Coatimundi, aka coati, grabbing a snack. These critters and varied monkeys are the villains that constantly rob campsites of poorly protected food stashes. Photo by Ryskas
Costa Rica Wildlife in National Parks
A Three-Toed Sloth in Cahuita National Park enjoying a toxic leaf, veeeery slowly! Photo by C. Mehlfuhrer
All rainforests/jungles suffer from the same wildlife sighting problem, namely most of the blighters are nocturnal, and who wants to be wandering around through the dark, dripping foliage after dark? Mosquitoes, spooky noises, leeches dropping off trees onto warm flesh, deadly snakes waiting to be trodden on, who knows what’s behind you and so on?
In daylight hours common mammal sightings are monkeys, coatis, raccoons and peccaries but help may be needed for efficient, quality sightings or night excursions of bats.
So hire a guide or travel with a tour if financially possible as they will organise your transport, accommodation, food and drink, know where and when to find the elusive wildlife, will tell you the critter’s names and habits, when and how to protect you and will keep you comfortable in the process.
Corcovado National Park
A Crab-Eating Raccoon, another of the less shy, garb-and-run daytime mammals. Photo by Ryskas
Corcovado is arguably Costa Rica’s most diverse park, 200 sq. miles with a large range of habitats from heavy rain forest to seashore jungle, hosting 140 species of mammal from jaguars to tapir, 116 species of reptiles and 285 species of bird, from scarlet macaws thru hummingbirds to fishing bulldog bats!
However, Corcovado is in the distant SW and difficult to get to, very humid and tough hiking, but a superb wildlife experience, especially Sirena Station. To get there you can either fly in by light aircraft – not necessarily very expensive – or catch a boat from Drake Bay.
Stage one is to take a boat from Sierpe to Drake Bay, possibly stay overnight, and then catch a scheduled ferry the next day. Booking these in advance is not advisable as bookings are unreliable and inflexible. It’s cheaper and easier to organise everything on the spot other than the obvious necessity of avoiding rip-offs from local intermediaries. Those with a fair budget and a desire for speed and lack of hassle should consider going through an official tour operator – foreign or local.
Corcovado is about an hour by boat from Drake Bay, which is in turn a kilometre from Sirena Station, a tourist hub and likely to be hot, sticky and packed with tourists.
A young Tapir nosing around Corcovado NP. Photo by Zielwasser.
Corcovado’s mammal watching is excellent and could easily include sightings of the Banded Armadillo, Silky Anteater, two-toed and three-toed Sloths, Dice’s Rabbit, Red-tailed Squirrel. Mexican Hairy Dwarf Porcupine, Central American Agouti, Spiny Rat, White-nosed Coati. All sorts of bats from fruit-eating to vampires, Central American Squirrel Monkey, White-faced Capuchin, Spider Monkey, Howler Monkey. White-lipped Peccary, Collared Peccary, White-tailed Deer, Baird’s Tapir, Opossum and of course Racoons. There are Jaguars and Ocelots in Corcovado but they hunt at night and are very difficult to spot.
A Nine Banded armadillo on the OSA peninsula. Photo by Charles J Sharp
Monkeys are common but tend to disappear at speed as soon as they’ve got the contents of your backpack in their grubby little hands. The best ways to get closer to tree-huggers, other than leaving food around your campsite, is to take a skywalk on an elevated pathway.
You may consider taking your own mosquito net with you or picking one up in San José, as clouds of these appalling buzzers are the very worst thing about tropical forests. Needless to say, around dusk, a Deet-heavy (25%-50%) repellent will be vital in a jungle environment along with full-length light-coloured clothing, including trousers tucked into deety socks – mozzies love to dine on ankles.
A White-Faced monkey in Manuel Antonio NP, checking out beach belongings. Photo by Share Bear
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve
A well set-up night shot of an Orange Nectar Bat cheekily noshing from a plastic Humming Bird feeder. Photo by Hans Hillewaert
Monteverde Cloud Forest is perhaps the most commercial and well developed park, a new scientific upstart that is home to 100 species of mammal, 400 species of birds (including the quetzal and the emerald toucanet) and 420 species of orchids.
Not only is Monteverde a lot nearer to San José (3hrs) than most others, but it also contains the biggest canopy walk – Skytrek (3hrs, 2km/1. 25m) including one 400m slide and 80m suspension bridges. It has 24 kms of trails, and 3 huts en route, but it’s not called a Cloud Forest for nothing! Blue sky may be in short supply but water won’t be. . .
Food when camping
A Mantled Howler checking the action on Playa Grande. Photo by Cephas.
If you have a car, keep all edibles and trash in the car or in a cooler box with something heavy weighing down the lid. If you have no wheels try to leave your food in the nearby ranger station. Monkeys and coatis are adept at breaking into tents or reaching tree-hung bags, undoing/unzipping them and gobbling the contents.