Nestled between two expansive national parks that protect a multitude of species, Puerto Viejo de Limon - a coastal town in Costa Rica - is brimming with wildlife of all kinds. It has such a varied atmosphere and an inviting tropical climate all year long. This makes it a paradise home for a host of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and sea creatures, which still outnumber the human residents and tourists that have gradually started flocking to the area.
Sloth at the Jaguar Rescue Center — Photo courtesy of Eric Fredericks
Early morning hours are the best for spotting sloths, monkeys, raccoons and birds at Cahuita National Park. Buses depart on the half hour from the center of Puerto Viejo, and the easily accessible coastal path can be undertaken without a guide.
Snorkeling off the coast is excellent in Cahuita, too, especially around the reef of Playa Blanca.
The Jaguar Rescue Center in Playa Chiquita, just south of the center of Puerto Viejo, is a wonderful place to experience hands-on playtime with some of the area's friendliest animals (even the snakes). They spend time at this primarily cage-free refuge for the injured and abandoned, only until they are able to live on their own again in the wild.
Guided tours are held every day except Sunday at 9:30 and 11:30 am. There is a suggested donation of $14.
Young boa constrictor — Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica
At the southern tip of Costa Rica is the Manzanillo Gandoca Wildlife Refuge, about 13 kilometers south of Puerto Viejo. The park includes more than 200 kilometers of coast, as well as a Caribbean reef inhabited by sea turtles, dolphins and colorful fish.
The outskirts are easy to reach by bike or on foot. However, a prearranged tour with a knowledgeable guide is the only way to experience the interior of this massive rain forest park, encompassing mangroves, swamps and jungle. Ask at ATEC in the center of town for tour information. Tours are either full-day or half-day.
Finca la Isla is a botanical garden that encourages a wide variety of species to make themselves at home there, and it's a fine place to spend an afternoon. Among the fruit trees and ornamental plants, four species of poison dart frogs peek from behind trunks, sloths enjoy snacking on cacao leaves and toucans sit in the branches.
Finca is just outside of Puerto Viejo to the north. Look for the sign along the main road at Playa Negra. Tours are self-guided for $5, or guided for $10. The guided tour includes a fruit tasting and a fresh fruit juice.
Red-eyed tree frog — Photo courtesy of Lizard King Resort