Location: Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Distance: 1 km
Time: 2 hours
Guide: Costa Rica
The Manuel Antonio Butterfly Botanical Gardens (sometimes just called Manuel Antonio Butterfly Garden) does not seem to be a well known place, perhaps because many tourists head directly to Manuel Antonio National Park. The gardens are actually part of Hotel Si Como No (who do a nice breakfast), but are located on a separate plot across the road. The gardens have something of a double-life: during the day they offer a short walk through native Costa Rica plant species to a butterfly enclosure, where visitors can see butterflies in all stages of development, including a large collection of chrysalises. The staff were incredibly friendly: the day we visited was rather cold and the butterflies were quite inactive, so the staff allowed us to pay our ticket price and enter, but also return the next morning if the weather was better and we had time. We felt this was a really nice gesture that wouldn’t be encountered in many similar places.
It is at night though, that the botanical gardens really come alive. By booking one of the daily night tours, you have the chance to roam encounter all kinds of jungle night time, guided by experts in the local flora and fauna. If you have never visited the jungle before, you will be amazed how many creatures come out at night, and just how loud they can be!
In a small group of three plus a guide, and armed with powerful torches provided to us, we set off and immediately encountered a strange frog spawn egg-sack like substance hanging from a leaf directly above the path.
Then, just a minute into the tour, we spotted the second snake of our Costa Rica trip (after the too close encounter with the fer-de-lance in Corcovado). This one – a cat-eyed snake – was very docile and just lay on a leaf right next to the path as we passed (in fact we didn’t spot it until we had walked past). A great spot which really made us excited about the rest of the night’s tour.
Although the Manuel Antonio butterfly gardens are too small to support larger animals, they are still home to a huge range of insects, reptiles, and amphibians, and in many ways the smaller details of jungle life can be more interesting that the bigger animals. This frog, below, would fit into the palm of your hand but made an incredibly loud noise. Sounding like a man yelling or crying for help, so many of these frogs were calling at once that I actually thought it was another tour group being noisy. Incredible for such a small creature – and still quite hard to spot them, despite calling attention to themselves.
One creature we really wanted to spot, but which had so far eluded us, was the famous red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas). This famous frog with bulbous eyes has almost become a symbol of Costa Rica, being present on numerous tourist leaflets and promotional handouts. Our guide knew we wanted to spot one and spent a lot of time looking – and listening – for it. Finally, we found one – sitting right in front of us.
And then another!
…and two or three more as well! It seemed that we had wandered into an area of the gardens full of frogs, which might explain the presence of the next creature we saw:
Overall, the Manuel Antonio Butterfly Botanical Gardens are definitely worth a visit – especially for the night tours, which cannot be done in Manuel Antonio National Park itself. As with any tour like this there is no guarantee of seeing a particular animal, but we were more than happy with the experience and our encounters!