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Costa Rica Butterfly Watching

Costa Rica is home to over 35,000 species of insects. Among them are more than 3,000 species of butterflies and moths. Hidden within the country’s dense rain forests are an abundance of colorful butterflies which account for 90% of Central America’s butterfly species and 18% of the entire world’s butterfly species.

From volcano summits to raging rivers, the entire country is visited by these fluttering creatures. The most spectacular is the morpho butterfly, with its blue-patterned wings spanning 15 centimeters. Gliding beneath the sheltered canopies are thousands of butterflies other species that camouflage themselves among the leaves and branches. Throughout Costa Rica are several butterfly farms and gardens where visitors can learn about the role of butterflies in nature. Below is a list of some of the best places to spot butterflies throughout Costa Rica.

La Guacima
Located in a small agricultural town in the province of Alajuela, La Guacima is home to Central America’s first commercial butterfly farm. Close to San Jose, the farm offers two-hour guided tours through tropical gardens filled with fluttering butterflies. Enclosed areas allow guests to learn about the various life cycles and natural history of these remarkable insects.

During morning tours, guests can witness butterflies emerging from their chrysalides. On export days visitors may watch thousands of pupae being packed for export all over the world. There are also information videos, ox-cart rides, bee gardens and bird aviaries. Multi-lingual guides are on location to identify and explain the various species. For those wanting to visit the butterfly farm, direct bus service is offered daily from many of the hotels in San Jose.

Situated in Cerro Plano, between the town of Santa Elena and the Monteverde Reserve, is a butterfly garden that was founded in 1989 by biologist Jim Wolfe and his wife Marta Iris. Their goal was to educate visitors about the array of butterflies and insects native to Costa Rica.

All the butterflies in the garden are bred on the premises, unlike most gardens which buy in their chrysalides. A variety of eggs, caterpillars, pupae and adults can be examined on location. In addition to a climate-controlled butterfly garden, they also offer a biodiversity center, medicinal plant garden, and live leaf cutter ant colony where visitors can observe insects in their natural habitats.

Vara Blanca
Near San Jose is Costa Rica’s largest butterfly garden. On location are waterfalls, birding exhibits, botanical gardens and 3.5 kilometers of trails that wind through an enormous butterfly garden. Within a single-day visit, guests can enjoy the Butterfly Observatory, Hummingbird Garden, Frog Exhibit, and Trout Lake.

There is also an on-site laboratory that displays the stages of development while serving as a breeding ground for the fluttering species. In nature, on average only 5% of butterfly eggs reach adulthood compared to the 55% success rate at the butterfly garden. There are over 4,000 butterflies in the observatory at any one time, assuring that guests will come in contact with many butterflies during their visit.

From San Jose, the shortest route is through Heredia, past the National University and toward the town of Barva. Follow the signs towards Poas Volcano, Vara Blanca and Sarapiqui until you reach the butterfly grounds.

Famous for its national parks, pristine beaches and whitewater rafting, Limon is also the home to a research and adventure park that specializes in butterflies. Located on a 1,300-hectare (4,000 acre) private reserve, the park is nestled in a rainforest where thousands of butterflies live. The garden itself is inhabited by some of the most colorful butterflies in the world, including the blue Morpho butterfly.

The exhibit features a research lab where guests can study the life stages of the insects. They also have the world’s largest indoor nocturnal frog exhibit, a reptile vivarium, a hummingbird garden, and a tram ride through the rainforest canopy. The park is less than one hour from Port of Limón and only 2.5 hours from San José

El Bosque Nuevo
Just north of Santa Cecilia is El Bosque Nuevo, a town famous for its unique butterfly farm. The grounds are 12 kilometers south of Lake Nicaragua and 60 kilometers east of the Pacific. Although dryer than the inland rain forests, this area is populated with a variety of butterflies.

The butterfly farms here specialize in education, by teaching residents how to harvest butterfly pupae for sale to conservatories around the world. They also provide information on the species that flutter among the Costa Rican Rainforest, as well as a list of the butterfly pupae available in the area.

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