This is a tiger crab.
Thanks to him, Ricky and I (along with thousands of other travellers each year) are able to tour Costa Rica’s mangrove system just north of the town of Quepos (Manuel Antonio). This creature may be tiny, but its importance is great as a large percentage of the mangroves’ chance at survival is dependent on the quality of the crab’s work.
How do I know this? Because Pablo told me.
Why is this significant? Because Pablo knows everything there is to know about the mangroves.
Thankfully, we chose Aguila Tours / Manuel Antonio Expeditions to visit the mangroves with (you can read about another experience we had with with Aguila Tours / Manuel Antonio Expeditions in our related blog post Sloths, Snakes, Sunshine, & So Much More At Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park). Other companies offering mangrove tours may bring travellers to the same site for a float through similar canals, but I have no doubt that our boat tour experience with the company we chose was unlike any other. I cannot imagine other guides being more knowledgeable and passionate about their work than Pablo, and if there is anything I look for more in a tour guide than his/her infusion of textbook and field knowledge, it is his/her love of the knowledge-sharing experience with others. Surely anyone can teach themselves about the mangroves, just as any guide can educate a group of travellers on the same. However, when you find someone who has the X-factor – an ability to excite you about something that you may not otherwise think twice about on any other day, in any other situation, in any other area in the world – you know you’re in good hands. It was clear from the moment we first met Pablo that he was a knowledgeable and talented naturalist guide, however even more noticeable was his love for the job that shined through his rapport with travellers. Only a few minutes into the start of our boat tour (when Pablo had already spotted a handful of things for us to snap photos of) a traveller asked Pablo, “how did you see that” referring to something hidden in and amongst the mangroves’ complicated and intertwined root system. Pablo responded with a hint of sarcasm and a smirk. “Isn’t it obvious, man?”. We all had a giggle and I realized that not only were we in the hands of someone who was going to show us more than we ever thought we would see during the tour, but that we were going to have fun throughout the entire experience.
Without giving away too many details and spoiling the tour for all of you who wish to make the trip one day (no cliff/coles notes here – you’ll have to experience the tour for yourself to learn the answers!), here’s a taste of some of the topics Pablo touched on while touring us around.
- The history of Quepos (Manuel Antonio) and why part of it used to be mangrove
- How tides operate according to the moon, what high tide means for the mangroves, and how many times the tide flows in and out of the mangroves each day
- Why mangroves are important for the protection of the ocean, reefs, small fish, coastal towns, and the general population that inhabit them
- How mangroves act as incredible filters, or as Pablo puts it, the earth’s liver
- The difference between red, black, and white mangroves and how to identify each
- The key to a mangrove’s survival and what it takes to keep the mangroves healthy and ever-changing
- The roles of particular species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, crustaceans, and molluscs that inhabit the territory
- How trees, monkeys, and other living organisms know to separate salt water from fresh water, using the fresh water to survive and expelling the salt water in ingenious ways
Here’s the thing about the mangroves. They offer a little something for everyone:
- The tour is an ideal one for those in search of a relaxing, wildlife-driven, educationally stimulating tour. Given that the experience does not require much of travellers in the way of strength or movement, this tour is a suitable option for older travellers, young children, travellers with physical disabilities, and/or travellers who prefer primarily inactive tours.
- For more adventurous travellers looking to trade in the somewhat sedentary mangrove boat experience for a more physically demanding tour, the mangroves can also be toured via kayak (single and double seat kayaks available). Depending on the amount of kayaking experience and degree of endurance a traveller brings to the tour, guides can alter the mangrove canal route to best accommodate their skill and ability level.
- Birders – listen up. The mangroves are one of the best places in Costa Rica for birdwatching among the more publicized tourist sites. Up there on our list with the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge (Rio Frio) and the Palo Verde National Park (Rio Tempisque), the Manuel Antonio mangroves gave us the opportunity to spot rare bird species that we have not been fortunate enough to see elsewhere. Can’t tell a flycatcher from a tanager? No problem! The mangroves are home to iguanas, monkeys, snakes, caimans, crocodiles, lizards, crabs, snails, and more interesting creatures – enough to please both birders and non-birders alike.
Perhaps one of the most unique tour experiences I have ever had was that which took place after we finished touring the mangroves. As a special treat, Manuel Antonio Expeditions invites travellers back to Pablo’s house (located within a small community just outside of Quepos) for lunch or dinner, depending on whether the tour is run in the morning or the afternoon. We had an opportunity to meet Pablo’s family, including his precious daughter Nayla (who, during the day that we visited, was as proud as could be to show-off her new dress to the group of foreign visitors that had invaded her house). After a meal comprised of fish, rice, beans, salad, avocado, and Tamarindo juice, it was time to say goodbye to Nayla and her pretty dress. 5 minutes later we were back in Quepos, approximately 4 hours after we had embarked on the mangrove journey earlier in the day.
If you’re more of a visual learner, take a moment to view our gallery photos below from our most recent visit to the mangroves.
*Discounts for the Mangrove Boat Tour and the Mangrove Kayak Tour are available through Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated at: http://www.puravidaeh.ca
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you visited the Manuel Antonio mangroves before? If so, what did you think? If not, would you opt to tour them if/when you make it to Costa Rica?