reasonably well-informed about their environment and proud of its natural history and environmental heritage.  Though a small amount of trade in exotic animals and bush meat still exists, this is being widely supplanted by the popular awareness that such habits are destructive to the country as a whole. 

One of my personal examples of this evolution toward higher-minded thinking is revolves around a modest irony that was seeded on my first visit to the country in 1984 but only fully manifested its full irony during ensuing years.  Back then it was common practice to sell turtle eggs in bars and in restaurants, where they were touted as an aphrodisiac and were often consumed in bars along with guaro.  On that trip, I was served turtle meat at a lodge in Cahuita.  A professor of that generation was at that very meal railing about the Costa Rican public's failure to curb its tendency to litter and maintained it was a challenge only of education to make his fellow countrymen understand the concept of littering.  He used his examples of travels in the US to point out that by 1984, Americans for the most part did not litter because of public information campaigns whereas in Costa Rica people still discarded trash from the windows of cars and along bus routes and all the highways were strewn with trash.  He gave his own country a tongue-lashing for its environmental backwardness while we dined on sea turtle meat without any notion by anybody that we were doing wrong, somehow, after playing drinking games and eating turtle eggs earlier in the week.  Today, turtle eggs cannot be obtained legally, there is no sea turtle meat, and the highways of the country are litter free, unlike those of some Central American neighbors.  Turtle eggs, once a staple among coastal communities, are now barred and people that dig nests now have to live beneath the cloud of disapproval rising from increased public awareness.  What a difference a couple decades can make!

Academic and governmental research in Corcovado National Park


Organization for Tropical Studies

30 years of active biological research

Conservation foundations and organizations and Corcovado National Park


The government in 1987 began to integrate park management and community outreach for the country by means of nine regional Conservation Areas (ACs), which merged each key protected area and adjacent buffer zone into a developmental whole, within a National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC). The Osa Conservation Area (ACOSA) combines Corcovado NP (now 572 km²) and the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve (592 km²) into unified work striving with local communities to define how to implement activities that are ecologically and economically sustainable (Brandon and Umaña 1991). An Amerindian reserve (27.1 km²) for the Guaymí is adjacent to the park to the north. About where the peninsula meets the mainland to the west is Manglar Sierpe-Térraba Forest Reserve (227 km²). One third of the peninsula is private land, which includes some ecotourism reserves; just 97 km² of IDA's available land is regarded as adequate for farming (only by working large, 20-ha parcels).

In 1988 an ecodevelopment program (BOSCOSA) was initiated by Costa Rica's Fundación Neotrópica and the World Wildlife Fund-US (WWF-US) to improve matters on the peninsula, for example in the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve where c. 5000 families live and in the Guaymí reserve where there are 24 indigenous families (and a few in-holdings). The BOSCOSA efforts include research, training, sustainable community forestry, natural forest management, land purchase, reforestation, agroforestry, cultivation of ornamentals, environmental education (including a Tropical Youth Centre), artisanry and ecotourism (Cabarle et al. 1992).

Work in conservation has received support from among others Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy (partly by means of its Parks in Peril campaign), WWF-US, rain-forest conservation groups in several countries, Catholic Relief Service, Organization of American States, and the Costa Rican, Danish, Dutch, Swedish and U.S. governments.

In 1990 Costa Rica advanced a cooperative National Strategy for Conservation and Sustainable Development (ECODES), which is dealing with such broad issues as land-capability assessment and integrated land-use processes, and developing new laws and regulations for the environment, forestry and SINAC. Recently a new law on biodiversity (including wild flora and fauna) was enacted. Funding sought from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) would strengthen the efforts such as BOSCOSA and INBio for the region. Such broad and integrated activities are critical for the survival and healthy functioning of adequately large natural systems of flora and fauna.

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