Animals Galore: Costa Rica in a Nutshell

by Kasia Kszymanska

After many years of flying east out of London we made the somewhat wild decision to throw caution to the wind and fly westwards to Costa Rica, the temptation to see a sloth in the wild was far too strong. Although having booked the flight I did feel a surge of panic, I kept thinking about how I would manage with food that doesn’t include coconut milk, lemongrass and the all important chillies. By the time we left London I considered myself to be quite the sloth expert, I knew that there are two and three toed sloths and that the only way to see them was to spend my whole holiday looking up into the trees.

Our arrival at San Jose airport wasn’t quite what I expected. There were at least 300 people on our plane and to reach the immigration hall we were either expected to pile into a lift designed to take 4 passengers, or go down a broken escalator which had a red cone in front it and a sign stipulating do not use. So we chose the latter and raced to immigration only to find the longest queue in the world, it took two and half hours get through, welcome to Costa Rica!

I started the holiday as I meant to go on, looking up honing my scanning skills, what I didn’t expect were a couple of diversions from below. The first being a 6.5 magnitude earthquake which luckily struck off the coast. I’d experienced earthquakes before, relatively minor ones but with this one, the balcony swayed back and forth, it was a totally surreal experience. Then following on from that with wine in my hand, I looked into the distance and saw a red sky and great blobs of redness flying into the air, it was a volcano providing us with a magical first night show.

Our next stop was La Fortuna and a smallish town at the base of the large Arenal volcano, which I monitored on a regular basis. While the town itself was nothing to write home about the surrounding countryside was stunning. Think nearly one kilometre high waterfalls and jungle walks galore. The area is awash with geothermal activity which is harnessed and there are a number of very posh and expensive hot spring complexes outside the town. The advantage of having such an abundance of hot water meant that when I moaned about the cold water in the hotel pool our lovely owner took note, then disappeared for a moment and came to tell me that she had turned on the hot water tap to warm up the pool, as yes I felt hot water flowing into the pool, bless the hot springs.

While I heard whispers of sloth sightings, I didn’t see any, but I mustn’t forget the toucans, the dog rescue centre, the green and pink snake and Proyecto Asis; a rehab centre that was well worth a visit. The information provided about the animals was fascinating, under supervision we were able to feed some monkeys and I found out that many of the fines for keeping wild animals at home were so low, approximately $100 for a jaguar compared to twenty times that for a speeding ticket. Somehow the balance here is very wrong.

“Santa Elena together with Monteverde was also home to magnificent cloud forests, iridescent hummingbirds, tame coatis and gorgeous vistas… What struck me about Costa Rica was the oasis of greenery, the sheer number of national parks, the array of the animals and the emphasis on sustainability.”

It was only at out next destination Santa Elena, high up in the Cordillera de Tilaran that I saw my first sloths. Just outside the hotel reception a couple were looking up at a tree, I raced over, and there she was (the hotel owner believed the sloth was female). I spent so much time looking up, that I developed a crook in my neck, it was hard to distinguish between her top and back end, all I saw was a ball of fur, but to me that was enough. I don’t think she moved for the 3 days we were at the hotel, but she was joined by other sloth that luckily posed for some photos. Besides sloths, Santa Elena together with the next door Monteverde was also home to magnificent cloud forests, iridescent hummingbirds, tame coatis and gorgeous vistas.

What struck me about Costa Rica was the oasis of greenery, the sheer number of national parks, the array of the animals and the emphasis on sustainability. We expected to see animals in the national parks, but we saw the majority just sitting on our balcony or in the grounds of our hotels. Whilst in Montezuma by the coast we stayed in a lovely hut, where a huge iguana sunned itself on our roof, an anteater climbed up the tree in front of our wooden balcony and the howler monkeys played behind the hut. While by the pool a good looking iguana posed with confidence on the stone frog statue.

We saw at least 40 different types of wildlife and on a very rainy day at the end of our travels, a sloth sneaked into our outside restaurant and proceeded to climb into the rafters of the rattan roof, what an absolute treat. I never expected to see so many sloths,so if like me you love wildlife, Costa Rica is the place to go, but if also like me, like chillies, take your own and sprinkle liberally.

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