Archive | Nature & Wildlife

Are They Real?

Probably more symbolic than any other animal in Costa Rica, the red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) reigns as the most iconic and widely recognized representative of Costa Rica’s natural beauty, and fittingly, the mascot of Costa Rica Guest Magazine.  Many think this princely frog exists only as a caricature or clip art, but this little guy is real.  In his regal robes, he wears a vivid neon-green body, blue flanks, white under belly and bright orange fingers and toes combined with its bulging red eyes make it a sight to behold, and hold we did. Contrary to popular belief, he’s not slimy, just cool to touch with sticky fingers and toes. Nature’s bright coloration often signals to predators that its non-palatable, though not always poisonous, as in this case.


Rain-forest amphibians thrive in much of the the country from the lowlands of 50 meters to 700 meters. They sleep during the day usually stuck to the bottoms of leaves with their eyes closed and body markings covered. If disturbed, they flash their bulging red eyes and reveal their huge, webbed orange feet and bright blue-and-yellow flanks. This technique, called startle-coloration, may give a predator slight pause or at least question their meal choice, enabling time to leap and escape to safety. Another theory is that the bright coloration of the frog may over-stimulate the nocturnal predator’s sensitive eyes, creating a ghost image that remains behind as the frog leaps away.

Natural beauty suppresses the typical reaction of “ooh, its a frog” and makes you want to reach and touch it to see if its real. With the help of a guide and proper instruction we were able to handle this beauty and he didn’t appear to mind at all but seemed to revel in the joy of your experience.

While our red-eyed frog is truly amazing, he’s not the only frog famous for its unique brilliance or display of color, and the next two also carry the menacing moniker of “Poison Dart Frog”.  The term “poison dart” is derived from the use of the frog’s toxic secretions to coat the tips of arrows and blow darts used by indigenous Amerindians. The poison provides just enough toxin to kill a small animal and stun larger ones, while not generally strong enough to kill humans, it can make one ill and these little guys are best viewed at a distance and left unmolested.

The strawberry poison dart frog or blue jean frog (Dendrobates pumilio) is one of the most prominent frogs of Costa Rica. Usually seen on the forest floor where they move with small hops and exaggerated walking movements. blue-jeans-poison-dart-frog-hali-sowleIt receives its name from its bright red body and denim blue legs or “blue jeans.” Found in many national parks and nature reserves, its very small dimensions of ¾ to 1 inch make it easy to miss. Its bright color warns predators of its toxicity. It is not known to be lethal to man but if touched its skin oils can have unpredictable effects on humans.

The green and black poison dart frogs (Dendrobates auratus) can also be found throughout the country. It lives on the rainforest floor but have often been spotted in the water that pools inside the leaves of bromeliads. A mother frog will take young frogs on her back and climb trees to place the babies greenblackfroginto the bromeliad pools where they will grow and feed on the insects that fall into the water. Just another example of biological symbiosis in nature.  While not the most toxic of the poison dart frogs and like most poison dart frogs, it will only release its poison if it feels threatened.

Frogs and more can be seen up close and personal in the wild or in a more tame environment designed for safe interaction at many wildlife sanctuaries. La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a great place to see these frogs during the daytime. Many lodges can arrange guided night time flashlight tours for around $5-15 that will introduce you to a different world of nocturnal critters. Within the landscaped grounds and walkways of your lodging, you can often find frogs near puddles of water, pools, water features and on the large leaves of tropical plants like heliconia and ginger. Frogs do make croaking noises so if you listen and follow the source with your eyes and flashlight you will see them. They are usually not jumpy and will stay put while you view and move on.

Editor’s Note: When walking the trails in any remote and tropical region, a guide is recommended, yet even with a guide that knows where danger is likely to be found (and avoided), their eyes cannot be everywhere. We strongly discourage you from stepping off trail, particularly at night and near known feeding areas.  Our adult son stepped off-trail into a grove of heliconia in search of frogs only to find he was not the only one looking for frogs that night. He stepped only inches from a coiled Fer-de-Lance, one of the most aggressive and venomous snakes in the world. Fortunately a slow retreat resulted in a safe exit. If you choose to venture out on your own, please stay on main trails and watch where you step!


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Nature’s Jewelry

Sitting in my Costa Rica home and thinking about the content for this article, I thought that starting with a quote that spoke of how the remarkable Blue Morpho makes one feel would be a good idea; because it’s the feeling that lasts well beyond the visual experience. My concern was, however, finding the right words that were as picturesque as the subject, or as joyful and accurate in helping describe the beauty and magic of these wonderful creatures would be challenging.

Then all of a sudden, like the flash of the Blue Morpho’s shimmering wing, there it was! I found my quote! I knew this was the perfect inspiration to start this journey to share with you. I am Jonathan Saborio Montoya and this is where we begin.

Butterflies are not insects, Captain John Sterling said soberly. They are self-propelled flowers.  Robert A. Heinlein, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

Upon reading this quote, multiple images and memories began to explode from my heart. Hundreds of small and large moments flooded my mind of the many times I walked over the many trails in Costa Rica’s wonderful National Parks where these creatures are so abundant. I visualized the many colors of butterflies, red, yellow, blue, a cornucopia of colors and spots, like shining precious jewels. They seem to appear out of nowhere–the flying flowers of the dense tropical jungles in this beautiful country.

I then began reflecting on my time working at a butterfly exhibition and how I was amazed at the incredible moments of seeing a flower waving its petals. Oh no wait! It wasn’t the flower moving, it actually was three or five butterflies feeding from the nectar of that flower. Even more impressive was when one of the butterflies flew away giving the illusion that a part of the flower had detached and flew up into the sky, escorted by the breeze. It seemed impossible, yet true! It happened right in front of my eyes!

Costa Rica is a country full of vibrant nature and much beauty. As a tour guide I’ve had many wonderful encounters and incredible experiences. I have gained a wealth of experience and insight of my country and its wildlife. I am grateful for the knowledge I have acquired through these experiences and the ability to share this with visitors. I found I can learn from the visitors too as they respond to their moments here.

My ultimate desire for visitors is they will experience unforgettable moments for themselves with life effecting encounters with our nature and culture. While working as a guide specializing in butterflies, I had some wonderful experiences. I will never forget the carefree children frolicking and playing in a joyful flight along with the butterflies, nor will I forget people laughing with the funny moments. In one instance a family was engaging in a jeopardy-like exchange as I posed questions. One question was how many wings a butterfly had.

The response was the obvious to them, two wings but I had to correct them that no, a butterfly has 4 wings. We laughed hard on this one! Or when I asked them to draw closer to the butterfly and view its tiny eyes. I explained though tiny, these eyes are capable of identifying colors and light. Foremost in my memory and one that left an indelible impression on me was the moment when someone thanked God for the experience they were living at that moment and for the awesome beauty of nature.

Another fond moment was an experience with a visitor from the USA. I refer to her as Lady Butterfly as she loved butterflies and came to Costa Rica for the sole purpose of butterfly encounters. I was her personal guide for the day. She had worked hard to get here and had great anticipation for this day and what she would experience surrounded by butterflies. I remember her saying as we started the tour, “This is my dream.” I knew then that I was the lucky one as I had the privilege of showing her this dream and to experience this moment with her.

Before continuing with the story of Lady Butterfly, I want to digress for a moment and ask you, the reader something. I hope you are familiar with the Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) butterfly or at least have read or seen pictures of this magnificent butterfly. It is one of the most popular (although not the most abundant) butterflies in Costa Rica and one of the most amazing butterflies I have ever seen. Its inner wing side has a blue crystal translucent color that changes depending on the direction of light shining through its wings.The outside of its wings are brown with 14 eye spots as camouflage to scare predators away. For me, this butterfly doesn’t fly; it floats on air and is incredible to watch. Blue Morpho butterflies are actually very “shy” and they normally do not land on people as many of the other “friendly” butterflies do when you visit a butterfly house in Costa Rica. If you happen to be a lucky one to have one land on your head or clothing, or even your face (so tickling you have to see the kids laughing out loud when they have one butterfly on their small noses), they usually close their wings. This is done for protection so the camouflage hides its magnificent blue color and its mysticism.

So with that said, let’s return to my story with Lady Butterfly. As we entered the green house at the butterfly exhibit where I worked, hundreds of different species of butterflies were flying about. I will never forget Lady Butterfly’s initial response. She froze as if in shock and could not speak—it was very dramatic. She just stood there in awe, frozen in a moment in time with absolute amazement. She was living her dream. I was the one who finally broke the silence and we began sharing our knowledge, our thoughts, and what this incredible moment meant to both of us.

While engaged in our conversation, Lady Butterfly put out her hand and out of nowhere a Blue Morpho butterfly posed itself on her hand. At that moment time seemed to slow down then without a trace of doubt the butterfly opened its beautiful wings displaying its iridescent blue color. I was absolutely shocked at what I was seeing as I thought this was actually quite impossible because this is not normal Blue Morpho butterfly behavior. They are even hard to capture a picture of! Lady Butterfly stared into my eyes and started to cry. It was one of the most incredible feelings I have ever experienced. She was like a child enjoying her moment with no fear, no mask, no lies–she became pure essence living the moment! This was by far one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

I do believe that many people in the world understand that butterflies are incredible creatures. Even if you are not a fan of butterflies, I am sure when you visit Costa Rica and see the many beautiful species, you will be amazed by their grace and beauty. The variety of patterns, colors, and defense mechanisms, are so interesting. In addition, their incredible magical life cycle from egg through larva to pupa and finally an adult along with the mating process and feeding habits contribute to their unique characteristics. These sensational insects are such a great source of learning and enjoyment.

You don’t know where to find them? Don’t worry just visit one of the thousand trails Costa Rica has to offer in their National Parks, Natural Reserves and Nature Refuges. I bet you will see butterflies. There are also many butterfly exhibits throughout Costa Rica where you can see a concentration of butterflies in one location. Sometimes in nature it is a bit more difficult to see a butterfly making these exhibits popular. As a butterfly and nature lover, I would very much like to invite you to come to this unique country and enjoy the happiness, the peace, and the love that nature provides us with.

Something to note is that Costa Rica has only two seasons—dry and wet. No winter here!
Either season is a great time to visit. Butterflies are seen during both seasons, but they are particularly abundant during the rainy season.

After sharing some of my experiences with butterflies, I would like to say not a “good-bye” but a “see you soon.” I would also like to share one last quote with you.

The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough. Rabindranath Tagore


Do not wait for months. Let us count thousands of moments in Costa Rica and especially with these incredible insects. No. I am sorry–and especially with these “self-propelled flowers. Welcome to our country, Costa Rica! Pura Vida, Jonathan.

Editors Note: A Guide’s eye view on tourism and natural beauty. Jonathan Saborio Montoya is a creative and inspiring young man we had the pleasure to meet while on assignment in Costa Rica. It seems we were destined to meet. For the first time in many weeks, we had no appointments, schedules nor other places we needed to be, only the right amount of time to follow through on a promise made that we would find time to meet Jonathan in person.

About the Author: Jonathan Saborio Montoya

A special individual who thrives on sharing his land and its wonders with Guests.  Jonathan is a brilliant bi-lingual, college graduate, artist, writer, designer and a licensed Costa Rica Guide (ICT#962).

There is much more to experience in and about Costa Rica than tourism zones. So wherever you’re headed, whatever you chose to do, be sure to include Jonathan because there is no better host to share Costa Rica. Fittingly, Jonathan worthy of Costa Rica Guest’s “Rafa Medallion of Friendship”. Jonathan can be reached through the magazine at [email protected] The signed piece “Blue Morpho” was painted by Jonathan as a gift to his father. Dimension: 4’x 6′.


Butterfly Farm: Sadly, the butterfly farm where we first met Jonathan closed its garden for tourism.  It was a place of inspiration for those able to visit the Alajuela, Costa Rica site. However, we have confirmed that the conservation and breeding efforts of the company remain as Costa Rica Entomological Supply (CRES) and is still the world leader in the supply of tropical butterfly paupe for live butterfly exhibitions, zoos and botanical parks around the world.


Other: The Blue Morpho is often associated with healing beyond wonder. The movie The Blue Butterfly (2004) portrays a dramatic adventure about courage, redemption and love filmed in the rainforests of Costa Rica, and in Montreal, Canada.

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First Sighting

At first thought it was a patch of blue sky piercing the rainforest canopy; but its light moving, bending. Moving horizontally with erratic patterns. Eyes drawn to the brilliant blue flashes, following with absolute focus, then its gone. The unavoidable reaction to the first sighting of the blue morpho (Morpho peleides). The top of its wings are a brilliant reflective, irideMORPHOCLOSED-0050scent blue, edged in black that creates the display, while the under side are camouflaged to protect against predators, having a non-reflective dull brown with multiple eye-like spots. With all those eyes staring back, what predator would want to attack?

The vivid brilliant blue color is a result of microscopic scales on the back of the wings. When in flight the bright blue and brown colors flash giving off an illusion of appearing and disappearing. They are spectacular in flight, especially when in a group flying together. The blue morpho is difficult to photograph because while resting their wings are usually folded, seeing onlymorpho-00028 the camouflage part if you can find it. Just when you think you will capture the brilliant blue upon opening their wings, they take off in flight bobbing up and down or close their wings again.

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Finding Iconic Waterfalls

riocelesteRio Celeste, one of Costa Rica’s most iconic sights is also its best kept secret. Where is it?

Seen on hotel web sites from coast to coast, one might think there may be many just like it but it’s in one location and one location only; Tenorio Volcano National Park. Plan about 1.5 hours driving time northwest of Arenal, La Fortuna de San Carlos or if coming from Guanacaste or Puntarenas, you will need to trust Waze.

This aqua marine blue river is surrounded by amazing rain forest, several boiling hot springs, mud baths, and an incredible 98 foot waterfall cascading down into a beautiful aqua pool of water. Ancient legend attributed the beautiful blue color to God washing his paint brush in the river after he painted the sky. Another legend of the first inhabitants believed the blue lagoon was a crater of the volcano which was later discovered to be false.

The magnificent blue water is similar in color to the vibrant Blue Morpho butterfly; however this coloration is the result of a chemical reaction between sulfur and calcium carbonate which originates in the nearby Tenorio Volcano. Be advised that during rain, the water can become a muddy brown instead of the vibrant blue; but that’s nature.  We had rain the day before and the water was magnificent.


Boiling blue water gurgles from Volcan Tenorio.

The hike to the waterfall from the park entrance will take about 1 ½ hours depending on your level of fitness. This is not a beginner hike and the trail can be very muddy and slippery. After a rain, the blue color is usually restored within 5 to 6 hours so keep that in mind. The lush and dense tropical forest is inhabited by sloths, tapirs, wild cats, blue morpho butterflies, tropical birds, howler, Capuchin and spider monkeys. The trail winds around tree roots and inclines so navigation requires some level of physical stamina. There are around 250 stairs with hand rails that take you down to a viewing platform at the waterfall and what goes down must eventually come up, including you, so take your time and carry water.  The park trails are in a constant state of improvement but it’s still recommended to borrow a hiking stick at the entrance and use it for balance.


Park Ranger Station and walls of mementos from visitors and volunteers.

We think the best way to see the park is with an experienced guide which can be hired at the park entrance or arranged for in advance. Park hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with an entrance fee of $10. We hired our guide at the park entrance for $30 although prices will vary between $20-$40. It was money well spent as the trail can be challenging, not well marked and its nice to have an extra hand to help in slippery areas. Keep in mind, even with a guide, you still need to do the hiking! Swimming in Rio Celeste is not allowed within the national park.

Getting There: 4X4 recommended, particularly in the rainy season. The road from Arenal to Tenorio NP goes past Rio Celeste Hideaway, a fantastic place to spend one or more days.  After the park, the road continues downhill on to the west slope of the volcanic mountain range that separates the country and continent. This scenic shortcut takes you through cattle ranches and into the more arid conditions of the Guanacaste province.

Rio Celeste is off the beaten path and many take a day trip from the Arenal area. We stayed at the beautiful boutique hotel, Rio Celeste Hideaway which is 2.5 miles southeast of the park entrance.  This lovely boutique hotel with Moroccan and Bali/Indonesian charm is worth a stay.  Rio Celeste is part of the prestigious family of boutique resorts that include the world-famous Nayara and Nayara Springs, without the sticker shock and with down-to-earth ambiance. The private and spacious casitas are luxuriously appointed with beautiful outdoor showers set in your own private garden.  Tropical grounds are well maintained and each room has a private deck facing the rainforest. A trail on the property offers an alternative to the national park with an easy 30 minute hike to a portion of the blue river. A covered deck with towels awaits you where the trail ends with seating for the guests to enjoy, relax and take in the beauty of your surroundings. This is a nice option to visit the area for those who cannot navigate the more strenuous trails in the actual park.


A great photo slideshow is available here.

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Corcovado National Park

Tweet       Corcovado National Park covers a substantial area of the Osa Peninsula located in Southwest Costa Rica. Established in 1975 the park encompasses an area of 425 km. Corcovado is widely considered the “crown jewel” of parks in Costa Rica and world renowned for its bio-diversity and prolific wildlife. The park is […]

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