Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pristine and off the Beaten Track in Costa Rica: Part II, Wonderful Hotels and Motor Launch through a Mangrove Swamp

You read about our quetzal quest in the mountains if you read Part I. Following that, we headed west for a boat trip in a mango swamp off the coast at Isla Damas (Women Island, so named for its hourglass shape.) The Island is near one of Costa Rica's most popular tourist destinations, Manuel Antonio, famed for its lovely beaches. Though I'd lived in Costa Rica for three years, I never got there, and wanted to go. But in retrospect, if you have limited time on the coast, for my money, do the Damas Island tour (or a host of other tours offered by the same company, Iguana Tours, at We did a guided bird walk at Manuel Antonio, and there were so many tourists (about 5 groups, each about 10 people), that any bird with sense was far from the trail. We did see a sloth or two and assorted reptiles. The beaches were gorgeous--little jewels in bays with trees, as lovely as the best Caribbean beaches. The park is pristine, and there are no stands or stores. Bring your own food and anything else you need.

That said, I can rave about our mango tour on a motor launch with a canvas "roof" and an expert, bilingual guide. The area will remind you of the everglades, if you've been there. We saw what you'd expect--lots of beautiful shore birds, like the golden-crowned night herron pictured. We learned that this smart guy catches insects, wounds them so they flutter madly, and then uses them to attract fish, his real target. Smart as he is beautiful.
We also were treated to a monkey show. We saw a whole troop of whitfaced capuchin monkey, including several mothers with babies on their backs. As we were enjoying watching them feed and jump, suddenly the whole troop decided to cross the canal, right in front of our boat, leaping from trees on one bank to the other. I totally forgot I could take video with my little point-and-shoot, but I did manage a mediocre still of a mom with babe, just before she reached her target tree (below).

Again, the guy in charge (not sure if he's the owner) is Jorge Cruz. He is another devoted lover of nature. When I mentioned Nicole, he said she was a very good friend. The tour was $40/person for us, because we arranged it ourselves. Others who booked through their hotels paid $60, presumably there was a $20 cut for the hotel. Here's how it works. They pick you up early in the morning (about 6:30 if memory serves--you birders know the birds don't wait for late risers). They take you to the boat launch area and provide a snack, mainly fruit and cookies. Our hotel served good coffee at 5:30 AM, as I imagine most do, since they house many birders. Aftert the trip, which lasts about 2 hours (it goes by in a flash), they provide a full breakfast (with coffee this time).

One last thing--your hotel. As you might imagine, hotels in the Manuel Antonio area tend to be pricey. We stayed at one which was not only moderate in price, but had an ecological mission. It's called Hotel Mono Azul (Blue Monkey, at The website lists a host of environmentally friendly measures, such as using waste food to feed animals, non-toxic detergent and cleaning products, etc. The daughter of the owners, when she was 13 years old, wanted to do something to help the rainforest. So she organized Kids Saving the Rainforest. Young people around the world can join, and contribute money, or do something that serves a rainforest where they live. We heard of one boy, I think in India, who lived in a place where there were many poisonous snakes. Many people killed them. But this brave soul captured them and returned them to the forest. If you buy anything at their gift store, all proceeds go to KSTR. The hotel is attractive, accomodations are acceptable but not luxurious. Food is ordinary. The price was $52/person, not including breakfast. Like I said, prices in the area are higher than more remote destinations. Buen eco-viaje, amigos!

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