Knowing that I love to look at birds – Eric insisted that we book a boat tour of the mangrove forest in San Blas. Since the best time to go birding is early in the morning, we woke up early, and arrived at the Tovara Springs park by 7:15. While it is possible to split a boat cruise with another couple for a reduced fee, we decided that we would go ahead and pay the full fee so we could have the motor boat all to ourselves. We were lucky to have an expert guide pointing out all the wildlife all around us. As soon as we hopped in the small panga we started seeing amazing birds – and I snapped this picture of a boat billed heron before we even left the boatyard.
The guide pointed out birds we never would have been able to see on our own. In particular, we were excited to see two different species of owls, a night hawk, purple gallinule, tiger herons, green backed herons, yellow crowned night herons, chachalacas, spoonbills, and ibis. The birds did not seem to mind the motor on our little boat, so we were able to float within a few feet of many birds.
As we progressed further into the mangrove forest we started seeing crocodiles lying on the banks of the river. We floated quite close to one that was almost 4 meters long, and our guide told us the biggest crocodile he had ever seen was 5 meters in length (approximately 16 feet). We also saw other reptiles like lizards, iguanas, and turtles.
We then came to the Tovara Springs Crocodile Farm…which was a little depressing after seeing the animals in their wild habitats. In particular, it was sad to see jaguars kept in cages that seemed way too small. We got back into the boat and navigated through the labyrinthine mangrove forest back to the boat launch. We continued to see a variety of birds and reptiles along the way.
I would definitely recommend the Tovara Springs tour to people passing through San Blas – especially if you have any interest in birds. It is best to go early in the morning, and to wear lightweight pants and long sleeves as this is a swamp and of course has mosquitos.