El Silencio, Costa Rica
We like to think we’re each environmentally-friendly. We recycle, we walk instead of using the car, we take our own bags to the supermarket.
These small things all add up, don’t they?
Well, they do. But some people’s actions seem to eclipse the sum of all of mine. That’s what strikes me as I hike through the protected wilderness of El Silencio.
In most countries, national parks are designated by the government. Here in Costa Rica there are plenty of them (26 to be exact).
This includes the Manuel Antonio National Park which I wrote about earlier this week. But what makes Costa Rica so interesting is that about 5 per cent of the country’s landmass is also protected privately by individuals or companies.
El Silencio is one of those places. It’s about 200 hectares of jungle, mountains, rivers and waterfalls. It sits high on the stretch of mountain peaks that divides the country vertically.
“This river flows down to the Atlantic Ocean,” local guide Andrey explains.
“And the one at the top of that ridge flows down to the Pacific.” That’s how in the centre of Costa Rica I am.
Andrey is taking me for a hike up to a collection of three waterfalls at the top of the property. We’ve set out from the El Silencio ecolodge at the bottom of the property where he works and I’m staying.
This is the only development allowed on the whole property. The rest is protected.
It’s an intriguing thought when you start to delve into it a bit deeper. The land is owned and the lodge designed by the Costa Rican Zurcher family, who also own other properties across the country.
They bought this bit of paradise high in the green jungle mountains and then, by protecting it, immediately prevented themselves by law from doing any kind of development or commercial activity on it, other than the lodge.
Think about most millionaire businessmen in wealthy countries and ask yourself what they would do if they bought 200 hectares of prime real estate.
Hiking through El Silencio
“Look at all the plants on the branch!” Andrey is pointing out a fallen bit of wood about a metre long that can barely be seen because of all the things growing on it.
“There’s a lot of plants – orchids, ferns, moss. Here you can find easily twenty or twenty-five different species. Just orchids there’s one, two, three…,” he counts to six.
One of the activities El Silencio offers to guests who stay here is this morning hiking tour of the property.
The destination may be the waterfalls but the sights along the journey elicit plenty of free-flowing conversation themselves.
Andrey points out a small beetle and then goes on to tell a story about how it would be the fastest animal on the planet if you calculated speed based on bodyweight.
We haven’t spotted any large animals along the way, though. No monkeys or, god forbid, jaguars.
I ask Andrey about that and he explains that El Silencio is in between two national parks so it’s an important natural corridor for the animals but they generally prefer to stay away from the humans, however limited we are.
There are some signs of animals along the way, though, including the little pig-like animals known as peccaries.
“See these, these are the elephant ears,” Andrey explains as he points at a large green fern.
“The roots of the elephant ears are like a potato but they have sap that burns the mouth. And the peccaries know about the sap so they dig at the base of the plant and they take the roots but they don’t eat it.”
“They leave it near the plant, they cover it with some dry leaves and they leave it there. Then they come back after three or four days and by then the roots drain all the sap and they are ok to eat.”
It’s these little things – the details of the jungle and how the ecosystem fits together – that fascinate me the most.
At the top of the hike I sit silently for a while and watch the pure cascading waters of the highest waterfall. There’s something hypnotic about the flow and my mind wanders.
I think about the world and what we as humans are doing about it.
I think about how I recycle, I think about how I walk instead of using the car… and then I think about how I actually normally get new plastic bags at the supermarket because I always forget my own ones.
For every good intention, there is a mistake. For every polluting company, there is a wealthy family willing to use their fortune to save the jungle.
Hopefully these all balance each other out or we’re in big trouble.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Visit Costa Rica but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.
22 thoughts on “Who’s protecting the jungles of Costa Rica?”
Protecting the jungles of Costa Rica is very important. And I admire you for doing your part. It might be a small step for some, but I think every little counts. Great photos. I love the last picture of the beautiful flower.
I liked the flower too! People get very excited about the animals in Costa Rica but I thought the plants were just as impressive (they just didn’t climb around as much).
Beautiful. And heartening to know there are people like the Zurcher family. Thank you for the post.
It’s really heartening, isn’t it? I’m sure there are a lot of people like this around the world who are prepared to invest in the future of our planet. What is sad is that some people, with large fortunes, don’t see it as a priority.
How wonderful to be reminded to have faith in human nature!
Have faith in humans and nature! 🙂
It’s wonderful to be able to spend some time in a reserve like this and know that it’s there for the right reasons too.
Looks like an amazing place to stay, and hike! So much green, and that flower looks downright otherworldly. I’d love to have gone for a swim in that waterfall after a long day of hiking…
Even though it was really hot on the Costa Rican coast, it was actually pretty chilly up in the mountains. I’m sure some people brave the waters for a swim but it didn’t really appeal to me. Maybe I should have been a bit more adventurous…
pollution in developing countries is one of the world’s biggest problems – I was astounded at the pollution from motorbikes/cars in Nepal. The beautiful natural scenery is being destroyed…what’s the answer? I don’t know. I’ll keep taking my cloth bag to Trader Joe’s (when I’m in the States, that is), but I wish there was something bigger I could do.
Pollution is a big problem but I’ve always felt it’s industry that makes up the largest part. That doesn’t mean individuals shouldn’t do their part – and transport is a really easy one for people to change their behaviour – but the focus should be on changing the behaviour of big business, in my view.
I love hearing about places like this. It’s fabulous to hear how private companies and wealthy people are doing their bit to be conservation leaders. I would love to check this place out.
I wish I could buy a jungle reserve in Costa Rica. And there would be no fear of any development going on. I would be too lazy to do anything other than just walk around it! 🙂
So awesome to know that there are people out there doing conservation work at that scale. I’m not much for hiking, I prefer a slow stroll haha, I’d love to stroll on through that amazing scenery some day!
I think if you live in Costa Rica, and you’re surrounded by this kind of nature, it would be an easy decision to want to protect some of it. Obviously not everyone is able to do that, so it’s great that those who are able to, do.
Protecting the forest is our responsibility…by the way i love the green photo of the leafs and waterfall.
There was so much green everywhere – it’s just the way Costa Rica is!! 🙂
Great jungle with picturesque waterfalls. Nice pictures of the costa rica forest.
Thanks. The waterfalls are really nice. It was definitely worth the hike up to them (not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed the scenery along the way anyway).
Great story, I’ll look into that private preservation side of Costa Rica when I’m there later this year.
Something positive what that family did, now this area is protected by somebody at least and they don’t allow any other businesses there. By the way I love the picture of the waterfall I haven’t been there but it seems to be a really peaceful place.
It is very peaceful. The waterfall is beautiful! You should try to get up there sometime and have a look around.
Please help me in saving this other Central American hidden treasure. Please sign and share!