Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica

Wide river surrounded by green forest with blue cloudy sky


One of the quieter, underrated Costa Rica excursions from TUI, spot wildlife and learn about cultural heritage in Palo Verde.

I was surprised that there were only four people taking this trip including ourselves. At our TUI welcome talk most visitors expressed an interest in seeing wildlife as a priority. Palo Verde National Park had been recommended as essential for anyone wishing to spot wildlife while in Costa Rica.

Our tour representative mentioned that there are wildlife parks where you can see these animals in captivity, but argued you can do this anywhere. He felt it was important to see wildlife in its natural habitat and learn the history and culture of the country.

Noah spots a lizard on the decking
Noah spots some wildlife

An Early Start

The pick up for this tour was at 6.30am. Luckily, we had been waking up unusually early due to the time difference between the UK and Costa Rica. Our hotel, Dreams Las Mareas, had 24 hour all-inclusive room service and breakfast can be delivered from 5am.

Breakfast of toast, waffles and fresh fruit laid out on a table
Room service breakfast available from 5am.

It is a long road trip to Palo Verde but mostly comfortable. Our mini van was air-conditioned and clean, our driver was careful and mindful of passengers on board. This was essential as some of the roads we used were excessively bumpy. The road to and from Dreams also winds and curls around steep hills. Noah was developing a stomach bug at this point and his tummy didn’t feel great. Our driver and tour guide were flexible, finding a cafe with a restroom along the way that we could use.

Refreshments Stop at a Sugar Plantation

Lizard on Palo Verde trip

Our first stop took us briefly to a sugar plantation where we were greeted by glasses of refreshing tamarind juice, fresh pineapple, watermelon and traditional treats made of corn. We also had a big welcome from a whole host of lizards enjoying the sun. There was also a bar available and a chance to stretch our legs and relax for a few minutes.

Noah sits at the bar at the sugar plantation in Palo Verde

Riverboat Ride

Replenished, we made our way in the van again to a local river where we were told we would likely see crocodiles. They weren’t wrong. We took a gentle boat trip; a stark contrast to the adventure activities we had taken part in during the holiday. It was incredibly quiet, aside from the sounds of birds chirping and the hisses of insects. 

Noah stepping onto the river boat at Palo Verde

The crocs and other wildlife blend in so well with their surroundings that it was hard to spot them. Thankfully our tour guide and the boat driver were very vigilant and alerted us to anything of interest. They were also full of knowledge about the local wildlife, our tour guide’s particular interest was in birds. He counted up twenty different bird species we saw along the river!

A crane at the side of the river

It was fascinating to see the crocodiles and marvel at how amazingly still they stay, even with their mouths wide open. We were also lucky enough to spot a few monkeys, iguanas, bats and some of the most vibrant dragonflies I’ve ever seen. 

Crocodile on the bank of the river
Bats cling to a tree at the side of the river
Bats cling to a tree a the side of the river.

Lunch & Cultural Education

Back at the sugar plantation, lunch was very traditional of a Costa Rican diet. Black beans, rice, various vegetables, plantain. The other guests had meat, Noah and I opted to have cheese with ours. The cheese was delicious and I would liken it do halloumi or paneer.

Lunch was followed by a cultural demonstration of how sugar is traditionally derived from sugar cane. This was a very interactive experience and Noah volunteered to help out. 

We were encouraged to try the raw sugar cane and other products made from the sugar. Then we were entertained with a traditional song. 

Raw sugar cane
Try some raw sugar cane!

Heading Back (via Coco Beach)

After the sugar plantation, there is a trip to a tourist beach, Coco Beach. We had a little walk but this could quite easily have been left out of the tour. It was outstandingly hot that day so we were glad to jump back on the air conditioned bus.

Noah with his mouth wide open just like a crocodile
Noah does his best crocodile impression, perfectly still and mouth wide-open.

Check back soon for more Costa Rica content! And have you considered Mexico?

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