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Costa Rica part one

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Costa Rica, around three quarters the size of Tasmania, is one of Central America's smallest and friendliest countries. It borders Panama to the south, Nicaragua to the north, the North Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. It has spectacular volcanoes, fast-flowing rivers, lush tropical rainforest and more species of plants and animals per square kilometre than any other place on earth.

Costa Ricans call themselves ticos — nearly all are of mixed Spanish and Indian descent. Like Guatemala and El Salvador, Costa Rica was transformed by coffee in the 19th century — it attracted foreign capital and immigrant merchants and its equitable land, tenure patterns and absence of Indian-Latino racial tension averted the class warfare that some of its neighbours experienced along with coffee booms.

When the University of Costa Rica asked Ben Dark to deliver a lecture on the art of television, we couldn't resist sending a crew with him to capture the delights of this country!

The journey began in Golfito, the hub of the southern Pacific zone. Its steep jungle hills meet the water and the town spreads along one main road hugging the winding coastline of the Golfo Dulce — the Sweet Gulf.

From there, Ben hitched a ride with an American pilot, David Smith, who has been a jack-of-all-trades with the local government for 10 years. The route took them over Corcovado National Park. At 41,788 hectares this is the largest remaining patch of virgin lowland tropical rainforest in Central America. It has the largest population of jaguars in the world, 116 species of amphibians and reptiles, 400 birds (including 1200 scarlet macaws) and 139 mammals. It's the place to see the red-eyed tree frog, the transparent glass frog and enamel-bright poison-arrow frogs. It has squirrel monkeys and one of the world's last stands of the harpy eagle and tapirs. The dry season between January and April is the best time to visit.

David and Ben parted company at Quepos, a well-trodden destination, mostly because of its proximity to Manuel Antonia National Park. Once a quiet banana-growing port, it now makes more money from adventurers keen to discover wild mountain terrain, raging rivers and sport fishing.

Ben bargained with a local taxi driver for the three-and-a-half hour trip north to San Carlos. Taxis account for at least one third of public transport in Costa Rica. They have no meters, so you need to set a fare before you hop in. The trip took longer than planned, but for that fare Ben saw much more than he would have had he travelled any other way.

Once in San Carlos, Ben visited the ASIS Volunteer Wildlife Sanctuary, where visitors from across the globe nurse injured and orphaned animals. Alvaro de Castillio is a director of the sanctuary and made it clear they would welcome Australians to help out.

After a few hectic days of flying, feeding crocodiles, riding in a taxi, meeting rescued wildlife and hunting illegal poachers, Ben and the crew deserved a rest. There will be more adventures next week.


Costa Rica is in Central America.


Tucan Travel has nine-day Nature Trails Adventure Tours from San Josè, including twin-share accommodation, transport, tour leader and entry fees for $840 per person.

Flight Centre has return economy airfares to San Josè on sale until December 9, 2005, and valid for travel between November 1 and December 9, 2005, dependent on city of departure. Prices, including taxes, start at:
  • Sydney $2315
  • Melbourne $2393
  • Brisbane $2396
  • Adelaide $2571
  • Perth $2751
    To book, call Flight Centre on 131 600.

    Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

    More information

    Tucan Travel Pty Ltd
    217 Alison Road
    Randwick NSW 2031
    Ph: 1300 135 088, (02) 9326 6633
    Fax: 02 9326 5993

    ASIS Volunteer Wildlife Sanctuary
    Javillos de San Carlos
    Costa Rica
    Ph: (506)379-30-05
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