Situated on the banks of the Tempisque River, Palo Verde National Park is a combination of more than 15 habitats ranging from wetlands, lagoons to grasslands and forests. If you are a lover of nature and would like to see some wildlife up close, then this is the place you must head to if you are in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica. Spread over 45,492 acres of land, it is home to Central America’s most endangered ecosystem- the tropical dry forests.
Exploring Palo Verde National Park
There are several ways you can explore the park by hiking on its numerous trails or hiring a bike or a boat ride. A boat ride on the Tempisque river will be the cherry on the cake, providing some good wildlife sightings as you sit back and enjoy the leisurely boat ride.
Our bus enters the National Park, and we notice how the landscape changes every few kilometres. We see lush green tropical forests which are soothing to the eye. Thousands of mangoes are dangling from the trees, and we are instantly reminded of the mango trees back home in India. A little while later, we see the dry tropical forests in shades of brown and yellow ochre. The same dry arid forest changes and transforms as new leaves sprout on the trees when it rains. Since it is hot and at the peak of summer, the trees shed their leaves to conserve water, explains our guide, Christopher.
Spotting Aquatic Birds Near a Lake
We see a lake, and our guide, Christopher, points to the numerous aquatic birds that have made it their home. Rafiq, a trained ornithologist and the guide rattle off bird names as the rest of us gaze at the birds and are awed by their knowledge. He makes a request to the driver and other passengers if the bus can be stopped for few minutes to take pictures of the birds in the lake. Everyone happily agrees with a conditions he will share the pictures to all later. The most visible where the Black-bellied whistling duck with a long red bill, long head and longish legs. The sport a thin but distinct white eye-ring and are strong monogamous pair-bond. Also few Spoonbills, Egrets, Herons and Black-neck Stilts were visible.
A Boat Ride on Tempsique River
Our bus arrives at the parking lot, and we alight and head to the banks of the Tempsique river for our boat ride. As the boat rider revs up the engine, the boat picks up speed, and we feel the gentle breeze on our faces. Rafiq is all set with his camera to capture the wildlife in his lens.
Turquoise Browed Motmots
We see two striking Turquoise Browed Motmots perched on the branch of a tree. They seem to be enjoying all the attention unabashed as we admire their vivid colours and stance. This medium-sized bird has a grey-blue body and a rufous back and belly. The tips of their tail feathers are like tennis rackets which they sway as a part of their mating rituals and warn predators that they have seen them and it would be futile to pursue and try and capture them.
Suddenly someone notices two menacing eyes, and a snout emerge from the water near our boat. It is a crocodile! We are elated but soon squirm in our seats, hoping it doesn’t come too close to us humans and decides to make one of us his lunch. The crocodile disappears, and we seem relived. Soon we see more and more crocodiles, some brazenly basking on the banks with their mouths open so that their sharp teeth are visible. While others are camouflaged in the surroundings, one needs a keen eye or a flutter of movement to make them visible.
Christopher explains that the water levels rise so dramatically in rains that the trees submerge into the water. The ecosystem must be protected to prevent soil erosion and conserve the forests. We see a colony of bats on a tree trunk. On the first look, they appear as some patterns on the bark, but when they move, one realises that they are bats.
Soon we see some Colombian white-faced capuchin monkeys on the trees. They are mischievously jumping from one tree to another and are hard to capture in the camera.
On the banks of the river, hidden behind some foliage, is a Little Blue Heron and a juvenile (young one) which is white in colour. These birds are white in colour when they hatch and gradually obtain their “blue” plumage through molts. They can be mistaken for Egrets too. They are mostly found near water bodies like these wetlands and are well adapted for hunting in the water. A much larger Great Blue Heron is standing still on another bank as our boat moves ahead. Little Blue Herons are much smaller than the Great Blue Herons and they lack the Great Blue’s yellow bill and dark crown.
Further ahead we see one of the coolest herons aka Bare-throated Tiger Heron. They have tiger-like stripes and herringbone feathers. We can hear their Bark-like call throughout our boar ride.
We spot few species of Flycatchers including a Gray-capped Flycatcher and a Great Crested flycatcher. It is perched on tree branches ready to sally out to catch insects in flight.
A pair of black-necked Stilts are ready in a hunting position to feed on small creatures and insects that live on or near surface of water. They looked elegant with exceptionally long, bright pink legs having distinctive black-and-white plumage and thin black bill. While male has a glossier black above, female is slightly browner.
Iguanas and Howler Monkeys
Our hour and a half boat ride has ended, and we alight from the boat. We see some handsome iguanas moving around the parking area. On the trees are several Black Howler Monkeys. The afternoon sun and heat seem to have tired them as they seem to be lazing on the trees and taking a nap.
The Palo Verde National Park is worth visiting if you are a nature lover and want to see varied wildlife and habitats. The boat ride is an easy and comfortable way of exploring the park, especially if you are a family with small children and senior citizens or don’t want something strenuous.
Nearest Airport: Liberia Airport is located 60 km away. It will take you 1-1 ½ hours to reach it from the airport.
Where to Stay: You can check for hotels on the net depending on comfort and budget. We stayed at the El Mangroove Autograph Hotel.
Travel Tips: Please wear your trekking shoes, hats and sunglasses. Apply insect repellent spray before heading to the national park. Carry your DSLR camera with a telephoto zoom lens. Carry enough water and some energy bars with you. You can combine the national park visit with the village cultural experience and a visit to sugar mills. There is a separate travelogue for it which you can read here.
Best Time to Visit: The dry season from December to April is recommended as one is likely to see more migratory birds.