With the weather perfect pretty much every day and the trees still green but starting to thin their foliage, it’s a great time of year for those searching for wildlife around Tamarindo.
Add in the fact that we’re reaching the peak of not only Humpback Whale migration season, but also Manta Ray season, and it’s a beautiful time for nature on both land and sea.
So for this month’s edition of We ? Tama, we’re going to be looking at the place where these two biomes meet — the Tamarindo estuary — and the tours that explore them.
The Tamarindo Mangroves
Costa Rica is one of the most biodense locations on earth, with a diversity of terrains, habitats, and life that is almost unparalleled for its relatively small land mass.
This is true for many reasons. Costa Rica is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, giving the land an incredible amount of texture. It’s also located between two entirely different oceans, while also containing a vibrant freshwater ecosystem thanks to its many rivers.
And at the intersection of rivers and the ocean are the mangroves, one of the most unique and important parts of the Costa Rican ecosystem.
Named for the trees, bushes, and shrubs (known as mangroves) that collectively make up these brackish areas, these habitats aren’t quite like any other on the planet. First, the mixture of salt and fresh water gives rise to interesting habitants who can thrive in this ‘in-between’ zone.
Most plants will die if exposed to salt levels that are too high or too low, but mangrove plants are different. Through their above-and-below-water roots, they actually extract the salt and water from their environment separately, and act as natural desalinization factories.
These mangroves then serve as a source of food, shelter, and oxygen for a wide array of fish and especially young fish, some of which cannot survive without them.
For example, many species of oceanic fish come into mangroves to lay eggs. The juvenile fish grow in the shelter of the dense roots and cloudy, brackish conditions before setting out into the ocean once they’ve matured.
Add the fact that some fish can go between mangrove, rivers, and the ocean, draws a number of predators like birds and cats, and you have a vibrant hotbed of life.
A Protected Area
Due to their fundamental importance in Costa Rican ecosystems and biodiversity, all mangroves are fiercely protected under Costa Rican law. In addition, Las Baulas National Park is right north of the estuary, which is additionally protected.
This makes the area surrounding the Tamarindo estuary an interesting blend of accessible and wild. Despite the fact that its entrance just a short walk from downtown Tamarindo, the estuary cuts deep into Guanacaste’s tropical dry forest, offering a glimpse into a world restored to its raw, natural beauty.
Tours into the Estuary
There are a number of different ways to set off on a tour into the Tamarindo estuary, but our favorite way is at the “ranger station” at the north end of Tamarindo beach, where the estuary separates Playa Tamarindo from Playa Grande.
The ranger station is one of the oldest staples of Playa Tamarindo. Originally, the pangas or boatmen, would wait on either bank to ferry locals, beach goers, surfers, and anyone else across the estuary for a dollar or a rojo (depending on the mood of the pangas).
Over time, enterprising pangas — who knew the estuary better than almost anyone — also began to offer tours upriver, and the estuary tours were born.
To this day, you can still head to the ranger station with a dollar or a rojo to get across the estuary to Playa Grande. Or you can set off on an unforgettable trip upriver into the heart of the mangroves and the tropical dry forest.
What to Expect on Your Tour
Most tours last about 2-3 hours, long enough to explore the transition from saltwater estuary at the mouth of the river, up into the mangroves, and finally up to the fresher waters deep in our local tropical dry forest.
Along the way, guides help spot and identify the fish, birds, monkeys, and other animals you encounter along the way, as well as detailing the different trees and plants that make up the structure of this vibrant ecosystem.
It’s a calm, very interesting look at the wild world waiting just outside of Tamarindo, and we recommend bringing a few things with you.
Snacks and water are a big plus, especially during dry season summer days. Sun protection like hats and sunscreen are a definite must (like with most outdoor adventures around Guanacaste), and bug spray or another form of bug protection can also be helpful. After all, mangrove forests are still technically swamps.
Finally, we definitely recommend bringing polarized sunglasses, binoculars, a camera — anything to help spot or snap photos of the avian, aquatic, and terrestrial wildlife you’ll see along the way.
Set Off For An Adventure
If you’re interested in going on one of these tours, you can reach out to us at email@example.com. We can give you some pointers on how to get to the ranger station, get to know the guides, and get started on this beautiful excursion right in our backyard.