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Visiting Costa Rica
It was Christmastime, and we only had a few days available for vacation. But we wanted to go someplace new, someplace warm, and someplace that wasn’t insanely expensive. Tamarindo, a wonderfully secluded beach town off the coast of the Pacific Ocean caught our attention. It’s the perfect location for a quick few day get-away (only a short plane ride both from Chicago and Los Angeles!), and had a ton of options for day-trips and tours. The best part of the trip though was the Palo Verde Wetland Tour, a fascinating jungle safari though the the Palo Verde National Wildlife Refuge.
Jungle Boat Safari through the Palo Verde Wetland Reserve
We only had a few days in Tamarindo, so we only had time for one tour. We decided to take a Jungle Boat Safari Tour through Sol Naciente Surf School and Adventure Tours. The complete Palo Verde Wetland tour included a 1.5 hour drive to the wetland reserve, a 2 hour boat ride, lunch, and a demonstration on native pottery. Despite the high cost, the tour was exceptional.
The $90 per person cost included the entrance fee into the Palo Verde wetland reserve, which was $15 per person. The Palo Verde Wetland is the largest wetland reserve in Costa Rica, and it was designed to protect the ecosystem from water intensive crop farming, specifically sugar cane.
The Boat Safari
We took a small covered boat up and down the river that runs through the reserve. We were privileged enough to hear the piercing call of the howler monkeys, which make the loudest sound relative to their size of any primate. The howlers are fairly elusive, and although we were able to view them deep within the canopy, they didn’t come close to the boat. We only caught small glimpses of these spectacular creatures.
The mischievous capuchins are much bolder. The capuchins will come right up to the boat and even jump on it. They are used to tourists offering them fruits, so they love coming right up to you to find out if you have any tasty treats. However, due to poachers taking advantage of their trusting nature, it is now illegal to feed them on the reserve. Some tour guides will bend this rule to get their customers the best experience possible. The other group in our boat brought some bananas into the park, and the capuchins stole it right out of their hands!
Palo Verde reserve is also well known for the crocodiles. They don’t seem to be very aggressive towards people, or maybe they are just very well fed, because the boat driver got us a little too close for comfort with an enormous crocodile. I literally could have reached out and touched it. The prehistoric beast definitely could have grabbed me too if it wanted to!
In addition to the monkeys and crocs, we also got to see a large variety of jungle birds and lizards, including large iguanas. The tour guides were very knowledgeable about the wetlands and the various species of wildlife that called the area home. They spoke about the ecosystem of the river, and explained that the water levels are closely related to the tide. Although I’m not entirely sure how all that works from an ecological perspective, it was a very engaging and educational tour.
Authentic Costa Rican Lunch
After the river tour, we had lunch at Rancho Los Coyotes, a traditional Costa Rican restaurant in the countryside. The food was phenomenal! It was served family style in traditional bowls, and consisted of some of the best chicken I had ever tasted. It was served with the customary Costa Rican sides of rice and beans. Dessert was a rice pudding with fresh cinnamon, and it was simply divine. After desert, they set up a traditional coffee drip, and we had the opportunity to sip delicious fresh Costa Rican coffee. They offered us sugar from freshly processed sugar cane. I had never tasted fresh sugar before, and it was definitely a treat.
After lunch, the restaurant engaged us with a live action pottery demonstration. Obviously, it was a clever ruse to get us to bring home some of their wares, but it was also very interesting. They explained how their ancestors made pottery in the Pre-Columbian age, and also how the style has changed over time. Sometimes they will decorate pottery in the Pre-Columbian style, and sometimes they will use the modern methods.
They explained the process of making pottery from start to finish, starting with how they crushed rock into workable clay, molded it into shape with traditional tools, painted, dried, finished, and cooked the work. They also demonstrated the use of a variety of ores to get different colors. Much of the pottery that is made in Costa Rica is still hand-made and hand painted, although some touristy shops do sell knock-offs made in China. If you want to purchase authentic Costa Rican pottery, you should probably get it from one of the traditional pottery makers rather than at the tourist shops.
A View of The Countryside
A bonus of the Palo Verde Wetland tour was that we got to see a vast swath of the countryside during the bus ride. Costa Rica has a wide variety of landscapes, from sugar plantations to rainforests. Although the tour didn’t take us past any of their famous volcanos, it was still a fun opportunity to see some of the habitats that the county boasts.
The Jungle Safari tour was genuinely a lot of fun and surprisingly educational. It was definitely the highlight of my weekend in Costa Rica. I highly recommend it to anyone staying near Tamarindo Beach.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.