When visiting the La Fortuna/Arenal area of Costa Rica make sure that you spend time at the Mistico Nature Preserve. The park is located about 30 minutes from the center of La Fortuna.
This immense privately-owned property consists of 617 acres (250 hectares) of land, much of which is thick rainforest. The land has been owned by the same family since the early twentieth century. Over the years, members of the family worked together towards making Mistico Park what it is today. They hired a company that helped create the Arenal Hanging Bridges. There are 16 bridges along the trail routes through the park. According to my guide, there is a high degree of co-operation between the various governments and the family in order to maintain and protect the preserve yet still operate as a profitable business.
At the entrance are a couple of large buildings and a big parking lot. Once past the entrance gates, there is a large patio overlooking the rainforest, with a view of Arenal Volcano. There is a fairly large restaurant, bathrooms, and small gift shop. I decided to join a short nature tour that included a short naturalist's tour at the park, followed by free time to meander along the bridges and trails at my own pace . I have learned that I am not able to spot wildlife like these guides do. There was an excellent self-guided tour information pack available that would work for those who can spot the wildlife on their own.
Once on the trail, the commercial area disappears behind you and you are soon surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of the rain forest. Mistico sits where the flat plains of the Caribbean Lowlands meet the Tilaran mountain range. This means that you can find birds and animals common at both lower and higher elevations resulting in a huge diversity of wildlife. The main trail loop is hard surfaced, gently graded, and can accommodate baby strollers and wheelchairs. There were several benches along the main path, for those who might need to rest along the way. They have a 1.5 km trail made from non-slip concrete that only has a gentle slope
The guide called this a “blue jeans” frog, although it is also known as a Strawberry Poison-Dart frog. He is not toxic to humans. He makes a heck of a loud call for such a tiny creature. You can see him expanding his throat for full volume. It was mating season, and he seemed determined.
The hanging bridges are a big attraction. These bridges allow walking within the canopy and/or high over canyons. These are very sturdy hanging bridges. On most, there was very little or no sway or movement at all.
Work on the bridges is constant. The government supplements the cost to the family to look after the reserve. The family have been allowed to build an eco-hotel, however if they get lax in safety or conservation, the government will simply take it over (without compensation). Pretty motivating to keep standards very high.
I was quite thrilled to be able to see this teeny little hummingbird nest. Two babies had hatched the previous day but were too tiny to be seen. Mum was off searching for food, so the nest is all I got. I also spotted many different snakes, several different varieties of bees, a very wet hawk drying his wings, several varieties of bat. I was also introduced to many different types of plants. Although I wasn't lucky this visit, it is fairly common to see larger mammals in the area including tapirs, peccaries, pumas, and jaguars have all been spotted in the park. From the fantastic canopy views to the wildlife along the trail, this activity is one to remember and should be included in your visit to the area.
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