Wildlife Encounters in Costa Rica

In a couple of days I start my new position as a research assistant for Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) on their Osa project, so watch this space for loads of info about that. I’m definitely not the all-work-no-play type, so I’ve begun my trip to Costa Rica with two weeks of travelling in the north-west of the country.

Costa Rica takes conservation and wildlife extremely seriously, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to have incredible guilt-free encounters with so much of the wildlife here.

Costa Rica is the kind of country that makes me glad I studied Zoology, as I find amazing factoids coming back to me all the time and a lot of things to think about in terms of what I learned. It’s definitely been giving me a very rich experience here.

I started my trip in Playas del Coco, and was instantly amazed by the pelicans and iguanas everywhere. In a day of snorkelling at Playa Hermosa and Playa Ocatal I saw four spotted eagle rays and an abundance of pufferfish and angelfish. This got me pretty excited for the two days of diving I had booked! (With Rockdivers, who I completely recommend.)

The first day was some relaxed diving in the local area, a little further out from shore so the water was clearer than when I was snorkelling. The life was similar, with the addition of a southern sting ray, a lot of Moray eels, and an Olive Ridley turtle!

The second day we went out to the Santa Rosa National Park and the Bat Islands, specifically to dive with the bull sharks there. This is totally wild shark diving, no chumming the water or feeding the sharks (told you it was guilt-free). Although the dive guides were positive about the chances of seeing bull sharks I did my best to keep my expectations low, especially as it is still early in the shark season there.

I needn’t have bothered, there were three of them around and we saw one almost as soon as we descended. However the most amazing sighting was right at the end of the dive, of the

female who was being followed by a smaller male. They passed only a metre or two in front of us. I definitely expected to be more scared than I was, but I didn’t feel threatened at all, it was just really cool to see these incredible fish in their natural environment.

We did a second dive on a pinnacle called Black Rock – no bull sharks but white-tipped reef sharks, eagle rays, and fish as far as you could see. This was easily one of the best dives I have ever done.

I headed a little further down the coast to Tamarindo, a fairly busy backpacker-surfer place. From here I was able to take a day trip to Palo Verde National Park where I went on a boat tour, as well as another boat trip in the mangroves of Las Baulas National Park up the Tamarindo estuary, and spotted crocodiles, white-headed capuchins, and howler monkeys, as well as many native birds.

Afterwards, I made my way inland to Monteverde. I had heard a lot about it and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. I chose to hike the trails of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve on my own, although this meant I wouldn’t spot so much wildlife. It was well worth it to me to enjoy the scenery and this incredible ecosystem in peace and at my own pace. Even if I couldn’t always spot the birds, I could hear them constantly. While waiting for the bus back to town, I found a cafe with hummingbird feeders and a coati snuffling around the garden.

However, I made up for this by going on a guided night walk nearby. The forest really does come alive at night and we were able to see an orange-kneed tarantula, a green palm pit viper, a boa constrictor, a tree frog, and, the highlight, a two-toed sloth who had her baby on her chest. Definitely one of my favourite activities I’ve done in Costa Rica!

My last stop on this holiday has been La Fortuna. Yesterday I took a tour around the Arenal volcano area. Being rainy season, the clouds are so low that I really didn’t see much of the volcano, but got to explore the beautiful rainforest around it, seeing leaf-cutting ants and a lot of red-eyed leaf frogs by the water there.

Red-eyed leaf frog

Every time I have told a Costa Rican that I am going down to the Osa Peninsula for ten weeks they’ve been so happy for me and universally told me how incredible it is down there, so if I wasn’t excited before, I certainly am now! It’s meant to be a little less explored, and it’s one of the few places you can still (maybe) see jaguars. I can’t wait to get to work with the turtles, and hopefully to explore the Corcovado National Park on my days off. A phrase I’ve seen a lot on tourist books is “Osa: where the jungle meets the sea” – I reckon that sounds pretty perfect.

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