Face To Face With Amazing Wildlife In Costa Rica’s Jungle

You might recognize it: you book an excursion and there you are, early in the morning, surrounded by ten other tourists, waiting for a van to pick you up for that organized day trip. You end up in a jeep, trying to catch the best window seat, preferably near your travel buddy. A question of spatial planning in which “survival of the fittest” is an unfortunate, bitter reality. Consider it a coincidence, but at the “moment suprême” all your travel companions have found the same position so as to shoot the best picture of that multicolored toucan, high up in the tree. And when it’s finally your turn, it turns out that the beautiful creature has found its salvation elsewhere. Frustrating, isn’t it?

On my travels, this scenario happened to me several times. So that’s why I decided to do things differently on my travel in Costa Rica.

Cahuita, A Picture Perfect Place To Be

Are you a nature and photography lover? Cahuita’s beautiful National Parks was the place where I spotted amazing wildlife and got my best shots ever.

Cahuita is located at Costa Rica’s Southern Caribbean coast, in the province of Limón. It’s a quiet little town with some nice restaurants though. For Italian food, Coco Rico offers you a wide variety of dishes. In the evenings, you can watch a movie on their big screen. For the more romantic ones, “Sobre las Olas” offers candlelight dinners in their beach restaurant, specialized in seafood.

I stayed in a nice B&B near the beach, called “El Encanto” and met my exuberant host, Alex, a 50 years old Spaniard who emigrated to Costa Rica years ago because of his love for nature. Never a dull moment with Alex. He entertains his guests with his humor, homemade pizzas and his search for the famous green frog in the pond of his beautiful garden. Equipped with his telescope, he takes you out for an early morning walk to spot toucans.

The famous Costa Rican green frog found in Alex’ garden

Alex introduced me to Christian, a professional local guide and photographer who, after some bargaining, would take me out for a 110 USD private day tour into Cahuita’s National Parks.

Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park is located along the beach, from where a dense rainforest extends further inland. A seven-kilometer unpaved path connects the two park entrances of Cahuita and Puerto Vargas. Try to get in by the Cahuita entrance, which, unlike the Puerto Vargas’ side, saves you an entrance fee. It is a great place to walk through and make stops on almost deserted beaches. In the trees, you can spot wild animals such as howler monkeys and sloths. Don’t forget to wear your waterproof walking gear in the rainy season (May-October) as two-thirds of the path is extremely muddy and mosquitoes are everywhere.

A deserted beach along Cahuita’s coastline

Equipped with a tripod and telescope, Christian and I set off. Soon I understood the added value of his equipment: thanks to the telescope, Christian achieved a maximum zoom range and with a handy technique he placed my smartphone on the lens, enlarged his screen between his fingers and took the most beautiful macro pictures. National Geographic-like quality! My cries of admiration quickly attracted other tourists, who had to admit that – apart from a single raccoon – they had not spotted many animals. Christian’s eagle eye provided me with a wealth of animals I came face to face with. Think of a snake, hidden between the foliage at the foot of a tree, the three-fingered sloth, stuck on a tree branch like a Velcro ball and the green iguana (called “vasilisco”) on his stakeout at the river bank.

A vasilisco at his stakeout
High and dry
Ready to attack or just asleep?
The hairy three finger sloth

Manzanillo Nature Reserve

A forty minutes drive took us to Manzanillo Nature Reserve. Upon entering the forest, we were attracted by the impressive screams of howler monkeys in the immense trees. A trip through the dense rainforest didn’t lead to any new encounters, but the dense paths made the walk exciting enough. And when Christian seemed to have lost in the jungle, a path with spectacular sea views opened up for us. Selfie time!

Ocean views from Manzanillo Nature Reserve

Carribean Delights And Reggae Vibes

For lunch, Christian took me to a local kiosk, where I tasted the Ranzambin, a typical Caribbean rice dish with beans, chicken and a meat stuffed Pati.

We spent the afternoon at a cocoa farm, where the local family took me out for a working tour, starting by the cocoa bean picking, ending up with a tasteful sweet cup of chocolate.

Cocoa working Tour

After a full day in nature, it was time to check out some night vibes. Puerto Viejo, the nearby surfer’s village, is an ideal starting point for a lively night out. Whether you like to shop for souvenirs or hang out in an ocean view reggae bar, sipping your cocktail and eating quesadillas, Puerto Viejo has it all.

A Private Guide Or Trekking On Your Own, That Is The Question

If you want to get the most out of your nature trip, here are some useful tips for you to consider:

  • Hire a private guide and avoid long queues for that perfect picture. A private guide shouldn’t be as expensive as you might think.
  • Try to find a certified nature guide with professional equipment through a local you trust or a tourist who’s been in the region for some time. It allows you to learn a lot about the region and its “couleur local”.
  • Make concrete agreements about your expectations or additional costs so as not to be blindsided. You don’t want to get disappointed or annoyed after a wonderful day out.
  • Always negotiate about the price, making sure you value your guide for his knowledge and experience.
  • Consider your guide as your travel companion and be curious about his life. Your connection might make your guide do something extra for you.

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