Santa Elena National Park & Junquillal Wildlife Refuge, 1/12/2023, National Geographic Quest
National Geographic Quest
Costa Rica, Panama & Colombia
Today we had the privilege of being the first and only tour group or ship allowed to visit this unique dry forest habitat. Lindblad is the only expedition company with authorization to anchor in this bay and visit Santa Elena National Park. We hiked along a recently built trail and experienced some of the last remnants of mature tropical dry forests anywhere in Meso America.
After our morning walk in Santa Elena, we were fortunate to see nurse sharks and olive ridley sea turtles during our tour along the bay.
In the afternoon, we reached Junquillal Wildlife Refuge, where we saw spider monkeys as well as white-faced capuchins, bringing us to a total of three primate species so far. Some of our guests enjoyed beach time, while others took kayaks or standup paddleboards out on the water.
We visited the amazing Curu Wildlife Reserve this morning, and guests had the chance to participate in different hikes and nature walks through the forest. Some guests chose to hang out close to the beach. This park offers incredible wildlife sightings, particularly of mammals and birds. After a delicious lunch on board, we repositioned to the nearby Tortuga Island. The island is famous for its white sand beach and turquoise waters. After some leisure time, guests tried fresh coconut water and enjoyed an excellent dinner on the beach. The weather was perfect, and everybody had a great time.
This morning, we made an early landing on Playas del Coco and headed to our destination, Hacienda Guachipelin. Some guests also planned to visit Rincon de la Vieja Volcano (RVV). Located on the northwestern side of Costa Rica, the volcano is one of the largest and most active in the Guanacaste province. Measuring 1,916 meters (6,286 feet) tall and 15 km (nine miles) wide, the enormous, 600,000-year-old geological beauty has at least nine volcanic craters and around 32 rivers flowing down its sides. The RVV and its sleeping sibling, the Santa María Volcano, form the center of the Rincón de la Vieja National Park, which is part of the Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located 25 km northeast of Liberia, the park's 14,090 hectares (24,800 acres) are divided in two sectors: Las Pailas (the mud pits) and Santa María. The Hotel Hacienda Guachipelín, from where we based our activities today, is located minutes from the entrance of Las Pailas. Legend tells of Princess Curubandá, daughter of the chief of the Curubandé tribe, who fell in love with Prince Mixcoac, son of an enemy. Curubandá’s father ended the life of the forbidden lover by throwing him into the crater of the active volcano. Overcome by pain, Curubandá became a prisoner, living the rest of her life high up on the slope of the volcano. She learned of the volcano's natural medicines and developed healing powers. People seeking medicinal cures were told to go to the “old lady's corner,” or Rincon de la Vieja, on the volcano. The volcano’s name has its origins in this legend. The area of Las Pailas displays the impressive power of the active volcano with its fumaroles, mini geysers, bubbling volcanic mud pits, natural hot springs, and jungle waterfalls. These features give us an unbelievable experience; it is unlike any other volcano in Costa Rica. Although the volcano's last major eruption was in 1998, its activity once served as a natural beacon for ships at sea. Rincón de la Vieja National Park is home to 300 species of birds and many mammals, including howler, white-faced and spider monkeys, armadillos, sloths, and coatis. One can cross from a dry forest to a cloudy one in the middle of a volcanic environment in a short tour. Our day was full of choices, adventures, and activities, including anything from ziplining over the canyon of a river, horseback riding to a waterfall, hiking the trails of the national park, or enjoying the lovely hot springs at the hotel. We could not have had a better day. We will go to bed tired but looking forward to whatever adventures tomorrow brings.
After cruising north along the Pacific coastline overnight, our day began in Bahía Santa Elena (Santa Elena Bay). The bay borders the Área de Conservación Guanacaste, recently designated a Marine Management Area. Such a designation means the bay will be reserved for specific purposes, including the conservation of marine life, the fostering of recreation and tourism, and the sustainable use of its resources, including fishing. With its completely undeveloped shoreline, the 732-hectare bay is a breeding area for many marine species, including dolphins, whales, and turtles, as well as the endangered whale shark and several species of rays. Increasing coastal alteration and overfishing have threatened the bay. With participatory management and conservation, the bay’s designation as a Marine Management Area should aid in its prolonged protection. The process involved the whole community, including the artisanal fishing, sport fishing, longline fishing, and tourism sectors, together with town officials, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. We got to explore the area by kayaks and then by local pangas and a hike in the forest. We spotted so much diverse wildlife, including shorebirds, sharks, crocodiles, monkeys, ants, and iguanas. After lunch, the ship was repositioned to yet another beautiful spot called Junquillal Beach. This area is part of the Guanacaste Conservation Area, and we found the three-mile-long beach completely empty today. We had a great time walking, hiking, swimming, and just sitting on the beach to watch the beautiful horizon crowned with dark, gray clouds. To finish our day, we were sent on our way with an incredible downpour. It was the first seen in the area in almost five months, marking the end of the very dry season. Back on board and all showered and clean, the beautiful orange, pinks, and reds of a Pacific Ocean sunset closed this amazing day in the best way possible.