A toucan landed just a few beak lengths away from our plates of chicken stew and fried plantains at a farmhouse in Costa Rica. Such animal encounters are commonplace in eco-friendly Costa Rica, a nation that protects more than 25% of its land as parks, refuges or reserves.
We met more critters during our Arenal Hanging Bridges eco-walk, a mild hike into a rainforest not far from the Arenal volcano in Costa Rica’s northern lowlands. Crossing the fixed and suspended cable bridges, some as high as 150-feet, put us in the treetops, the better to see the troops of howler monkeys that scampered branch to branch.
Trails took us by ficus trees as thick as VW Beetles and past lush ferns.
A guide pointed out a poisonous snake curled on a log, a phalanx of leaf-cutter ants and monkeys that scampered branch to branch through the canopy. After our walk, we soaked in the mineral rich waters of a local hot springs.
The Tortuguero region on Costa Rica’s northwest Caribbean coast is also rich in wildlife. The 51,000-acre Tortuguero National Park lies within the Tortuguero Conservation Area, a region accessible only by small boat or plane. The canals, originally created by loggers to transport the cut tree trunks to waiting ships, now float eco-adventurers.
On boat tours from the Tortuga Lodge, our base, we explored the canals. Among the bamboo, mango and spiny cedar trees, we spotted boat-billed egrets and two-toed sloths. In the water we saw crocodiles.
Our most exciting animal sighting came at night on a windy beach under a sliver of moon. At first it looked like a shadow. Then the guide asked us to listen. We heard the turtle’s labored breathing and the scratchy sound of her flippers as she pulled herself to a spot above high tide level.
In Spanish, Tortuguero means “turtle catcher.” From June through October, along the region’s miles-long, dark sand beach, hundreds of Atlantic Green sea turtles lumber ashore to lay their eggs.
As our eyes adjusted to the dark, we watched the turtle dig her nest, drop scores of eggs, cover the nest with dirt and then slowly lumber back down the beach, disappearing into the waves. The ages-old ritual is one we will remember forever.