Wild and Wonderful Costa Rica

We just returned from a fabulous week-long trip to one of our absolute favorite countries, Costa Rica.  It took a while to get there from Seattle, but once we arrived, we made the most of it. 

P1100633 Costa Rica is a wonderful country in so many ways.  It’s a very progressive place, and now generates 95% of its energy use through renewable sources.  They protect over 25% of their land, and the amount that’s forested has doubled in the past twenty years.  Also, the people are incredibly nice, and the diversity of wildlife and plant life is second to none. 

DSCN7681 We flew into San Jose, and drove directly to La Selva, staying at the Selva Verde Lodge.  The lodge is a couple of hour drive north of San Jose, located in the middle of a rain forest.  We met a long-time family friend there, J.D. Willson (more later), who had spent a few hours exploring the area.  He immediately showed us some great reptiles, including a Satiny Parrot Snake.  Also, at the very beginning of our first hike, about 100 yards into it, I actually found a snake.  This would prove to be singularly unusual, as I never saw anything interesting after that, and relied on others to find the interesting sightings.

P1100725 Selva Verde Lodge is basic, very basic.  And the rooms are a long walk from the dining area.  But it got the job done for us, and we had a great two days there.  In addition to just walking the grounds of the lodge, we went to the research station at La Selva, and got a great tour there.  Anyway, if you’re looking for plush eco-friendly accommodations, this area may not be for you.  But if you want to see some great wildlife, this is a great spot, and a must for anyone doing serious birding in Costa Rica.

P1100706 While in the Selva area, we did a couple of other fun things.  One afternoon, we all went on one of Costa Rica’s top ziplines to tour the Canopy.  We went with Adventuras Sarapiqui, who did a great job for us.  Most of the legs (14 in all) were short to medium in duration, but we had a few that were long, high, and over water!  That was exciting.

We also made a night-time visit to the Tirimbina Rainforest Reserve, and got a great overview on research being done there on bats.  Bats are a very misunderstood mammal, since almost all of the more than 1,000 species of bats feed entirely on insects or fruit.  Costa Rica itself has 110 species of bats, and we got to see a few of the species close up.  They were quite tiny, and really interesting to see when they’re still.

P1100787 I made my first trip to Costa Rica twenty years ago, and was amazed at the Corcovado area on the Osa Peninsula in southwest Costa Rica.  We were excited to return there, and I was thrilled to see it’s almost as undeveloped – and beautiful – today as it was twenty years ago.  Costa Rica gets high marks for conservation.

P1100650 We started out stay at a lodge called Bosque del Cabo, about a half-hour drive from Puerto Jimenez.  The lodge itself is quite nice, and is run by an ex-pat couple from the U.S. with a small baby.  We did a night hike our first night there and saw a few interesting things.  And some researchers gave a very interesting talk about the cats of the Osa Peninsula – ocelots, puma, and jaguars. 

P1100811 The next day was characterized more by what we missed than what we saw, including being a couple of minutes too late to see a Boa Constrictor.  After our uneventful morning hike, we labored through a bollixed up afternoon.  We started with a quick (very quick) stop at the Osa Biodiversity Center, but didn’t stay there long enough to really get a sense of the place.   We then went to a private house overlooking the Pacific, which was a spectacular home with great views.  However, we weren’t really up for spending three hours forDSCN8122 drinks and dinner there.  After dinner, we had a real low point of our trip, as the local guide had arranged for us to go out on canoes and kayaks to catch crocodiles.  He forgot to mention, though, that they didn’t have enough room for all of us, meaning one of us got stranded on the beach at night, for two hours, under attack by sand bugs.  The others spent two hours praying that our crocodile-catching experts would finally get a lasso around a croc’s head.  They did, finally, but this was an event well worth missing.

P1100775 The next morning, we flew into La Sirena Research Center in the middle of Corcovado National Park.  The flight was spectacular, and it was great being in the middle of this park.  We got a decent look at a Tapir during our hike, but some screw-ups on the part of our local guide delayed our arrival into the park enough that morning that we missed the best wildlife sighting times.  We pulled the rip cord on this guide, thankfully, and got the rest of our trip back on track.

P1100883 We ended our trip with a couple of incredible nights at the Nicuesa Lodge, at Playa Nicuesa, a twenty-five minute boat ride from Puerto Jiminez.  This lodge is beautiful, and tucked into a most spectacular area of the Osa Peninsula.  Everyone we met at the lodge was incredibly nice, and we had some terrific naturalist accompanying us on our hikes.

P1100839 The lodge offers lots of great options, and we all concluded it was a place we’d like to come back to.  There are lots of great hiking trails originating at the lodge.  And the beach activities (swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing) are really fun.  The food there was excellent as well. 

DSCN8579 Our last night hike was particularly exciting at Nicuesa.  Our family friend J.D. and our son Gibson were on fire in terms of finding things, and we got several great looks at really interesting wildlife.  My son’s blog post – http://gibson.dintersmith.org – will do a much better job of describing what we saw than I can do, but it was really great.

For our week in Costa Rica, we saw 20 different mammal species, over 120 bird species, and a whopping 61 herp (reptile and amphibian) species.  Between the wildlife sightings, the spectacular countryside, and the wonderful Costa Rican people, it was a great trip.

DSCN7765 We were thrilled to have J.D. Willson with us for our stay in Costa Rica.  I’ve know J.D. since he was three years old, and even then it was clear he was going to be an outstanding naturalist.  J.D. just got his Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of Georgia, and is a real expert on nature.  He’s also an incredibly nice and thoughtful young man, so we felt honored to spend a week with him.  All of us learned so much from him, and our kids in particular got a chance to observe up close how a top scientist approaches the exploration of a new area.  We couldn’t have asked for a better person to show us the wonders of this great Central American country.

P1100965After a glorious week in Costa Rica, we returned to Seattle to find . . . rain.  What a surprise!  We spent Easter Day waiting for a short window of sun for an Easter Egg hunt outside, and finally gave in and braved the elements.  With each passing hour, we couldn’t help but think of life on the trail in Costa Rica.  And as I post this on Monday, April 13th, we’re getting snow here mixed with rain!  Ugh!!

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