Corcovado National Park: Regulations Explained

Corcovado National Park regulations are possibly one of the most confusing things that travelers have to deal with in Costa Rica. They have changed a lot over the years, and also, they are very different than any of the other national parks throughout the country.

In this update as of October 2019, we wanted to break down all the regulations, why they are important, and where your money goes when you book a trip to Corcovado.

1) You must have a local guide

Since 2014, it has been mandatory to have a local guide in Corcovado. Other national parks such as Manuel Antonio allow visitors to explore on their own. But there is an important difference. The trails of Manuel Antonio and other wildlife refuges such as Gandoca Manzanillo are wide, short, and well-marked. In Corcovado, it is literally a jungle out there.

While Manuel Antonio National Park is just 683 hectares, Corcovado encompasses the vast majority of the Osa Pensinsula. A whopping 42,400 hectares. Also unlike most of the national parks in the country, Corcovado is not directly accessible by road.

Essentially, getting lost is a real possibility. In fact, the last time that this happened was in July of 2014, when a 27 year old man from Alaska entered the park on his own and was never found again.

We support this regulation, not only due to safety, but also because having a local guide will greatly enhance your experience of the park. They know how to find the wildlife and they have genuine information about the species you will encounter, after decades of growing up in the jungle.

2) Corcovado has a maximum number of visitors per day.

Again, unlike most National Parks in Costa Rica, Corcovado requires you to have a pre-paid entrance pass. You cannot buy a ticket at any of the rangers stations, nor can you hire a guide there. All of this has to be done in advance.

The main reason for this, is that there are strict limits on the number of people that can be in the park on any given day. This is the breakdown:

Sirena- 100 people per day, 70 of these may stay overnight
San Pedrillo- 100 people per day, 30 of these may stay overnight
La Leona- 80 people per day, no overnight available.
Los Patos- 50 people per day, no overnight available.

This regulation is important because we need to limit the impact of tourism on the spectacular biodiversity of the region. If anyone could wander in at any time, there would be no way to know if people were being respectful of the environment. Over the years, this rule has reduced trash and the general impact of foot traffic in the park. What’s better for the animals is better for your park experience.

3) You must pay in advance for entrance, food and accommodation.

You may book and pay up to 3 months before the date of entrance. Due to the limited number of people per day, it is recommended to book as soon as possible for high season (Dec-March). The process for booking an entrance pass to Corcovado is the same for tour operators as it would be for individual travelers if they chose to do it themselves. And the price is the same. Here is how we do it:

1) Email or visit the Corcovado office in Puerto Jimenez and request a reservation for a specific day, with a specific number of people, plus your guide
2) They will email or give you an invoice with the amount of money you need to pay.
3) You will then have to deposit that amount of money into the Corcovado National Park bank account (Banco Nacional) either in person in the bank, or by transferring from another Banco Nacional account. You may not use an international bank account nor credit card.
4) Provide the deposit receipt either in person or via email. At this point the office will provide you with your entrance passes.
5) Print it out. You cannot show passes on phones or other digital devices. Paper print outs are the only format accepted when you arrive in the park.
6) If you are doing an overnight trip in Sirena, you need to do this process all over again with a different office, in order to reserve your accommodation and food.

Note that there are no banks, nor printing places in Drake Bay. The closest ones are in Palmar Norte or Puerto Jimenez. Also note that these payments are not refundable nor transferable for any reason.

Of course, this sounds like a massive pain. This is why you will find the vast majority of travelers reserving Corcovado tours through their hotel or travel agency. That way, you get to reserve your entrance pass, tour guide, transportation and food, all at the same time.

From Drake Bay, Corcovado tours are priced as follows:

Sirena Day Trip: $95
San Pedrillo Day Trip: $85
Overnights: Dependent on number of people, but approximately $300 per person.

4) Camping and Food

In 2016, Sirena Ranger’s Station was taken over by a local association, which renovated the facilities. They no longer allow camping, and accommodation is in dormitory-style bunks. It is not permitted to bring your own food to Sirena, as there was ongoing concern about trash. Sirena Restaurant provides all meas for overnight trips and tour operators provide the lunches for day trips.

At San Pedrillo, the accommodation is camping only. There is a covered platform where you can set up your tent, shared toilets, showers and change rooms. There are no cooking facilities, but you can arrange with your tour operator to bring pre-packed food and a small camping stove. You can bring your own food to San Pedrillo, but we urge you to coordinate with your tour operator in order to reduce waste and single use plastics. Operators can also provide tents and other camping equipment.

5) Where does your money go?

Entrance passes: $15 per person per day.
Guide Entrance Pass: $6 per day.
Guide Fee: $100 per day.
Boat from Drake: $50 per person round trip. (not a public boat, must be booked in advance)
Picnic Lunch on Day Trip: $8-10 per person
Accommodation at Sirena: $30 per person per night, plus $5 for guide accommodation.
Meals at Sirena: $70 per person per day, plus $22 for guide meals.
Camping at San Pedrillo: $4 per person per day, plus $4 for guide accommodation.
Food at San Pedrillo: Approx $30 per per day for pre-packed meals.

These prices are set by either the Ministry of Environment or the local guiding association, so everyone faces the same costs. Small discounts are available for Nationals ($10 off entrance) and children under 12 (half price food at Sirena).

As you can see, none of this factors in any profit for the operator or agency. On our website, we charge the same as any other operator for Day Trips, and we take a flat fee of $100 for packages up to 6 people. Some operators may add a fee per person, instead of a flat fee. This money helps us to visit the bank (2 hours away) when we need to book your passes and also to pay our internet bill so we can get back to you as quickly as possible.

This pricing structure is similar to any other operation in Drake Bay. We support all of our local tour guides and operators. We work hard together to help you have a great experience in Corcovado National Park, for the lowest price possible.

Take a look at our Corcovado Tours Page to read about the spectacular biodiversity in Corcovado National Park, and find the best option for your adventure. Contact us to reserve your trip, or to ask any questions at all about this amazing experience.