WILDLIFE ABOUNDS IN TROPICAL COSTA RICA
Costa Rica… the Rich Coast… most certainly does its name justice. When you look at where it’s situated on a world map, it a resembles a piece of duct tape holding North and South America together – along with its duct-tape neighbor to the north, Nicaragua, and Panama to the southeast. It’s a feisty little country! The glorious Caribbean Sea plays host to the tides on the northeast whilst the Pacific takes care of all things oceanic to the southwest. Ecuador sits to the south of Cocos Island. If you’re looking forward to spending an equal amount of time in your safari boots and your bathing costume, then Coast Rica is just the country to head towards. Unwind on a total of 1 290 km (800 mi) of coastline… 212 km (132 mi) on the side of the Caribbean coast and 1 016 km (631 mi) on the Pacific. Add to this, the ‘green rooms’ of curling waves awaiting amateur and pro surfers, magical rainforest hikes, crispy mega-altitude trails, and endorphin-generating whitewater rapids, and you have a safari holiday destination of note. GREAT ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS This country has made a name for itself in the field of sustainable tourism – so you can sleep well at night. Developing infrastructure is the way they roll down here with green energy such as wind and hydro. It's also big into the protection of a quarter of its wilderness, with proper laws set in place. It’s a biodiverse country of note with a fantastic 500 000 species – from mini insects to the looming anteaters that eat them like popcorn. We simply must throw in this classic stat… of these half a million species, a little more than 300 000 are insects. Consider yourself ridiculously outnumbered! National parks offer safari-goers a slice of both rain and cloud forest life, along with smoky volcanoes to add a generous spoonful of geological drama to the mix. Over 25% of Costa Rica's territory is protected by SINAC – the National System of Conservation Areas. This is just the right approach as the ‘Rich Coast’ possesses the biggest density of species in the world. GET A TASTE FOR ALTITUDE The highest point in the country is the statuesque Cerro Chirripó, at 3 819 m (12,530 ft); securing fifth place in the highest peaks of Central America stakes. The highest volcano is the Irazú at a staggering 3 431 m (11 257), and the biggie in the lake department is Lake Arenal. There are 14 known volcanoes in Costa Rica. Incidentally, six of them have been active in the last 75 years. Island hopping is a guaranteed treat. Cocos Island with all of its 24 km2 (9.3 mi2) is to be explored (and a shutter-happy photographer’s dream), because of its distance from the continental landmass – 480 km (300 mi) from Puntarenas, but Isla Calero is the largest of them all at 151.6 km2 (58.5 mi2). WILD, WILD WILDLIFE Of this, there is aplenty. Get your safari kick at Corcovado National Park. Ecologists, the world over, wax lyrical about its biodiversity – cue big cats and tapirs – expect to see an abundance of wildlife. All four Costa Rican monkey species cavort in this neck of the woods – the white-headed capuchin, the mantled howler, the endangered Geoffroy's spider monkey and the Central American squirrel monkey, found only on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica (and a tiny section of Panama). ROWR Wildcats that roam in Costa Rica are jaguars (the word entered English presumably via the Amazonian trade language Tupinambá, yaguara, meaning ‘beast of prey,’ ocelots (with their luxurious fur extensively marked with solid black patterns on a creamy, tawny, yellow, red-gray or gray background color). Then you have pumas, jaguarundi (a smaller-sized brownish-gray wild cat that looks like a cross between a weasel and a cat, without any spots on its coat and just a few faint markings on the face and underside). And finally the solitary and nocturnal margays (with their brown fur marked with rows of dark brown or black rosettes and longitudinal streaks, pale undersides, ranging from buff to white, and tails with numerous dark bands wrapping up in a black tip). Oh, and let’s not forget the little spotted cats, aka tigrillos – sporting the thickest and softest fur, ranging from light brown to dark ochre, with dark rosettes across the back and flanks. The backs of these little critters’ ears are black with bold white spots. The rosettes are black or brown, open in the center, and funnily shaped. In the feline leg department, it has medium-sized spots tapering to smaller spots near the paws – perfect for blending in with the mottled sunlight of the tropical forest. TOE-TAPPING STUFF Tortuguero (translated as ‘full of turtles’) National Park is home to spider, howler, and white-throated capuchin monkeys; plus, the three-toed sloth and two-toed sloth. These guys take it very, very easy in the movement department (no frenetic speedsters here) and they spend most of their lives hanging upside down in the trees of Tortuguero. There are six species, divided into two families, hence the toe differentiation. It has a very low metabolism along with those deliberate movements – sloth is related to the word slow. This is an evolutionary trick owed to their low-energy diet of leaves, and to go unnoticed by predatory hawks and cats who hunt by sight. These guys are almost helpless on the ground, but they can swim up a storm. Check this out: the grooved hair on the sloth's shaggy coat is a host to symbiotic green algae, which is perfect for camouflaging itself in the trees and even provides nutrients to the sloth. You’re spoilt for choice with 320 species of birds and a variety of reptiles to boot. Tortuguero is famous for the annual nesting of the endangered green turtle. Giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles also hit their tent pegs in here. The park also features 11 different types of habitats – amongst them swamps, mangroves, rainforest, beaches, and lagoons. It’s tropical, it’s warm, and it’s humid. It’s simply wonderful. UP IN THE CLOUDS Head for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to be mesmerized by thousands of plant species, including numerous exotic orchids. Mother Nature also throws in 400 types of birds and more than 100 species of mammals for your pleasure here. Monteverde has been labeled by the National Geographic as the ‘the jewel in the crown of cloud forest reserves.’ CRISS-CROSSING ON SAFARI Stop dead in your tracks at Poás Volcano, at 2 708 m (8 885 ft), it’s active and located in the Poas Volcano National Park. The volcano has a history of 40 eruptions since 1828… Uhm, moving on now. It has two crater lakes near the summit – Laguna Caliente lies to the north. Lake Botos is the southern lake, filling an inactive crater, which (luckily) last erupted in 7500 BC. So, take your pick… It is cold, clear, and is surrounded by a cloud forest within the park boundaries. TURQUOISE WATERS The unique turquoise coloration of the Celeste River is part of the Tenorio Volcano National Park with a majestic waterfall and several hot springs. Apparently, a physical phenomenon is responsible for the color of the river. Old Celeste is fed by two rivers – the Buenavista and the Sour Creek. The former carries aluminosilicate particles in large concentration while the latter is highly acidic. When the two streams mix it up, the pH drop triggers the ‘getting together’ of the particles which then produce Mie scattering (the way that light scatters when it hits an object) that lend the river this tantalizing color. GO LOCO AT COCOS The Cocos Island off the Pacific Ocean is also a national park – no settlements are allowed here – only the Costa park rangers may live on the island. It is roughly rectangular, about 23.85 km2 (9.2 mi2) in size. The waters surrounding the island are a scuba divers mecca. Explore the aquatic flora and fauna to your heart’s delight. Hammerhead sharks, dolphins, rays, tropical fish, whales, and other slick marine species thrive in these waters. TIME TO DIARIZE YOUR COSTA RICA SAFARI The best time to visit Costa Rica is the month of January after the ‘holiday peak season tourist crowds’ (sounds too congested doesn’t it?) head back to their respective home addresses. The rains end in December, but the forests won’t lose any of their lushness into the new year, while glorious dry, sunny weather prevails on the beaches. It’s also one of the best times for wildlife when those tropical monkeys and laid-back sloths are joined by migrant birds from the north, humungous humpback whales giving birth to their calves in the warm waters, and sea turtles getting comfortable as they nest onshore. Amidst all this wildlife activity, locals love dancing their days away – the soca, salsa, bachata, merengue, cumbia, and Costa Rican swing are enjoyed until late into the night. So, get your dancing shoes and safari boots on!