With extraordinary biodiversity harboured within verdant forest, protected reserves and along its untouched coastline, Costa Rica is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. To seek out each corner of lush wilderness, follow our guide to the best places to see some incredible wildlife in Costa Rica.
Located near the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border, Sarapiquí lies on the rushing Sarapiquí River. This primary rainforest has an astounding diversity of wildlife and is home to over half of Costa Rica’s bird species, as well as 1,850 plant species, 70 species of bats, and six different wild cats. The forest can be explored on foot or by white-water rafting and kayaking along its waterways. Many people also use it as a base for exploring the 2,704-metre Poás Volcano.
Within the fertile northern lowlands, the perfectly symmetrical Arenal Volcano – which has been in a resting phase since 2010 after regularly spewing ash and lava following its eruption in 1968 – offers visitors an abundance of outdoor activities, from hiking through the mountains to kayaking along its rivers. Step onto the Arenal Hanging Bridges to walk through the forest canopy, while looking out for monkeys, sloths and birds, and pay a visit to Proyecto Asis wildlife rescue centre to find out how they help protect the forest’s endangered species.
This 600-acre private reserve in the San Bernardo Lowlands is where two converging canyons bring together the cool waters of Rio Blanco and the hot waters of Rio Perdido (lost river), which is the source of a number of hot springs; up-stream people can hop between the hot and cold water. All of this is surrounded by tall forest, which is home to a great many birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibians and insects, with hiking and cycling trails and a 200-foot hanging bridge to venture along, while seeking out the waterfalls, Yurro and Las Tumbas.
Palo Verde National Park
Here in the Guanacaste Province, wetlands and tropical dry forest co-exist as the result of the Río Tempisque flooding the arid land. Set out on a cruise through 12 different habitats to see its verdant mangrove, aquatic plants and forest that encompass around 150 species of trees. Birds are the greatest attraction here though, with a small island in the river providing the perfect habitat. In the dry season, wildlife gathers around the park’s water sources, providing opportunities to see howler monkeys and white-tailed deer, among other species.
The Cloud Forest Reserves
With its canopy often obscured by cloud, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve harbours some of the most diverse wildlife in Costa Rica. In fact, the reserve is said to contain 2.5-per cent of the world’s biodiversity. Around 10 per cent of the flora is endemic, and there are as many as 755 species of trees alone. Adjacent to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, there’s then the lesser-known Los Angeles Cloud Forest Reserve, which ranges from 2,300 to 5,900 feet above sea level and covers 1,975 acres. This misty private park is rarely visited by tourists, enabling hikers to spot wildlife more easily.
Tortuguero National Park
Situated on the country’s northern Caribbean coast, Totuguero National Park has become famous across the globe as the nesting ground for sea turtles, including the endangered green turtle. But inland, the national park has freshwater creeks and lagoons to explore, too. Travel by boat along the park’s waterways to see river turtles and caiman, and hike through the rainforest for sightings of howler monkeys and toucans.
Manuel Antonio National Park
This national park on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast encompasses wild rainforest, white sand shores and a coral-rich marine environment. Hiking trails weave through the forest and along the coastline, taking in the staggering biodiversity of tropical vegetation and wildlife species. Around 109 species of mammals and 184 bird species have been spotted here, making it especially rewarding for wildlife sightings. After hiking through the rainforest, take a cruise out to see the dolphins and turtles, and kayak through the mangrove.
Travel to Costa Rica on the Natural Wonders of Costa Rica, Secrets of Panama and Costa Rica, Costa Rica Eco Adventure and Monkeys, Jungles and Volcanoes.
Image credits: Cover photo © iStock / Terraxplorer. A strawberry poison frog in Sarapiqui © iStock / Patrick Gijsbers. Arenal © iStock / John Miller. A red-legged honeycreeper © iStock / drferry. A sloth in Costa Rica © iStock / vilainecrevette. Costa Rican cloud forest © iStock / bogdanhoria. Tortuguero National Park © iStock / anzeletti. A squirrel monkey in Manuel Antonio © iStock / Sam Camp.