If you are traveling to Costa Rica to see wildlife, a night tour should definitely be on your list. We have done night tours in many spots around the country, and they are all different and wonderful in their own way. You never know what you will come across. The rainforest becomes extra active at night, and a guide can show you many species that are not usually noticeable during the day. In this post, we’ll tell you about an exciting night tour in La Fortuna at a small reserve called Arenal Oasis. Beware, we did see some scary stuff, so if you are nervous about a night tour, read with caution!
Arenal Oasis is a small wildlife refuge and ecolodge located in La Fortuna. The property sits on the eastern side of the famous Arenal Volcano and is close to town. With varied habitat including rainforest, gardens, and some spring-fed ponds, Arenal Oasis is the perfect spot to see many species living together in one place.
During the day, birding tours are very popular. Over 150 species have been identified on the property, which is a little less than 12 acres (5 hectares).
At night, guided tours bring you through the forest and around the spring-fed ponds. These water sources attract as many as 28 frog species. The frogs, in turn, attract other creatures like snakes, birds, and small mammals.
Because it is rainforest, there is always the chance to see other interesting critters too, especially insects and spiders.
The Night Tour at Arenal Oasis
The night tour starts around dusk at the Arenal Oasis reception area. Here, you meet up with the guide and get a flashlight to use on the trail. At this point, the sun is just going down so you have an opportunity to get familiar with your surroundings before it gets too dark.
It gets dark around 6:00 p.m. in Costa Rica all year-round, so you don’t have to be out too late to get the full experience.
When a lot of people are going on the night tour, groups get split up and go with different guides. This helps you be able to hear the guide and gather around him or her while they are explaining things along the way. Our group had about 10 people in it, which was good, but you sometimes couldn’t hear the guide very well if you were near the back.
Our Experience on the Night Tour
When we took the Arenal Oasis night tour, it was us and our two kids, ages five and two. Our five-year old, Sam, was ready and excited, but our 2-year old, Evan, wasn’t so sure. If you do try it with younger kids, we would recommend bringing a baby carrier so you can keep them close by.
Our night tour started off with some rain, which is very common in La Fortuna — it’s what keeps the rainforest lush and green after all.
Luckily it only rained hard for a few minutes and then cleared up to a light sprinkle. Everyone in our group had raincoats and some had umbrellas too.
The trails at Arenal Oasis are very flat and easy. However, they are narrow at times, and you do brush up against sticks and leaves occasionally.
The trails weren’t too muddy, even with the rain, but closed-toed shoes are a necessity, especially with biting ants and things slithering across the trail (see below!).
What We Saw
As our guide led us through the forest, it wasn’t long before we started seeing some critters.
We first saw a cool giant grasshopper that was about seven inches (18 cm) long. Next, we observed a golden-orb spider weaving her web between some leaves.
Turning around, our guide spotted a larger frog in the tree. He explained that it was a Mexican tree frog and showed us the interesting camouflage pattern on its skin.
We continued walking single file along the trail, as heavy water drops fell from the trees. It was completely dark now and we all swished our flashlights back and forth, looking for more.
Constantly we were stopping to observe something new. There were centipedes and millipedes, and different frogs and toads. Early on, we saw more Mexican tree frogs, along with brilliant emerald frogs, a leaf litter toad, and a common rain frog.
We were able to get some nice pictures of the frogs with our phones and cameras.
Along one stretch of the trail, we got walking at a fairly good pace. Our family was toward the back.
Suddenly our son Sam’s flashlight illuminated something slithering under some low leaves that were hanging over the trail. Matt immediately recognized the A-shaped pattern on its skin. He quickly stopped Sam in his tracks and called out to the guide ahead. It was a terciopelo, a fer-de-lance!
The fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper) is known as Costa Rica’s deadliest snake since it causes more fatal bites than any other. This one was also huge at about five feet (1.5 meters) long! To make it even scarier, almost our entire group had walked within a couple of feet of it, without even noticing.
Our guide quickly jumped into action, making sure everyone kept their distance as the snake slowly slithered off the trail and coiled up next to the base of a tree. The guide then warned the group that was coming down the trail behind us to use caution.
This close encounter had our whole group on edge. Suddenly everyone was walking very carefully in the middle of the trail and using their flashlights to illuminate the way.
As it turns out, we were getting close to the spring-fed ponds, which attract a lot of frogs. Our guide explained that snakes love to eat frogs and that is why you often find them both in the same area.
In fact, we saw one more smaller fer-de-lance on the side of the trail in some leaves right before the first pond. This one just slithered away as we tiptoed past.
The sound of frogs chirping got louder and louder as we approached the water. Soon our guide stopped and pointed his light on a leaf. It was Costa Rica’s most famous frog, the red-eyed tree frog. These are striking, with a bright green color, orange feet, and red eyes. They are often used in marketing materials in Costa Rica because of their beauty.
We saw several of these special frogs, all hanging out above the ponds on leaves and branches.
In addition to the red-eyed tree frog, we saw some hourglass tree frogs, a web-footed frog, narrow-headed tree frog, and some giant Central American bullfrogs.
We even saw some eggs that one frog had laid on a leaf. These were strategically placed so that the tadpoles would fall into the water below when they hatched.
Finishing the Tour
There were several ponds that we passed along the last part of the trail. They all had a chorus of frogs chirping around them, and we got to see many more of the same species we had previously spotted.
Before looping back around and heading for the reception, we got to see another species of snake. This one was small and much less harmful. It was called a cat-eyed snake. They have a very mild venom that usually isn’t too harmful to humans.
After about two hours in the wet jungle, we were all ready to get back to our cars. Not far from the parking area, we did have one more fun sighting: a sleeping toucan, high up in a tree.
The night tour at Arenal Oasis was definitely an adventure for our family. We did come in close contact with some scary snakes, but it was also really cool to see some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful frogs and insects. When walking the trails, it’s an amazing feeling to experience how alive the jungle becomes at night.
Are you up for a night tour like this one? Have an experience to share? Leave a comment below.
Need more information to help you plan your trip? Check out these posts:
La Fortuna Hotel Guide – We’ve stayed in and toured many of the area hotels. We put our favorites into this guide, which includes options for all budgets.
Rental Car Discount – Exploring La Fortuna can be easier with a car, especially since activities and restaurants are spread out. Get a discount and free extras with one of the most reliable companies around.
A Safari River Float in La Fortuna/Arenal – This is another excellent way to see wildlife in La Fortuna.