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Birding Costa Rica el nino weather

Heavy rains and landslides in Costa Rica

Despite the grim forecasts back in early October that a ridiculous amount of rainfall was going to drown Costa Rica for the rest of 2010, most of October was downright beautiful! Clear, sunny mornings with acceptable rain in the afternoons seemed to have trumped the weather people. This past Tuesday, however, the rains came back with a  vengeance and the results were tragic as Hurricane Thomas in the Caribbean and a low pressure system in the Pacific combined forces to dump all of October’s expected precipitation in just 48 hours.

It started on Tuesday, didn’t stop until Thursday, rained again for all of Thursday night and appears to have finally let up as I write this on Friday morning. As I was scheduled to guide in the Carara area on Wednesday and Thursday, I witnessed some of this deluge in my attempt to reach the coast on early Wednesday morning. As it had rained for the entire night and was still pouring down at 5 a.m., I left the house wondering if I should just stay home because such heavy rains typically result in landslides.

I figured I would at least drive past Atenas to where I could see into the Pacific Lowlands from an overlook. It was raining hard in the Central Valley but I thought, “Who knows? Maybe the sun would be shining on the coast”. My anxiety grew, however, as I drove on the highway and noticed massive puddles forming on the sides of the road and drainage ditches overflowing with torrents of rushing, clay colored water. At times, I could barely see out the windshield but decided to continue on to Atenas because the rain was a bit lighter once I took the exit to that quaint town at the edge of Central Valley.

As I approached Atenas, I saw a line of stopped cars straight ahead and as I had feared, yes, there was a small landslide blocking the road in both directions. To avoid possibly being stranded somewhere just shy of Atenas, I quickly turned around and drove back through the driving rain to home in Santa Barbara de Heredia. And a good thing too because as it turned out, there were bigger landslides further down the road that I was taking to get to the lowlands. There were also landslides that closed other roads, bridges were washed out, roads near Manuel Antonio were literally destroyed, and worst of all, twenty people were killed and more had their homes destroyed by a mudslide in San Antonio de Escazu.

Although few areas on the Caribbean Slope have been affected, the landslides have left the country in a state of emergency and mourning. Dozens of Ticos have lost their homes in Parrita, Escazu, and Aserri and thousands are without water, electricity, or cell phone use. Visitors to the country over the next two or three weeks could run into problems if traveling to such areas as:

  • Manuel Antonio- Damage to roads and flooding in Parrita.
  • Dominical- No access at the moment.
  • Cerro de la Muerte and the Dota Valley- Landslides have shut down the highway over the mountain.
  • Braulio Carrillo- Landslides have closed the highway.
  • Southwestern Costa Rica including San Vito and the Osa Peninsula- At the moment, only accessible by air.
  • Driving from the Pacific Coast to San Jose or vice versa- Landslides and road damage on all routes.

I suspect that most problems will be fixed by December (as long as we aren’t bombarded with similar amounts of rain in a short span of time), so I doubt that visitors to Costa Rica during the high and dry season will run into too many problems. On a side note, I am scheduled to guide at Irazu tomorrow. No issues have been reported from that area and the rain should stop by today so hopefully it will be sunshine and quetzals for tomorrow morning!

6 replies on “Heavy rains and landslides in Costa Rica”

I was very sad to hear of the people being buried alive in the mudslides. 20 dead and additional missing. Horrific to think of that. Thank God you don’t live in the area that was destroyed.

Sounds like there is more rain on the way, too, from what I’ve read. So being on the watch for potential more mudslides at this point probably goes without saying.

Best of luck guiding this weekend, and stay out of the crazy rain!

Yes, it’s a national tragedy. Fortunately, we don’t live in an area that is prone to landslides. Good news is that the rains have subsided. Guiding this past Saturday as good- we went high enough to more or less escape the rains.

Hi Patrick

I’m a regular reader of your blog, very enjoyable. Its always good to read real birders writing about their birds and birding.

Its always very sad to hear of ‘natural’ disasters, it never even made the Canadian press which shows you how insular the news media can be.

We will be at Rancho Naturalista in a few weeks, we get very limited vacation time and my wife really needs a rest so pricey but no doubt worth it, we are very excited. It will be our second visit to Costa Rica, there’s some stuff on my blog about the first.

Best wishes


@ Mark- Glad to hear you are coming down to Costa Rica for a second visit. Yes, Rancho is pricey but I agree if one has limited time and can afford it, it’s well worth it. I am also happy to hear that you enjoy the blog and thanks for leaving a comment!

You mentioned that the highway to Braulio Carrillo was closed. We’re planning to bird Braulio Carrillo (and to then take the same highway to the Sarapiqui region) early next year (2011). Is the highway still closed? I just discovered your blog, and will certainly visit more often. Great resource!

The highway is currently open. After heavy rains, landslides tend to close the road but it should be open during the dry season. Glad you like the blog- I hope it will be of help.

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