La Laguna del Lagarto

Location: 93 miles (150 km) N of San Jose, 23 miles (37 km) N of Pital, 4 miles (7 km )from Boca Tapada.

Spider monkeys moved through tall treetops, sometimes with spectacular leaps. I would swear I saw one slide down a long liana. Sitting on a bench across a small pond from them, I watched as they hung by their tails to feed on tall-forest fruits. Flock after flock of noisy parrots and parakeets flew in, stayed a bit, and moved on. Jesus Christ lizards skittered across the water. On the short walk to the pond from the lodge, I had stopped to watch whitefronted parrots, a Montezuma oropendola, and squirrels eating pejibayes. This was all before breakfast.

La Laguna del Lagarto is a watery world-lagoons, rivers, swamps-but also a place of striking forest. Owner Vinzenz Schmack has almost 250 acres (100 ha), and a neighboring forest of 1,000 acres (400 ha) extends the habitat for such species as white-faced, howler, and spider monkeys, tepezcuintle, great curassow, aracaris, chestnut-mandibled and keel-billed toucans, and great green macaws. Some 350 bird species have been identified so far. A butterfly garden focuses on species found in the area, especially the remarkable morpho.

Ten miles (16 km) of marked trails open the forest for exploration. Tiny red frogs with blue legs, known as poison-dart frogs, are easily seen on the forest floor. Small green frogs with black spots are more elusive. Look for tapir tracks.

A different habitat can be explored by canoe in two swamp lagoons. Moving silently, with only the sound of the oar dipping into the water, brings you close to the spirit of the place. On my quiet trip, the green-backed heron made several appearances, kingfishers flashed by, and a lineated woodpecker perched on a lifeless trunk in the water. Vinzenz pointed to another trunk where small sleeping bats made a dark line down the tree. Orchids and bromeliads were everywhere.

A nighttime walk with a good flashlight reveals bright eyes of caimans along the edge of the lagoons. Caimans, or lagartos, are also visible during the day, and gave the place its name. Lodge guests can ride horseback along the edge of the forest ($15) or take a boat down the San Carlos River to the San Juan ($25), which forms Costa Rica's border with Nicaragua. I longed for more time just to sit on the veranda and bird-watch. Local guides are available, and a trained naturalist guide can be arranged with prior notice.

Twenty rooms are distributed in several buildings; some baths have hot water. Furnishings are simple; tropical wooden walls shine. Each room has ceiling fans. Windows are screened, with reason-bring repellent. In the open-air dining room, food is an appetizing mix of Costa Rican and European. Pineapple, papaya, oranges, yuca, tiquisque, and pejibaye are grown near the lodge. The pejibaye also supply heart of palm-watch it being cut fresh for your meal. Black pepper is another crop.

The lodge is about 330 feet (100 in) above sea level, and temperatures range from 68'F to 950F (200C to 350C). February to mid-May are e driest months, but for rainy times, boots and ponchos are available.

Getting There

By bus: From San Jose and Ciudad Quesada, go to Pital, and take connecting bus to Boca Tapada; with advance notice, lodge personnel will pick you up there.
By car: Road paved to Pital, then 22 miles (35 km) of gravel road through Boca Tapada to the lodge. Other: Round-trip transfers from San Jose, $150 for up to four people.

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