Costa Rica’s Primeval Beauty
by Marla Norman, Publisher
We’ve somehow stumbled into a contemporary Jurassic Park. We recognize the ferns, philodendrons, and ficus. But these Costa Rican versions of typical house plants would never sit daintily in your living room. They’re ENORMOUS!!! The leaves alone are big enough to cover king-sized beds.
And it’s not just the size of the plants, but the variety and number. There are more than 500,000 species of plants and animals in this modestly-sized country — which is less than 20,000 square miles total. Even more amazing is that there are twelve distinct climactic zones. All of which make Costa Rica an unrivaled paradise.
We’ve just flown into San José from Miami, on a quick one-hour flight. Another hour later, we’re checked into our Eco-Lodge, and have begun exploring our new Eden. (See HOTEL FINDS for more information about lodging in Costa Rica.)
We spot signs pointing the way to a waterfall and decide to take the plunge. A short hike later, we’re chilling in the cool, lovely falls. And are even more astonished by the lush jungle plants and scenery.
From the waterfall, we hike back up to enjoy the more domestic pleasures of the lodge’s pool. We soak while sipping local rum concoctions. The alcohol, in combination with the hike and an early flight, leave us drowsy and in need of a quick pre-dinner nap. Collapsing in our bungalows, we conk out immediately.
But, just as we’re into deep REM, a low hum begins to vibrate all around us. The noise grows louder and louder. A maniacal drone builds to a wild shrieking and then finally an earsplitting roar. We leap out of bed and rush over to the windows, wondering what sci-fi monstrosity has invaded our lodge. Then, as suddenly as it all started, the cacophony ends. All’s calm. Sweetly musical chirps and peeps are all that can be heard.
Later, at dinner, the hotel manager explains: “Sunset is always like that. Just the jungle critters saying ‘Good-night.’ Of course, the Howler Monkeys do live up to their names,” he grins sympathetically. “You get used to it.”
Like I was saying…..Jurassic Park!
POÁS: INTO THE FIRE
Costa Rica has over 200 identifiable volcanic formations dating back 65 million years. Today, however, only 100 show any sign of volcanic activity, while just five are classified as active volcanoes. Poás, the the volcano nearest our lodge, is one of the five active sites. In fact, with a depth of 1,000 feet, it’s considered the largest active volcanic crater in the world. The last serious eruption was in 2009. We’re hoping Poás doesn’t throw any tantrums today.
Driving towards the volcano, the cloud cover thickens. And, surprisingly, the temperature drops somewhat. A smokey haze hangs above us as we walk towards the crater. The smell of sulfur permeates the air.
Standing on the viewing platform, we finally look into the steamy, bubbling lake. Smoking fumaroles spew out red hot lava. I expect to feel scorching heat pouring from the crater but, remarkably, the temperature remains cool and a misty fog lingers.
Signs remind viewers to step away from the crater every 10 minutes because of the sulfur fumes. So, we make a number of trips back and forth. Each time we’re amazed by the power and contained fury of this natural wonder.
ZIPPING THROUGH THE CLOUD FOREST
Like many of the tourists visiting Costa Rica, we are particularly eager to see the Monteverde Reserve. Located at elevations that extend from almost 7,000-12,000 feet, this unique rainforest has an average temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit. At this altitude, clouds accumulate around mountain tops and create the famous Cloud Forests.
The conditions in the forests provide one-of-a-kind habitats that shelter an unusually high proportion of rare species. Over 2,500 plant species (including the largest number of orchid varieties in a single place), 100 types of mammals, 400 different birds, 120 reptiles and amphibians, and thousands of insects.
One of the best ways to view the forests are the zip-line tours. Zip-lines, which were invented in Costa Rica, have become the quintessential experience for tourists. Flying 300 feet high, through the upper levels of the rainforest canopy is not only exhilarating, but provides unequaled access to rare plants. You can even catch glimpses of exotic animals — provided you don’t scream and scare them all away.
We select Selvatura for our zip-line tour because it is the only line built entirely inside the cloud forest. It has 15 lines and 18 platforms as well as hummingbird, butterfly gardens and reptile exhibitions.
Our zip-line guides carefully explain how to ride in the harness and — most importantly — how to slow the ride and stop. After our orientation, we’re ready for our first short “zip.”
My son James and daughter-in-law Victoria seem very calm. But I’m feeling a little anxious — maybe petrified is a more accurate word. And, as I grab the line and begin flying through the jungle I hear a blood curdling scream — which of course is me shrieking for all I’m worth.
Fortunately, our guides are thoroughly professional and used to dealing with nervous nellies. By the time I reach the third platform, I’m flying through the air completely at ease and enjoying the magnificent views of the rainforest canopy.
In between the platforms, we make a few short hikes to see plant and animal life on the floor and midlevels of the rainforest. Our guides also convince us to try out the Tarzan Swing, which is something akin to a horizontal bungee jumping experience. Watch these short videos to experience zip-lining through the Monteverde Cloud Forest. For us, it was an absolute thrill.
OFF TO THE COAST
Costa Rica’s coastline is as spectacular as its lush interior. So we’re off to the coast to explore Tamarindo and do a little fishing. This time we fly into Liberia, the airport that accommodates travel in the northwestern Guanacaste region.
We’ve booked our trip through Go Fish Costa Rica and their driver is waiting to transport us to our hotel. A few minutes into the ride, a heavy storm breaks out. We slosh through the jungle and giant mud puddles to the tiny town of Tamarindo – which seems as if it might wash away in the storm. After a steep climb above the village, we finally arrive at our hotel. Steve and Lisa Quinn, owners of Go Fish Costa Rica are on hand to greet us. More importantly, they reassure us that sunny days and good fishing are in store for the rest of the week.
Early the next morning, their predictions come true. The weather is clear, the seas calm and the fish are biting! Two hours into the trip, James reels in a Marlin. A second Marlin strikes moments later. Photos are snapped and the fish quickly released. Meanwhile, Captain Pete (with Kingpin Sport Fishing) trolls another 45 minutes. Then another hit! This time two Mahi Mahi. An hour later, a magnificent Sail Fish is reeled in – admired, photographed and also released. It’s close to one o’clock. Fishing is so good, the Captain and fishing folks decide to call it a day.
Everyone reconvenes poolside, to cool off and reminisce about a truly remarkable catch. We’re also enjoying a local cocktail called La Tortuga – Mango and Passion Fruit juice mixed with mint and liberal doses of rum. It’s a kind of Costa Rican smoothie. The perfect way to celebrate a day of productive fishing.
The next day is less about fishing and more about trolling and sharing fish stories. By noon, we’re beginning to run out of tales…and there are still no fish in sight. We do, however, encounter a Dolphin Super Pod – an experience that more then compensates for the lack luster day of fishing. As we approach the pod, we see dozens of dolphins leaping out of the water, swimming in front of the boat, behind it and under it. The gorgeous creatures move quickly, in silver blurs – underwater lightning racing all around us. It’s a vision I’ll treasure all my life.
Later that evening, we enjoy dinner at The Ocean Restaurant. We’re served on the beach, with sand squishing under our feet. Waves thrum rhythmically as the tide comes in. Stars glitter overhead in a brilliant tropical sky. Ahhhhhh! Life’s good. It’s a Pura Vida moment.
Watch a Dolphin Super Pod filmed by Steve Quinn.