Neotropical frogs are the rock stars of wildlife in Sarapiquí. They may not be the largest or the fiercest beasts in the jungle, but they are without doubt the most attractive and interesting.
Apart from agriculture, the main industry of Sarapiquí is ecotourism. Hotels and nature guides tell me around 95% of the visitors are European—very few tourists from the U.S.A. or Canada.
Walking around, you will hear more German, French, and Dutch than English. On a recent trip, staying at a decidedly tourist hotel, the maid was afraid to talk to me—she had never before spoken to a U.S. citizen and she didn’t think I would speak Spanish. We later chatted and got along just fine.
There are numerous hotels and nature centers that cater to ecotourists with guided walks through public and private reserves. There is a serpentarium and river tours by boat leave from the main dock in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. Hotel gardens abound with birds and small creatures of all sorts. In short, it’s a wonderful place to see and photograph wildlife.
Red-eyed Leaf (or Tree) Frog
The Red-eyed Leaf Frog (Rana de hoja de ojos rojos) is an iconic image of Costa Rican tourism. You can find this little guy on hats, T-shirts, books, hotels, publicity of every flavor, etc. They are quite common, but not frequently seen because they are nocturnal.
These two amphibians have opted out of the food chain—nothing eats them unless suicide is the daily special. The Green and Black Poison Frog (Rana venenosa verdinegra) is quite common—I have frequently seen them in hotel gardens. The Strawberry Poison Frog (Rana venenosa roja) was alleged to have gone extinct, but seems to be alive and well and making a comeback.
There is an active debate as to which of these frogs is the more poisonous. My frog guide assured me the Green and Black is the deadlier of the pair. However, most Costa Ricans I’ve spoken to about this, some of them quite knowledgeable on the subject, assure me the Strawberry Poison Frog is the king of frog venom.
In Sarapiquí, the Strawberry Poison Frog is also known as the Rana blue jeans—the Blue Jeans Frog—for its dark bluish legs. Both species are also known as Poison Dart/Arrow Frogs because their toxins were used by indigenous peoples to poison blowgun darts.
Dark-eyed Leaf Frog
The Dark-eyed Leaf Frog (Rana de hoja de ojos negros) is another very cute critter. It is arboreal—living in trees—and the webbing on its feet allows it to glide through the air from one tree to another.
The Three-toed Sloth (Perezoso de tres garras) lives quietly high in the trees above the frogs, descending maybe once a week to relieve himself. This young sloth lives on a private nature reserve and the guide told me he was about seven months old. His mother cut him loose when he was three months old—the normal age for sloth emancipation.
If you are interested in seeing Costa Rican wildlife, with or without a camera, Sarapiquí is the place to be.