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Meeting Costa Rica Wildlife at El Remanso rainforest eco lodge (and how I met a puma)

By Edited Feb 19, 2016 3 7

As far as honeymoon destinations go, Costa Rica has to be right up there. Beautiful sandy beaches, misty cloud forests and active volcanoes are all squeezed into its 51,000 square kilometres.

But my wife and I were there for the rainforest and, in particular, to spend the first 5 days of our honeymoon-sabbatical at the El Remanso eco lodge. We did not realise quite how special a wildlife sighting we would make whilst we were there. Or that I would get a picture (which you can scroll down to see).

Costa Rica was the first real stop on our honeymoon (I say ‘real’ because our first actual destination was Toronto, a result of having flown Air Canada). My new wife and I would be spending 6 months on the road, away from our friends and family in the UK. You can read about how we learnt to speak Spanish in Costa Rica here.

We had been drawn to El Remanso by the promise of relaxed luxury and the opportunity to see the sorts of Costa Rica wildlife we had only seen on television wildlife programmes and the internet.

But first we had to get to there.

The beautiful (and very green) Costa Rican rainforest

Osa peninsula(129895)
Credit: Andrew Montgomery

Travelling to the Osa Peninsula

El Remanso lodge is located on the Osa Peninsula, in the south west of the country. Getting there by public transport promised to be slow-going and complicated, particularly given our lack of Spanish language skills. We decided to hire a car, which turned out to be a Suzuki Jimny (a very bijou off-road vehicle).

We were familiar with the high adrenaline, white knuckle activities available in Costa Rica (ziplining, surfing etc) but we did not imagine that our drive from the airport in San Jose to Uvita, a sleepy seaside town and our halfway stopover, would be added to the thrillseeker's list.

After a long queue in immigration, we left the hire centre at 4pm with an assurance from the man behind the counter that the drive would take around 2 hours.

An agonising six hours later we arrived in Uvita having traversed a 3,300m pass in tropical rain, on dark and unmarked roads. With trucks thundering by every 20 seconds. A relaxing start to the Costa Rican honeymoon it was not.

Thankfully, after a good night’s sleep and having joined the smooth, sealed roads of the Pacific Highway, the second half of our journey passed rapidly.

The leg of the journey from Puerto Jimenez, the main town on the peninsula, to the lodge was off-road (or off the sorts of roads I am used to) with a steep muddy ascent up to El Remanso. It was nothing our sturdy Suzuki Jimny couldn’t handle.

Despite having become quite attached to our trusted road-going protector, I was pleased to hand the keys to the hire person that came to collect it from the lodge (though we weren’t quite sure how he had got there in the first place).

We had arrived in the rainforest and our honeymoon could begin in earnest.

Map of Costa Rica, showing the Osa Peninsula

Relaxing in a Costa Rica eco lodge

El Remanso Rainforest Wildlife Lodge is a private reserve on the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula. It comprises a small number of lodges in a sloped clearing, all of which look down the valley to the Pacific ocean below.

It is really in the middle of (beautiful) nowhere.

Despite this, we found it very comfortable. It generates its own hydro-electric power, which is sufficient to run computers, lights and the kitchen (but not hairdryers apparently).

The restaurant, in the middle of the clearing, was essentially a large roofed balcony made out of bamboo, looking down the valley and out to sea.

Our home for 4 of the 5 nights was a lodge called La Vainilla, set right at the southern tip of the clearing, some 100 yards below the next house and reached by a path through the forest. The 'bedroom' was on the first floor.

Until this point, my view had always been that a room should have four walls - in this case it had none.

It was totally open to the elements, with only a few canvas shutters on the rearward and one of the side walls.

To the front, an uninterrupted view of trees and sea below; on the other side of the room, a low wall to protect our decency in the bathroom, but not so high to prevent me being able to emulate television naturalists whilst sat on the can.

This description doesn't do La Vainilla justice. We were woken by the sun appearing over the horizon and by the calls of dinosaurs (or howler monkeys, according to the resident naturalist). We fell asleep to torrential rain falling all around us. We were visited by animals large and small, though sadly (or maybe fortunately) only insects and bats decided to visit us in our room.

The no-walls luxury lodge

El Remanso lodge(129896)
Credit: Andrew Montgomery

My meeting with a Costa Rican puma

Our five days were action-packed. The first morning was spent rappelling down four waterfalls, which progressively increased in size from 5m to 25m. Accompanied by the resort’s naturalist, we spotted poisonous frogs, sleeping bats and a dead armadillo.

To be honest, most of our time at El Remanso was spent spotting things: mammals, birds, amphibians, insects and plant/treelife. Spotting took place on hikes through rainforest trails to see a huge Black Garlic tree (over 400 years old), when we were eating breakfast, lunch and dinner (where we would see toucans, monkeys and sloths) and when we took a horseback trail through rivers, muddy forests and onto a vast deserted, tropical beach.

My biggest ‘spot’ (and I’m not exactly sure why I’ve waited until the end of this account to mention it) occurred whilst I was carrying some clothes back to the lodge, just after lunch on our first full day.

As I descended the path towards our lodge I saw two large cats crossing in front of me and descending into the ravine on the right. I took a few photos before they disappeared back into the rainforest.

I did not realise that this was an unusual sight. It was only when I returned to the restaurant and showed the photos to El Remanso’s owners and the ecologist studying there that it became clear I’d seen something special.

I had encountered a Costa Rican puma (or rather a couple of them), animals that are so secretive that people living in the area see them perhaps once every seven years. The present owners had never seen one, other than in a specialist study they had conducted using motion sensor cameras the previous year.

The naturalist had seen a puma only once and not at El Remanso. Everyone kept telling me how lucky I was - so much so that I started to feel guilty that someone so clueless had chanced upon such a rare sighting. It was felt that I (and, by proxy, my wife) must have good karma. This would hopefully bode well for our new marriage (and it has so far, almost 6 years later).

Spending time in a rainforest lodge experience Costa Rica wildlife is a wonderful way to spend any trip. You don’t have to get married first! We loved our time on the Osa Peninsula, staying at El Remanso and expect that others will feel the same. You never know, you might just see a Costa Rican puma.

My first sighting of a Costa Rican puma

Costa Rican puma(129747)

Close up of the puma

Costa Rican puma 2(129751)


Feb 18, 2013 7:53pm

Well - actually neat, but a bit scary.... I'd love a chance to see something like that!
Feb 19, 2013 1:25am
Thank you for the comment. Yes, it was very cool. I don't remember being too scared - maybe it was the adrenaline and the desire to get a better photo... Cheers, Andrew
Mar 7, 2013 8:17am
What a great story! I'm so glad you shared this!
Mar 8, 2013 11:28am
Thanks JestMe - I'm pleased you liked it
Mar 8, 2013 6:56am
Excellent travel article! Congrats!

I've never been to Costa Rica, it sounds far away to tell you the truth but I had friend of there so I've heard a few things... It is considered a green paradise due to their many protected natural reserves. Anyway, It is an interesting destination for sure...
Mar 8, 2013 11:29am
Thanks Mike. It is a very green country. To me, the cloud forests were even better than the rainforest. Recommend going there, as well as Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.
Jul 5, 2013 10:37am
Oh my god! I studied Spanish in Costa Rica too. Thanks for the article!! So amazing that you saw puma.
Can't wait to hear about your adventures in Nicaragua and Guatemala. I am planning on visiting either/or in January 2014.
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