we're planning to do our annual wildlife watching trip next year between January and June, and we picked Costa Rica. We have ten days in-country, we want to go see everything from bugs to reptiles (avian included) and from lowland to cloud forests, and we have no bloody idea where to start (guess I shoulda paid more attention in those eleven years I've been reading this forum). This will be the first time ever for us to do our family safari outside Asia, so we're the proverbial gringo babes in the woods. We want a fully organized, guided, nature-centric tour led by great nature/birding guides so we won't stumble through the jungle like idiots (I can identify toucans, jaguars, and bushmasters, but I've heard there's more to the place)
I've been to Costa Rica half a dozen times since 1983 (most recently in 2017) and can tell you that a lot has changed in that tiny country over the past 36 years. In fact, this past trip I took has been one of those: "you can't go home again" type things for me. Costa Rica was my first international herping trip and as such it was quite magical. Everything was new, the amphibians and reptiles were amazing (as were the birds), the people were incredibly helpful and friendly, and there weren't a lot of tourists in those days so it was really peaceful. Fast forward to today and the country is teeming with tourists, the areas that were once pristine and remote are now replaced with hotels and restaurants, and in general, it's just not the same place it used to be. Of course that can be said just about any place in the world but Costa Rica held a special place in my heart, being the first country that I visited and holding special memories of finding new and exciting wildlife.
One of the more magical places to visit is undoubtedly the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The drive to the top use to be a dirt/gravel road and took nearly 5 hours to drive the 40 km to the reserve. Now, the road is mostly paved and only takes a fraction of the time but the once pristine mountain is now inundated with numerous restaurants, hotels, eco-tourist activities, and even a mall! Of course as a consequence, the amount of wildlife has been greatly reduced. Comparing the herpetofauna that I encountered in those early days to the most recent visit, I can say that the numbers and diversity has been drastically reduced. That is not to say that you won't encounter some incredible wildlife up there, depending of course on how much time you spend out in the wilderness. Which brings up another matter. Back then you could pretty much go anywhere, day or night without the accompaniment of a guide. Now, you have to hire a guide if you wish to visit the reserve after dark. Also, you are limited to only two hours and then you must leave. And, if you plan on photographing any of the animals you see in the reserve at night you're not permitted to use a flash! That's right, most tour companies in the reserve do not allow flash photography, so be sure to inquire if it's permissible to do so before you sign up with anyone.
Please understand, Hans, I am not trying to dissuade you, or anyone else, from visiting about Costa Rica, as I still believe it is one of the most spectacular places to visit to see some incredible wildlife, I am just trying to give you a brief insight as to what you might expect if you chose to go to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. There are of course numerous other incredible destinations throughout Costa Rica where little has changed in terms of habitat and wildlife diversity. I have no doubt that others on this site will chime in and provide you with some great suggestions as to where to go during your visit. If you would like any additional information please don't hesitate to email or PM me.
I wish you the best of luck and look forward to seeing your posts here on FHF.
Re: Tips for Costa Rica, please!
Posted: June 19th, 2019, 8:04 am
Costa Rica is a fantastic place. I've herped there twice (15 days in June 2011 and 12 days in June 2017) and did extremely well both times (snake, frog, lizard, and bird-wise). I spent most of the time in the northwestern part of the country but also explored Monteverde Cloud Forest, Tapanti National Park, and the eastern lowland forests (a stay at La Selva Biological Station is a must!). I can't recommend any tours or guides, as I've always herped on my own, but you should be able to find a decent guide at La Selva.
Have a great trip whenever you go!
Re: Tips for Costa Rica, please!
Posted: June 30th, 2019, 1:05 pm
I'll try and rattle off a few guides. Bushmaster Adventures is one, I met with Gary Kritzinger in 2015 on the Osa penninsula bouncing between Drake Bay and La Tarde. We joined forces with the founder of La Tarde, Carlos Eduardo Castro Rojas. Also, Marcelo Carvajal does some guide work for La Tarde and possibly other operations -- with his "I love Bothrops asper" tattoo. I was in awe at how well seasoned these herpers are -- absolutely grizzled, stepping around the fer-de-lance everyday.
In the video above you can see Marcelo. Another friend of mine (the_cw1 here on FHF!) went down to costa rica last year, met up with Marcelo to target bushmaster and found lots of cool stuff. I also wanted to meet up with Mike Boston out on the Osa but that never happened.
I've also stayed at a few biological research stations: Piro on the Osa which was a bit more travel to reach, accomodations were the sparsest (bunk bed with netting in a remote solar powered base camp), and La Selva which was wonderfully comfortable. I think I paid something like $80/day for lodging and 3 meals, had to hike 2 miles from my room to the food lodge along a concrete path going through wild jungles -- so just walking to get regular meals put me in a lot of contact with wildlife. I'd highly recommend La Selva.
Some biological stations will offer tour guides. Its been my experience that this can be a mixed bag if you are interested in snakes. Some guides may see a fair amount of snakes but not surprisingly may be much more familiar with birds and mammals as those are the animals most tourists want to see. Non-specialist guides are still great though, as I ended up seeing and learning about a lot more wildlife outside of reptiles.
La Selva has a lot of students, researchers, and guides and a really large well marked/maintained trail system over a large chunk of land. One thing I enjoyed was how friendly folks were to share stories and locations of what was seen. Some animals like eyelash vipers if left undisturbed will sit in one spot for days or weeks and folks would provide street addresses to specific herps -- "go on trail Cameno Central (CC) to the 2000 meter mark, look for a big tree behind the marker, look to the right of that for a bright yellow viper". A few researchers gave me some freebie street addresses for Dendrobates auratus and a family of honduran white bats sleeping under a palm leaf tent.
I'll post some painfully amateur vids I shot on a long trip that I don't think I've ever posted here on the FHF:
Tons of places to go, lots of great wildlife. Have a great trip Hans! Pura vida!
Re: Tips for Costa Rica, please!
Posted: June 30th, 2019, 9:56 pm
by Hans Breuer (twoton)
thank you very much for taking the time to post all your wonderful tips! I'll spend a few days now researching all this and will come back with a tentative agenda for you to check