Costa RicaCosta Rica

A Boat Tour Through Cano Palma & A Jungle Hike

Destination: Tortuguero

I was up before the sun, ready for our morning boat excursion with Turtle Beach Lodge. Wandering into the dining area, I was elated to find 24-hour coffee and tea service set up for guests. Our photographer Vincent had already been up for hours, walking the beach in search of baby sea turtles to no avail.

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We piled into the lodge's boat for a two-hour trip through a different section of the park's canals. Our guide Nacho quietly pointed out several caiman floating in the dark channel waters. The slender Cano Palma (Palm Canal) was lined with bushy royal and yolillo palms. Their sprawling leaves are rich in tannins which made the water look black.

Despite Costa Rica's small size (comparable to West Virginia), it is one of the most biologically diverse regions on earth. Tortuguero seemed to condense most of the country's flora and fauna into one small area. We cruised through several lagoons, passing the 120-meter tall Cerro Tortuguero on our left. Vibrant basilisk lizards scampered across the water or lay camouflaged on tree branches.

We were the only boat on the canal, and the air was quiet and still.The heavy scent of sweet grass floated across the water. As our group relaxed, enjoying the peaceful moment, I heard an unfamiliar and disturbing noise. Was it the voice of Celine Dion? I turned around and caught another guest cranking up the volume on his Blackberry. Who brings their cell phone on such a trip? He gave me a great smile and swayed back and forth, clearly enjoying the music he was sharing with us this bright and early morning.

There are few things that annoy me more than the songs of Celine Dion. By the incredulous looks of others, I was not alone. The music continued to blare until our guide deftly called our attention to the wonderful peace of the canals and then distracted the would-be DJ by pointing out a line of furry long-nosed bats. A couple of avid birders spotted a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron and several aningha, and from then on silence reigned.

After a late breakfast of fresh fruit, oatmeal and French toast, we had time to relax a bit before our jungle hike. Nacho instructed us to bathe ourselves in insect repellent and wear long pants for our walk through the private trails.

We put on tall rubber boots provided by the lodge and trekked on damp, springy ground that felt like a giant sponge. The trail was dense with vegetation but well-marked. Nacho listened for the high-pitched chirp of the strawberry poison dart frog. Within minutes, he found the minute amphibian hidden in some leaf litter.

Our group watched troops of both spider and capuchin monkeys frisk in the trees, and howlers were heard in the distance. Each plant and animal had developed some sort of protection against predators, from bright warning colors to malodorous scents. The trail looped back toward the beach and passed spiny alligator trees and the giant webs of golden-orb spiders.

The late afternoon brought clouds and a brief shower, the perfect napping weather. I relaxed in my room before joining Vincent for a pre-dinner cocktail. Our tours with Turtle Beach Lodge were spaced apart so that we never felt rushed or tired. There was always plenty of extra time to walk the beach, take a dip in the pool, or lounge with other guests in the recreation room.

A lively Calypso band played while we ate dinner, and a few inspired guests danced to the Caribbean beats. After feasting on an assortment of pastas, grilled fish and salad, I relaxed on my patio and listened to the surf.

A Boat Tour Through Cano Palma & A Jungle Hike in Pictures

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