I was listening to a feature on BBC World Service about the devastating depletion of…
We woke a sparkling morning. Our apartment was on the ground floor and had a large patio window through which you could see the blue water of the Caribbean just tens of feet away. Stunning! Through the patio doors was a large, partially covered deck with a couple of cheap, plastic loungers and a circular stone table set.
Realising, that back home the snowflakes were flying made this experience all the more incredible.
This morning I had arranged for us to visit the Jaguar Rescue Centre, which turned out to be about 200 metres from the Villas Del Caribe. So, it was not hard to arrive in time for our scheduled tour. As we waited for the tour to begin, we got our first look at a sloth, the three-fingered variety, hanging high above our heads in a tree. A first check in the box of ‘must-sees’ in Costa Rica.
Next, we were divided into groups and assigned our guides. All the guides are volunteers – we were very lucky to be given Max from Colorado, who turned out to be the most wonderful storyteller. The only problem was his repertoire included taking the mickey out of Brits.
The founder of JRC was Italian herpetologist, Sandro Alviani who had a long career in Europe and the rest of the World researching reptiles and amphibians. In 1997, after 10 years of visiting Costa Rica as part of his research, Sandro decided to come and live in his piece of paradise on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Four years later, Encar Garcia, a Catalonian primatologist, came to Puerto Viejo on holiday. She met Sandro and they fell in love, only later discovering that they had both worked for several years at Barcelona Zoo at the same time, but had never met. A lifelong ambition of Encar’s was to help animals by way of a rescue centre, so when shortly after moving to Costa Rica in 2005, some local people heard of the two animal experts who had recently moved to the area and started to bring them injured animals in the hope that they could help save them, it seemed like fate was catching up with her.
As time went by, more and more animals were brought to Sandro and Encar who soon found that caring for these animals was a 24-hour responsibility, often enduring sleepless nights when babies required regular nighttime feedings. So, they invited other animal lovers to come and help tend to those in need. Enclosures were built in their garden and room by room, their house was given up to the needs of an animal rescue centre.
As more and more animals arrived, Sandro and Encar were able to buy adjoining pieces of land to increase the space available for more enclosures and other facilities.
The Jaguar Rescue Centre covers an area of approximately 22,000 square meters and is capable of housing up to around 160 animals temporarily. Modifications are constantly being made to accommodate the individual needs of new arrivals.
Our first stop on the tour was to see a margay, a member of the cat family. The margay has a spotted coat, is small (a bit bigger than the average domestic cat) and lives in the rainforest, usually up in the trees. Being solitary and nocturnal animals it is rare to see a margay in the wild. This particular cat has been at the JRC for 13-years. Some birds and other small creatures have foolishly decided to rest on the wire mesh of this margay’s cage only to end up being pulled inside and becoming lunch. This has earned this margay the name of ‘Diablo’ – the devil. An attempt was made to return Diablo to the wild by releasing him into a section of a rainforest 100 plus kilometres away but amazingly he found his way back to JRC but not without leaving a trail of destruction in his wake from chickens to other animals in the reserve.
Next up was a pair of brown boobies, Dada and Bobo, who are both rescue birds. Bobo came to the centre with four fishing hooks inside his body, which were successfully removed. They have tried releasing Bobo back to the wild but he gravitates back to the local fisherman, so fearing for his future he has now become a permanent resident. Dada on the other hand came to the JRC with a fractured wing and can no longer fly – so she has a full-time berth at the centre.
One of the most common animals brought to the JRC are sloths, who get injured in many ways. There are six species of sloths in the world and two of these are resident in Costa Rica; the brown-throated three-fingered sloth and the Hoffman’s two-fingered sloth. Although there are similarities in their general appearance, they are very different in their anatomy. The Two-Fingered Sloth is nocturnal, meaning they are active a night. They have 2 ‘fingers’ on their ‘hands’ and 3 ‘toes’ on their ‘feet’. They are often recognized for their pig-like nose with hair that tends to be blond or brown. The Three-Fingered Sloth is diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. They have 3 ‘fingers’ on their ‘hands’ and 3 ‘toes’ on their ‘feet’. They are often recognized for their ‘pura vida smile’, a black marking across their mouth as well as a black ‘mask’ around their eyes. Their hair is salt-and-pepper coloured meaning that it is black, grey and white.
They have one two-fingered sloth who is a permanent resident. This young female has a genetic defect which means she will never grow to the usual size for adult sloths, so she would never survive in the wild. We got to see her at close quarters to see how amazing these creatures are – they spend all their lives upside down hanging from their long claws. Sloths munch on leaves, twigs and buds. Because the animals don’t have incisors, they trim down leaves by smacking their firm lips together. A low metabolic rate means sloths can survive on relatively little food; it takes days for them to process what other animals can digest in a matter of hours. They descend from the trees once a week to poop.
The snakes on the exhibit are the only creatures in JRC that are not rescues. They have been introduced so the locals, especially children, can be educated on snakes – more importantly, the venomous varieties. There are 140 species of snakes in Costa Rica, and 23 of those are considered venomous. They fall largely into categories, one of which includes sea snakes and coral snakes, the second group, the largest, are the vipers. Max told us how to identify vipers; they have triangular heads like a pizza slice, their eyes are vertical slits and they have two openings on their faces that look like a nose. In JRC they have two vipers on display; a pit viper and the colourful and cutely named eyelash viper (it looks like it has eyelashes). Sadly, they didn’t have the most dangerous viper, the fer de lance. This is the most populous and aggressive of the vipers and is the one that causes most snakebite incidents in Costa Rica (and Central America).
The penultimate stop was the birds. They had several parrots and a toucan, who had some mental difficulties. There were also green macaws, which lives on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast and are endangered. There are believed to be only 1500 of these still in the wild. Max told us about a sanctuary south of Puerto Viejo, called Ara Manzanillo, where there is a breeding programme for green macaws. It was also open to visitors!
Our last port of call was the spider monkeys. These amazing acrobats of the jungles swing through the trees, aided by an incredible tail that acts like a 3rd arm (or leg). Interestingly spider monkeys do not have thumbs which must make life hard for them.
There were four permanent resident spider monkeys at JRC. All of these creatures were either kept as pets in horrible conditions or used by locals to have them pose with tourists for photographs, a practice, I am happy to say, that is now illegal across Costa Rica. The former life of these poor spider monkeys makes it impossible for them to return to the wild.
Planning your visit to The Jaguar Rescue Center
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 in the 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. ARA MANZANILLO
Ara Manzanillo is a sanctuary for the endangered Great Green Macaw, which was once prevalent in the Caribbean coastal regions of Panama and Costa Rica. It is estimated that only 2500 now live in the wild.
The Ara Manzanillo project is one of the programmes aiming to reverse the decline of these beautiful birds. The birds are free-flying and not bound by any enclosures. They could leave if they wished. The sanctuary offers tours 2 times a day. This was definitely our favourite activity in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
2. CAHUITA NATIONAL PARK
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
2. ROOTS FAMILY – BACKPACKER HOSTEL
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.