It’s hard to be amazed as a jungle connoisseur…

What’s about half the size of a hippo, but not aggressive?

Tapir looking for food
A hippo-anteater hybrid: The tapir!

That would be a tapir, and some people might want to punch me in the face if I said I went to the Corcovado rainforest and this was the only thing I thought worth mentioning.

Corcovado National Park is isolated in the southwest corner of Costa Rica and is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. I had read a lot about the park and finally decided it was time to see it for myself.

To get there, you boat through canals on what could pass for the set of Jurassic Park, then hit the open ocean to make a beach landing on one of the few primary rainforests left in the world.

For most any visitor, this would be the trip of a lifetime and I was hoping for a great experience.  But honestly, I’d be pressed to remember much of this visit because I’d done and seen most of it before.

Our visit started out traversing the ocean, which could be an experience in itself. Though I had never been in that much open water in such a small watercraft, I wanted to avoid seasickness, so I daydreamed, studying the coastline for jagged rock formations, to take my mind off the rolling waves. I’d seen many similar coastlines up and down the pacific side of Costa Rica before and this was nothing special.

There was no dock at the beach, so we had to jump in the water barefoot to get to shore. It was an exotic beach with the rainforest right at the edge, but it was familiar to me as it reminded me of the beaches in Manuel Antonio and Samara.

coati running
This is a coati!

Even when we saw a coati looking for food as we approached the ranger station, I didn’t bother taking my camera out. I’d seen these in La Fortuna many times before.

We started hiking and encountered a beautiful group of red scarlet macaws, each with a mate and a few with children. They were having a lively conversation while eating their lunch in the trees and gave us many photo opportunities.

Of course, these things fly all around Jaco and the Carara National Park, all places I’ve been.  This would be the equivalent of taking a picture of a squirrel.

That’s when it hit me. In a way, I’d seen it all. That’s why this trip been so ho-hum despite all the adventure it had taken to get to this point.

I recalled going to other national parks and being intrigued by everything, but Corcovado just couldn’t turn the switch for me. We’d go on to see a spider monkey, sloth, herron and some capuchin monkeys, but it was so “been there, done that” for me.

howler monkey hanging out
No big deal, it’s just a monkey..

I was actually disappointed we didn’t see all four types of monkeys that are in the park. It felt no different from Tortuguero, a national park in northeast Costa Rica I visited two years ago.

The most drama on the trip was me forgetting things and Mother Nature making me pay, like getting sunburned and drenched (only in Costa Rica can you get that combo that quickly) on a 1.5hr hike without a change of clothes.

I’ve been dumb before, and I’ll be dumb again so thank goodness I saw the tapir to have more than just a funny story to laugh about in the future. But even at that, the reality is watching the tapir was as about as exciting as watching a cow graze.

All this is not to say Corcovado isn’t a great place to visit. I just have higher expectations for my forests now that I’ve been living in Costa Rica since 2013.  I can’t believe the non-effect it had on me. A first-time rainforest visitor would fill an entire scrapbook.

I’ve really been spoiled by rainforests though, and they really have to work hard to amaze me. I still have a few parks on my list left to visit, and I hope one of them will spark some excitement.

I now know what guides and rangers must feel like. Our guide spent over an hour tracking the tapir and was noticeably excited when he spotted it.  At least now, he’ll have something to want to talk about at dinner.

Tiptoeing through the trap of a tourist mecca….

We all have a fairy-tale fantasy of vacationing on an exotic beach.

Sipping juice from coconuts with the cute little cocktail straws as we watch the waves wash over the white sands. Relaxing in the harmony of finally getting away from it all.

That is until your paradise is interrupted by a scream. And then another, and another.

I was living that fairy-tale fantasy, and while the screams fortunately were neither a shark attack nor a coming tsunami, it was just the start of a strange day in which I got a firsthand look at a bad combination of nature and tourism.

After the first few screams, I could see tree branches waving wildly back and forth despite the otherwise calmness of the day, so I decided to check it out. And I wasn’t alone. By the time I got to where the commotion was, the whole beach had congregated in the area to watch the show.

A group of monkeys had climbed down from the trees and had stolen a backpack from one of the tourists on the beach. They were up in the trees going through everything. Watches, cell phones, books and panties all fell from the tree as the monkeys carefully examined everything, eventually discarding anything that wasn’t edible.

For a first-time visitor to Manuel Antonio National Park, this was quite entertaining. However, this ended up going on all day – screams coming from up and down the beach, large gatherings, followed by photos and laughter. It was like we were in the middle of a circus run by monkeys.

By the end of the day nobody could leave anything unattended on the beach.

It might sound fun, but it is having a damaging effect on the beach’s monkeys. Monkeys are not accustomed to chips and crackers, and they have lost all fear of humans, making them aggressive and unpredictable at times.

It’s a delicate situation, as this national park depends on the revenue from the visitors to protect not only this park, but other less visited parks in Costa Rica. As a result, it has catered to the tourists by building changing rooms and providing picnic tables for people to have lunch. And that has led to the animals becoming accustomed to a different diet, one that is harming their health.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s great tourists can come and see animals in the wild, but it’s too bad money-making opportunities are preventing better measures from being taken to not damage that very same environment.

With the massive tourism to the 5.5-acre park – about 150,000 visitors a year – money talks in the beach towns around it, as well. The day before our visit to the park (which charges $3 for Costa Ricans but $16 for foreigners), my wife and I had gotten an exhausting introduction to that, starting with a Spanish man pleading desperately with us.

“Just give me one opportunity, one opportunity! Come on man, one opportunity!” he said, hands up in the air.

Trying to get the two of us into his restaurant for dinner, he had eyed me up pretty quickly and had the sales pitch prepared.

He began to speak to us in English, highlighting that his restaurant was the only one in town that included all taxes in their prices. Then, after showing us the menu, he began to make remarks in Spanish to my wife – who he apparently thought was my tour guide or escort suggesting that if she got me to eat there, he would give her a free drink.

His patience quickly grew thin, though, and he yanked the menu out of my hands to give to a bigger group of tourists walking down the street.

Unfortunately, this became the theme of the weekend. Everyone we talked to was working for some kind of commission and was ready to tell us anything to get us to buy at exorbitant prices. Even when checking into the hotel, they had to walk us through their tour packages before they would give us our keys to our room.

It was hard to even walk down the beach without being hassled. If I looked too long at a surfboard, they’d come after me. If we stopped under a beach umbrella to fix a sandal, we were frowned upon. Even sitting underneath a tree, beach chairs were placed strategically to tempt people to take a load off and start the meter.

The only conversation we had with a local that didn’t end in a sales pitch was with one who happened to be from the same town as my wife. Had that not been the case, I’m sure he would have been all over us to rent a beach chair.

As we departed the park area to head back to San Ramon we passed by many luxury hotels, condos, and restaurants, all touting the beauty of being one of the most beautiful beaches and national parks in the world.

I’m not going to say I didn’t enjoy my weekend – despite all the less desirable aspects of a tourism buildup the park is still quite beautiful. However, I think will take my coco juice and sippy straws on to the next beach, where hopefully, I’ll feel like an outside observer instead of the center of attention.

I don’t think this is the right beach for me…