Our hotel, the Banana Azul had a desk with a tour provider that booked excursions for hotel guests. We opted for an early morning hike on new year’s day through the Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo national park with a naturalist. We paid our fee and were told to meet our guide, Ricky, out front of the restaurant at the edge of the park the following morning.
The drive to the park, like most drives in Costa Rica, was very beautiful. We had a little adventure on the way when we saw a guy standing in the middle of the road. We stopped our car and realized that he was stopping traffic to make sure that a sloth crossed the road safely. While at the Jaguar Animal Rescue Center, we learned that locals often do this to help protect the sloths. Andy quickly grabbed his camera and we got some pictures of the very wet and tired sloth.
Parking was a breeze and Ricky was there right on time. We started out the hike with Ricky discussing the importance of nature for Costa Rica. The biodiversity of the country is great and all of the animals and plants serve a specific purpose. They are dependent upon each other to maintain the delicate ecosystem balance.
One of the most fascinating things that we learned was that the black sand that we really liked, is actually iron based. Ricky pulled out his pocket knife and showed us how the sand acted as a magnet and stuck to the blade. The different levels of iron in the sand by beach actually helps draw the sea turtles back to the specific beach of their birthplace when they return to lay their eggs.
The tour turned out to be 4 of us as an adorable dog named Pinto joined us on our hike. He was a very good dog never barking once and sitting down when we stopped to discuss any animals or plants. Ricky told us that he often joins his tour groups because people give him lots of love and attention.
Ricky was really great at spotting animals that there was no chance we would have seen had we done the same hike without him. Actually during the hike we started to wonder how many animals we passed unknowingly on other hikes that we had taken earlier in the trip. We saw a bunch of reptiles including a poison dart frog, a few strawberry poison dart frogs and a yellow viper snake.
The hike was very educational. We learned that the super strong web of the golden orb spider was the inspiration for kevlar, the material that bulletproof vests are made out of. We also learned that the loud howler monkeys we heard was one of the inspirations for the noises dinosaurs in the movie Jurassic Park made. I realized that if I was ever stranded in the rain forest that I would likely die because seemingly everything is poisonous. I did learn that termite nests are OK to eat and my go to food should I ever be stranded and left to my own devices.
In addition to animals, we also saw the biggest trees that I have seen in my life, super thick vines, cocoa plants and a great view of the ocean.
The only negative during the whole hike was when we listened to Ricky instead of our gut crossing the water to get to Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo national park. The tide came up as we were in the middle of crossing and our pants got soaked. We had a good laugh about it and tried not to let something so little bother us.
All and all it was a great experience. Although it was a little pricey, it was worth it to have a guide to show us the things that we would have never seen as well as teach us about the plants and animals in Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo national park.