Costa Rica Rainforest


Charles Darwin once said that even the smallest insects in the rainforest are examples of millions of years of evolution.


The earth is truly an amazing hosts to climates and habitats that are so extremely different, yet co-exist in peaceful synergy.  For example, at the highest level one can observe global climates, which are primarily dictated by the amount of sun any particular part of the earth receives on a daily basis.  In the tropics, along the equator, the sun rises at roughly 6:00 am and sets at roughly 6:00 pm, on every day of the year.  As you go north or south, due to the earth’s tilt on its rotational axis, this will vary; however, those areas also receive approximately the equivalent of 12 hours of sun per day exactly.

The Poles and the Equator

For example, the winters in Alaska can be very dark, but this amount of darkness is exactly offset by the summer, when the sun warms up the this part almost all day long.  So, one can think of the tropics as being warm and humid, but should not think that the tropics are extremely warmer than other parts of the world, at particular times of the year.  For example, there are summer days in Boston that might reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the tropics the temperature remains the same, pretty much all year round.  It never usually gets much hotter than 85 degree Fahrenheit.  However, the humidity and intensity of the sun can make a feel a lot hotter.   In addition to this, the temperature in the tropical latitudes is also greatly dictated by altitude due to the fact that air needs to rise.  When air rises, it expands, and gives us energy as heat.   Thus, if you need to cool down, you just need to go to a higher altitude like San Jose in Costa Rica or Bogota in Colombia or Quitto in Ecuador.   Since the elevation is high, the temperatures are almost always cool.  In fact, you might be surprised as to how chilly it can get at the equator, when you are 4,000 feet above sea level.

The constant heat and humidity is the engine behind the Costa Rica rainforest.   If one were able to impact either heat or humidity of the rainforest, the delicate balance of the habitats and ecosystems within, would surely be at risk.  When visiting a Costa Rican rainforest, please recognize this delicate balance, and strive to leave the place, exactly as you found it.

Costa Rica has the world’s largest variety of natural biodiversity.  In fact, there are twelve different habitats or natural ecosystems in Costa Rica including the following:

  • Highland cloud forests and lowland tropical forests
  • Both fast and slow flowing rivers
  • Marshes, wetlands and lakes
  • Forest Swamps
  • Mangrove forests
  • Lagoons
  • The Caribbean and Pacific Coastal habitats
  • Rainforests and jungle
  • Volcanoes, caves and thermal springs
  • Coral reefs and even shipwrecks
  • Fields and pastures
  • Natural and organic coffee fields

In short, Costa Rica is an ecologist’s paradise.  Any scientist or hobbyists can come to Costa Rica and experience both flora and fauna that are uniquely diverse, yet co-located all within a single country.

Costa Rica Rainforest

Probably one of the most popular destination for eco-tourism or ecology is by visiting one of Costa Rica’s natural parks which features rainforests.  In Costa Rica’s famous national parks you can experience preserved natural biodiveristy.   The largest and most popular rainforests can be found in the following national parks:

Cahuita, Central Caribbean

Cahuita is the second closest park to San Jose and the major international airport.  It is located just south Limon, which is the major port on the Caribbean coast.  This park features a large rainforest, with wetlands, a natural beach and 1,400 acres of coral reef.  When hiking the natural trails of Cahuita, you might encounter numerous examples of wildlife including monkeys, sloths, tropical birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects.  You should also plan to to some snorkeling where you will find countless species of tropical fish, mollusks and even sea turtles in their natural habitat. Just outside the park, you can also visit the village Cahuita, which has about 4,000 inhabitants. There is some shopping and you can also try the native afro-Caribbean cuisine of Costa Rica.

  cahuita-lobster cahita-rainforest

Manuel Antonio, Central Pacific

Manuel Antonio is the smallest of the big national parks in Costa Rica, yet most popular, due to its proximity to San Jose and the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO).  It is also very accessible, and located adjacent to the vibey village of Manuel Antonio, which provides shopping, hotels and restaurants, nightlife, and just about every other convenience an eco-tourist might require.  The official entrance to the park can be a bit confusing to a new visitor.  You should ask for the souvenir shops.  There is a long row of them right in front of the beach, past the public parking lot.  Walk all the way through the shops, until you find a walking bridge.  Cross the bridge and walk about 100 meters more and you are on a street that leads to the park entrance.

 manuel antonio flora
manuel antonio tree

Corcovado, South Pacific

Corcovado National Park is located about seven hours of San Jose, near the Panama border.  It has a distinctly different feel than Cahuita and Tortuguero, because it is located on the Pacific Coast.  Due to the heavier surf, you will not have opportunities for snorkeling or scuba, however, you may be able to sport dolphins or whales!  The rainforest itself has winding natural trails, which are great for hiking and animal watching.  Similar to other natural parks you are likely to see monkeys, sloths, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects, which are indigenous to this part of Costa Rica. If you are extremely lucky, you might even be able to spot a Jaguar or a Danta.  Getting to Corcovado is a long trip and the fastest way is to take the Panamerican Highway 2 towards Golfito.  You can stop in Golfito and with our passport receive a permit to shop for electronics, which are duty-free.  This can be very handy if you need to buy a camera or binoculars in a pinch.

 corcovado-rainforest corcovado-danta

Tortuguero, North Caribbean

Tortuguero is Costa Rica’s largest national park and also the largest natural rainforest. It is located on Caribbean coast, north of Limon.  In order to get to Tortuguero, you will  need to drive, taxi or bus to a town called Cariari.  From there, you will need to take a boat taxi to enter the park.  Tortuguero, as the name implies, is most famous for being home to between 15 to 20,000 sea turtles.  You will want to prepare for both a marine and rainforest adventure, as there is also a beach which leads to miles of naturals trails through the rainforest.  You will see the sloths, monkeys, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects which are native to the tropical Caribbean habitat.



Rainforest Exploration Tips

When exploring one of Costa Rica’s rainforests, you should definitely dress yourself for sea-level tropical climate.  You should wear very light, but water resistant clothing.  Although flip flops work great on the beach, when exploring the rainforest, you will want something much more supportive.  I recommend wearing water resistant or waterproof hiking boots, with a lot of support, because you can plan to be hiking over some different kinds of trails.  In some cases, the trails are well maintained natural rocky paths.  In other cases, you might find yourself walking through mud, sand or swampy soil.  This all depends on how far you want to go off the beaten path.  If you are more adventuresome, I recommend dressing for the some pretty rugged and wet hiking.  Pack a good pair of light-weight, broken-in hiking boots that have some degree of water resistance, and you should be all set.  You should also be prepared for the following:

  • Torrential downpours or steady light rain
  • Sun and heat
  • Mosquitos and other potential infectious critters

I went for a horseback ride through the jungle in Manuel Antonio and came home with flea bites up and down my legs.  If you go for a horseback ride anywhere in Costa Rica, you should remember that those horses do have both fleas and ticks.  The ticks in Costa Rica can be a real problem.  You should do a quick exam of your skin if you feel any itching or discomfort after visiting a Costa Rica rainforest.  Its probably not going to be something venemous, but mosquitos and ticks are disease bearing insects.  There is some risk for Dengue fever in areas, so you should always cover up with a good insect repellent.  I prefer Bull Frog repellent which also doubles as a sun block.  This will protect you from both the sun and mosquitos, ticks and other infectious insects.

What to Bring:

  • Swimming gear – there is a beach!
  • Sunblock
  • An optional hat for sun and rain protection
  • Camera which is ideally waterproof.  I recommend a GoPro HD Hero!
  • Water bottle or something alternative for hydration. Why not pack a camel back?
  • Change of dry clothes for the return trip
  • Towel
  • Comfortable walking shoes or lightweight hiking boots.
  • Insect repellent with DEET
  • Binoculars for animal watching
  • A waterproof or water resistant jacket
  • A small plastic zip-lock bag to store some money and a copy of your passport.

If you plan to take pictures or video, I recommend capturing your experience on some good camera gear.  I personally carry either my big Nikon Digital SLR, my Canon Point and Shoot, or my GoPro HD Hero.  However, lately I have been carrying my GoPro as it is water proof and takes stunning photo and videos above water and underwater.  You may also want to bring binoculars so that you can pin point your subject before you snap still shots or video.   I would definitely plan on snapping lots of photos and video shots and uploading and creating amazing content that will blow-away your family and friends.  Don’t be shy or critical of what you are shooting.  I took video of fire ants carrying food and building their nest.   I  came home to my office and increased the frame rate by 4 times and saw some incredible stuff.  And, coincidentally,  do not get close to fire ants!!!  They are the small black ants that move extremely fast.   Their bites are extremely painful and itchy.  You will be itching for days and the leave significant welts and inflammation.  If you have one or more of those things on you, you will feel extreme pain and itching.  Brush them off quickly and don’t worry, their venom is not toxic to humans.

Here are more interesting reads to learn more about Costa Rica rainforests:


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