Journal: Costa Rica - March 2012

In graduate school, I took a two week long Tropical Ecology and Conservation field studies class abroad in Costa Rica. While I spend more time learning about native wildlife, studying rainforest habitats, and exploring sustainable eco-tourism and agriculture systems than I did taking pictures, I did manage to capture some photos of the country's unique sights and native fauna and flora.

Our trip started in the capital of San Jose, where we met with a from FONAFIFO, the government program that compensates land owners for green space via a system called Payments for Environmental Services (PES). We then traveled north to the Cloud Forests near Monteverde, where we stayed for several days, exploring the Monteverde Reserve, Monteverde Institute, the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, and an organic coffee farm, and learning from various environmental experts and stakeholders about the region’s incredible biodiversity, conservation issues, and environmental policies. During this time we saw the iconic Resplendent Quetzal and endangered Three-wattled Bellbird, caught and released fruit bats with bat expert Richard LaVal, and enjoyed incredible sunrises and sunsets overlooking the Nicoya Peninsula from our home away from home at the La Calandria Field Station on the Pacific slope. We also stayed at the San Gerardo Field Station for two nights, and although the clouds never lifted enough for us to see the Arenal Volcano from the lovely back deck, we made the most of our time on the Carribean slope, enjoying dozens of colorful moths and a chorus of frogs each evening. Other notable species we spotted in the cloud forests included coati, giant blue morpho butterflies, stick insects, rufous-eyed stream frogs, black guan, swallow-tailed kite, keel-billed toucan, trogons, and number of other birds; we also got to meet an adorable baby sloth. Much of the rainforest was dark and damp, so capturing photos while on the go here proved incredibly difficult.

Our final days in Costa Rica were spent on the Nicoya Peninsula exploring the tropical dry forest, mangroves, and coastal tidal pools. The rancho we stayed in at the Caletas-Ario National Wildlife Refuge was within the territories of at least two howler monkey troops, and each morning around 4:30AM, we would wake up to the sound of hollering monkeys and a symphony of birds and insects. Nature’s early alarm clock provided me with the perfect opportunity to sneak away to the beach for sunrise. Here, I also spotted scorpions, a constrictor snake, a variety of adorable crabs, a giant banana spider, and a family of tail-less whip scorpions that lived under the sink, and I got to observe bioluminescent organisms glowing in the ocean waves at night and learn about sea turtle nesting and conservation.

Costa Rica is a country rich with incredible beauty and biodiversity, and combined with the country’s forward thinking environmental policies, a thriving ecotourism industry, and it’s genuine, friendly and welcoming people, it's a place I would absolutely love to return to one day.