Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 2: Flight of the Toucan

Destination: Dominical

Fatima butterflyI was tucking into my rice and beans when an excitable couple from D.C. darted into Hacienda Baru's restaurant. "Monkeys, lots and lots of white-faced monkeys!" they shouted. Having just hiked one of the self-guided nature trails, they had spotted what was clearly their first wild primate. They'd managed to capture the entire experience on both camera and video, which they shared with me enthusiastically.

Their wildlife encounter was just one of many that regularly occurs on the assorted foot paths through the refuge's primary and secondary rainforest. 

Small orchidThe night before, another couple had witnessed two inquisitive peccaries rooting through the leaf litter near their cabin, showing just how acclimated the wildlife at Hacienda Baru has become.

I had time to wander through the onsite orchid gallery and butterfly garden before my morning zip-line canopy tour. Velvety wings flitted about as morphos and monarchs danced from one fragrant flower to the next. At the tour center, I joined a group of seven other travelers who, like me, were ready for a shot of adrenaline.

Happy zip lineCalled "The Flight of the Toucan", the canopytour imitates the zigzagging motion of the chestnut-mandibled toucan as it swoops through the rainforest. A series of eight cables carried us from one platform to another, providing a momentary sensation of flying as we zoomed through dense jungle. What really set this canopy tour apart from the rest was the amount of wildlife we discovered with the help of our naturalist guides.

Never touted as the fastest or longest canopy tour, the Flight of the Toucan focused more on wildlife encounters. There was a fair amount of hiking between platforms, allowing our guides ample time to point out flora and fauna. Baby slothIn the span of three hours we saw the fiery-billed aracari, three sloth (both the two and three-toed variety), a great potoo and a fuzzy kinkajou sleeping in a tree.

Locally-raised, our guides knew the forest well and kept our interest piqued with their extensive knowledge. We followed a stream of leaf-cutter ants as they carried foliage back to their massive nests, where tenacious soldiers guarded the perimeter with piercing pincers. We walked beneath towering fig stranglers and spiny-cypress, its thorns an obvious adaptation against predators.

A few people in our group were also joining a tree-climbing tour later that day. Zip-lines I can handle, but scaling 117-foot trees with nothing more than a rope and harness demanded a certain level of aerial bravado I've yet to achieve. I instead chose to hike a few of the nature trails before returning to Baru beach in time for a stellar sunset.

Day 2: Flight of the Toucan in Pictures

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