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Visiting Palo Verde National Park in Costa Rica

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Our first excursion of our Costa Rica vacation was to Palo Verde National Park, which gave us a wonderful nature experience as well as a taste of the culture and lifestyle of Guanacaste province. It was an easy, half-day trip from our hotel. We left our hotel early in the morning at 5:30 am and were back around lunchtime, able to relax at the resort for the rest of the day.

Palo Verde National Park, located at the mouth of the Tempisque River, is a wetland sanctuary in the middle of Costa Rica’s driest province, Guanacaste, in the northwest of Costa Rica. Our guide told us that it is also one of the best examples of tropical dry forests remaining anywhere in the world. The area has an amazing number of different habitats (15 to be exact!) and is therefore an ideal home for diverse plant and animal life.

After about a one hour drive from the resort, we reached one of the river’s tributaries and boarded a motorboat. In the early morning, the river was peaceful and mysterious, hinting that a great adventure lay ahead of us. And what an adventure it was!

Gliding down the river in our boat, we saw an amazing array of animal life! There were giant iguanas basking in the sun, a colony of sleeping long-nosed bats neatly arranged single-file on a tree trunk, the biggest grasshoppers I have ever seen, several beautiful butterflies and a few other interesting insects. We admired several howler monkey families in the trees along the river, came face to face with crocodiles (quite literary as our guides fed them chicken pieces for breakfast off the side of the boat) and fed bananas out of our hands to a troop of white faced monkeys who eagerly jumped on our boat when we made a stop at the river’s bank.

Feeding a white faced (capuchin) monkey in Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica

Offering some breakfast to a white faced monkey during our boat tour of the Tempisque River at the Palo Verde National Park.

We also saw an amazing range of birds as we made our way up river. I now understand why this area is so renowned among bird watchers! During Costa Rica’s dry season (roughly corresponding with the winter season in the continental U.S.), millions of birds found in North America migrate to this area for the winter. We were visiting in the rainy season, but still observed many species: elegant egrets, herons and wood storks, lovable baby ducks, fierce looking vultures and many other birds whose names I’ve forgotten because there were simply too many. We did not spot the elusive toucan (during the time of the year we were visiting, they usually move to higher grounds and into a more rain forest-like habitat), but we did see a spectacular scarlet macaw.

On the drive home, we stopped in the small town of Guaitil, known for its famous Chorotega-style pottery made from local, naturally colored clay. Chorotegas were a powerful Central American Indian tribe that lived in the entire northern Pacific zone of Costa Rica. They are known for their beautiful pottery making and the secrets of their craft have been passed from generation to generation over the past 3,000 years.

At a working ranch, just outside of town, we enjoyed a delicious authentic Guanacaste breakfast and freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee, prepared using a traditional wooden stand (chorreador) and a sock filter (media). After our meal, we enjoyed a pottery making demonstration by a local artist of Chorotega descent along with a short history lesson. Of course we could not leave without purchasing some beautiful and authentic souvenirs to bring back home with us.

Chorotega style pottery demonstration at Rancho los Coyotes, Costa Rica

Chorotega pottery demonstration at Rancho los Coyotes.

Things to keep in mind when visiting Palo Verde National park in Costa Rica:

  • Schedule your trip for as early as possible in the day for the best chances of spotting wildlife. Many animals are very active and easier to see in the morning hours then disappear later on in the day to avoid the heat, not to mention the tourist crowds. We left our resort at 5:30 am to be the first boat on the river and it was well worth it!
  • The Park is a wetland sanctuary to many animals, including mosquitoes! I highly advise you apply mosquito spray at the hotel, before you leave. We didn’t, thinking we would do it as soon as we arrive, but we quickly regretted our decision. Those pesky mosquitoes were waiting for us and were ready to attack as soon as we poked our heads out of the van that drove us to the park!

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A native of Slovenia, Vera moved to the U.S. 20+ years ago after meeting her American husband. Together with their two children they live on the North…

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