Experience the Wealth of the Rich Coast: Corcovado National Park

Experience the Wealth of the Rich Coast: Corcovado National Park

National Geographic once called it 'the most biologically intense place on Earth'. This is a fitting description for Corcovado National Park, a virtually untouched haven of biodiversity along Costa Rica's west coast.
By Earl Hunsinger

The name Costa Rica means 'rich coast', and Corcovado National Park is a good example of this richness. A few miles north of Corcovado is Drake Bay, where the English explorer Sir Francis Drake is said to have landed in 1579 during his circumnavigation of the globe. Many visitors to the park enjoy visiting Salsipuedes Cave, where he stored part of his treasure. The area itself also contains gold. A gold nugget weighing about two pounds sparked a gold rush in the area in the 1930s. Other discoveries in more recent times have threatened the park, with several hundred miners moving into the area shortly after it opened in 1975. In 1986, the government banned miners from Corcovado.

More impressive than the gold found in this area is the diversity of its flora and fauna. Eight separate habitats, or ecosystems, exist within its 133,000 acres. These include shallow lagoons, marshes, mangrove swamps, rivers, rainforests, low altitude cloud forests, and 46 km of sandy coastline. The park contains over 500 species of trees, with the largest, the silk-cotton tree, reaching a diameter of ten feet, and a height of more than 230 feet. Almost 400 species of birds live in these trees, including the harpy eagle. Considered by many to be the largest bird of prey in the world, this eagle includes monkeys and other large mammals in its diet. The park also contains the largest population of scarlet macaws in the country. In addition to these two endangered birds, other endangered species find refuge here, including the tapir, crocodile, ocelot cougar, and giant anteater.

In all, Corcovado National Park is home to 140 types of mammals, 40 kinds of freshwater fish, and perhaps 6,000 species of insects. Of the 117 different species of amphibians and reptiles, 32 are snakes. These include the fer-de-lance snake, which has been called the most dangerous snake in Central and South America. Like its North American relative, the rattlesnake, it is a pit viper. This means that, it has two indentations or 'pits' behind and above its nostrils, that it uses like a second set of eyes. Instead of detecting visible light, these pits detect heat energy, with a sensitivity that allows it to sense a rise or drop in temperature of just 0.001 degrees C. It uses this ability to turn night into day when hunting warm-blooded mammals. It also has a reputation for being uniquely aggressive, so be careful when hiking through the park.

Among the 48 species of frogs and toads living in the park are the poison dart frog and the glass frog. Poison dart frogs have become famous because indigenous people traditionally used the poison excretions from their skin to coat their arrows or blowgun darts. These frogs often climb trees in search of pools of water that have collected in canopy plants. The glass frog might be considered the dissectionist's dream. It has transparent skin. If you place it on a clear glass surface, you can actually see its internal organs functioning.

The park also contains armadillos, anteaters, sloths, southern river otters, crab-eating raccoons, four monkey species, five or six cat species, and so on. It's no wonder that National Geographic called it 'the most biologically intense place on Earth'.

While many have come to this area looking for gold, its true wealth lies in its biodiversity. The amazing plants and animals to be found in this virtually untouched part of Central America are reason enough to call the country of Costa Rica, the rich coast.
Poison-dart frog
Fer-de-lance snake
Animal in costa rica
Corcovado national park