Postcard #2 from Costa Rica: Monkeys at Bosque Del Cabo

To see the video, click the Play button
To see the video, click the Play button

Like clockwork, about an hour before sunrise at Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge, before the kitchen staff put out coffee, we were startled awake by loud, whooping calls, a guttural sound between a bark and a roar. This is no rooster crow. Our jungle alarm clock came from a troop of mantled howler monkeys—the loudest animals on land in the world—their calls can be heard five kilometres away.

But it was the gymnastics, intelligence and natural spectacle of the black-handed spider monkeys in Magellan’s video above that truly captivated us.

We’d never seen wild monkeys before, only habituated ones in Bhutan and Honduras, brazen as gypsy-kid pickpockets. What a thrill at Bosque del Cabo observing their wild dexterity and playfulness as they “monkeyed around” the property’s rainforest.

Located on a large bluff, Cabo Matapalo, on the southernmost point of the Osa Peninsula, the lodge is in the wildest, least-inhabited region in Costa Rica. Least-inhabited by humans, that is. This tiny peninsula is the home of more than 2.5% of the world’s animal and plant species. Phil Spier discovered its biocomplexity when he came here to surf the Pacific in the early 80s. Deciding to stay, surf and grow black pepper trees, Phil built three rental cabinas to help support his farm. The venture turned into Bosque del Cabo (“The Forest on the Cape”), an eco-lodge that he and his wife Kim have been running since 1990 in a private rainforest reserve of 325 hectares they own and protect.

Spread out among the property are nineteen bungalows and villas. Magellan and I were in Orchidia with its peek-a-boo view of the Pacific a hundred metres or so below. Others in our group were in cabinas a fifteen-minute walk away over a suspension bridge where a puma was spotted days before we arrived! In addition to great coffee, the staff make delicious ciabatta buns, passion-fruit martinis (served with bamboo straws) and scrumptious salads that had me counting the hours ‘til lunchtime.

During our two-day stay, there was no way we could possibly cover Bosque del Cabo’s twenty-five kilometres of trails, though we hiked Zapatero, named after a tree, and twice we wandered Titi (which means spider monkey, like those in the video above).

Although four species of monkeys hang around at Bosque del Cabo, mostly we saw the black-handed (or Geoffroy’s) spider monkey and the mantled howlers. They’re quite unique. Let’s start with the howlers.

Black-handed spider monkeys, leaner with longer limbs and tails than howlers,  are about a metre tall and weigh between six and nine kilos. Their thumb-less hands are indeed black while their bodies range in colour from ruddy gold to brown and black. They’re super agile, swinging effortlessly from tree to tree. But in Magellan’s video you heard one of them crash and fall, so you know they misjudge a leap like every athlete.

Except they’re not just playing around in the forest—they’re looking for food. Spider monkeys eat a frugivorous (another new word to us) diet, feeding mostly on ripe fruit spiced up with the occasional handful of leaves and flowers. I’d say we usually saw about a dozen foraging together, although spider monkeys organize in troops of about thirty-five individuals.

Females give birth once every seventeen to forty-five months and here in the wild, their lifespan can reach thirty years.

On Magellan’s video you may have caught Ben commenting briefly on a spider monkey’s piece of flesh and saying, “That’s the female.”

Intrigued, we followed up on that. He was referring to the female’s pendulous and erectile clitoris, which is long enough to be mistaken for a penis!

Another thing we discovered, speaking of organs, is that a spider monkey’s brain is twice the size of that of an equivalently sized howler.

The roar of the howlers is a powerful awakening but spider monkeys woke us up to just how magnificent these rels of ours truly are.

And remember what our moms used to say? “Empty vessels make the most noise.”


For more info on the Costa Rica tours we took, go to Backcountry Journeys.

Baker, Christopher P.  MOON Costa Rica. Berkeley: Avalon Travel, 2015. Our favourite guide to this wonderful country.

Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge—where the rainforest meets the ocean has a comprehensive website that details everything you’d want to know about a stay there.

Wallace, David Rains. The Quetzal and the Macaw—The Story of Costa Rica’s National Parks. San Francisco: Sierra Books, 1992. “A vivid portrait of natural beauty and human commitment that reveals why Costa Rica has become model for all developing Latin American countries in balancing political enlightenment with environmental concerns.”


8 Responses

    1. Incredible, admiring their intelligence and dexterity and parenting. There is a place we’re dreaming of returning to where the white-faced capuchins were right outside our room—Postcard #12 maybe—you’ll see why.

  1. Love your video! Thought you might have to save that monkey. Having dislocated ribs many times, I know how painful that can be. And the mama(?) making the bridge for the baby! Nice boots Spice!

    1. Someone in the group actually looked to see if a monkey was on the ground hurt but no sign of one, resilient acrobats aren’t they?

  2. Indeed a very timely story, “My Sincere Thanks” for allowing me to be included in your travels without having to leave my Saskatchewan home, like the monkeys, I favour the forested areas of this great earth.
    I was wandering how the current health situation was grounding your travels. We need to pull on our thinking caps and put safety at a premium, leave the fear mongers to their craft always use the common sense we grew up with, no need to panic, “Pay Attention” indeed.

    “Be Astonished” is always in place as we view any form of nature, the apes, and monkey families provide an open format of true joy, like children they provide an honest and open book on the ways of the world.

    To quote a 70’s song, “Joy To The World”

    1. We left for Costa Rica January 29 and returned February 23 just as the western world began taking the Coronavirus seriously. Your analogy of watching monkeys equating to seeing children at play is spot on.

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