American South

Best Places to See Nature After Dark

The sun may power most of our world—but some things come alive only at night

A barn owl by the light of the moon. (© HOP Photo/Ocean/Corbis)

Whether you’re someone who loves being up late or the type who gets sleepy by dinner, some things are worth staying awake for: the pulse of the rainforest as night creatures start roaming, the wild sound of a pack of wolves or even the unfurling of nature’s most unusual nocturnal flora. Sure, night isn’t for everyone, but for many of the world’s fascinating species, you won’t see—or hear—their best performance till dark.

In certain habitats, the majority of animals are night-dwellers. Head to the rainforests of Costa Rica, for instance, and you’ll find that a whopping 70 percent of inhabitants are nocturnal, including tiny, incredible insects and larger four-legged mammals. Last year a team of researchers found that our own mammalian ancestors may have been nocturnal—something to keep in mind if the thought of animals leaping from darkness gives you the creeps.

Other spots are thrilling at night even without the fear factor. If you’ve never watched a night-blooming flower like the cereus open up, you may be surprised by just how spellbinding a plant can be.

Check out these six spots for the most bewitching nighttime displays around the globe.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is one of Costa Rica’s after-dark gems. Go on a tour in the daytime and you’ll see plenty of nifty tree species and, occasionally, a monkey or two—it’s a pleasant enough hike. But go at night, and the entire rainforest throbs with sounds you can’t otherwise hear and with organisms you can’t otherwise see in the wild. Highlights include the olingo, a raccoon-like omnivore that struts through the treetops and whose eyes have a particularly beguiling gleam. Make sure to look above you into the canopy with your flashlight and to listen for the swish of branches overhead. Sloths, too, may make an appearance, but a lot of the action is closer to the ground. Fuzzy tarantulas (your guide will remind you that the ones in Monteverde are not lethal), impressively camouflaged stick bugs, tiny scurrying mice and a host of other small critters line the trails. If you’re grossed out by cockroaches—even the most seasoned naturalist sometimes has that primal fear—know that you’ll probably see a few. But know, too, that even a roach looks otherworldly and beautiful in the misty rainforest at night.


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