Most of us love animals, and most of us want an up-close-and-personal encounter with Costa Rica animals. Here are some of the best places for that:
Right here in Playa Matapalo, only 17 minutes south from Playa Hermosa, is the El Diamante Adventure park. The park is an incredible wildlife animal sanctuary with jaguars, pumas, and various species of monkeys. Of course, you cannot forget about those cute faced sloths. In addition, there is a bird aviary that you can stroll in and a butterfly farm. For the brave at heart, there is a serpentarium with many different kinds of vipers and other creepy things–but all in cages. The park is staffed with bilingual guides and a biologist that are very helpful explaining the natural habitat of the animals. You can almost see it all in one place.
However, for the adventurous that like to drive there are more options below to encounter Costa Rica animals.
Jaguar Rescue Center is an animal rescue and rehabilitation center near the Caribbean hamlet of Puerto Viejo. Sadly (and fortunately) you will not be able to interact with jaguars here. Being a transitional animal center, the number and species housed there varies. There are 130-200 resident animals at any given time. Visitors are informed about the process of rescue and release of the animals, and you are able to enter the enclosure and interact with the monkeys. There are friendly parrots all around ready to perch on your shoulder!
The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica is a privately owned sloth rescue center located near the town of Cahuita on the Caribbean coast. The center is dedicated to the rescue, research, rehabilitation and release of injured or orphaned sloths. Though holding and touching the sloths is prohibited, many sloths can be viewed up close as you tour the facility or during a 45-minute canoe ride on the shallow Estrella River.
A rarely-seen, biological wonder takes place each week before a new moon from August through December at Ostional Beach in Guanacaste. Hundreds—sometimes thousands—of Olive Ridley sea turtles come ashore to dig a hole and lay their eggs in the soft black sand. Days or weeks before the mass nesting, the turtles begin to group offshore. At a moment only they determine, the turtles begin to stream ashore and this continues for the next 3 to 7 days. The turtles generally ride in on the high tide after dark and continue until the wee hours of the morning. You should keep your distance so as to not “spook” off the mama turtles, but once they begin laying their eggs, they go into a “trance” and you can approach and observe the miracle without fear of frightening the mother. The baby turtles hatch at night after 45-54 days, although it is not unheard of for them to pop out of the sand during daylight hours. At this point you can accompany the hatchlings as they clamber toward the sea, protecting them from vultures and dogs. However, do not pick them up and carry them to the sea since they need the exercise to develop their lungs. Those babies may travel as far as India, but their natural navigation system will carry them back to their place of birth in Ostional to lay their eggs when they are adults.
La Paz Waterfall Garden (near the Poas Volcano) is a wonderful place for close encounters with many Costa Rica animals: toucans, frogs, sloths and hummingbirds. Check for feeding times at the front desk. The toucans will take fruit from your hands; the hummingbirds will buzz your head and land on hand-held feeders; you can put your head right up next to a sloth as it eats; take a selfie with the neon red-eyed tree frog.
Territorio de Zaguates was featured in Episode 5 of the Netflix series “Dogs.” Located in the mountains high above Alajuela, this 347-acre refuge is home to 1,300 stray dogs. The Territorio is not open to the public right now as they work to meet government requirements, but they plan to open soon. When they do, you will be able to walk the refuge’s trails with hundreds of happy dogs that take turns jumping on you and putting their muzzles in your hand in a bid for attention.
If you are interested in more long-term encounters (read: volunteer work), the Territorio de Zaguates, Sloth Sanctuary, and Jaguar Rescue Center all have arrangements for volunteers. Check out their websites for more information. Just copy and past the name in a web browser. It’s a great way to interact with Costa Rica animals and help them at the same time.
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