While it is fair to say we haven’t lucked out with our volcano spotting/landscape views while in Costa Rica, at least we have done better on the wildlife front. We are visiting Costa Rica in the shoulder season and the weather is mixed to say the least: we spent our first 7 days here pretty wet but are now drying out a little away from the rainforests.
As an aside, I’m yet to be convinced that Volcano Arenal actually exists having spent 3 (very wet) days in La Fortuna (which is the nearest town which should have afforded us a great view of this volcano which last erupted in 1968 and which has been dormant since 2010) and even having undertaken a “Two Volcano Extreme Hike” (so called because apparently Arenal in fact has 2 distinct craters) up to the highest scenic viewpoint on the lava fields “to see Arenal and its spectacular surroundings” or so the blurb would have you believe. Although, this was a pleasant enough walk through the rain forest and when the clouds did clear from the viewpoint, we did get a brief view of Lake Arenal which we then crossed the following day by boat (again minus the view of the pesky volcano).
But, as I said, on the wildlife front, we have had a lot more luck. After all, Costa Rica is a country which is considered to possess the highest density of biodiversity in the world, attributable to its variety of ecosystems: cloud forests, rain forests, beaches, mangrove forests etc: they can all be found here in what is a relatively small country. Apparently over 25% of the country has a protected status either as a national park, wildlife refuge and/or a forest reserve. The government is active in trying to protect the country’s biodiversity which, of course, is a major draw for tourists: from the vast numbers of tourists here, it’s pretty obvious that ecotourism contributes hugely to the economy. Deforestation, however, remains a problem as does the government’s somewhat potentially difficult relationships with the huge pineapple and banana corporations who don’t always use 100% organic production methods.
L: Albino howler monkey: Top R: white faced capuchin monkey; Bottom R: spider monkey
So what have we seen? So far, we’ve been lucky to spot 3 of the 4 varieties of monkeys, caimans, sloths, iguanas, bats and a whole host of birdlife, both migratory and endemic. Particular highlights for me have been seeing 3 quetzals (the national bird of Guatemala) in Monteverde Cloud Forest as well as several different types of hummingbird (almost impossible to photograph as they only seem to stay still for a nanosecond) and the red eyed leaf frog who is my personal favourite: what he may lack in size, he makes up for in beauty.
L: Hummingbird: R: Red eye leaf frog
One of our most successful wildlife spotting days was in the Cano Negro to the north of Costa Rica when we were on a boat on the River Frio (which marks Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua and is the closest point we have got to that country on this trip). On this excursion, among other things, we saw caimans, orange male iguanas (orange to try and attract the females), highly camouflaged bats, many different birds as well as an albino howler monkey (also orange in colour) which apparently is one of only 3 specimens in the country left (its albino nature was apparently caused by in-breeding). Rather sadly (but perhaps understandably), often the bright orange monkeys are ostracised from the rest of the troop because they are just too easy to spot by predators.
L: Quetzal: R: Cormorant
On a night time “safari” in Monteverde, we were able to follow a sloth with its baby moving slowly but gracefully while hanging upside down in the high canopy of the rainforest as well as other less pleasant creatures such as tarantulas!
L: Bats; R: A caiman
On another evening, we found ourselves on a moonlit beach near Tamarindo watching Pacific green female turtles make their way up the beach to dig a hole in which to lay their 60 to 80 eggs. From the tracks showing a U turn half way up the beach, one had obviously had a change of heart and either been disturbed or decided that this was not the place she wanted to lay her eggs and so had headed back to the safety of the ocean . We saw another turtle busy digging a hole with her back flippers but sadly she had hit a rocky part of the beach and the guide thought it was unlikely that she would be able to dig a sufficiently deep hole where she would be comfortable laying her eggs.
But a third seemed to be having more luck, having heaved herself up the beach, she had dug a hole and we saw her laying her eggs: a magical moment and a pretty impressive one too as she would sometimes shoot out 4 eggs in quick succession before taking a small break in the delivery process. I would love to witness the baby turtles actually hatching and the beach coming “alive” with the baby turtles heading towards the ocean, but our timing is a bit off so that will have to be something for a subsequent trip. To be honest, given it wasn’t far off Full Moon, we were lucky to see any turtle activity so no complaints.
*a few of these photos were taken by our Caňo Negro guide, Pierre, whose photographic equipment was far superior to mine!