REVIEW: I learned a neat trick from a Howler monkey in Costa Rica. I was walking along a nature trail in Golfito National Park when the mosquitoes went into high gear. Although I had sunscreen on, I forgot to apply bug spray. I noticed a monkey in the trees rubbing her arms with leaves and asked my trail guide what she was doing. He said she was coating her skin with the Piper plant. It has a citrus-like scent that the mosquitoes dislike. Clever monkey, I’ll keep that in mind.
There are many fascinating wonders in the rainforest, which is why so many travellers visit this untamed destination. During this nature walk, hummingbirds the size of baseballs whizzed past my head and butterflies floated innocently from fern to flower. Gigantic bamboo trees dwarfed our group and delicate pink orchids were tempting to pluck.
After we visited the magnificent waterfall that was our goal, we emerged from the jungle to see four toucans perched in the treetops and then dive-bomb into the bushes. This rainforest is a busy place.
Costa Rica has about 200 mammals from jaguars and ocelots to anteaters and sloths. There are also about 850 species of birds, 10,000 insects and 9,000 species of plants.
It’s best to explore with a guide on designated trails. Just don’t be surprised if he’s carrying a machete and let him lead the way.
To reach Golfito, I sailed with Windstar Cruises on one of their three motorized sailing yachts called the Star. Since they can sail under wind power with their huge masts, I thought this kind of cruise was much more appropriate for such an environmentally-sensitive region.
There are only 150 passengers on board and the ship’s small size makes off-beat ports easily accessible. Passengers also get to know each other well and it gave us all the feeling of being explorers like Columbus or Drake.
As well as Golfito we sailed to San Blas, Panama – accessible thanks to the famous canal for being a 75-kilometre shortcut to the Pacific Ocean. This engineering marvel takes about 10 hours to pass through.
San Blas is a chain of about 400 islands inhabited by the Kuna Indians who have governed the province since the 1920s. Their distinctive dress, music and dance make you feel like you just stepped into the pages of National Geographic.
You’ll also visit Isla De Colba, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest island in central America. The waters are teeming with marine life in this biologically-intense region. It is the beginning of the Cordilera mountain chain that includes the Galapagos islands.
Bahia Drake is believed to be a port visited by Sir Francis Drake in the 16th century. The remote coastline includes private coves, beautiful beaches and rocky crags. The main attraction is Corcovado National Park. Here you’ll see red-eyed tree frogs, white-lipped peccaries and scarlet macaws. The ocean is just as entertaining with humpback whales, marlins, dolphins, turtles and manta rays.
There are plenty of shore excursions such as kayaking, ziplining, jeep trekking, horseback riding and scuba diving, so you can sightsee in your style.
Although Windstar ships are small – the Star, Spirit and Surf range from 150 to 300 passengers – you won’t be roughing it. Windstar recently spent $18-million renovating them. The ships now have chic nautical style with highly polished brass and glossy, wood finishes. The Star ship has a small pool, hot tub, water sports platform, spa, fitness centre, Internet café, library, dining room, bars and lounges.
The overall atmosphere is low-key, making it ideal for the natural surroundings of Costa Rica.
Visit Windstar Cruises at http://www.windstarcruises.com or call 800-258-7245.