As the canoe glides slowly through the rainforest our guide Barbara Hartung looks into the treetops and sniffs. “I can smell howler monkeys, ” she whispers, “they must be here somewhere.”
And indeed, behind the next bend two howler monkeys hang from branches directly above our heads. Welcome to the Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica.
In this protected area at the Caribbean coast tourists can experience a unique animal and plant world where screaming parrots fly over the treetops, spider monkeys swing from branch to branch, and caimans swim silently in the dark water. And – a highlight – from time to time, a crocodile dozes on a sandbank.
“The special thing here is the combination of water, forest, beach snd turtles. Besides, there are no cars here, only boats, ” explains Barbara Hartung.
A biologist who emigrated from Germany in 1995, she found her true vocation here. Now she offers tourists canoe tours and hikes through the forest, and shows off the wonders of nature.
Many tour operators now offer tours into the national park, despite the difficulty of the journey. You can reach Pavona by car, but from there it’s 90 minutes in a small motorboat to the national park. Once you arrive there’s a good selection of hotels and lodges with their own moorings by the water.
The tranquil village of Tortuguero with about 600 inhabitants also provides a few restaurants and shops. Tourism has brought benefits to the community while in the recent past doctors where a rarity, now medical care is completely guaranteed – but has also posed some new challenges. One of these is sewage treatment and disposal, which is an on-going problem here.
The sea turtles that bury their eggs in the sand along the narrow coastal strip are a magnet for visitors to the national park, which was established in 1975. The best time to see this natural wonder is at night, but only from July to October. This is when tourist accommodation is hard to come by, and prices are at their highest.
But the rainforest can be enjoyed all year round, and it is truly a natural paradise. Sadly, though, it’s a paradise that’s under threat.
There have been attempts to build an illegal road through the park, and while it is protected by rangers, Barbara Hartung believes there
aren’t enough of them. “We’re having more trouble with poachers, ” she says, “and I’ve seen bait laid out to catch caimans.” – dpa
Gallery: Exploring Costa Rica’s rainforest
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