Updated: 2nd Nov. 2021
An adventure off the beaten path in Costa Rica
It was once upon a time in the beautiful country of cacao and coffee, of sunshine and pristine beaches, palm trees swaying in the wind, Raggae playing out of the narrowest streets, and all Pura Vida vibes.
Not just in Costa Rica, but in the very last corner of it, in the deepest jungle, on a peninsula surrounded by nothing but the wild raging ocean, and next to the wooden giants of the lush green rainforest. Getting there is a whole other story – but not the one to be told today.
Call it unexpected – or Serendipity
I am not scared easily. I´m a confident globetrotter, a female solo traveler, I am not afraid of walking through empty streets, of the dark, of large spiders, mind-boggling heights, climbing via ferratas, or extremely physically exhausting endeavors, exploring the jungle barefoot, jumping off high cliffs and waterfalls, or sleeping under the open night sky.
But at this moment, I was SCARED. Like actually legs shaking, breathtaking kind of scared. And a pair of eyes were staring right at me.
But I´ll start at the beginning. I woke up in a hostel on the brim of the jungle on the first floor of a house without walls, completely open, in a bunk bed. It is around 5:30, everybody else in the dorm is still asleep. The typical peace of the calm and quiet of early mornings is in the air.
I spot a couple of capuchin monkeys jumping from one tree to the next, while still laying in bed. I´m tired but I decide to take some photos as the monkeys are in such proximity. So I groggily crawl out of my bed, grab my camera and wander downstairs. Meanwhile, the monkeys had moved to the jungle at the back of the property.
I walk a couple of meters uphills and enter on the small jungle path. It´s still quite dark, dusk has not fulfilled its cycle. It is hard to capture the animals as they move along. So I follow them a little, off the path now. After a while, a branch suddenly snaps, monkeys are hysterically shouting and I can see a large branch falling.
And then, something jumps away to avoid the falling piece of wood. A rusty red, big animal. My thoughts are circling, it can´t be.
I´m flabbergasted, can´t see it anymore. And then our eyes cross. It stares right at me with huge green mesmerizing eyes.
WHAT. I can hardly believe it, the Pumas gaze is slightly hostile, slightly defensive, threatening anyhow. I slowly walk backward, out of its sight, trembling. After a short moment of hesitation, my curiosity wins over fear.
As cautiously and calmly as I can fester at this moment I make my way back to the spot from where I had seen it from.
Still staring at me. It is scary. Beautiful. Heart-stirring.
I´m able to snitch a shot. It´s difficult to hold my hands with the camera in them still, I can feel my heart pounding against my chest and hear its throbbing beat in my ears. Nobody is there. I am here, all alone in the rainforest, and this majestic creature is incredibly close and just two leaps away.
But somehow I manage to stay calm. Except for my knees trembling with fear, my mind is sharp and clear and the realization of how precious this moment is brings a certain serenity with it. Step by step, I withdraw from the reach of the wildcat.
Completely shaken up, I find someone at the restaurant area of the hotel and tell her. To be completely honest, I told her that I had seen a Leopard, I was so taken by surprise, that to me, at this moment, it was all the same. I am fairly certain that the photo I had taken convinced her more than my incoherent babbling about a wildcat. Together with a national park tour guide, we decide to head back to media in res.
It is hard to believe, but the Puma hadn´t even moved. After a while, everyone from the hotel was gathering and gazing at wildcat in awe. And when it lastly scurried away, close to soundless on its velvet paws, and into the underbrush, we saw there were actually two of them.
This was not even the end of it. In the afternoon, we went back and found them AGAIN. We approached them and got closer and closer, to about 3-4 meters. And hung out with both of the Pumas for about half an hour which felt like an eternity, everyone completely and utterly taken by the unfolding scene.
They are so incredibly gorgeous, I was and still am speechless. How smoothly and elegantly they move, and how similar their behavior is to their smaller relatives the cats.
How the Puma closer to us started relaxing and laying down and then cleaned its fur with its tongue. How its pupils widened when it looked up. So incredibly beautiful. Lacking words here really.
Even Carlos, the guide said that this was one of the best, if not best encounters he had ever had.
I truly cannot express how magical, rare and super unique this experience was. And because I found them, Carlos the tour guide invited me to go tracking for free with him on the next tour through the National park. I had other plans but it´s for sure not my last time visiting this place that is paradise on earth.
If this inspired you to go on your own adventure to Costa Rica, join a trip with Ricardo or Rafael! Join Rafael and discover the true meaning of “Pura Vida” by talking to the locals at a Sunday farmer’s market, swimming in hidden waterfalls and walking virgin beaches surrounded by rainforest or just having a relaxed conversation over a freshly-made cup of coffee.
Go white-water rafting in the cleanest river in Central America, learn about coffee production at an eco-farm in the central valley, and witness the majestic Arenal Volcano while hiking with a local guide.
If you are working remotely, you can also just pack up your desk, move away from the cold and cloudy winter season and set it up in the tropical jungle in Costa Rica instead, where you can join Rafael in a research station.