“We want to take the night hike,” I said, handing the credit card over to the tour operator who was booking our activities in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
“There has been a lot of activity lately,” he said, “but you should know that there’s never a guarantee that you’ll see anything.”
“We’re willing to take that chance.”
We arrived at Santamaria’s about 15 minutes before our night tour was set to begin. I was layered up in a sweatshirt and windbreaker, and though it wasn’t cold, I had eerie goosebumps creeping up my arms thinking about the critters we could potentially encounter in the dark forest. I knew that the majority of animals (particularly the snakes and larger mammals) were nocturnal, and I wasn’t quite sure how I’d react when I saw them.
People were milling around the waiting area, and employees worked diligently to separate everyone into manageable-sized groups (divided by English and Spanish speakers) so that we’d all be in the woods at dusk, when the animals are beginning their nightly activity. Our guide, Danillo “Danny” Brenes, rounded up our group of ten and herded us out the door. He handed out flashlights and explained that his goal was to help us see as many animals as possible while avoiding attention from the other groups so that we could keep the experiences to ourselves. But, he warned, “you should know that there’s never a guarantee that you’ll see anything.”
We made our way across a field and stopped at a huge dirt mound right on the edge of the forest. Danny squatted down to look inside a hole and encouraged us to do the same. He turned on his flashlight and right inside the hole was an orange-kneed tarantula. She was a healthy size and hairy, just waiting for an evening meal to come along. Danny tapped a stick on the ground and she approached the front of her hole, allowing us to get a better look at her. Our guide provided some background information on the tarantula, and then we left her unmolested, and started our walk toward the darkened trees.
Within our first 15 minutes in the woods, we spotted a two-toed sloth waking up from daytime sleep and a side-striped pit viper, which was surprisingly small, a brilliant green color and definitely poisonous. For a brief moment I had the funny thought that the woods were staged, that Danny would know exactly where to find all the critters because this was some sort of theme park and the ride was already in motion.
But this, of course, was not the case, and for the next two hours, we walked up and down, back and forth on the trails through the woods. Occasionally we’d hit a lucky streak and see a few animals within a few minutes of each other. At other times, we’d walk extensively before even coming across an insect of interest. Danny did everything he could to keep us away from the other people hoping to catch a glimpse of some wildlife, but occasionally a call came over his walkie-talkie about a particularly good spotting, and we’d race away down the path to see if we could arrive at the site in time to see the wildlife.
Throughout the course of the evening, we spotted:
- 2 two-toed sloths
- 2 side-striped pit vipers
- Thousands of leaf-cutter ants
- 1 itty-bitty pygmy rain frog
- Several kudamundi (we knew they were females and babies because they were eating together)
- 2 walking sticks (one of which was so big it should have been called a walking branch)
- 1 leaf mimicking katydid
- 2 orange-kneed taratulas
- Several click beetles (which glow in the dark)
- 1 morpho butterfly
Our two hours in the woods absolutely flew by. It was fascinating walking through the forest, listening to the sounds around me and shining my flashlight into the branches of the trees in hopes of glancing an elusive night creature. Though the group sizes sent out for Santamaria’s night hike are a bit on the large side, it was a small inconvenience compared to the quality of the tour. I also want to add a quick plug for Danny, who was versed in both English and Spanish, incredibly knowledgeable about everything nature-related in Monteverde, patient with my endless questions and kept up a brisk but manageable pace so that we could maximize our time in the woods.
Certainly, there’s no guarantee that anyone will see anything on a night hike in Monteverde, but if you’re lucky enough to catch the woods on an active night, it’s well worth the time and money.