I love snakes. Snakes love me. How do I know? Well, I haven’t been bitten in all my times hiking Costa Rica’s snake-“infested” forests. Still, that’s also probably because I’m so paranoid about stepping on a perfectly-camouflaged fer-de-lance coiled unseen in my path that I tap a stick to disturb the leaf litter ahead of me when hiking.
Costa Rica has 138 species of snakes, of which only 18 species are venomous and nine of them very venomous. Wherever you are in the country, snakes are sure to be about, though most are too well camouflaged or hidden or shy to be seen. But how to know which ones are potentially deadly? Easy! Several serpentariums give you a close-up look at these fascinating and much misunderstood creatures.
The largest facility is World of Snakes , just east of Grecia. It displays more than 150 snakes from around the world, including many of Costa Rica’s most beautiful species. It educates visitors to dispel negative impressions with a clear message—snakes are a vital part of a healthy tropical ecosystem.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens , above Alajuela, also has an impressive serpentarium. You can view fer-de-lance close up in glass cages—a chance to identify this giant (up to 3 meters long) and aggressive snake that is responsible for some 80 percent of fatal bites in Costa Rica. Go ahead... ask to hold one of the non-venomous snakes.
During my recent visit to Parque Vibora (506/2538-1510), east of Turrialba, the owner was building a boa pit—a new addition to its impressive snake exhibits. Further east, the Veragua Rainforest Research & Adventure Park , which opened in late 2008, has a dedicated snake exhibit. There’s also an excellent serpentarium, The Serpentarium , in Monteverde.
And visitors to the Central Pacific should head to Parque Reptilandia , at Platanillo, east of Dominical. It also displays crocodiles, turtles, poison-dart frogs, and even a komodo dragon from Indonesia.
As to hiking the forests, remember one rule: when you’re walking, look down! And, please, wear sturdy hiking boots with ankle protection. Never reach under rocks or fallen timbers or into leaf litter. And look carefully at tree branches or other vegetation before grabbing hold. Pit vipers are well camouflaged (yellow for hiding amid bananas… bright green for snakes that live amid leafs… etc.) and not easily seen.