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Travel Notes from Costa Rica

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Crocodile travel blog

I couldn’t draw an accurate map of Central America to save my life, but at least now I know which one is Costa Rica (it’s the one just above Panama), thanks to a whirlwind tour that took us from the capital, San Jose, to the Caribbean Coast to the Pacific Coast (and many points in between) over the course of eight days in early December.

Costa Rica has been cited as the “greenest” country on earth.  25% of its land mass is preserved in parks and refuges and it has a national goal of being 100% carbon neutral by 2021.  Because it has preserved so much of its diverse habitat – from lowland rain forests to dry savannah to cloud forests at an altitude of 11,000’ plus – Costa Rica is green in the literal sense as well, and one of the most biologically rich spots on the globe where over 700 species of birds can be found as well as hundreds of species of mammals and a countless variety of insects, amphibians, fish and plants. 

Our itinerary started in San Jose where Crimson-Fronted Parakeets squawked in the trees outside the hotel. There we met our group and learned the magical local phrase “Pura Vida.”  Loosely translated as “Good Life,” it is a greeting, farewell and affirmation used as a universal response (Think, “Have a Nice Day,” crossed with, “Right On”) that perfectly expresses the good nature and easygoing attitude that characterizes the entire country. 

From San Jose we went to Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast, home of the Sea Turtle Conservancy which guards the nearby nesting beaches for Green Turtles and several other species.  We were able to witness a few hatchlings struggling across the hot sand to the surfline, while forays into the surrounding waterways yielded Green Macaws, Tiger Herons and Squirrel Cuckoos, among many other tropical birds.

Tiger heron travel blog
Tiger Heron

Our next stop was a lodge on the flanks of Arenal Volcano in the North Central highlands. More wildlife was found on a day trip to the Rio Frio near the Nicaraguan border, including Howler Monkeys, White Ibis, Basalisk Lizards and Sungrebes. Arenal was mostly wreathed in clouds (December is the beginning of the dry season – our trip was about 50-50 rain and dry) but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the geothermal Baldi Hot Springs, a wonderland of hot pools, cool pools, slides, steam rooms and swim-up bars. Near our lodge at Arenal we found Passerini’s Tanagers, several varieties of toucan and a cacophony of songs and calls that promised much more deep in the trees. 

White ibis travel blog
White IbisBasalisk Lizard

Next stop was Guanacaste on the Pacific Coast where we luxuriated at the JW Marriott resort near the surf town of Tamarindo.  The Pacific coast is dryer than the Caribbean and has become a target of golf/ timeshare/ hotel developers but wildlife and birds were abundant there as well – we saw Caracaras, Streak-Backed Orioles and a variety of seabirds during our all-too short stay. One of our fellow travelers reported that a Coatimundi had strolled through their ground-floor room.  Our final excursion on the way back to San Jose was at the Rio Tarcoles where we were treated to Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Tri-colored Herons, Scarlet Macaws and Boat-Billed Herons as well as 15-foot crocodiles. 

boat billed heron travel blog
 Boat Billed Heron

All in all, it’s a fascinating and beautiful country worth a much longer stay. We’ll be back and in the meantime… “Pura Vida!”

~ Mark Fuller, ACES Trustee