Lush rainforests. Bird varieties by the 100’s. Enough plant varieties to give a hardcore botanist an overdose. Indigestion?
When moving about in Costa Rica, one thing becomes quickly clear. Despite being as little as 85 miles from the Pacific Ocean on the west coast to the Caribbean Sea on the east, taking in the range of plants and animals found in the different microclimates is like eating at a buffet. Here are a few of the zones:
- Wetlands: If it’s flat, chances are it’s wet, especially in the east. These include grassy marshes and…
- Mangroves: These are swampy areas that support trees and woody plants with fully submerged roots. Mangroves both buffer the shoreline and provide a nursery for hundreds of marine species.
- Páramo: A sort of high altitude wet tundra
- Islands: Most of the offshore islands are protected because of delicate, isolated ecosystems.
- Rainforest: As in, tropical rainforest. Jungle. Bird calls galore. Screeching, howling monkeys. Lions and tigers and – oh, wait, wrong jungle. Costa Rica does have wild cats: jaguars, ocelots, pumas, jaguarundi, and margays, likely in various ecosystems, but it’s unlikely you’ll see them.
- Dry Forest: The Pacific side of Costa Rica is dryer than the Caribbean side, and is home to most of the dry forest. At least, what remains of it; timber and ranching interests have made serious inroads. Fortunately, chunks of that land have been reclaimed by new national parks, and second-growth is starting to fill in. Worth noting: almost a quarter of Costa Rica’s lands are protected in one way or another.
- Gallery Forest: Edge or gallery forest occurs where there’s a gap in the canopy, and the ground and sides of the trees are exposed to much higher levels of sunlight than in an intact forest. This can occur naturally, but a lot is due to clearing for development.
- Cloud Forest: When warm moist air blows in from the Caribbean and gets pushed up the mountains in the central highlands, it cools and forms into mists and clouds. Plants in the cloud forest sponge it up, making for a unique environment.
We hiked the Escalonia cloud forest trail, finding a range of vegetation including many from the bromeliad family, and proof that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
BTW, did you know that pineapple is a bromeliad?
- Volcanoes: With all this blather about plants and animals and ecological systems and life busting out at the seams, you wouldn’t think, “I bet there’s a lot of volcanoes there”, would you? Would you believe 130 plus?
Ok, so only six are active. But tell me, if you were Mother Nature and had a strip of land with an ocean on one side and a sea on the other; a continental plate giving you a shove; a glut of plant and animal life in uncountable varieties festooning your crown; wouldn’t you feel like someone who’s overdone it at the buffet line?
Yeah. Geologic indigestion. Heartburn, enough to heat up groundwater and provide hot springs. Man, having no respect for Mother Earth’s suffering, has turned these hot springs into luxury spas, complete with swim up bars, hot waterfalls, cool off pools, and visions of decadence. These tend to be near Mount Arenal and a tourist town called La Fortuna, as until recently Arenal was giving a safe show from a distance. Man also likes to swing from the trees (ziplines), hang out (hanging bridges), float (white water rafting), bounce off the walls (canyoneering), and more – all this is possible in the land of the turista.
But for Mother Earth and a case of acid indigestion, check out Poas Volcano.
At almost a mile across it’s the largest active crater in the world. Eruptions are geyser-like: water leaks through cracks in the hot rock getting converted to steam – when the steam pressure exceeds the weight of the water in the lake, kablooie!
The lake is rain-fed and is a green, sulfuric, bubbling steam pit, and source of acid mist and rain which stunts and stains downwind vegetation.
At least it wasn’t hurling chunks…
We were lucky to get such a good view. Normally clouds close in the crater in the afternoon, and often in the morning too. Did I mention Poas crater is adjacent to the Escalonia cloud forest trail?
Phew. After all that, maybe a morsel of dessert is called for. Here’s another one from Tortuguero.
Credit where credit is due: I acquired a lot of this Costa Rica information from a highly informative website: Costa Rica Guide. If you’re considering a trip to Costa Rica it would be a great place to start your research.