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- Great Green Macaw Sanctuary, Puerto Viejo De Talamanca, Limon, Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Limon Province – Ara Manzanillo

The Ara Manzanillo project is only a short distance south of Puerto Viejo, but getting there is not so easy as the signage is pretty crap and the GPS didn’t help too much. We pulled off the main road and headed into the jungle along a gravel road, which was a little rough but we managed. Eventually, we came to a place where the road climbed at about 45 degrees. Neither of us was too sure we’d make it up in our little Hyundai Accent, so we took a run at it, hitting the bottom of the hill as fast as we could and keeping the revs up. We made it – phew! A little further on we pulled into the small parking area – well it wasn’t a parking area just an opening in the jungle. Here we were met by our young guide and the rest of the people on the tour – about ten in total.

As we entered the sanctuary some display panels introduced the work of Ara Manzanillo and the Great Green Macaw.

Great Green Macaws are the largest parrots within their natural range, the second heaviest macaw species, and the third heaviest parrot species in the world. Great Green Macaws live in humid lowland deciduous forests and forest edges, where they rely on mountain almond trees both as a source of food and also as nesting sites. Great Green Macaws lay up to three eggs in tree hollows, usually in August. Best estimates suggest the total Great Green Macaw population is less than 2,500 individuals.

Once prevalent throughout the entire Costa Rican Caribbean, Great Green Macaw populations have declined alarmingly in recent decades, due mostly to poaching and deforestation, in particular the logging of the Mountain Almond trees. BirdLife International states that over the past 50 years global populations have been reduced by half.

The Ara Manzanillo project is one of the programmes aiming to reverse the decline of these beautiful birds. The foundations for Ara Manzanillo began over 35 years ago through the efforts of Margot and Richard Frisius in Rio Segundo de Alajuela, Costa Rica. There they established a conservation centre for parrots to help stop the alarming decline of the Great Green Macaws in Costa Rica. After the founders passed away in the late 2000s, the birds were placed in the care and custody of the Beruite family, along with other collaborators, thus beginning The Ara Project.

During the first few years 45 captive-raised Great Green Macaws, ranging in age from 18 months to 12 years, were transported to the tropical rainforest aviary at Ara Manzanillo and slowly released, five died but the others have thrived. The long-term goal of Ara Manzanillo is for the newly reintroduced flock to connect with the closest remaining wild populations of Great Greens located in the northern regions of Costa Rica and Panama. To help with breeding 20 nesting boxes have been put high up in the trees. Between 2016 and 2019 more than 30 chicks have fledged and are now flying free, and in 2020, 13 more chicks are growing strong.

The education panels at Ara Manzanillo
The range of the Great Green Macaw in Costa Rica has shrunk dramatically over the decades

From the displays, we were taken up to the viewing decks. The tours coincide with the feeding of the macaws. Platforms of their favourite foods are hoisted up into the trees and all hell breaks loose. What happened next was amazing – suddenly there were dozens of Great Green Macaws everywhere. Flying in groups they would congregate around the food platforms, some of which were very close to where we were standing, then they would fly around us, buzzing our heads (one nearly took my head off) and landing in the trees right next to us. It was an incredible and unforgettable experience. We remained transfixed for the next thirty minutes watching these stunning birds flying free in the jungle. Incredible! It was a very special experience and well-worth taking the time to go if you are in the area.

A crowded feeding station

Planning your visit to Ara Manzanillo

Address:South of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Website:https://aramanzanillo.org/
Telephone:T: +506 8971 1436
Hours:

Visitation hours (with prior reservation) are: 3:00pm to 4:00pm

Admission Fees

Adults $20 / children under 12 free

Best time to visit Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

The area’s climate is very unpredictable, but one thing is certain: it is often said that when the rest of Costa Rica is rainy, it’s time to head out to the dry Caribbean. The best months to visit Puerto Viejo are February to April and August to October.

Other things to do whilst in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

If you are looking for some adventure, Puerto Viejo offers so much: white water rafting the famous Pacuare river, off-road ATV driving, canopy zip lining through the rainforest, horseback riding on the beach or into the jungle, cycling, fishing, surfing, boogie boarding, stand-up paddling. You really won’t find it hard to make your time in Puerto Viejo full of excitement!

There are many animal and jungle tours in the area. If you are up to having up-close experience of the jungle at night, your local guide can take you into the forest after sunset, where you can experience the wildlife and noises of the jungle at dark! Or you may wish to spot Leatherback turtles nesting when visiting the local Gandoca National Park.

Here are some ideas of things to do during your stay in Puerto Viejo.

1. JAGUAR RESCUE CENTER

The Jaguar Rescue Centre covers an area of approximately 22,000 square meters and is capable of housing up to around 160 animals temporarily. Tours are run daily at 9:30 am and 11:00 and last for about 90-minutes. You are unlikely to see a Jaguar but there will be plenty of other indigenous wildlife on display; ; including sloths, spider monkeys, small cats, snakes and birds.

2. CAHUITA NATIONAL PARK

Cahuita National Park was established in 1970 to protect a large coral reef off the Caribbean coast. Unfortunately, the reef is struggling for survival. An earthquake in 1991 lifted a large portion of the coral by about three meters (10 feet), some of it was exposed to the air and sun at low tide and rapidly perished.

The trail follows the beach line, the interior of the peninsula is thick rain forest (you would definitely need a machete in there and of course, there are the snakes to contend with. Apparently, the beach line has been changing rapidly in recent years due to rising sea levels and powerful storms.

Walking through Cahuita is a good chance to see wildlife. If you are really lucky, you might get to see an eyelash viper (we didn’t). More likely spotting are sea birds, such as cormorants and brown boobies and animals such as sloths, racoons and white-faced capuchin monkeys. The sloths are actually the hardest to spot as they don’t move very much, so it is great to have a guide along with you with a trained eye.

3. BRIBRI VILLAGE & WATERFALLS

Costa Rica is home to about eight main indigenous groups with the BriBri population being one of the largest indigenous tribes in Costa Rica. Located deep into the southern Caribbean region of Costa Rica, the BriBri indigenous people reside throughout the Talamanca Mountain range and southern islands isolated from others.

Cacao (from which chocolate is made) is very significant to the BriBri. You can experience why cacao plays an important role in BriBri culture and how they use it by visiting their village on an organised tour that will also take you to the waterfalls located on their lands.

4. SLOTH SANCTUARY

The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica is the original rescue center for injured, orphaned and abandoned sloths. Founders Judy Avey-Arroyo and Luis Arroyo purchased the property to offer birding tours on the Estrella River. Originally known as Aviarios del Caribe, this 320-acre lush tropical lowland rainforest was formerly inhabited by banana plantations. The government of Costa Rica officially declared the property a privately-owned biological reserve in 1975.

5. WHITE WATER RAFTING ON THE PACUARE RIVER

Looking for a thrilling day out then, you must go on a Pacuare River rafting.

The Pacuare River is known as one of the best places in the world for white water rafting because of the number of rapids so close together. In fact, on this rafting tour from Puerto Viejo, you will actually go through around 50 rapids of a 29 kilometre (18 miles) section of the river. The rapids range from class II to IV, meaning you’ll have some really relaxing parts as well as a few more extreme sections.

Not only is it exciting, the Pacuare River is known as one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful rivers. You’ll even see waterfalls!

 

Where to stay in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

1. VILLAS DEL CARIBE

During our visit to New York, we stayed in the Element hotel which is in the Hells Kitchen district. For us, it was perfectly located and was only a 5-minute walk to Times Square. It was also very close to several metro stations and the main bus terminal. We were feeling a bit stingy and cautious due to the Covid-19 pandemic so we decided to walk from Penn Station to the hotel, which only took us 10-minutes, hauling our luggage.

The room was good, we had a little kitchenette and there were pots, pans, plates and silverware, so we were self-contained. We were lucky enough to be on one of the higher floors, so we had a view. It was also possible to see the Empire State building.

Breakfast is included but nothing to write home about, but there are plenty of places to eat in the area so it was not a problem for us.

2. ROOTS FAMILY – BACKPACKER HOSTEL

Roots Family welcomes open-minded people from all over the world to experience the Caribbean ‘Wolaba Time’. Located at the heart of Puerto Viejo, only 100 meters from ‘Parquecitos’ beach, 5 minutes walk for bars and restaurants but removed enough to be quiet. Bamboo and wooden made base, easy and chill out environment with the Caribbean Touch. Just feel the love in our space! Pura Vida.

The Tree House (Dormitory) has bamboo and cane features as own lockers, lamp and outlet. A single bed on top of a wood base with its own mosquito net. There is space enough for suitcases. There is one swing and a perfect seat to read a book while it rains. The house has different common areas to enjoy and gather and have a good time while meeting new people. There’s a common kitchen for use with all the implements plus a water filter tank.

3. RELAX NATURAL VILLAGE

Puerto Viejo is a laid back town and you will not find any big resorts here. If you are looking for a relaxing and luxurious stay, then Relax Natural Village is a good choice. Located just on the outskirts of town, this hotel has a resort feel being set in nature – and it’s quiet! All rooms are modern with luxury finishes you’d expect and it is right across from Playa Cocles beach. There is a large pool on site and breakfast is included in the room rate.

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