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 Post subject: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 11th, 2018, 8:42 pm 
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Joined: August 29th, 2011, 9:54 pm
Posts: 288
Location: Arizona
Hello all,

We are in the beginnings of planning a Costa Rica trip within the next year or two, and was wondering if any of you out there had any tips for planning the trip, or resources to look at? Any good books to purchase? The main things I would like to know would be what is the best time to go, what is the average cost of a herp trip, what is the best way to find locations, or any travel tips? Our main targets are snakes.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks

Jeff


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 12th, 2018, 10:24 am 
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Joined: April 2nd, 2015, 7:30 am
Posts: 130
Location: Utah
Hi! I've been to CR twice so here's my angle on it.

First, get this book: https://www.amazon.com/Amphibians-Repti ... 0226735389

The rest of your questions are too vague to answer now. What kind of snakes? If you're looking for B. Lateralis, you need to hit the mountains and I'd recommend Monteverde or other locations like that. L. Melancophela/Stenophrys? Osa or Limon, respectively (and get lucky). As well, time of the year will greatly change what you see. April is the start of the rainy season, which will be better for certain types of amphibians. But, the dry season is good for B. Asper as they congregate at dry(ish) streams for amphibians.

Narrow down what you're looking for if you have targets. In general, I'd say moving around a ton will increase species count but isn't as much fun as you'd think (I always rode transit and didn't rent a car). Just walking around the jungle is worth more than herp number.

-Derek


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 12th, 2018, 4:45 pm 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
Posts: 1782
Hey Jeff, good on ya. Fun place, especially if you get it good. It can be good. It can also be tough. Part is planning, part is experience and judgement, part is pure luck.

For snakes in the tropics, rainy season is best. The difference between dry and wet can be incredible, particularly for the areas with strong seasonal differences like Guanacaste Province. Prepare for misery, and go in our summer. Say, late July. Hey it'll help with costs & crowds, too. Did I mention prepare for misery? Ha ha.

Quote:
Narrow down what you're looking for if you have targets. In general, I'd say moving around a ton will increase species count but isn't as much fun as you'd think


These are good points. CR is a small country but it still takes a while to get around. There are some flat areas with +/- straight roads, but there's a lot of mountains too, with tons of hills and curves and skinny little roads with slow trucks. And psycho fast trucks. Driving in Latin America takes some getting used to. It's truly best avoided after dark, except for - only except for - the special case of slowly cruising a piece of road you have already driven in daylight. Why do I say "avoid it!"?

    - I - literally - very nearly ran over a guy sleeping in the road once. WTF?!?!? Sleeping. Yes.
    - Many cows are black, and all cows seem to like to stand around in the road at night.
    - Sometimes, the road will be there, and then...it's been washed out or something. Road gone. You too, if you fail to notice.
    - Road construction & repair seems to be constant, and inadequate. Painted lines are often missing. The edge of pavement can be hard to see.
    - Blood alcohol content tends to increase after dark. You see some crazy, crazy bad driving in Latin America.

Daylight driving helps you stay alive!

Renting cars? When you've narrowed down your vast online search and want to pull the trigger, go to the vendor website. Better yet, call. DO NOT just use Expedia or other such "aggregator apps". The aggregator and the local vendor very often will not honor each others' promises. Seriously - this is how you get reamed.

Basically, get familiar with the geography of the country, and the biogeography. Unless you've got a month you do not want to be traversing from corner to corner, over the continental divide multiple times. Each ecoregion deserves at least 3-4 days and nights of hard hunting. Better to just work over a good chunk but plan on another trip to hit the rest, than to basically throw one whole trip at scouting and inadequate hunting. Personally, I like the zone between about 3000' and 5000' - good viper diversity, more remnant native habitat, less pure-agricultural-hellhole, and just less hot and buggy and diseasey. A better "good stuff to terciopelos" ratio (after a few terciopelos, you don't really need to see any more!). But for some good stuff, you just have to go low.

Hire local guides a few times, they can be amazing (plus, they often have a few "ringers" located, e.g. eyelash vipers that haven't moved in a few weeks). Try to get into the woods after dark, on foot. Try to get a car like a RAV 4 or Subaru or something - you'll be glad you did, going up and down muddy volcanoes and across lots of little creeks and such.

Get your shots and stuff. Be prepared for stupid time-wasting crap. Keep an eye and a hand on your stuff at all times, and keep the other eye on the Ticos. Don't be so suspicious you have a crappy time, but don't be an idiot either.

I like the Lonely Planet guidebooks. If you go to a big bookstore you can get a great fold-out paper roadmap of the country. Both are very useful reference resources.

cheers


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 13th, 2018, 8:32 am 
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Joined: June 29th, 2011, 12:56 am
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Location: Belgium
I will just go off topic to say that I love how Jimi keeps taking the time to write useful and helpful replies to such request. :thumb:


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 14th, 2018, 3:25 pm 
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Joined: August 29th, 2011, 9:54 pm
Posts: 288
Location: Arizona
Thanks for the help everyone! I am purchasing field guides now to get a better handle on what we would like to see, but VIPERS are big for us (bothreichis, bothrops, Lachesis, etc) and on a different page the Yellow-bellied Sea Snake which from what I understand is easy if you find a fishing boat that will take you out to where you see them?

What are your thoughts on hiring a herp guide vs. going freelance? I am definitely willing to take my time and wait on going for the sake of doing enough research to go on my own, but want to hear some perspective.


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 14th, 2018, 6:36 pm 
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Joined: April 2nd, 2015, 7:30 am
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Location: Utah
I *highly* recommend getting a guide. But, I also *highly* recommend going on your own. With a guide, you have greater assurance of finding animals but on your own it can be more exciting. My guide found coral snake mimics were cool, but a common cat eye snake I found on my own was more (personally) exciting.

Vipers:
Maybe Jimi has a different opinion on this--I'm sure he might (haha)--but here are my recommendations.

Fer-de-lance: Pretty damn ubiquitous. Odds are if you do more than a single night of herping, you'll see one. If you see any snake, this is probably it. And, I feel bad saying this, but I will: please don't be that dude who tries to pin/tail or play with a fer-de-lance. These things are no joke. I've seen and heard about stupid behavior. Look up "fer-de-lance bite" on google images for some sobering info. Wear tall boots at all times if you're in the jungle.

Bushmaster: Get lucky. Ha! But seriously, I understand Osa and Limon are best for these species. Hiring a local guide near those locations will bear fruit. There's guides I spoke with in Drake Bay or near Corcovado that pointed me in the right direction. No look yet.

Eyelash Vipers: Cahuita on the Caribbean side is easy for these guys. All the guides know where they are. I saw over a dozen in a single day. Lots of other lizards and vine snakes, too. I'd recommend that location. Local guides in the town might know where to find snakes in the city at night, too. Found some nice slug eaters (Dipsas) in Cahuita, too.

Palm vipers: Higher elevations. I know Monteverde is good for them, but I've never specifically seen one. I'll defer to other experts.

For me, what made Costa Rica so much fun was a balance between self guided stuff and hiring a professional. Part of learning is messing up and figuring stuff out on your own. I have a high(ish) tolerance for that, so not finding stuff was still exciting (turns out, there's plenty of cool stuff in the tropics other than snakes).

A bigger question, which Jimi alludes to, is figuring out your mode(s) of transport. I'd figure out how much time you want to spend, how much money is in the wallet, then the rest can sort of fall into place. Bear in mind good guides might be ~80 a night or so. It's money well spent but it can add up quickly.

-Derek


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 15th, 2018, 7:23 pm 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
Posts: 1782
Quote:
I *highly* recommend getting a guide. But, I also *highly* recommend going on your own.


Exactly. I consider doing some of both pretty crucial. For years and years I was a cheap-ass dumbass (and, in fairness, pretty damn poor), and refused to hire a guide. Guides cost money, yes. I've had one or two "total meh!" experiences since those days, but for the most part I have thought it was sooooo worth it. Just get the damn wallet out and do it, IF you can find one you think is legit. There are some guys who are e.g. great at birds but nothing else. There are probably also some guys who just want to get you in the woods to cut your head off, but hey, that's another thing entirely. Ha ha. If you can get a name or two, and find him, go for it.

Quote:
please don't be that dude who tries to pin/tail or play with a fer-de-lance


+1
I've been the guy wrangling a terciopelo in a cave with 2 hooks, and just about sh*t my pants. They are fast. They are hot. They don't take much of your BS and will be glad to bite you for sassing them. Show some respect.

+1 on Cahuita. For bushmaster you could push on south from there to the border area (south of Salsa Brava), find a guide near the beach and go way back in the woods. They were there around the turn of the century (2000-ish). I didn't get one, but there were recent reports. There was some nice forest in the Indian reserves down there. Hopefully those guys haven't gotten screwed out of their homeland yet. Nasutum and eyelash are solid possible bycatch here too. Atropoides too if you climb a little - not hard, it's a hilly area.

The montane tree vipers - lateralis aren't so hard to walk at night by creeks, nigroviridis I think you can probably lump with Lachesis ("get lucky"). Plus, it's just hard to access much of their distribution - way up high, close to Panama. Hell, the lowlands near Panama are pretty boonies. The mountains? Sheesh.

The range-limited Bothriechis down by Osa (thalassinus?) - meh, sure looks like an eyelash to me. I'd go after eyelash first if I'd never seen one, tell ya what.

Porthidium nasutum are another pretty easy one to walk at night. Kind of like field-hunting pigmy rattlers - look for the cryptic little ash tray. Little buggers. So cool though! A lot like a pigmy, the more I dwell on them...hmm.

Rattlesnakes aren't terribly hard if you can accept a DOR or neonates. Right region, right time, put in enough effort. Hey if nothing else you'll get some terciopelos. Ha ha. Or, if a little bit lucky, the drier-side Porthidium. The longer skinny one, I forget its name ATM. If you've really been living right you could even get a cantil. Nobody lives that right though. Ha ha.

I recommend staying in the far west, fairly near Nicaragua, and working 1) the Pacific lowlands for the rattler/cantil/skinny Porthidium trifecta (just cruising here), 2) the intermediate elevations of both versants for B lateralis plus good, and likely, bycatch - nasutum, eyelash, and -oh baby- Atropoides - just walking here, and then 3) if and only if you didn't get some eyelash night-walking, head for Limon area for some gimme eyelash (just walking). If you get skunked cruising, but do alright in the mountains (Monteverde, Arenal, somewhere in that region, or high up but closer to Nicaragua), I'd personally head back to the western Pacific-side cruising. Maybe try for the sea snake while you're at it. The Caribbean side is like another country in a variety of ways. A less-nice country for the most part, IMO. Cahuita is a special little jewel though.

If after 4-5 days, you're having a seriously crappy trip and start thinking of Cahuita, jam straight to Cahuita! Ha ha ha. Long drive though.

Note I'm suggesting, for a first trip, staying away from the Panama end and the Caribbean side. But an alternative itinerary could be working the whole length of the Pacific. Just make sure to get some coffee-belt time in, for Atropoides and B lateralis. The Osa is kind of a time suck. Awesome country, but...phew. And there's a ton of boring pasture to drive past to get there. Full of terciopelos and not much else. Yuck.

Consider flying via Liberia. Avoiding San Jose is best, if possible. The place is a time-sucking vortex from hell. And the most expensive area. And a good place to get ripped off, or in a traffic accident. None of these are probable, but any and all are very, very possible.

Terciopelos are possible everywhere, and a serious hazard in the Caribbean lowlands. The ladies there get BIG! OMG, heads the size of your hand. Speaking of hands - watch where you put your hands and feet, don't go out in shorts and flip flops.

Quote:
I'd figure out how much time you want to spend, how much money is in the wallet, then the rest can sort of fall into place.

I agree to a certain extent. I'd modify by saying "what can you wiggle, and what is stuck?"
- The most important thing you have some control over is time in-country.
- If your budget is fixed but your time is flexible, stay as long as you can and live as cheap as possible, with maybe one 2-night guide-splurge around Monteverde or some other mountain night-walk area. (It can be hard to find a place to legally, safely night-walk.)
- If you have no time, well, spend whatever money you have to, right up to your pain threshold, to maximize your limited chances. And don't sleep. Ha ha ha.

Happy planning!

cheers


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 15th, 2018, 7:46 pm 
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Joined: August 29th, 2011, 9:54 pm
Posts: 288
Location: Arizona
This is awesome information! Thanks guys! Seems like there are a lot of decisions to be made here regarding where to spend my time. :lol:

Do any of you have any experience with Ungaliophis or other boas?

Also, speaking of cost (and I preface this question by saying that I understand that cost varies depending on what my plans/goals are), what is a ballpark cost range for a week-long trip? $1000? $2000?

Thanks :beer:


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 16th, 2018, 8:04 am 
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Joined: April 2nd, 2015, 7:30 am
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Location: Utah
Yeah, but making decisions like this is fun! My first trip I didn't have any clear plans and it was great. Second trip I wanted specific things and, by and large, I got them (sans bushmaster hahaha).
For what it's worth, another upside of *not* hiring a guide was that I got to meet lots of cool people. Hiring a guide prevents that to some extent. Since you're going with a group, I'd say it's better to get a guide.

I second Jimi's account of San Jose. I've never felt unsafe in Costa Rica except there. Last time I was getting food for our last day of the trip and had some sketchy dudes following me. Best just get out of that city as quick as possible.

Not much boa experience. Never much cared to find one. I was in a taxi near Golfito and we saw an 8 foot boa crawling from the car. Apparently, they're more common in the zone between forest and farmland. Tree boas are best found in and around mangrove swamps.

Price: I think that price range is good *per person* for being there. Food is reasonably expensive. And many guides charge per person. So even if you find a great reptile guide, your party's size will influence that. Cars aren't super expensive but insurance can be and driver's are CRAZY. With tickets, guides, food, lodging, random stuff...plan on at least $1500.

Here's two recommendations. I'd recommend Doc Frog/Cesar in Uvita (he's on FB) and Brian in Siquirres (at CRARC) as good, serious herping guides. With Brian you stay at his jungle home, which is cool (way better for frogs there, but I had no trouble with snakes; he finds fer-de-lance all the time and other stuff too). Cesar is expensive but he'll get you stuff, and Uvita is crazy beautiful. Brian's place is nice because you can hike on your own day/night.

-Derek


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 17th, 2018, 8:31 pm 
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Joined: August 29th, 2011, 9:54 pm
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Location: Arizona
Gotcha - That's about what I was expecting - $1500-$2000.

Anybody have experience with Jim Kaveney as a guide? Heard good things so far.

Also, another question I should be asking - that the two of you have eluded to - GEAR. I am beginning to gather that getting the proper gear is almost as costly as the trip :lol: what are your thoughts? Tall boots, collapsible hook, moisture protection for camera gear, batteries because they are more expensive there.. etc.


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 18th, 2018, 9:25 am 
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Joined: April 2nd, 2015, 7:30 am
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Location: Utah
I've never heard of that guide and cannot comment.

Must haves:
Tall waterproof boots (many places provide them, but it's best to be prepared).
Collapsing hook (but, again, don't play with a fer-de-lance. I've seen them climb hooks like lightening haha; I used my hook mostly as a walking stick and to move leaf litter. Found a velvet worm so that was cool).
Comfy clothes
Water proof jacket depending on season/location
Wide brimmed hat for sun
Organic bug repellent (many places don't want chemicals and, also, be courteous to the earth).
Umbrella *or* something to keep camera dry.
At least two flashlights per person. Batteries dying in the jungle is no bueno.
Bring more than one liter of water per person (my ancestry is Russian/Irish, so the tropics don't agree with me too well: I sweat).

-Derek


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 22nd, 2018, 9:09 am 
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Joined: August 29th, 2011, 9:54 pm
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Location: Arizona
Very cool! Thanks.

Any experience with Basilisks or Caimans? And do any of you have a ballpark of what rental cars cost?

I apologize for gunning you all down for the questions. I need to buy that book and move forward in that way as well. The practical experiences in these answers have been VERY helpful and I am very appreciative!


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 22nd, 2018, 11:37 am 
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You will find basilisks without any problem. Green plumed are on the Caribbean side, whereas browns are on the Pacific. Adults in particular are tough to get near without them bolting (except at night, where they can be easily located sleeping on trees). If you want pictures, you need a telephoto lens.

I never targeted caimans, but I did not have trouble seeing them in and around mangrove swamps. Eye shining can be pretty effective. Here's a pic of one at Osa we found at night.

ImageSpectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

The easiest place to see crocs, not caimans, is the Tarcoles river. If you're on the pacific side, it's worth a check.

Rental cars vary a great deal. Compact cars can be anywhere between 20-40 a day, which isn't bad. However, there are lots of back roads that are *only* accessible via 4 wheel drive. Those things can be 150+ a day, but are worth it depending on where you go. For what it's worth, I had luck talking to the owners of local car rental places for special taxi services. We found a dude who would drive us around for 10-20 a trip one way in his 4 wheeler. This saved hundreds of dollars and it was easy to coordinate. Nice guy, too.

And no worries about questions. I'm going to head back specifically for bushmasters in 2020, so this lets me stay fresh hahaha. :p

-Derek


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 26th, 2018, 8:20 am 

Joined: June 17th, 2010, 4:51 am
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Location: CT
Lots of great tips already mentioned. The only thing I have to add is all the national parks close EARLY. That means no night hiking there. So either plan on roadcruising or plan on staying at a lodge/hotel/camp with their own property. National Parks also don't like hooks.


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: November 26th, 2018, 11:06 am 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
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I'd just reiterate the Lonely Planet suggestion. I've got several feet of shelf space filled with these things - several countries having multiple editions (everywhere changes, constantly, and sometimes in huge ways).

https://shop.lonelyplanet.com/products/costa-rica-travel-guide-13?via=Z2lkOi8vbG9uZWx5LXBsYW5ldC9Xb3JrYXJlYTo6Q2F0YWxvZzo6Q2F0ZWdvcnkvNTllZTQ5YzFmOTJlYTE0MTg2MDU4N2E4

On the bug dope, I'm a hopelessly broken record about permethrin for your clothes. Pants, long-sleeved shirt, boot socks, and brim hat - do them all. Here's a good overview if you aren't already "saved". Yes, I'm an evangelist for permethrin! Ha ha.

Permethrin saves.

http://npic.orst.edu/pest/mosquito/ptc.html

Look at the little thumbnail photo - that's how you do it. Lay everything out on a patio or deck, and spray to saturation. Or better yet, get concentrate to cut down to 0.5% with water and put in a bucket or bag. Soaking beats spraying for durability. Sprays are easy to find in the USA on retail shelves. Concentrate is a mail-order thing, e.g.:

https://www.amazon.com/Control-Solutions-Permethrin-Termiticide-Insecticide/dp/B0048EY6KY/ref=pd_lpo_vtph_86_bs_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=486VR6D956T9HF1ZKFJN

Just triple-check your stoichiometry to make sure of your ratios. I find for a bucket soak, it's easiest to make up at least a gallon of solution. Having a target volume helps with the math!

cheers


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: December 5th, 2018, 9:18 am 
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Location: Edmond, OK
I have a friend that has used Jim a couple of times for his Costa Rica tours. We were going to use him next spring for our trip but that has fallen through on our end.


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica
PostPosted: December 8th, 2018, 9:58 pm 
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Location: Kotzebue, AK
I did a trip in May with Jim Kavney and it was awesome. We found 120 snakes in 6 days! 16 species and the latest trip report from November was more than that. The lodge we stayed at (Arenal Volcano) was amazing and you just herp around the lodge, no real driving needed. Jim has a low cost trip that I thought was amazing. I added a trip on the day after (with help from Jim) to look for yellow-bellied sea snakes. It was awesome as well. The guide was Chino's Sportfishing out of Heradura, I think that is how it is spelled. Chino was great, got us in great areas and we did some Mahi Mahi fishing whilst sea snake hunting! We found 3 sea snakes and caught 12 fish!. The cost were $950 for almost all inclusive trip with Jim, 6 days. I rented a car and drove near Jaco for the sea snake trip and that was roughly $300 for a half day charter. CR is an awesome place and loaded with snakes!


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