Welcome to the Jungle, Costa Rica

While it might be true we’d had our fair share of adventures around Costa Rica, we had only stayed relatively close to our base. We decided it was time to venture into the actual jungle and embrace our wilder side.

We set out on a two-day trip to Arenal National Park, located in the northern highlands of Costa Rica. It took us about 4 hours to get there from our accommodation on the Pacific Coast side, so I really recommend staying over. The park is dominated by the largest lake in Costa Rica, Lake Arenal, which stretches 85 sq km in size, and its depth varies between 30 and 60 meters. The lake is overshadowed by the Arenal Volcano, and is surrounded by the evergreen Monteverde cloud forest, where fog clings to the canopy all year long.

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We arrived in Monteverde, where we had the cloud forest tour, then jumped on a Jeep and followed a very rocky mountain road, leading to the lake. From there we switched to another Jeep, that took us to the area around the volcano, which is dotted with natural hot springs. On the second day we circled around the lake to arrive at Selvatura park, not too far from Monteverde, where we saw the majority of the typical jungle inhabitants we were hoping to get a glimpse of.

As soon as we started our tour, we were greeted by a pair of coatis, a type of tropical racoon, casually strolling just by the side of the road.

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Next up, as we were making our way further up into the cloud cover, we came across this little guy. Can you spot him? He’s pretty well concealed between the leaves.

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That’s right, a sloth! You can see its head and its back, and both of its arms hanging on to the branch, right in the centre of the crown of the tree.

Our guide, Franklin, was a pretty amazing storyteller, and he showed us all the plants that Costa Ricans use for medicinal purposes, or just as ingredients or spices in their food. He gave us a few tips to keep in mind in case we get lost in the jungle, for example finding rain water in the base of banana leaves, and recognising certain edible sorts of orchid.

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^ An adorable baby pineapple, the size of my fist 🙂

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Any guesses on what this is? According to Franklin, it was part of the set of After Earth, a sci-fi film with Will Smith, which was shot in the area close to the volcano. However, Franklin was a bit of a joker, so I’m not sure whether to take it seriously… If anyone has seen this film, please let me know if this “monster’s egg” as Franklin referred to it makes an appearance, as it’s been eating me up!

after-earth^ A scene from After Earth shot against the backdrop of the Arenal Volcano.

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^Edible orchid. It was okay, I guess. A bit like very bland salad!

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Our climb came to an end, and we emerged from the canopy to a view of the lake. The volcano was veiled with clouds, but taking in the breadth of the valley and the deep green of the surrounding jungle was quite exhilarating, and humbling at the same time.

We made our way back down and we crossed the misty waters on our way to the hot springs.

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We arrived at Baldi Hot Springs Resort, home to 25 thermal pools of all shapes, sizes and features. There were waterfalls, slides, even a sauna cave! It was magic. We enjoyed a whole evening of relaxation, and ended the night with a nice Cota Rican dinner in the restaurant. Look out for the post with local recipes for all the delicious food I tried on my trip – it’s coming up right after this one!

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On the next morning we were picked up by another friendly guide, who drove us to Selvatura Adventure Park. It’s a great place if you want to enjoy some canopy zip-lining, or go on a rainforest walk. As we had already experienced those things elsewhere, we opted for exploring the fauna of Costa Rica, from reptiles and amphibians, to butterflies and hummingbirds.

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^ Fer-de-lance snake (Bothrops asper)

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^ The iconic strawberry poison-dart frog! It’s very tiny, half the size of my little finger.

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^ Another camouflage to envy! Can you spot the little green frog resting on top of the bottom right leaf?

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^A different species of poison-dart frog (Dendrobatidae)

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^If, like me, you’ve spent days binge-watching Animal Planet as a child, you would recognise this creature as the Basilisk, an amazing amphibian which can run on the surface of water using its long tail to balance. Pretty impressive, eh?

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We were then taken to the butterfly garden, where we witnessed butterflies breaking their cocoons and taking flight for the first time, which was pretty special.

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^ The golden cocoons usually belong to Monarch butterflies.

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I spent ages chasing butterflies around the garden, trying to get a good snap of them with their wings open, and it turns out they were mocking me by just chilling on my backpack, whose bright colour attracted them like blooming flowers.

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After about an hour spent lurking behind palm leaves and trying to act as a professional photographer, the sudden realisation of hunger hit. We went to the park restaurant to grab a bite, and we got this lovely warming chicken avocado soup, and a whole plate of garlic bread to die for.

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After that hearty meal we were ready to explore more, so we went back out into the gentle drizzle. The hummingbird garden was what I was looking forward to the most, but I didn’t expect to be able to see the birds up close, let alone touch them. They turned out to be quite the friendly little creatures! They were quite fast as well, buzzing around the air like tiny helicopters.

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^ I was very doubtful that this manoeuvre would work, but I tried reaching my hand out and holding it close to the bird feeders, in the hope that one distracted hummingbird would be fooled into landing on it. To my astonishment, as many as three of them started fighting for a strategic position on my hand, which I thought was rather amazing!

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It was really hard to leave this beautiful area brimming full of unbelievable animals. I can only hope I will be able to return one day and complete my tour of this lush country, as there were still many things we didn’t get to see.

Mostly, I will miss the philosophy by which Costa Ricans live: Pura vida, or the pure life. It’s their way of saying, Hakuna matata, enjoy our wonderful world.

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xx Niya

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