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Veragua Rain Forest Research Park

Destination: Limon

I was up almost at the crack of dawn -- since we had to pack, eat breakfast and be on the road before 7:30 a.m. Before I knew it, we were driving away from our hotel and I said a sleepy goodbye to Costa Rica's southern Caribbean Coast. It had been my first visit and, even though it had poured everyday (which was very uncharacteristic for this time of year), I had enjoyed my time.

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We were on our way to Veragua Rain Forest, a new destination for nature tourism. Partnered with INBio and the University of Costa Rica, the research park's mission is to connect tourists with the environment, showing them the individual beauty of a single tree, insect or animal. In addition, they research new species, work to develop new uses for known plants and conduct other nature-related research.

After driving for 40 minutes on a bumpy, dirt road, we pulled into the facility's parking lot. We were the only visitors that morning, though the park can receive hundreds of visitors on a cruise ship day.

We began our tour at the reptile house, where several species of poisonous and non-poisonous snake and lizard lay sleeping. The stand-out resident, however, was a giant boa constrictor whose mouth hung open in a steady, menacing hiss. Our guide explained that the boa was merely nervous, and always reacted in that way to visitors -- even so, I was very, very happy that we were separated by a thick glass shield.

We moved on to the ranarium, or frog pond, which was thoroughly enjoyable -- in addition to informative signs and glass cages, the ranarium had an open section. After washing our hands, we passed through cloth doors and entered the dark room, where frog sounds reverberated off every section of wall. Hoarse bullfrogs, mating poison dart frogs and singing tree frogs sang to each other, and we caught site of their antics with well-aimed flashlights.

After a quick lunch, we headed to the aerial tram section of the tour. Climbing aboard, we rolled back the tram's protective cover -- the sky here was blue and the sun was shining, the first time we had seen such beautiful weather conditions in ten days. As the tram began its slow descent, we kept our eyes trained on the forest canopy. Though we only saw two howler monkeys, we heard several different bird calls and hundreds of insect songs.

When we arrived at the tram base, we climbed out and walked toward the sound of a rushing waterfall. The 300-step journey, which mixed uphill and downhill, led us through primary forest. Small strawberry dart frogs, low-flying birds and highly dangerous bullet ants -- just one bite can send an adult to the hospital -- dotted the path.

The waterfall's sheer power impressed me; instead of bringing us in front of the waterfall, the trail had taken us over the waterfall. We looked straight down onto the rushing water, and I could feel the ground vibrate beneath my feet. We stood, staring at the rushing waterfall -- thirty feet wide and at least three times as tall, we were only twenty feet away.

Looking at his watch, our guide encouraged us to finish up -- if we were to arrive home by sunset, we had to leave Veragua in just half an hour. Traipsing back to the aerial tram, we climbed back up the mountain and returned to the base. Just as our car came into sight, our guide spotted an aracari, a type of toucan, in a nearby tree. We took a few photos before finishing up the tour, and then jumped in the car to head back to the Central Valley.

Veragua Rain Forest Research Park in Pictures

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