Thursday, May 31, 2012

La Selva Animal Preserve in Playa Carrillo, Costa Rica - 5-31-2012

La Selva Aniimal Preserve in Playa Carrillo, Costa Rica

Do you like wildlife photos? Do you like animals? If so, then you need to make visiting La Selva Animal Preserve part of your trip to Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula. The preserve will hold different animals than when I visited, of course, as their current holdings are released to the wild and as other animals are brought in. You can be nearly certain, however, to see many turtles, plenty of iguanas and an alligator or crocodile whenever you visit.

Green Iguana at La Selva Animal Preserve, Playa Carrillo
La Selva Animal Preserve in Playa Carrillo accepts animals injured in the wild as well as wild animals held illegally as pets. The preserve nurses these animals back to health and, if held as pets, socializes them with other animals in preparation for their release into the wild. The preserve receives animals from all over Costa Rica, and I saw several animals that were not native to the Nicoya Peninsula.

Margay at La Selva Animal Preserve, Playa Carrillo
When I visited in a rental car with several friends from Casa Brian in Playa Samara in late April 2012, we were given a tour by the woman who has run the preserve for years. The entire tour took 45 minutes (the preserve is small) and covered the names, origins, and habitats of each animal in residence. We started the tour near the preserve's entrance. Our guide showed us numerous mice, rats and frogs, each in their own spaces. The frogs were noteworthy for being particularly large, though they weren't very active during the day. After the frogs, we were shown several long snakes, all of which slept through my picture-taking. The tour moved on to a local bovine (like a pig, but bigger, browner and covered in fur), and then to several small leopard-looking cats, called margays, in large cages. One cage contained a mother, Maya, who paced restlessly, and her cub who playfully scratched at one of my Canadian friends when offered the top of his hand. From there, we were shown several colorful toucans and a parrot. The parrot didn't talk, but he seemed friendly enough.

Fat Squirrel at La Selva Animal Preserve, Playa Carrillo
From there, we were shown the fattest squirrel I had ever seen, sharing a cage with a lazy, sleepy tree sloth. If you've never seen a tree sloth, they seem to wear a built-in smile. This one was white and maybe three feet long from hand to foot, though he never rose from his sleeping basket. The squirrel was kept illegally as a pet and was being put on a diet (seriously!) at the preserve before being released back into the wild. After this unlikely pair of roommates, our guide showed us several kinds of owls, bats and nocturnal birds. The bats were quite inactive, hanging peacefully from their cage's ceilings. Likewise, the owls stayed in their cubby holes, or rested on their perches.

From there, we were shown the Iguanarium, which was full of emerald colored lizards sunning themselves on leaves and rocks, and the separate turtle habitat which must have had nearly three dozen small turtles hidden in ponds and in holes carved into cinder blocks, like turtle apartments.

American Crocodile at La Selva Animal Preserve
American Crocodile at La Selva Animal Preserve
The last stop on the tour was the crocodile pit. A single American Crocodile was held in a large concrete pool covered with water-borne plants. The crocodile came out of the water only when offered a whole chicken from local supermarket. He scarfed it down quickly then disappeared back into the water. He did pose for a few pictures, though, before leaving.

La Selva Animal Preserve, Playa Carrillo, Costa Rica
Once the tour was over, our tour guide invited us to stay as long as we liked. We stayed another 45 minutes taking pictures of the animals and flowers. We also inadverteantly disturbed a fire ant nest...bring some bug spray! The flowers at the preserve were beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange, and their leaves were the most verdant green I'd ever seen. Even if you're not interested in animals, the botanical photos you'll take are well worth the price of admission.

Find La Selva Animal Preserve by taking the road that leads south through Playa Samara. Follow the road out of town, past the various sodas and stores, past the small primary school on your right and into the deserted Playa Carrillo. At the second bridge in Carrillo, follow the dirt road up into the hills for about three minutes. La Selva Animal Preserve will be on your left -- you'll see a couple signs for it. Admission is $15, but includes a tour and covers a return visit in the evening when different animals are active. Please note that the evening visit must be on the same day as your daytime visit, otherwise you will have to pay another $15 entrance fee.

Playa Carrillo, Costa Rica
 From Playa Samara's main street, the journey is about 15 minutes by car and about 40 minutes by bike. Playa Carrillo is gorgeous when it's deserted, but it's only deserted during the week because Carrillo is a really popular Tico beach. Saturdays and Sundays, especially during high season, are packed. I recommend you visit La Selva between Monday and Friday so you can take pictures of Playa Carrillo when it is empty and at its most beautiful.


  1. Henry,

    I just wanted to say thanks again for submitting this to the Byteful Travel Blog Carnival. This article has been included in the 13th BT Blog Carnival which was published today.

    So, if you could retweet, stumble, or "Like" the blog carnival, I would really appreciate it. It would also help people discover your article, too!

    Thanks again. Looking forward to your submissions next time! :)

  2. Hi what is the name of the plant with red bunches of