A Day In The Life Of…A Costa Rican Jungle Tour Guide

August 9, 2023
1 Comment
A Day In The Life Of, Costa Rica

Hailing from the lush lands of northern Costa Rica, Isaac Méndez Valerio is a professional tour guide for Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge in Golfo Dulce, near the Osa Peninsula. We found out what inspired him to be a guide and what he loves most about living out his passion in a remote part of this Central American wildlife wonderland.

Isaac and his amigo snake
Isaac and his amigo snake

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what attracted you to work in this role? 

I have always been a curious person and always wanted to see more of the world around me, to understand more. I grew up near Juan Castro National Park surrounded by nature: from endless woods to rivers and waterfalls, and having family at the beach alongside friends who are farmers, provided me with a lot to learn, observe, and explore. There was not much of a surprise when at 19 years old I heard a call I could not ignore. I got to know the feeling of what a tour guide could become one day during a walk through the woods with my family, and it was something I had never felt before. It was decided: I wanted to dedicate my life to showing my world to anyone willing to see it through my eyes. After I finished my studies, I worked at different places until I found the wonders that were hiding in the Golfo Dulce and Osa Peninsula.

A teenage Isaac all smiles in his canoe
Teenage Isaac all smiles in his canoe

How does a typical day start for you? 

My day usually starts at 4:30 am when I wake up at the call of the Howler monkeys on top of my cabin, there is no way around that, not with some of the loudest mammals on the planet! Once awake, I will go to the deck of my garden and look at the early birds for a few minutes. 

After a shower and depending on the tours I will lead for the day, I like to go fishing or swimming before breakfast or work. It’s important for me to start the day with something that gives me both energy and motivation. After that, it’s time to go to work.

Isaac keeping an eye out for the action on a jungle hike
Isaac keeping an eye out for the action on a jungle hike

Favourite thing about where you work?  

I struggled with this one. There are so many wonderful things about this place, but I believe my favourite thing is the opportunity to better myself while learning about my environment. With 2.5% of the biodiversity of the world and a rainforest that meets a tropical fjord, I have the opportunity to do a hike in the morning to look for birds or a kayak tour between the mangroves and enjoy a beautiful sunset at the beach, only to get some rest and go to look for awesome creatures at night in the forest.

Isaac’s photo of an ocelot on one of his night tours

What’s the most unusual/memorable moment you’ve experienced guiding visitors? 

The most memorable moment so far was during a kayak tour on the Esquinas River. We need to keep in mind two things: one is that this river flows directly into the gulf, which causes a high and low tide just like the ocean. The second one is that animals are unpredictable.

We were cruising down the stream on low tide when I spotted a decent-sized crocodile, about 2.5 metres, on the right side hiding between some lilies. Because of the level of the water at that time, the place where the crocodile was had a higher elevation compared to our kayaks: we were basically looking up a small cliff. 

I was in the middle and had two more kayaks with me, one on each side, and as soon as I tried to explain where the crocodile was hiding, it jumped with a spectacular speed and dove towards us and sank, head first, between our kayaks! It was like out of a movie, everyone was speechless

After a few seconds to process what happened, we kept cruising down the stream and admiring the river and the wildlife, but we could not stop talking about that moment.

Isaac captures an amazing moment of 'beauty and the beast'
Isaac captures an amazing moment of ‘beauty and the beast’

Biggest challenges you face in your role? 

Definitely trying to meet everyone’s expectations. I work at a place famous for its biodiversity, but nature it’s not a zoo. I understand the wish and the excitement when it comes to going out and trying to find animals for example, but not all days animals will show up, and sometimes people may feel bad or even upset when they don’t scratch a specific species off a list or when you don’t know the answer at the moment for one specific question, even though you answered another 20 questions correctly. This is hard because as a guide I want to provide the best possible experience, find everything they want to see, and know all the information about the hundreds or thousands of species there are. But even knowing I have learned a lot, only makes me more aware of the fact that there is so much more I don’t know yet. Life would not be interesting without challenges, it is what makes us get better.

Isaac points out a sighting on a tour with the Latin Routes team
Isaac points out a sighting on a tour with the Latin Routes team

What advice would you give travellers coming to explore your holidaying experience?

Don’t forget that you will be traveling to the tropics, the rainforest specifically. This is a very humid part of the world, so keep that in mind when you pack. Cotton or leather will be very warm and harder to dry for example, but other clothes like the ones designed for outdoors will be great, especially with fast-drying technology. 

The weather is a little bit unpredictable, so depending on the time of the year we can have sun and rain on the same day. A waterproof bag should be one of your essentials, and once you get here, either by car or plane, we will pick you up to take you to the lodge which is completely apart from any town, the only access will be by boat, in case you want to keep that in mind in order to do something like a “what to bring” list.

Departing the lodge via the only way out of the jungle - on water!
Departing the lodge via the only way out of the jungle – on water!

Favourite time of year and any tips for when to go there?  

My favorite time of the year is from July to September when the humpback whales start coming during their migration, or “the whale season” as we call it. It is not a guarantee that they will be putting on a show every day or anything like that, but when we go looking for marine wildlife during the Golfo Dulce tour, it is common to see them at this time of the year. So one tip for this time of the year would be to stay more than 2 nights so you increase your chances of seeing them and don’t forget cameras, binoculars, and even drones.

A breaching humpback whale

Any funny stories you would like to share?

I have so many funny stories that I could not pick just one, but one of the best ones was one time that during a fishing tour, an 11-year-old kid caught a very big yellow-tailed jack, and almost ended up in the water! That is a very strong fish, and I had to grab the kid’s rod with one hand and kneel to grab his waist with the other one, while his grandma was yelling at the top of her lungs trying to make a video. The fight (and the screaming) continued for a few minutes until the reel broke, and we kept trying with just the line in our hands, but in the end, the line snapped and lost the battle, but won a great story.

Isaac and friend fishing in the Golfe Dulce
Isaac and friend fishing in the Golfo Dulce

Ready to book your trip to stunning Costa Rica? Get in touch with one of our Latin specialists today on 020 8038 2796, or complete the enquiry form to get in touch.

Share It:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

One Comment

  • Wilfredo Gamboa
    August 11, 2023 at 8:14 pm

    Great experience, my friend Issac. Wonderful man and the knowledge he has. Happy to see you are having such fun! Greetings from Aguas Zarcas.