Our second day started with a 4.30am hike to the Sirena River in hopes of seeing tapirs taking a dip in the ocean. The tapirs appeared to have had an earlier swim that day, but watching the sun rise over Costa Rica’s Jurassic jungle was quite awe inspiring.
After an enormous and delicious breakfast back at the station we set off to Puma Valley. I was desperately hoping to see a wild cat in Costa Rica and Corcovado was my best chance. I read reports of Ocelot sightings, one even on the airstrip at Sirena in broad daylight, but Bolivar quickly and firmly liberated me from my delusions and assured us that the chances of seeing an Ocelot in Corcovado were next to none. He did see a Puma however, twice, in his however-many years as a guide in the park. The aptly named Puma Valley was the place where his sightings occurred.
The valley lies along the main 16km La Leona track and to get to the start of the trail we had to cross a tidal creek. As we were wading through about a meter of water Ruth pointed at an impressively-sized crocodile floating just below the surface a few meters away. Bolivar’s ‘don’t worry they don’t eat people’ dismissal of the croc, did not inspire too much confidence. I guess, after living in Australia for a few years you develop a healthy scepticism towards crocodiles’ dietary preferences.
The trail to Puma Valley is a spectacular hike. It is flanked by dense tropical jungle on one side and by deserted beaches and the Pacific Ocean on the other. If I was a wild cat, I would’ve been very happy to live here.
As soon as we walked into the valley itself, Bolivar grabbed my arm and none too gently pulled me down into a crouch, pointing into the jungle. I looked in the direction he was pointing and met an intent stare of a Puma. It was no further than 4 or 5 meters in front of us. Unable to speak or even breathe from excitement, the four of us froze where we crouched, too afraid that the cat would dash away. It didn’t. And after a while another little face poked through the undergrowth – a cub! Slowly they started walking away. Bolivar whispered for us to stay put. There was a swamp behind the pumas and the only way for them to continue on their journey was to walk around it, right across our field of view. He was right. And as the cats emerged from the undergrowth we noticed the second cub. This was just too good to be true. A wild puma with two cubs walking a few meters in front of us! Not running in panic, but walking, leading her young through her domain. This was one of the most incredible wild cat encounters I have ever had. Right up there with being mock-charged by a tiger in India.
The rest of our stay in Corcovado paled in comparison to seeing pumas, but was still quite incredible nonetheless. The following day we returned to Puma Valley, but didn’t see the cats, off course. We did, however, find ourselves surrounded by a huge group of White-nosed coatis. They came up on our trail and literally surrounded us as they dug around in the leaf litter looking for buried fungi. Before we left the valley we picked up another couple of mammals: a Red Brocket deer and a Red-tailed squirrel.
Apart from cats, another animal I wanted to see was a Tent-making bat and Bolivar found us one roosting underneath a large Heliconia leaf. We saw some cool birds: Scarlet macaws and Black mandibled toucans as well as a good number of birds of prey.
The one thing we kept missing was South America’s most infamous poisonous snake – Fer de lance. These snakes are responsible for most snake-bite deaths on the continent. So when the chance to see one presented itself we jumped to it. It was the morning of our departure and we were lazing around at the station drinking some much-missed coffee when one of the guides told Bolivar that he just spotted a Fer de lance about a kilometre up one of the trails and offered to take us to the spot. In a flurry of excitement, coffee completely forgotten we took off at a trot after the guide. The trail was so muddy that the flip flops we happened to be wearing were more of a hindrance than anything else, so we ended up carrying them rather than wearing. This is what wildlife watching holidays are all about – running barefoot along a muddy jungle trail to see a venomous snake!
The tiny little silent killer was curled up on the jungle floor barely distinguishable from the leaf litter. It would take a real skill to spot it before stepping on it. No wonder the guide volunteered to take us, rather than explain to us where the snake was. He was obviously reluctant to add to the count of unaccompanied foreign tourists perishing at Corcovado.
To finish our adventure we were treated to a monsoonal downpour on the boat ride back.
Species list for Corcovado National Park
More images in Costa Rica Gallery