Communing with Costa Rica’s Wildlife

Communing with Costa Rica’s Wildlife

A guided boat tour of the El Viejo Wetlands offers close-up access to Costa Rica’s wildlife
By: Kelly Rosenfeld
Swiss Travel Costa Rica offers boat tours of The El Viejo Wetlands, a private wildlife refuge. // © 2013 Swiss Travel Costa Rica
Swiss Travel Costa Rica offers boat tours of The El Viejo Wetlands, a private wildlife refuge. // © 2013 Swiss Travel Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region — located along the northwestern coast of the country, bordering the Pacific Ocean — features some of the country’s most unique ecosystems. Though Costa Rica is perhaps best known for its rainforests, Guanacaste is home to various landscapes such as tropical dry forests, wetlands and lowland mountain forests. In an effort to protect these ecosystems, the area is home to a large number of protected areas, national parks and wildlife refuges, many of which welcome visitors.

One such establishment is the El Viejo Wetlands, a private wildlife refuge built around Palo Verde National Park in the Tempisque River Basin. The park comprises some 46,950 acres of tropical dry forest and freshwater marshes, which attract a vast number of animals to the area, including about 60 different species of water birds.

El Viejo offers a number of attractions for visitors, which vary from wildlife viewing to active adventures and cultural immersion. Options within the private refuge include boat tours along the river, canopy tours, horseback riding and even a cultural tour dedicated to colonial Guanacaste “cowboys,” which includes demonstrations on traditional sugar cane production and coffee making.

Swiss Travel Costa Rica

When I visited the park, I went with the tour operator Swiss Travel Costa Rica. The company offers a Palo Verde Safari Boat Tour, which includes a bilingual guide, transportation and entrance fee to the park.

The real benefit of taking this, or any, tour with Swiss Travel is its incredibly knowledgeable staff.

As the boat floated gently down the Tempisque River, our boat’s guide named every species visible in the water, land and air. His eye was so sharp that he managed to notice and point out what no one else on the boat could see — from perfectly camouflaged lizards lounging on branches to the eyes of a crocodile, barely poking out of the water under a low-hanging tree branch.

And although English may be their second language, Swiss Travel’s staff members never had any problem communicating their vast array of knowledge. None of the guides I met from the company ever struggled with translation, offering everything from history to cultural insights to the scientific names of the species living in the park.

In fact, English wasn’t the only foreign language my boat’s tour guide spoke. Toward the end of our cruise, he pointed out a group of howler monkeys sitting quietly in a tree. They were so still we could barely see them. Just as we thought we were about to move on, our guide cupped his hands over his mouth and began calling to the monkeys — in what I can only describe as their native tongue.

To the amazement of everyone on the boat, the monkeys began calling back. As our guide continued his conversation, more and more monkey voices joined the chorus, and we were able to pick out a far greater number of them in the trees than we had noticed before. It was certainly the highlight of our tour.

Swiss Travel offers more than 20 tours throughout Costa Rica, as well as vacation packages, transportation options and more.
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