While traveling in Costa Rica, I visited Tortuguero, both named for the village and the National Park located along the Caribbean coast in northeastern Costa Rica. This is a wonderful, semi-secluded park where you can see wildlife in their natural environment. To get there, I had to travel 1 hour by motor boat through jungle canals and mangrove forest. The park and village are only accessible by air or boat as there are no roads. This was definitely one of the times where the journey in was just as incredible as the destination itself.
After doing some research I decided to a wildlife tour via canoe would be the best way to enjoy the mangrove forests and canals, being that motor boats are disruptive to the wildlife and cannot access the smaller, narrower channels.
The tour began at 5 am. The sun was just rising, the animals awakening and the water was like glass, covered with a thick layer of fog. Everything was still and peaceful, save for the motor boat tours that were also departing on their tours, although we soon canoed into smaller canals and escaped them. Our guide was amazing, often pointing out animals that were completely invisible to the rest of us until we were almost on top of them. The caimans were especially good at hiding just below the surface of the water, with only the tops of their heads and their dark black eyes penetrating the surface. At one point our guide alerted us to 3 baby caiman resting in such a manner amongst a collection of lily pads. How our eagle-eyed guide spotted them is beyond me because it took a full 2-3 min of searching directly where he pointed until I could distinguish the baby caimans from their surroundings.
Throughout our 4 hour excursion we saw a plethora of wildlife: swimming caiman; an iguana basking in the early morning sun; howler monkeys jumping from tree to tree; a toucan sitting high in the jungle canopy; a beautiful black egret standing on a log with his wings fully extended while he dried himself after fishing underwater; and a cute little Jesus Christ Lizard. The list goes on and I was surprised to find that I was only able to point out one or two of the animals without the assistance of our eagle-eyed guide.
If you're ever in Costa Rica, I highly recommend visiting this wonderful park. It gives you a firsthand experience right in the heart of a Costa Rican jungle, filled with wildlife, spectacular scenery, beaches and lots of adventure. It's a place just waiting to be explored.