This eco-paradise is the perfect place to embark on a Central American safari, and if you plan well, you can even have the monkeys mostly to yourself
Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Al Argueta
DAY ONE | Strung through the rainforest like a chain of bromeliads, the Lapa Rios Eco Lodge comprises 16 stilted bamboo huts with private terraces facing a smear of blue Pacific. Enjoying a cup of Costa Rican coffee on your private lanai, you scan the surrounding greenery for howler monkeys. You don’t see any, but they are around. This close to Corcovado National Park, a teeth-clattering 45-minute drive from the Osa Peninsula’s largest town, their barking is the only sound save bird calls and the wind blowing through the trees.
Climbing what seems an unreasonable number of stairs, you settle in on the resort’s dining room terrace for a “Tico Special” breakfast—tico being the local moniker for a Costa Rican. The plate includes two eggs with fried sweet plantains, rice, beans, fried white cheese, sour cream and corn tortillas, which you wash down with a blindingly sweet glass of fresh passion fruit juice. The deliciously hefty meal is almost enough to nail you to your chair. Almost.
You manage to roll yourself over to the “Activities Hut,” which, stocked with boots and books and topographical maps, is what you imagine Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett’s final outpost would have looked like. A staging area for Lapa Rios’ many rainforest excursions, it is where you meet Edwin, an Osa local who’s been leading hikes through the Corcovado and its environs for 18 years. He hands you a pair of rain boots that practically cover your knees. “For snakes,” he says.
You blanch, but follow him to a nearby stream, which you pick your way along as he points out sloths, white-nosed coatis, poison dart frogs as bright as Mondrians and, at one point, an entire family of acrobatic howler monkeys. Edwin seems uniquely suited to the task of locating creatures among the balsa trees and strangler figs. While you find yourself staring at the forest as if it were a Rorschach test, he points at a spot not four feet in front of you where a Jesus lizard has taken the river at a run, darting across it without breaking the surface.
Like many trails in Costa Rica, this one eventually dead-ends at a waterfall. It begins to rain, but you are undeterred from stripping to your bathing suit and taking the chilly plunge into the fall’s lower basin. You lie on your back to watch raindrops drift toward your face.
Back at the hotel, you hit the dining room for a salad with passion fruit dressing and fresh trout from a local mountain stream. It’s a delightfully unexpected combination—enough so that you begin to consider a sideline in crispy trout skin croutons. This is no time for business, however. After lunch, you clamber down a steep road to the beach and take a siesta under a palm tree. When you awake, the palm leaves clicking against each other, the surf rolling in, you have a disorienting sense that you may have been transported into a television commercial for tropical rum, a feeling that is not diminished as you stroll along the beach, the waves breaking photogenically, the soft breeze ruffling your hair.
Following a post-nap spruce-up in your room, you’re ready for evening. You head back up to the dining room and order a hearty pejibaye (peach palm) and camote (white sweet potato) soup enriched with sour cream, followed by a brothy bouillabaisse with coconut milk and freshly caught octopus, calamari and red snapper. You dig into both and are pleased to find the local flora and fauna are as nice to eat as they are to look at.
After dinner, you set off into the jungle for what could easily be the final hike of your life, huddling close to a handful of fellow guests as Edwin leads you through a darkness so eerily black you might as well be in a velvet bag. You pass through corridors of steaming mushrooms, your flashlight catching red-eyed tree frogs, tailless scorpions, a purple and orange Halloween crab and a fer-de-lance—one of the most dangerous snakes on Earth—with a head the size of a man’s fist.
This last specimen inspires much shouting and stepping on of feet. Later, over large frozen drinks at the hotel bar, the intrepid explorers swap ever-escalating physical approximations of the snake’s head. “As big as a rugby ball,” says a guy from Australia. “Large as a basketball,” you counter, taking a sip. This continues through several rounds of the Costa Rican sugarcane liquor known as guaro, and eventually you find yourself floating back to your room, visions of Anaconda III dancing in your head.