Have a ball at the Stone Spheres Festival in Costa Rica

March 17th, 2014

Coming at the end of the month to the Osa southern region of Costa Rica, the ninth Festival of the Stone Spheres celebrates one of the most enigmatic historical and cultural mysteries of Costa Rica.

The 2014 Festival of the Spheres will be held March 26 to 30 in Palmar Sur, Palmar Norte and Sierpe. Put on by the National Museum of Costa Rica, the majority of the activities will be at its new satellite Museum of the Stone Spheres at Finca 6 in Palmar Sur, where research on the country’s spheres is centered.

The giant, perfectly-formed spheres of granite-like igneous rock were discovered in southern Costa Rica. Their origin, exact age and history are still a mystery, though archaeologists tentatively date the spheres to 400 to 1500 A.D. Man-made by an indigenous people who disappeared long ago and left no written records, the spheres have sparked international attention as to their origin and purpose. It is suspected that they were used to represent astronomical constellations, for delineation of tribal areas, or served as a place of worship and gathering. They were declared a UNESCO World Heritage in early 2014.

Around 300 spheres have been found in the Diquís Delta region in the south Pacific of Costa Rica, near the Térraba River and the cities of Puerto Cortés, Palmar Norte and Sierpe. The almost perfectly spherical stones range in diameter from a few centimeters up to 2.5 meters, with the largest weighing 16 tons. They were discovered in the early 1930s during the clearing of jungle for banana plantations. One of the many unanswered questions is how the native peoples transported a 16-ton ball made of a rock that exists 50 miles away from where the spheres were found in the jungle.

The Festival of the Stone Spheres will combine cultural and artistic performances, environmental themes, concerts, craft fairs, and educational and sports activities. Shows will be put on by indigenous local Borucas, whose ancestors are credited with having made the spheres. A 47 km mountain bike recreational race will follow historic routes through some pre-Columbian communities and former banana plantations. There also will be an 8 km foot race.

Attend the Festival of the Stone Spheres on your way to or from Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge on Golfo Dulce. The remote oceanfront jungle property is a unique and exotic Costa Rica eco-lodge on a 165-acre private reserve across from the Osa Peninsula.

Article by Shannon Farley

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Rainforest retreats at a unique Costa Rica eco lodge

March 4th, 2014

Imagine attending a workshop or a retreat, but instead of a conference center or event hall, you were surrounded by lush coastal rainforest, listening to the sounds of lapping waves of 80-degree calm Pacific gulf waters and roars of howler monkeys in the jungle.

This is what it is like to have a retreat or seminar at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge in Costa Rica. The remote oceanfront jungle lodge on a 165-acre private reserve in southern Costa Rica is a unique and exotic location to organize relaxing and private retreats.

From conferences with scientific guest lecturers to yoga retreats, family reunions to company meetings, Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge is ideal for small group getaways. Groups of 18-28 persons can take the entire lodge for a completely private event; or smaller groups can share the lodge with other guests and still have private meeting and gathering space.

Accessible only by boat, Playa Nicuesa is situated on the breathtaking Golfo Dulce (“Sweet Gulf”), one of only a handful of unique tropical fjords in the world. The renowned Osa Peninsula is just across these placid Pacific Ocean waters from the lodge. Their protected reserve joins into the Piedras Blancas National Park.

The undeveloped and pristine haven embraces conservation and harmony with nature. Electric is powered by solar panel generators and fresh water bubbles in from a natural spring. Playa Nicuesa’s beautiful and specially-designed 3,000-square-foot main lodge building – described by some to be like Robinson Crusoe’s tree house – was built all with sustainable materials and houses an open-air bar, dining room and lounge areas. One-of-a-kind “jungle-chic” accommodations in five private bungalows and a separate four-room two-story guest house all have private open-air bathrooms with hot water showers, canopy queen beds, hardwood floors, ceiling fans and private terraces. Fresh meals are included in all stays.

There is a spacious yoga deck by the beach and a canopy-level yoga platform in the main lodge building. Yoga classes are given daily in the early morning and late afternoon. To complement any retreat or seminar program, there are plenty of adventure tours: rainforest hikes on private trails to a waterfall, bird-watching, kayaking and snorkeling on the Golfo Dulce, a botanic garden tour, fishing, a jungle river tour by boat or kayak, and more. Abundant wildlife in the area includes three types of monkeys, coatis, agoutis, crocodiles, Scarlet Macaws, toucans and other tropical birds.

For more information on holding a retreat, seminar or group event at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge, check here.

Article by Shannon Farley

Webs of Gold in the Costa Rica Rainforest

February 24th, 2014

The morning sun filtering through the rainforest foliage at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge in Costa Rica shimmers gold as the light catches the strands of the complex web woven by a golden orb spider.

I’m generally not a big fan of spiders, like most people, but the golden orb is fascinating. These large spiders weave enormous pigmented webs, adjusted in color for camouflage, with protecting chemicals, and such incredible strength and elasticity that bioengineers and other scientists are studying ways to mass-produce their silk.

The golden silk orb-weavers (genus Nephila) are noted for the impressive webs they weave, and are also called giant wood spiders or banana spiders, according to Wikipedia. Their name refers to the color of their web silk, although the female spiders do have gold spots on their large bodies and black and yellow striped legs, which are specialized for weaving.

The spiders are widespread in warmer regions around the world – the Americas, Australia, Africa, India and Southeast Asia. They are the oldest surviving genus of spiders, with a fossilized specimen dating to 165 million years ago. You can find golden orb spiders hanging out in their shimmering webs everywhere around Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge and along the trails.

Threads of their webs shine like gold in sunlight. Studies suggest that the silk’s color may serve a dual purpose: sunlit webs ensnare bees and other insects that are attracted to the bright yellow strands, and in the shade, the yellow color blends in with background foliage to act as camouflage. Golden orb spiders can adjust the web’s pigment intensity relative to background light and color. They also secrete a chemical – pyrrolidine alkaloid – on the strands that protects the web from ants.

The fine-meshed spiral webs are gigantic: they can span 20 feet tall (6m) and 6.5 feet wide (2m). When you look at a web, you can’t help noticing the female spider since she is huge; golden orb females reach sizes of 4.8–5.1 cm (1.5–2 in) not including leg span. Those little spiders on the web are the males, being usually 2/3 smaller (less than 2.5 cm, 1 in).

If you should doubt the strength and elasticity of a golden orb weaver web, walk into one. You’ll find it is not easy to remove. When walking the trails at Nicuesa Lodge, I always watch out for golden orb webs – they are beautiful to admire, and you want to avoid being covered in the sticky silk. While the spiders rarely bite humans, their venom is potent with a neurotoxin effect, though not lethal to humans.

During your visit to the unique Costa Rica eco lodge at Playa Nicuesa, be sure to look out for these amazing eight-legged wonders. Capturing the morning or afternoon sunlight on their webs produces beautiful photos.

Article by Shannon Farley

Top U.S. scientists to be guest lecturers at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge

February 6th, 2014

Dr. Howard Topoff and Dr. Carol SimonDrs. Howard Topoff and Carol Simon – both professors emeriti of The City University of New York and Research Associates at the American Museum of Natural History – will be guest lecturers for the week of March 1-7, 2014, at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge, a member of Enchanting Hotels & Resorts Costa Rica.

Immersed in the dense tropical rainforest bordering the Piedras Blancas National Park in southern Costa Rica, Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge is a unique Costa Rica eco lodge. The remote wilderness retreat is located on a 165-acre private preserve; the only way to get there is by boat across the pristine waters of the Golfo Dulce from either the towns of Golfito or Puerto Jimenez.

Golfo Dulce and Playa Nicuesa, Costa RicaThe area is part of an immense biological corridor extending from the world-famous Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula to the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve and the Piedras Blancas National Park, down into Panama. The inner sea of Golfo Dulce, known as a tropical fjord, is a critical habitat for migrating Pacific Humpback Whales, and resident and migratory communities of dolphins – Bottlenose, Spotted and Spinner – and sea turtles.

For the past 30 years, Drs. Topoff and Simon have been study trip leaders for The Smithsonian Institute, The American Museum of Natural History, Naturalist Journeys, Elderhostel, and several cruise lines. The husband-and-wife team’s specialty is animal behavior, tropical ecology and evolutionary biology. Their educational programs and entertaining multimedia presentations are highly popular.

Army ants in Costa RicaDr. Topoff has spent nearly 50 years researching the social behavior of animals, notably on army ants and slave-making ants, conducting his field research in Central and South America, Africa, and in the deserts and mountains of Arizona, USA. In addition to his publications in scientific journals, his more popular articles have appeared in magazines such as Scientific American, Natural History and National Geographic. Dr. Simon specializes in ecology, behavior and evolution, principally researching the social behavior of reptiles in North and Central America.

Nicuesa Lodge rainforestAt Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge in March, the scientific researchers will give daily multimedia presentations focusing on the natural history of Costa Rica:

  • Introduction to Rainforest Animals & Plants
  • Social Behavior of Monkeys of Central and South America
  • Social Insects of the World
  • The Evolution of Animal Coloration
  • Poisonous Reptiles and Amphibians of the Rainforest
  • The Evolution of Animal Communication
  • Courtship and Mating Strategies of Animals

For more information and reservations, contact Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge. The award-winning eco-lodge offers ecotourism, nature and adventure vacations, family holidays, honeymoon trips, and yoga classes and retreats.

Article by Shannon Farley

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5 Strange and exotic animals you don’t want to miss in Costa Rica

January 27th, 2014

Sandwiched between North and South America and two oceans, Costa Rica is an amazing bridge of biodiversity bursting with natural wonders. For such a small country, it is home to more than 500,000 species; 250 of which are mammals.

Costa Rica’s south Pacific region of Golfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf) is one of the most intense zones for plants and animals. Surrounded by the Corcovado National Park, Piedras Blancas National Park, and Golfito Wildlife National Refuge, Golfo Dulce is wild jungle at its best.

Here are five strange and exotic mammals you don’t want to miss seeing at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge on Golfo Dulce:

1. The Central American Agouti is a large rodent, kind of like a hamster on steroids, which feeds mainly on fruits and seeds. You can see them roaming the forest foraging during the day. Agoutis have a keen nose and sharp hearing, and make a high pitched noise when frightened.

2. The Tayra, known as a “tolomuco” in Costa Rica, is in the weasel family. Most tayras have either dark brown or black fur with a lighter patch on its chest. Tayras eat mainly rodents, but also fruits, honey, reptiles and birds. They live in hollow trees, underground burrows or nests in tall grass.

3. Also called a coatimundi, the White-nosed Coati is a long-nosed brother of the raccoon. They are omnivores, preferring small vertebrates, insects, eggs, and fruits like bananas and papayas. They can climb trees easily and use their tail for balance, but usually they are on the ground.

4. Sloths are known for being incredibly slow; sloths sleep 16 to 18 hours a day and live high in the tree canopy, coming down only once a week or so to relieve body waste. Although slow in the trees and walking, they are actually strong swimmers. They eat mostly buds, tender shoots and leaves, mainly of Cecropia trees. You can see both the Three-toed sloth and the Two-toed sloth at Playa Nicuesa.

5. The Northern Tamandua is a medium-sized anteater with a prehensile tail that can latch onto tree trunks and branches. Its fur is pale yellow over most of the body, with a distinctive “vest” of black fur. Living mostly in the trees, its tongue is long and covered in sticky saliva able to pick up ants and termites – these animals might eat up to 9,000 insects in one day. Northern Tamanduas are mainly nocturnal.

See these animals and much more at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge on their 165-acre private reserve bordering the Piedras Blancas National Park at Golfo Dulce. The eco-lodge is a great place for travelers interested in ecotourism, nature and adventure. For the best wildlife viewing, go on a guided hike on the lodge’s trails in the early morning or just before sunset.

Article by Shannon Farley