Costa Rica: Close encounters of the animal kind.

13 07 2009

Monkey leaf

Have you ever had the feeling that someone is watching you? You look around and lock eyes with the person, then quickly break eye contact so as to avoid embarrassment on either side. Well this tends to happen quite often in Costa Rica, except that the pair of beady eyes staring back at you belong to a monkey. Or a raccoon. Or a sloth. Well actually the list of animals is endless, and yes – they all stare!

Costa Rica is a nature lovers paradise. The lush, tropical country located in Central America contains an impressive 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Around 25% of the country’s land area is in protected national parks and protected areas, the largest percentage of protected areas in the world. All of this translates to an amazingly unbridled experience of nature at its finest. It is clear that these animals are not visitors to our environment, we are visitors to theirs.

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I made my way to Manuel Antonio National Park. Located just south of Quepos and about 80 miles from San Jose, Manuel Antonio offers adventure immersed in nature. Whether you are on a budget or looking for luxury, Manuel Antonio has it all – nature, adventure, excitement and relaxation. Miles of white sand beaches merge into fertile green forests, teeming with hundreds of native flora and fauna species for your viewing pleasure. There are endless options to satisfy your adventure cravings on both land and sea. Options range from zip-lining, canopy tours, river rafting and horseback riding to diving, snorkeling, surfing and sailing to name but a few.


We made our way through Manuel Antonio park, following the natural dirt paths en route to one of the beaches and stopping every so often to watch as monkeys jumped from tree to tree overhead. Tucan’s were perched stoically on branches while sloths moved about in ultra slow motion. Once we reached the beach we settled down under a shady tree looking out at the sparkling Pacific. Only a couple of minutes had passed when a girl called out to us in Spanish while pointing behind us, “Cuidado! Cuidado!” We spun around just in time to spot the bespectacled thief attempting to steal our bag.

Sneaky racoon

Sneaky racoon

Caught in the act, the raccoon sheepishly walked away empty handed. I presume he was plotting his next attack on some unwitting tourists further down the beach. We kept a watchful eye on our belongings as we swam in the ocean, when a small crowd of people began to gather around our things. As we approached the tree, we joined the crowd in looking up to spot about a dozen white-faced Capuchin monkeys casually chilling on the branches. There is little more thrilling than being so close to witness the behaviour of animals in their natural environment. Even better was the fact that they paid no attention to us at all! They went about their business and then were gone just as quickly as they came, jumping to the next tree on their way back into the forest.


Photos and Post by: Merav Benedetti © 2009


A to Z of Adventure Travel: C is for Costa Rica

27 01 2009


A rare image of a deadly sin caught in action.       (Costa Rica)


Whether your idea of adventure travel is sharing a pristine white sand beach with a herd of cows, or trekking the side of an active volcano, Costa Rica will satisfy everyone’s tropical wanderlust.


Situated between Nicaragua and Panama and bordered by both the Caribbean and Pacific, this Central American country has long been a success story in a region that has seen more than its fair share of trouble. While its neighbours were struggling with war, despots and upheaval, Costa Rica was boasting one of the highest literacy rates in the world, regularly topped United Nations lists for quality of life and environmental protection and became the first country to constitutionally abolish its army… although with border guards as heavily armed and intimidating-looking as theirs, who needs an army?!


Needless to say, the residents are justifiably proud of their nation and that is evident in the warmth and friendliness they show travellers.


Although a small country, Costa Rica satisfies both would-be adventurers seeking a gentle initiation to something a little more exotic, and more experienced hardcore veterans looking for new challenges and plenty of local culture. The Pacific coast offers superb beaches, fringed with palm trees and forests teeming with monkeys and colourful birdlife. The water is warm and clear and whether opting for a small locally-run hotel in a quiet fishing village or using a large international resort as a base for exploration, the west coast is a wonderful alternative to more crowded destinations like Mexico.


Whether hiking tropical rain forests in search of enormous morpho butterflies, resplendent quetzals or elusive ocelots or standing in a meadow after sunset and watching lava spew from an active volcano while fireflies flit about your head before retiring to your comfortable hotel room, Costa Rica is one of the easiest destinations in the world to satisfy your need for rejuvenation and relaxation.


The more diehard can try white water rafting on wild jungle rivers, zip-lining through the lush canopy, horseback riding or gruelling hikes through thick forest. The more sedately adventurous can opt to explore calmer rivers by motorised canoe in search of crocodiles, enormous iguanas or troops of noisy howler monkeys. If you enjoy soaking up the sun but only in small quantities, you can alternate your sun-loving with snorkelling or scuba-diving from white or black sand beaches with pelicans flapping gently overhead.


To properly explore Costa Rica from its urbane capital and historic sights to its steamy Caribbean coast and jungle-clad mountains would take several weeks. But Costa Rica is also a perfect destination for those with just a week who either want to fill every moment with activity and adrenalin, or just crash on a beach with a fancy drink and perhaps embark on a couple of day trips for a hint of adventure. Whether for a week’s break in the middle of a bleak winter or a longer exploration, Costa Rica is an ideal adventure destination for veterans and virgins alike.



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan