Riding across the gulf after checking out a couple days later, dolphins emerged from the water a hundred meters away, but as if to illustrate the breadth of what’s under the water here, a sea turtle popped his head out of the water just a few feet away. He looked us over, decided he didn’t like what he saw, and swam away in the opposite direction.
On the Osa Peninsula proper, my wife and daughter landed at the airstrip and joined me at Lapa Rios—one of the original eco-friendly jungle lodges and perhaps still the best. With around 1,000 acres of jungle in its back yard, some of it primary rainforest, it commands a prime spot where the land meets the sea. Here the local excursions are also a key part of the experience and the excellent guides are able to spot birds and animals we casual hikers would never even know were there. “Stay clear of that coral snake on the log,” would be a typical comment on a day hike, or “Let’s take a little detour; another guide just spotted a sloth.”
My daughter especially enjoyed the night hike, where we put on rubber boots and followed a guide with a powerful flashlight. The jungle is a different place at night, when some creatures take a snooze, but others come out after sleeping away the day. Indeed one of the first sites was a type of parrot asleep in a tree, eyes closed, still standing up. We spotted several small snakes moving along branches, colorful frogs just off the path, and others swimming in a pond. All around us, insects scattered, chirped, and sang. The thick forest felt like a teeming, evolving organism made up of a thousand different parts.
Your Daily Dose of Wildlife
Of course there are plenty of other Costa Rican regions filled with wild animals. Even at the Four Seasons in dry Guanacaste, parrots flew by my balcony and howler monkeys made the trees shake nearby. It’s not uncommon to see a capuchin monkey walk across the tee box of the golf course. After all, the course is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. At night the beach may start moving next to your feet: you look down and see a carpet of hermit crabs. A baby sea turtle wandered across my path one evening, confused by the pool lights. Fortunately the hotel has a program to capture the wanderers and care for them a few weeks until they can fend for themselves in the sea.
Rancho Pacifico, on the Pacific Coast south of Manuel Antonio National Park, is another prime place for living in the lap of luxury, but with a menagerie of birds and mammals a short walk away. A scope on the restaurant deck is great for zooming in on eagles, toucans, and macaws. A walk among the 250 acres of jungle adjoining will likely take you into the midst of smaller colorful birds, Blue Morpho butterflies, and mammals moving around looking for breakfast. At the bottom of the mountain where the resort is perched is the Whale’s Tail peninsula, where migrating whales travel by part of the year.
I spent the end of my trip at the Shana Hotel in Manuel Antonio, in a forested area away from the reggae bars and surf shops. After experiencing Costa Rica on my own terms, I had no desire to fight the tour bus throngs at the national park there, so I grabbed a towel and found a lounge chair by the pool, lamenting the idea that my time with the animals was coming to a close. As if on cue, a squirrel monkey moved across a nearby branch, made a giant leap, and stared down from the closest tree while snacking on some fruit. Thanks for coming to say goodbye!
Story and photos by Timothy Scott