Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Costa Rica: Tiny Country, Big Biodiversity!

Some spectacular waterfalls at the base of Poas Volcano.


I think my first trip to Costa Rica was in 1986.  By this time I had already traveled to at least a dozen countries but I had yet really experience a true "eco" destination.  I had just finished Daniel Janzen's Costa Rican Natural History treatise and was blown away by what that country appeared to offer.  I knew I had to get there immediately!  I thought that a trip to Costa Rica would be a great start to my ecotravel career!  The one glich was that Lien didn't want to come along.  We went back and forth for some time but she decided that she did not want to travel there, but made it clear that it was cool that I went alone.  This definitely had its pitfalls...

My main emphasis for this trip was to try to visit as many habitats in order to collect as many bugs as possible!  I read everything available on the subject and I started to plan a one month expedition in to the jungles of Costa Rica.  Looking back on it, I can believe how much luggage I took there.  Had three huge bags of collecting gear and supplies.  There is no way that I could ever travel like this today.  The trip was basically a success.  I did some collecting in such places as Santa Rosa National Park and Monteverde Preserve as well as several other locations.  I did score a few cool bugs but I found out the hard way that December is not really the best time to collect there as the May rainy season is the best time this activity.

Later in 1988 I was able to finally talk Lien in to traveling to Costa Rica.  We had an amazing time there.  We traveled to many of the same locations I had been to before and many more.  The three week trip involved a lot of trekking and nature watching and even some bug collecting.  One of the more interesting events during the trip was when I debated the harmful impacts (or lack thereof) of insect collecting with the famous David Suzuki, the host of many nature specials that come out of Canada and the US.  He and his wife were staying at the same Monteverde pension while we were there and we basically ate breakfast together daily for about a week.  I had no idea who he was until we got back home and were watching a PBS special and Lien said, "isn't that the guy you were arguing with in Costa Rica!?"  I wonder if he remembers....

In the ensuing years, I had the luxury of traveling to Costa Rica at least a couple more times designing and implementing La Selva Expeditions programs.  These were great but not as special as my 1988 trip.


Click the links below to see more images from the Galapagos and South & Central America

Animals of South & Central America

Birds of South & Central America

South & Central American People & Places


 Here are some images of my Costa Rica adventures!




My very first stop was Santa Rosa National Park, situated near the Nicaragua border and filled with tropical dry forest.  I met Daniel Janzen there and he helped me procure collecting permits for obtaining insect specimens.  I was able to collect a few cool beetles but the season was wrong for the major pulse of bugs.



Sadly I think I took less than 50 images during ALL of my trips to Costa Rica.  I suppose I always assumed I would get back there again and again, yet I have not been back since 1997.  This water droplet shot was taken in Monteverde's verdent cloud forest near a stream.  I think the leaf was from a Begonia.




The dense foliage of Monteverde provides an outstanding habitat for an amazing level of biodiversity.  During my trips here I did see a wealth of wildlife.  Check out my "Life Lists" pages for the details.




Monstera was a commonly seen plant in the forests of Monteverde and elsewhere in Costa Rica.  It's nice to see this common houseplant in its native environment.




I was able to sneak in to this lovely iglesia while in San Jose one day.  I am not sure the name of the church but it sure was lovely.




While in Costa Rica the second time, Lien and I stayed at the La Selva Reserve.  It was great hanging out with the researchers for about a week.  We spent days trekking the grid-like network of trails.  We encountered quite a lot of wildlife while there and were even chased by a couple of pissed off Fer de lance vipers along this trail!




The old growth forest canopy of Manuel Antonio National Park in central Costa Rica.  It was during one of my many treks here that I found out that Lien was great at spotting insects! 



I cannot remember their names, but this was a couple we met and shared fuel costs with for a few days.  They came from Cuba and it was interesting to hear them speak their version of Spanish and watch the Costa Ricans react.




A large Black Iguana seen in the dry forest of Santa Rosa National Park. 




This large Boa Constrictor was crossing the path one night near our bungalow in Tortuguero National Park.




The famous "Ant Acacia" originally described by Dr. Janzen in Costa Rica.  Now this relationship is a classic lesson in mutualism that all bio students learn early in their career.



A spectacular Caligo caterpilar seen in the jungle at Monteverde.  Thius critter was about 6 inches long!