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Palo Verde National Park
One of the best wildlife and bird-watching parks in the country, Palo Verde extends over 198 square km (76 square miles) of dry deciduous forest, bordered on the west by the wide Tempisque River.
With fairly flat terrain and less-dense forest than a rain forest, wildlife is often easier to spot here. Frequent sightings include monkeys, coatis, peccaries, lizards, and snakes. (Keep an eye out for the harlequin snake. It's nonpoisonous but mimics the deadly coral snake coloring.)
The park contains seasonal wetlands at the end of the rainy season that provide a temporary home for thousands of migratory and resident aquatic birds, including herons, wood storks, jabirus, and flamingolike roseate spoonbills. Crocodiles ply the slow waters of the Tempisque River year-round, and storks nest on islands at the mouth of the river where it empties into the Gulf of Nicoya. Trails are well marked, but the weather here can be very hot and windy. Mosquitoes, especially in the marshy areas, are rampant.
Best Time to Go
The best time of year to go is at the beginning of the dry season, especially in January and February, when the seasonal wetlands are shrinking and birds and wildlife are concentrated around smaller ponds. Set off early in the morning or after 3 in the afternoon, when the sun is lower and the heat is less intense.
The park is named after the lacy, light green Palo Verde bush, also known as the Jerusalem thorn. Even when it loses its leaflets, this tree can still photosynthesize through its trunk, so it can withstand the droughts common to this area.
Best Ways to Explore
The greatest number of creatures you're likely to see here are birds, close to 300 recorded species. Many of them are aquatic birds drawn to the park's vast marshes and seasonal wetlands. The most sought-after aquatic bird is the jabiru stork, a huge white bird with a red neck and long black bill. You'll most likely see it soaring overhead—it's hard to miss. Other birds endemic to the northwest, which you may find in the park's dry-forest habitat, are streaked-back orioles, banded wrens, and black-headed trogons.
There's a raised platform near the OTS station with a panoramic view over a bird-filled marsh. Be prepared to climb a narrow metal ladder.
Unlike many of the other national parks, you can drive 7 km (4½ miles) of fairly rough road from the park entrance to the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) research station, where most of the trailheads begin. From that point, the best way to see the park is on foot. Plan to spend a couple of nights in the dormitory-style park lodge so that you can get an early-morning start. You'll want to start early because this is a very, very hot area. Hike open areas in the cooler mornings and then choose shaded forest trails for hikes later in the day. Make sure you have a good sun hat, too.
A river does run through the park, so a delightful and less-strenuous wildlife-viewing option is to cruise down the Tempisque River on a chartered boat with a guide who'll do the spotting for you. Without a boat, you are limited to observing the marshy areas and riverbanks from a long distance. Be sure the boat you choose has a bilingual naturalist on board who knows the English names of birds and animals.
Top Reasons to Go
Birds, Birds, Birds
Even if you're not used to looking at birds, you'll be impressed by the waves of migratory waterbirds that use this park as a way station on their migratory routes. Think of the 2001 documentary Winged Migration, and you'll have an idea of the numbers of birds that flock here.
Lots of Wild Animals
Hiking the forest trails is hot work, especially in the dry season. But the wildlife viewing here makes it worthwhile. Watch for monkeys, peccaries, large lizards, and coatis. Take plenty of water with you wherever you walk, and use repellent or wear long sleeves and pants.
The Organization for Tropical Studies has a number of activities that are good for just about any type of group. Choose from guided nature walks, mountain biking, boat tours, and even an occasional nighttime tour. Accommodations can be a little rugged here, but that's half the fun.
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