Treading carefully with rubber boots is what saved me. A venomous pitviper lay curled up and ready to strike, camouflaged along the muddy trail I was hiking.
Piedras Blancas National Park is tucked away in the South-West corner of Costa Rica. It protects rainforest, beaches, and wildlife along the Golfo Dulce (or sweet gulf) — an inlet attached to the Pacific Ocean.
I was staying at Playa Nicuesa Lodge, a remote eco-friendly place hidden within the National Park itself and only accessible by boat.
The lodge is completely off the grid, powered by solar panels and a bio-diesel generator. I was pretty excited to sleep in the middle of a highly active and beautiful rainforest surrounded by nature for a few days.
Behind the lodge there is a network of trails winding their way through the park. As I was here to photograph some wildlife, I geared up and headed into the wilderness on my own.
If you’ve never been hiking through a rainforest, you may not realize just how dark it can be under the canopy during the day.
Foliage here grows fast and thick in this tropical environment — blocking out most of the sunlight from above.
The darkness can make it difficult to see what’s on the trail in front of you…
The Hog-Nosed Pitviper I almost stepped on was only the first of many snakes I ran across in Piedras Blancas National Park. While it may look intimidating, hiking with tall rubber jungle boots (provided by the lodge) will almost always protect you against getting bitten.
Unlike in the movies, snakes are usually scared of people too.
Unless you actually step on one, chances are they won’t attack. They’d much rather slither away or ignore you completely. But that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down.
The snake in my photo below is a Fer De Lance, Costa Rica’s most dangerous, responsible for up to 46% of snakebites in the country.
If not treated, venom from its bite is powerful enough to shut down kidneys, rot skin tissue, and cause bleeding from the eyes and mouth. One of the few snakes in the world that can kill a human.
Often the best time to seek wildlife in Costa Rica is after the sun sets. Many animals living in a rainforest are more active at night.
Knowing this, nature guide (and former Amazing Race Latin America contestant) Manfred Céspedes took me on evening stroll to hunt for critters in the darkness.
What did we find? More snakes of course!
To search for wildlife at night, you need to keep quiet and scan the area with a flashlight. The beam will reflect off the eyes of any animals that might be hiding in the dark, betraying their location.
It’s how I spotted this large Boa wrapped around a branch.
Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula used to be an important area for Cacao farming. Cacao seeds form the basic ingredient used to produce chocolate.
At one time the cacao beans were even used as currency.
However a blight of fungus destroyed a majority of Costa Rica’s cacao trees in the 1970’s.
Remains of old farms still exist in ruins though — the decrepit buildings now re-taken by the jungle. This particular abandoned shack provides temporary shelter for wild cats roaming the area, as well as a cozy home for bats!
Over the course of 2 days at Playa Nicuesa I certainly saw my share of wildlife in the reserve. This included frogs, snakes, bats, scarlet macaws, peccaries (wild pigs), Jesus Christ lizards, coatis, toucans, howler monkeys, and dolphins.
Falling asleep (and waking up) with the doors and windows to my room open, completely surrounded by the sounds of these animals and insects is always a fun experience.
With a net surrounding the bed, I didn’t have to worry about bugs, and could enjoy the music of the jungle.
One morning I went kayaking through the estuary and mangroves nearby. Tomas, a local who’s been living on the land here for over 60 years, took us by boat up through the mangroves, pointing out snakes and birds along the way.
He grew up hunting this wilderness for food, but these days he works as a guide protecting the animals while also teaching visitors about them.
We launched our kayaks up river and made our way back towards the ocean with the current, listening to the swamp as it burped up methane bubbles on either side.
Colorful crabs would scurry away into their mud burrows as we passed.
Back at the lodge I took a yoga class on the edge of the water as afternoon rains began. My instructor Molly tried to improve my flexibility and balance with stretching and breathing techniques while we listened to the sound of waves crashing on the beach.
The abundance of nature, secluded beaches, and pristine rainforest made me want to stay here for months, not days. It’s very peaceful and relaxing.
At night we walked out to the pier and watched glowing florescent blue bioluminescent algae materialize in the water around fish as they swam beneath our feet.
Lightning from far-away storms flashed across the sky in the distance.
Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is one of the few locations I’ve traveled that absolutely astonished me with the sheer amount of beauty and diversity available in such a small area.
Witness fascinating animals in their natural habitat, get some exercise, and embrace the outdoors in a tropical setting. It really has it all.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time exploring Pedras Blancas National Park. Especially discovering all these cool snakes I’d never seen before! ★
Location: Golfito, Costa Rica [Map]
Accommodation: Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge
Useful Notes: To get to Piedras Blancas National Park you can fly in to Golfito or nearby Puerto Jimenez and take a boat across the bay after an international flight to San Jose. If you don’t mind a longer journey (7 hours), it’s also possible to take a bus to Golfito and save some money.
Do you like snakes? Ever seen them in the wild?
#EcoCostaRica is made possible in partnership with Visit Costa Rica and EcoAdventure Media. As always, the content & opinions expressed here are entirely my own.