All eyes are on Mario Chacon.

Slowly, patiently, our Road Scholar Group Leader scans Costa Rica’s emerald jungle. Excitedly, he points up.

“Sharon!” he calls. “I promised you a sloth today. See her? On that branch! Carrying her baby.”

Yes. Yes. Above us, camouflaged in the cecropia tree, a smiling sloth stretches languidly, plucking a leafy breakfast for her child.

Watching a sloth family up close in the wild: my dream come true.

“Sloths spend their entire lives in cecropia trees,” Mario explains. “They eat, sleep, mate and keep their babies safe from predators. They climb down only once a week to pee and poop,” he laughs.

Funny guy, our Mario. Entertaining and encyclopedic on Costa Rica’s flora, fauna, history, geography and culture. Mario is certified as a naturalist guide by Las Quebradas Biological Center Foundation, and is an active environmentalist helping to develop Los Quetzales National Park. Road Scholar couldn't have found a better person to lead our learning during this exceptional journey.

During our 11-day educational adventure with Road Scholar, we travel Costa Rica coast to coast, visiting San Jose, Tortuguero, Sarapiqui, Arenal Volcano, Punta Leona and San Gerardo de Dota. We learn to silently, slowly amble while listening to rainforest and river music.

Paradise teems with birds, reptiles, mammals and insects. Rain soaks us daily. Who cares?

Our jungle eyes get sharper every day. The learning experience is extraordinary. Look at those White-Throated Capuchin monkeys, swinging from branch to branch, like Cirque du Solei acrobats! Are those 15-foot, 800-pound crocodiles going to jump in our Rio Grande Tarcoles riverboat? We photograph day-glow blue poison dart frogs and fierce-faced green iguanas. We marvel as long lines of leaf cutter ants march over bridges and boulders, delivering leaf slivers to their queen.

One amazing morning, scaredy cat me spots a boa constrictor slithering under a log. I don’t die. Emboldened, I gaze, unafraid, at palm-sized spiders on surreally lovely webs. And an orange eyelash pit viper, boasting.

On another walk, our entire groups gasps, noticing a poisonous Fer-de-Lance snake sleeping happily on our trail. I lived to tell the tale.

Although Costa Rica is only 19,700 square miles, the country is home to about 5% of species found on Planet Earth. Imagine: over 8,500 plant species, 220 reptile species, 160 amphibian species, 205 mammal species and 850 species of birds. Passionate about creatures great and small? You’ll find them here.

After nonstop exploration of jungles, rivers, volcanoes, mountains, farms and a thrilling high in the sky walk at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, it’s time for our “jungle eyes” test.

On a dark, starlit night, riverboats ferry us onto Tortuguero Beach.

“Welcome,” says the Park Ranger. “This is the nesting site of the largest population of sea turtles in the Caribbean. We protect twenty two miles of nests on this beach.”

“Will we see them laying eggs tonight?” I ask.

“Perhaps,” she smiles. “I will go and check on the turtles.”

“Prepare for a miracle,” Mario grins.

After a long hour, the Park Ranger returns. In the dim glow of her red flashlight (used so as not to scare the turtles), we follow, holding hands like curious kindergartners. Hearts pound louder than the ocean shimmering in moonlight.

“Here,” whispers Mario. “She’s here. At your feet.”

A mamma green sea turtle grunts, whooshing away sand, creating a deep hole. Plop. One perfect sea turtle egg. Plop. Plop. Hundreds of eggs. Future sea turtles, hoping to hatch and survive against cruel odds of life and death.

“She’s returned to the beach where she herself was born,” Mario says. “Swimming miles in the ocean, how does she find it again? That’s the miracle.”

We understand now why Costa Rica is so special. This country is devoted to preserving and conserving the nature they revere. Everyone greets us with “Pura Vida!”

Live “The Pure Life,” Costa Ricans say: Live life fully, as happily as possible. Take care of all you love. Be grateful for our magnificent, fragile Planet Earth.

As the exhausted sea turtle lumbers arduously into the ocean’s swell, she looks back at us. We wave farewell. I’m not the only one of my Road Scholar adventurers wiping away tears.

“Do you see her saying goodbye?” Mario asks.

Serenaded by the ocean’s call to the wild, we see.

Our jungle eyes see.

Find your jungle eyes on a Costa Rica Learning Adventure! →

About the Author
Sharon Baker is author of guidebooks on Florida, Trinidad, Santa Fe, Seoul and Chicago. Her play, “Love and Death in Eden, Australia” debuted in Miami, July 2019. She writes magazine articles and plays and paints wildlife scenes in Bluffton, SC, inspired by her golfer husband Kenny and cat Sage.


Get our e-newsletter!

Stay in the loop on our new blogs, special offers, new adventures and more.