The first thing we did after arriving in Santa Elena in the early evening was to join a night hike. I'm not sure how many different groups offer night hikes in the area but it may be in double digits. Typically, they pick you up at your hotel, take you to the hike and then bring you back. Night hikes are primarily about invertebrates - lots of spiders, stick insects, millipedes and so on. We also saw a large variety of nesting birds. It's worth mentioning that a nesting bird mostly looks like a pile of fluff at night. Also in the pile of fluff category would be the sloth we saw. The highlights for us were a purple caecilian (that's a pretty geeky highlight, I know) and a Mexican hairy porcupine.
Another attraction you're almost sure to visit while in Santa Elena and Monteverde would be a canopy tour. These vary in adventurousness from some pretty crazy zip lines to walking on stationary bridges. They are scattered all around Santa Elena.
This is one of the bridges at Selvatura. We stayed with a pretty tame selection of activities on this visit, largely due to having a four-year old child in tow. The bridges are scenic but we didn't see much wildlife at all. It might be partially because of the people dangling from zip-lines shooting to and fro across the forest.
This is what we saw in terms of interesting wildlife - one mouse. It's a cute mouse to be sure. The Costa Rican rain forest seems like a daunting place to be a small mouse.
Hummingbirds were a highlight of our last trip to Monteverde back when there were only two or three canopy tours in town. They were still a highlight of this visit though. We took about a thousand pictures, some of which even have a hummingbird in them. For those who care, this is a coppery headed emerald. All of our bird identifications here come from a convenient hummingbird picture guide at Selvatura.
The green crowned brilliant was the most common hummingbird we saw. Hummingbird gardens throughout Costa Rica use a series of nectar feeders to attract the birds. We did actually see quite a few visiting flowers and such "in the wild" throughout our trip.
This guy, the violet sabrewing, was particularly hard to get a picture of as he never seemed to stop moving.
Along with hummingbirds, butterflies are a major attraction at various places around Santa Elena. This is a blue morpho which is probably the most famous of Costa Rica's butterflies. Pictures never really do it justice though. It's far more impressive to see it in flight in the jungle.
This is one of our new favorites, a malachite butterfly.
We visited a butterfly garden where we all at various times had butterflies on us. The butterfly gardens are actually controlled indoor nurseries with (mostly) guided tours.
The boards full of chrysalises are pretty impressive. Once they hatch, the butterflies hang out for a couple hours to let their wings dry before leaving.
The Jewels of the Rainforest museum is an insect museum on the northeast side of Santa Elena. It's part of the Selvatura complex now and is absolutely worth a visit. It is largely the life's work of one man. He has collected a vast number of insects of all types. His wife seems to have taken up the unusual hobby of artistic insect arrangement.