Some of them, like the fellow in the photo at right, just fled the balcony of our Costa Rica hotel room. A week in this Central American paradise is an opportunity to see a huge diversity of wildlife. Only about half the size of the U.S. state of Ohio, Costa Rica has 1/20th of the world’s biodiversity: “nearly 8% of the world’s bird species, 10% of the world’s butterfly species, 10% of the world’s bat species and 20% of the world’s hummingbird species,” according to our highly-recommended guidebook by James Kaiser. In all, a quarter of Costa Rica’s land has been set aside in national parks and preserves to maintain this astonishing homeland for so many creatures.
On our too brief week-long visit, we didn’t have to go outside the hotel grounds to watch both white-throated capuchin monkeys and see (and hear) howler monkeys. Our hotel grounds on Guanacaste province’s Papagayo peninsula also was home to white-nosed coatls (coatimundis), which the locals call raccoons—their familiar relatives both zoologically and behaviorally—two kinds of iguanas, the green and “black,” lizards of various sizes, diverse butterflies, and many birds that I could hear but could not find in the trees. Every morning I watched a hummingbird take a morning sip from the flowering the trees outside our balcony.In the nearby waters we saw flying fish and snorkelers described puffer fish, sea urchins, and bright tropicals.
A boating excursion on the Tempisque River in Palo Verde National Park gave us the chance to see the so-called Jesus Christ lizard, whose webbed toes allow it to “walk on water” for distances of 10 to 15 feet, very handy when escaping a terrestrial predator. The real reptilian attraction of the river tour is, of course, the crocodiles. Aided by the low tide, we saw them in grinning profusion. The 12-foot beauty pictured at bottom was quietly sunning, seemingly oblivious to the gawking boat passengers. Then she decided to have some fun by rolling into the river and drenching the humans with muddy water.
The river trip was led by our excellent guide Jose from the aptly named “Tropical Comfort Tours” and an eagle-eyed boat captain. They were able to spot for us numerous local animals tourists’ untrained eyes would have overlooked: all three species of night herons, all three species of white egrets, the little blue heron (whose presence signals river health), and many more. En route to the river we saw wood storks, flocks of parakeets, the white-throated magpie-jay, and crested caracara (my spotting).
Even though I’d spent a week researching, reading about, and memorizing the look of the country’s various poisonous snakes, did not see one. (Yay!!) High winds caused the authorities to close the mountain and volcano parks that were some distance from our hotel, because of the risk of falling trees and poisonous fumes from a rumblingly active volcano. (Silver lining: the winds kept mosquitoes and other bugs away.) These protected gems contain much of Costa Rica’s biological diversity, including hundreds of orchid species. We have to go back!