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by Susann Dobson

She won’t hurt you … she’s just very friendly, especially with children.

The awaiting guide alerted us as we strode up from the beach and an adult squirrel monkey leapt into my daughter’s arms, startling us all.

We’d just spent an exhilarating hour coursing across the Golfo Dulce, seated in a covered panga (water taxi). From Puerto Jimènez, we headed towards the far eastern shore of Playa Cativo, to the wildlife sanctuary where proprietors Earl and Carol Crews were awaiting our arrival.

She likes to hug people … it’s her way of saying hello.

This southern Costa Rican outpost is a rehabilitation center for orphaned wildlife in the tropical rainforest jungle. We’d heard it is an experience you’ll never forget and now we know why.  Embracing my 15-year-old daughter was Sweet Pea, the most adorable full-grown primate you’d ever want to encounter in the wild.

She’ll want to touch your face … don’t get nervous, she’s just curious.

Costa Rica is a wonderfully diverse country. In a single day, you can traverse from exploding volcanic mountaintops to Disney-esque coastal rainforests.  From dense inland river waterways teeming with strange and exotic species to canopy-topping aerial views, you get it all: toucans, sloths, monkeys, parrots, iguanas, tree frogs, anteaters, crocodiles and much more. At 8 degrees above the equator in a territory smaller than the state of Maine, this country is a rare wildlife wonderland. 

When you visit the remote Pacific Gulf of the southern region, you might believe you have stepped out of civilization and into a jungle expedition conceived by Dr. Seuss.  Weird native critters pop in and out of the landscape with regularity. Such mammal rarities as the Agouti (an enormous guinea pig-like rodent), the Peccary (a bristly-haired tropical wild boar), the Coati (a ringed, monkey-tailed raccoon), and the startling Fiery-Billed Aracari (an awkward, brilliantly striped type of toucan), are just a few readily-seen curiosities.

Recent estimates rate Costa Rica as home to at least one-half of all species of organisms on the planet. It shelters more species of birds than the entire United States. More than 500 types of butterflies have been catalogued to date, as well as innumerable amphibians, reptiles and insects, making this THE location for many wondrous wildlife encounters. It’s no surprise that National Geographic describes Costa Rica as “one of the most biologically intense places on the planet.”

With that in mind, our family proceeded to find out what this beautiful country had to offer. We didn’t have to wait long for the best wildlife viewing of our lives. 

If you really want to go native, far from the tourist crowds, then the southern region is your place. Once you arrive in San José, Costa Rica’s capital city, you can fly into the gulf area via Puerto Jimènez on the Osa Peninsula, which hosts Corcovado National Park, one of the country’s largest nature preserves. Or jet on down a bit further to Golfito within the Gulfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf) either by Sansa or Nature Air, the country’s two domestic airlines.

Fishing and kayaking are exceptional here, as well as surfing, snorkeling, whale and dolphin watching, and many other water sports. Several local ecolodges vie to be your adventure home base, where brilliant scarlet macaw pairs fly overhead and playful troops of red-backed squirrel monkeys can be seen right from your cabinas.

Our ecolodge recommended we visit a non-profit animal shelter for its wonderfully up-close and personal wildlife encounters and we were not disappointed. Your kids, too, will feel like modern-day Robinson Crusoes, a whole world away from any ordinary family vacation. 

To book your family wildlife adventure in Costa Rica, visit: (Fundaciòn Santuario Silvestre de Osa, Golfito Area) (Tobìas Bolaños Airport, Pavas) (Juan Santamarìa International Airport, Alajuela) (Golfo Dulce Family Lodge) (Puerto Jimènez Family Lodge) (Family Tour Packages) (Family Tour Packages) (Family Tour Packages)


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