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Butterfly Watching in the Tropics

What that means, you’ll see a lot more different kinds of birds, butterflies, flowers than at home. Butterflies in particular are fun to watch as they flit from flower to flower sipping nectar, and chasing each other as part of a courtship dance. Tropical butterflies will dazzle you their flamboyant and exotic colorations, from iridescent blues to a kaleidoscope of colors.

Butterfly gardens have become a very popular attraction for the tourist crowd; in a controlled environment, one will encounter a great variety of these beautiful insects and learn about their life history including their choice of larval (host) and nectar plants.

What I mean by controlled environment is that a fine cloth mesh encloses most of these gardens, to keep the colorful tenants from escaping and also to protect the butterflies from larger predators such as birds. Most of these facilities have dedicated butterfly-feeding stations as well as enclosed growing quarters for the butterfly’s larvae replete with the larvae’s favorite host plant. Butterfly gardens have proliferated especially well as an eco-attraction in many tropical destinations

In Costa Rica, in particular, there are many butterfly gardens throughout the country. The most popular and largest butterfly gardens are the La Paz Butterfly Observatory at the La Paz Gardens [], the Monteverde Butterfly Garden and Butterfly Botanical Gardens at Manuel Antonio. In Thailand, butterfly gardens are also becoming quite popular. In Phuket, Pattaya and Ko Samui, three major resort destinations, these type of gardens have sprung up. In Mae Sa Valley, just outside of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, many of the orchid farms and nurseries also feature small butterfly gardens.

For me personally, while I love to visit butterfly gardens, what really turns me on is either observing butterflies in the wild or in someone’s private garden. In a private garden setting, in order to attract butterflies, there will have to be a representative sample of the butterflies favorite nectar plants and as well as species-specific host plants planted in the garden. Usually butterfly nectar plants will also attract pollinators such as different species of wasps and bees as well. And what will make the garden really interesting, is if it has been set up to attract hummingbirds in addition to seed-eating and carnivorous birds. In gardening parlance, this what we call “a wildlife garden”.

In the mountains of Northern Thailand, in the small market town of Chiang Dao, I have a lady friend who has the most beautiful private wildlife garden that I have ever encountered in my travels. What makes this scenario even more fascinating is that my friend, Khun Lek, did not consciously design her garden as such. Khun Lek has a lovely Thai teak house set amidst a large tropical garden replete with a frog pond, fountains, gazebos and an assortment of tropical plants, flower and trees. And to sit on her outdoor terrace on a sunny morning, having a cup of green tea and Thai breakfast while watching “the show” in her garden unfold is a quite an experience.

Bus Goldberg is a seasoned world traveler and the director of Calypso Island Tours, a travel company that specializes in botanical adventures and nature tours to such diverse destinations as Costa Rica, Thailand and the Caribbean. He also maintains his own travel blog, Calypso Island Chronicles


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Tags: nectar plants, monteverde butterfly garden, different kinds of birds, courtship dance, butterfly observatory


  1. Stephen says:

    Hi, can you tell me what Thai plants serve well to attract butterflies or birds?
    I am deveeloping a forest garden in Khao Yai.

    1. Kathleen says:

      Are you in Thailand now, or planning to be? I see that your email address is in the UK.

      I do not know, but I have American friends in Nonkhai who may be able to help you find English-speaking contacts who do know the local flora. Would that help?

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