The thrill of seeing a wild animal in its natural habitat, even if only for a moment, is unparalleled. Some animals are very nice and often stick around for a while – like monkeys. Others are so fast – wild cats, for example – that many times you’re not sure if you saw it or not.
The Costa Rica rainforest is full of wonders and wildlife – you just need to know how to look. Costa Rica hosts more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity: 208 species of mammals, 870 kinds of birds, 1,250 kinds of butterflies and 8,000 different moths, 160 species of amphibians, 220 species of reptiles, and 34,000 types of insects. You’re certain to see something!
Follow these tips to increase your chances of seeing wildlife in Costa Rica.
Wildlife spotting tips:
1. Be aware. When venturing into the wild, you are in Mother Nature’s territory. Pay attention to where you walk, stand, sit and touch. In the rainforest, when you stop to see that toucan in the tree, you also could be standing on an anthill – not good. Go to grab a vine and it may end up being a snake. Keep an eye out for animals so you can see them, but also so your encounter is positive.
2. Get up early. The early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the wildlife sighting and photograph. Most activity in nature peaks at dawn and dusk, and this definitely applies in Costa Rica which swelters under a hot tropical sun in the middle of the day. For the best chance of seeing wildlife, get outside at dawn and again around sunset, lingering a bit as night falls. These also are great times for taking pictures in soft light.
3. Be quiet. If you spend the whole time on the trail chatting with your friend or family member – or worse, talking on your cell phone – you’ll never see anything. Humans are large and loud. You want to see as many animals as possible, without scaring them away.
4. Blend into your surroundings. Animals sense your presence long before you see them, but it helps if you don’t stand out completely. Blend into the rainforest with muted green, brown, khaki and gray clothing; avoid clothing that rustles and makes noise. Having your camera and binoculars out and ready means you’re not opening zippers or Velcro at a crucial moment.
5. Know what you are looking for. If you think you are going to see lions, tigers and bears in the Costa Rica rainforest, you definitely will be disappointed. Before you travel, read up on what wildlife lives in the area you are visiting, and ask a naturalist guide and the locals when you get there. If you know that Scarlet Macaws like to hang out in coastal almond trees, or that toucans make a funny croaking sound, it could make the difference between seeing them or not.
6. Patience is king. Pause and wait a while on a trail – still and quiet. You never know what may come wandering by, or what you notice up in a tree. That sly sloth certainly doesn’t call attention to itself. When you see an animal, if you need to move to get a better view, do so slowly, steadily and stealthily to avoid spooking it. Again, pay attention to where you walk and stand, so you’re not on that anthill.
7. Invest in a good pair of binoculars. Having good binoculars is vital to seeing wildlife in the rainforest, especially birds. A spotting scope is a step up in gear, but is bigger and heavier. However, you can attach your digital camera with an adapter to the scope to capture otherwise impossible images.
8. Respect wildlife and their environment. This is the most important rule of all. It’s easy to have a negative impact on animals and the environment if you don’t pay attention to what you are doing. Or worse, get yourself hurt. The essential rules are:
- Keep your distance. You wouldn’t want a stranger invading your space; neither do animals. Cute and cuddly wild animals are more likely to appear in Disney movies than in real life.
- Never feed wild animals. They have their own food.
- Don’t interfere with their natural behavior at any time. Don’t be surprised if an animal gets aggressive if you try to provoke it – especially true with snakes.
- Follow the principles of “Leave no trace” to make your experience beneficial for all.
Down in the southern Pacific region of Costa Rica, there is amazing rainforest to see by the Osa Peninsula, Golfo Dulce and Piedras Blancas National Park. This is the wilder side of Costa Rica – where jaguars, monkeys, sloths and Scarlet Macaws roam freely, and humpback whales and dolphins swim in calm blue waters.
The place to stay is Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge, a leading sustainable tourism eco-hotel in Costa Rica that borders the Piedras Blancas National Park with a 165-acre private rainforest preserve. Natural luxury is how best to describe this Costa Rica eco-hotel that fronts a pristine beach and tranquil little bay of the Pacific gulf of Golfo Dulce. When you visit, you can explore thriving rainforest, beautiful tropical coastline, powerful waterfalls and a fascinating river mangrove estuary.
Article by Shannon Farley