Kids and kritters go hand in hand and can often guarantee a family trip’s success. Lucky for parents, animals are pretty much everywhere. And when I say animals, I’m not talking about just big wow factor animals. My girls have been mesmerized by pandas in China, charmed by “sweaters on legs” (also known as sheep) in Northern Ireland and enthralled by snails in France. Yes, snails. Nothing surprises me anymore.
So along comes a trip that is all animals all the time. I expected Costa Rica critters to be amazing in a powerful and maybe even a slightly scary way. The possibility of cute and cuddly never crossed my mind. Turns out the rainforest has plenty of both to go around.
At one point or another, just about every kid in the United States has seen an alligator or crocodile in a zoo, aquarium or some type of animal park setting. It’s one thing when there’s a layer of plexiglass between you and those shiny whites, another when one comes swimming up next to your boat, so close you could touch it. So close, you think it could touch you if it really wanted too. It will take your family’s collective breath away. After a good half-dozen Costa Rica croc encounters, I’m more jealous than ever of Amie’s family-friendly African safari.
We didn’t see as many turtles as we had hoped, but the ones we managed to catch a glimpse of were worth the wait. There’s a true sense of appreciation when you and your kids realize how amazing it is that turtles and animals like crocodiles can call the same waters home. But the true turtle treat came when a naturalist showed my girls a leatherback sea turtle nest. The hatchlings were long gone, but the shells they once called home remained. A little more science hidden in the layers of vacation. Perfect.
Yeah, ants. Cutting leaves ants to be specific. Not one or two, thousands of them. Armies pop up in the middle of nowhere. Whether it’s a trail in the middle of the jungle, or the walkway into a museum, Costa Rican ants get around and get the job done. Why would you or your kids care? They have a way of getting your attention when they’re carrying things like leaves easily the size a quarter. Remember that ant that moved the rubber tree plant? Maybe he’s from Costa Rica.
Don’t Touch the Frogs
But keep your eyes open, and more than one will most likely hop your way. These aren’t the jumpers you learned about in biology class, but when you come across one of the iconic green-skinned red-eyed fellows, I hope you have your camera close by. It’s a picture the kids will want to share with friends back home and so will you. When my daughter inquired about a pet frog I was quick to remind her we already have a retired racing greyhound from Guam. Lucky for me there’s that one foreign pet per household rule.
Fancy Flight Patterns
As we moved from one Costa Rican province to the next, the one thing that seemed to remain the same was the amazing amount of beautiful butterflies in every color of the rainbow. In Guapiles, we stopped at the Selva Tropical Restaurant and Butterfly Garden. It doesn’t look like much, tucked in the backyard of the restaurant on Highway 32. You’d drive right by if you didn’t know it was there. I know presentation isn’t everything, but I have to admit, I didn’t expect much.
When we first entered the screened-in garden there were butterflies (and people) everywhere. But the butterflies made a fabulous first impression and before I knew it my girls were gone, chasing their favorite colored new friends. There was a brief moment when a frog stole the show, but it didn’t even last long enough to get a picture. When a beautiful blue butterfly fluttered by, the girls were off again. I guess you could say we lost track of time, because all of the sudden we had the place to ourselves. The exception being the sole caretaker, an older gentleman who didn’t speak English. But that didn’t stop him from teaching the girls everything he could about butterflies.
He beamed with pride as he showed my daughters cocoons ready to crack, cradled fuzzy caterpillars in their hands, and showed them how to hold a butterfly without hurting it. But he’d saved the best for last. Just as we were about to leave, he placed a few butterflies on the girls arms. Instead of quickly flying off, they hung around giving me plenty of time to get pictures of the butterflies and the huge smiles on my daughters’ faces.
Monkeying Around on Horseback
We saw more than our fair share of monkeys along the rivers of Tortuguero, but it was during a horseback ride, that they left their mark on my family, or at least tried to. We could hear the howler monkeys, so we knew they were close, but were shocked when we realized just how close. Less than 15 feet away, it was the best view we’d had yet, until we realized maybe they didn’t want us around. When you gotta go.. you gotta go. Luckily for us, horses move fast too.
Do Iguanas Grow on Trees?
They do in Muelle. Pay a visit and check it out for yourself. We went by the iguana tree twice and both times it had a crowd of iguanas and a crowd of tourists snapping pictures. According to our tour guide, the story goes something like this: an older gentleman owned a fruit stand near the tree, and at the end of the day he’d feed the older fruit to the few iguanas who called the place home. One day he happened to feed them during the day and caught the attention of some tourists who ooh and awed, and proceeded to buy more fruit to feed to the scaly set. Word got out, more tourists came to buy fruit, and the population of well fed, happy iguanas skyrocketed along with the fruit peddler’s budget. With business booming, he’s replaced the fruit stand with a restaurant and souvenir shop, and now buys the fruit to feed the iguanas.
Three Toes and Nowhere to Go
But happy to be seen, just hanging out. Maybe munch on a leaf from time to time, but for the most part, three-toed sloths spend their days just hanging in the treetops, watching the tourists go by. I wonder if they enjoy us as much as we enjoy them?
Photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann