Carate makes an excellent launching point for a full-day exploration of the southern reaches of Corcovado National Park. The 2.5 kilometer beach hike separating Carate from the La Leona Ranger station is a 30-40 minute walk. Though professional guides and park staff make the entire La Leona-Sirena hike (17 km) in as little as three hours, most visitors will do best to not advance beyond Salsipuedes Point during a full day hike to make sure and leave enough energy for the hike back. Salsipuedes Point is 10.4 kilometers from the La Leona Ranger Station, 12.9 km from Carate itself, so even this is an ambitious objective.
The La Leona-Sirena trail parallels the coastline for the entire route. While the second half of the hike, closer to Sirena, has many long stretches that are hiking right along the beach, much of the trail in the La Leona region is located just inside the forest offering welcome relief from the pounding sun and firmer terrain than that offered by dry beach sand.
However, there are no inland trails along the entire length of the trail until the vicinity of Sirena. Hence the ecosystem that can be seen is coastal and not deep forest. For those visitors interested in exploring inland habitats, the most practical option is to follow a stream or river inland. Surface drainages offer great pathways through the forest, the only challenges being the occasional waterfalls that must be hiked around in places. Drainages have an additional advantage in that it becomes impossible to get lost since all rivers and streams flow downhill and cross the main trail. Most of the streams along the southern Pacific coastline of the park are small, but the Madrigal River is an exception, offering a large watershed that can be explored. The Madrigal is the only one of the rivers east of the Rio Claro to have good tapir habitat, though tapirs have been recently spotted as far east as the Pejeperrito Lagoon east of Carate.
While technically forming the park boundary and not actually “inside” the park, Quebrada La Leona is a great candidate for canyoning, offering a great mid-sized streams with lots of relief but no waterfalls that must be circumvented until very high in the drainage. Despite being merely a park boundary, this stream is foot access only and is deep forest and only populated at its mouth, where La Leona Lodge is situated on the eastern bank and La Leona Ranger station is situated on the western bank.
The best Carate launching point for single-day trips into the La Leona portion of Corcovado National Park is La Leona Lodge, which is located a stone’s throw from the park boundary. The eco-lodge is a tent camp with comfortable tents on platforms overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The lodge offers great meals, cold drinks, and has solar power, an above ground swimming pool, and several kilometers of trails located in the private nature preserve behind the lodge. Corcovado Lodge is similarly located very close to the Park but has been in decline for years and no longer accepts advance reservations. Other than those two, the Carate Region has the following commercial ecolodges: Lookout Inn, Luna Lodge, , Finca Exotica, all of which accept advance reservations, and the budget cabin destination Carate Jungle Camp, which does not take advance reservations or have email or any other form of communication.
It is entirely reasonable to plan a self-guiding day trip from the Carate area. All the area eco-lodges can provide guide service for those guests that prefer a naturalist guide to heighten the likelihood of wildlife viewing. For those wishing to secure guiding service in advance, please fill out the questionnaire below or send me an email with relevant details. As of November 5, 2010, all Corcovado hikers must have valid permits issued and paid for in advance of arriving. Historically walkins have been allowed to pay upon entry for day permits, but that practice has been discontinued, so be sure to secure your permits in advance even for single-day self-guided visits.