Bus2Antarctica: Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park

Andrew Evans is currently traveling on board the National Geographic Sea Lion. Here, he recaps his recent visit to Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park.

The tropical rain forest is the exact opposite of Antarctica: it’s steamy hot, always wet, bright green, and crawling with life both day and night.

This week, my journey south has taken me along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. From my ship, I’ve watched the shore and noticed the vegetation growing taller and fuller as we move into the thick of the tropical rain forest. Lucky for me, the National Geographic Sea Lion made a two-day stop on the Osa Peninsula, allowing us passengers the freedom to explore the jungle.

Four years ago, I traveled to this very spot on vacation and was utterly amazed by the wealth of wildlife all around me. In my opinion, Osa represents the best of the best of Costa Rica. I’m not the only one who feels this way: National Geographic Traveler listed the Osa Peninsula as one of their Places of a Lifetime in their October 2009 issue.

Corcovado National Park is renowned for its biodiversity as well as its sheer inaccessibility. Arriving on a Lindblad ship was like parking my hotel room right next to one of the world’s most verdant and pristine rain forest preserves. The last time I came here required a two-hour flight from San José, a five-hour ride in the back of a truck, followed by a 14-mile hike through the forest. This time it took a two-minute ride in a Zodiac.
Upon landing on the beach, I caught a glimpse of a graceful pair of scarlet macaws go whizzing by overhead. Everything was completely silent–until you began to listen closely. Slowly, the sounds emerged: rippling water from the forest streams, armies of moving insects, calling birds, faraway twigs snapping, and then the monkeys moving through the trees. Howler monkeys are some of my very favorites. Their telltale barking echo is like a melodramatic chorus that constantly interrupts the peace of the forest. In my hiking, I saw several troops of howlers, including a bunch with tiny babies clutching onto the backs of their mothers. Howlers are territorial and defensive–one time they began launching projectiles down upon us–heavy fruits and nuts tossed down from a hundred feet up.

Corcovado is home to over 500 species of trees, which is just plain amazing. Looking up through the layers of leaves, it’s difficult to see their tops, and I guessed that some of the upper canopy reached well over 200 feet high. (Later, the books in the Lindblad library confirmed that fact.) Perhaps more spectacular were the lianas and vines–some of them thick and twisty and others like pale green silk threads that hung down like strings from the sky.

Hiking through this Crock-Pot of life was unbearably hot. The day’s temperature reached 97º F and the forest was pushing 100% humidity–it was with great delight that our group stopped along one of the streams for a swim in a nice cool waterfall. Nobody seemed to mind that there were caimans living in the pools around the falls. We all just jumped in the water, splashing around and howling like kids. High above us, the monkeys looked down and howled back.

Andrew is currently on board the National Geographic Sea Lion, which is traveling from Costa Rica to Panama. Follow his Twitter feed here @Bus2Antarctica, bookmark all of his blog posts here, see more videos here, and get the full story on the project here. All photos and video by Andrew Evans.