Sally Cannata: Costa Rica through the Eyes of a Naturalist
I have to admit the weather was perfect—sunny and warm. The snorkeling was phenomenal: sea turtles, sharks, even octopus, and loads of colorful fish.
The nature walks were fantastic as well: monkeys, sloths, coatis, and fascinating trees, bromeliads, and orchids. The canal was interesting, particularly the history (the Columbia & Snake River locks are actually more impressive to me!). Though we passed through at night, we could still see the locks well. The visit to the Embera tribe in the Darien Jungle was certainly a highlight of the trip. The men wore loin cloths and the women were bare breasted wearing sarongs. The kids loved getting their pictures taken and looking at the digital cameras. It felt unspoiled, like stepping into the pages of National Geographic. We also had a great time during the competitive soccer game between the crew and the locals one afternoon!
The food was better than I had remembered with several menu options for all meals, 4-course lunches and dinners, and top notch fresh fish. The ratio of 1 naturalist per 15 guests was great and all 5 naturalists were knowledgeable and interesting. Most crew members had a good command of the English language.
The vessel was spotless and well kept, and included a very comfortable lounge and library, not to mention a fabulous outdoor area on the top deck and creative nightly drink specials.
On of the stops, Portobelo, has amazing history and the expatriate guest speakers were very interesting. Tons of gold and silver passed through this tiny port in the 1500\'s, so naturally, there is plenty of pirate lore. It is amazing that a place of such historic importance has not really been developed. The ruins are impressive, but tricky walking for some. The mangrove Zodiac tour led by the naturalists added to the variety of the day.
Panama Canal - We passed through the Panama Canal at night. It was well lit and we had a great buffet on deck to enjoy the scenery during dinner. There was a wake-up list for the final set of locks, and the Bridge of the Americas which was beautifully lit.
Coiba National Park - The island Granito de Oro is named appropriately. It truly is like a golden nugget—a tiny island with a white sand beach, and the perfect distance to kayak or snorkel all the way around. The current was pretty strong and a challenge for some. Alexandro not only a naturalist, but also an Olympic hopeful in swimming, led a group around the island. I was impressed with the DIB operators/deck hands who circled the island and kept close watch on the snorkelers and had a ladder handy incase someone needed to get out. I should also mention that the Zodiac operators were very safety conscious and were always there lending a hand every time we enter/exited the Zodiacs. I have snorkeled numerous places and I really think Granito de Oro is absolutely world-class!
Golfo Dulce - Casa Orquideas was a beautiful lush tropical garden with amazing plants, and I think Rudy could have spent all day with us talking about the plants and birds. The afternoon at Cana Blanca, rehabilitation center for tropical wildlife, was just plain fun! We saw baby sloths and anteaters up-close as well as magnificent scarlet macaws. But, the highlight I think was the mischievous monkeys who were friendly enough to hop into my lap! Everyone who wanted a hands-on experience got it.
Manuel Antonio - This was the most crowded place we visited. I guess we were spoiled visiting so many places where we were the only ones there. However, it is a popular park for good reason and probably has wide name recognition as well. We saw both three-toed and two-toed sloths, a band of coati\'s (a tropical version of the racoon), wild howler monkeys, iguanas, and the \"Jesus Christ Lizard\" (although it was sitting on a stump, not walking on water). So, considering the wildlife, it was quite worthwhile! All of the naturalists carried tripods with high-quality viewing scopes which made all the difference to our guests’ ability to spot the wildlife.
Corcovado – This park is less visited with interesting trails, leaf cutter ants, termite nests, elusive tropical birds, and great nature walks for all levels.
The trip concluded with a smooth transfer to the airport with a nice stop at a local gift shop along the way.
The article above was written by naturalist Sally Cannata in March of 2006 following her “Between Two Seas” cruise in Costa Rica aboard the Pacific Explorer.