5 MUST-SEE WILD PLACES IN COSTA RICA
If you’re a wildlife lover like me then Costa Rica is definitely one ecotourism destination worth a spot on your bucket list. Not only is this Central America destination home to 5% of our planet’s biodiversity it also boasts an extensive network of wildlife refuges, national parks, and other sanctuaries.
Today a whopping 25% of Costa Rica’s land is considered protected. As a result, its wildlife species and their habitats have been able to thrive — turning Costa Rica into an epic destination for wildlife-loving tourists. From Costa Rica’s tropical cloud forests to its diverse marine habitats, there’s certainly no shortage of wild places to explore and wild things to admire in this small but thriving destination.
Here adventurers can marvel at some of Latin America’s most prized mammals, including 6 different jungle cat species (jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, and oncilla), sloths, monkeys, coati, armadillo, Baird’s tapir, whales, and dolphins, to name a few.
If mammals aren’t your thing then maybe Costa Rica’s some 174 amphibian species, 200 reptile species (ie. adorable baby sea turtles), 850 bird species or hundreds of thousands of species of insects will peek your interest.
Whatever your wild style may be, Costa Rica is definitely one easy-to-get-to and easy-to-get-around destination worth exploring. So to help get you inspired here’s Mar Gone Wild’s 5 Must-See Wild Places in Costa Rica.
(Cover photo courtesy of Minke Wink)
Located on Costa Rica’s continental divide in its central highlands is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. It is estimated that 2.5% of our planet’s total biodiversity can be found within the reserve’s 6 ecological zones– making it one of the country’s most popular destinations for viewing wildlife.
Compared to its lowland tropical rainforests Costa Rica’s cloud forests maintain higher levels of humidity (we’re talkin’ 100%) and can be distinctly cooler than their lower altitude counterparts (so be sure to pack a jacket when visiting).
If its abundance of wildlife isn’t persuading enough then perhaps its breathtakingly-misty canopy views will do the trick . . .
Here you can find some 100 species of mammals, including five species of jungle cats, howler and capuchin monkeys, sloths, Baird’s tapir and more.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is also home to more than 400 bird species, including the majestic resplendent quetzal, bellbirds, emerald toucanets, toucans, trogons and many species of hummingbirds– making it a particularly popular destination for birding enthusiast.
Extra Fun Fact: The Monteverde region is also considered to have the largest number of orchid species in the world!
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is between December and April (Costa Rica’s dry season). If possible, try to avoid visiting during the region’s really wet months (August – November) as many of the trails become soddened and difficult (and messy) to hike.
The reserve is open daily from 7 AM to 4 PM, but I suggest getting there as early as possible and avoiding the busier second half of the day. As of December 2017, the entrance fee for Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is $20 for foreigners.
I recommend allocating at least 4 hours to explore as many of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve’s 11 different trails as possible. Or you can opt for one of the many guided tours offered by local tour operators (like THIS one).
Compared to some of Costa Rica’s other parks and reserves Manuel Antonio National Park is relatively small at roughly 3 square miles (6.83 km2) / consisting of 1,700 acres of land and over 130,000 acres of water. But don’t let its size fool you, this park is loaded with wildlife, and then some.
Located on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast this national park is often touted as the country’s most beautiful park (in addition to being its most popular), and once you’ve experienced it it’s easy to see why.
The park itself is made up of primary and secondary forests, mangrove swamps, lagoons and lush a coastal habitat all in one place. It’s this diversity that sets Manuel Antonio National Park’s apart for visitors, who can literally go from snorkeling in beautiful coral reefs and sunbathing on white sand beaches to exploring rainforest canopies in just a matter of minutes.
While Manuel Antonio National Park’s general popularity among tourists might be a turn off to some of the more hardcore wildlife adventurers there’s no denying it’s one of the coolest places in Costa Rica to get your wildlife fix.
Thanks to its smaller size Manuel Antonio National Park is a great birding destination as its high density of wildlife makes spotting some of its 184 species a bit more manageable, and that same principle applies to the park’s hundreds of other species.
Here your chances of spotting one of Costa Rica’s two or three-toed sloths are promising. Same goes for the park’s other 100+ mammal species.
And for all you primate lovers out there this is one of only two places in Costa Rica where you can find all four of the country’s monkey species– the Central American squirrel monkey, white-faced capuchin monkey, mantled howler monkey and endangered Geoffroy’s spider monkey!
Best Time To Visit
The weather is at its best December through April, but keep in mind with the good weather comes bigger crowds.
If you don’t mind a tropical shower here and there consider visiting the park during its ‘shoulder periods’ (i.e. early May or late November). Not only will it be less crowded but you’re likely to find better deals on flights, accommodations, and tours as the seasons start to shift.
The weather at Manuel Antonio National Park is consistently hot and humid and temperatures often hover in the 90’s! So don’t forget to pack a swimsuit and pencil in some beach time, you won’t regret it.
Located on the northern Caribbean coast, Tortuguero National Park is one of Costa Rica’s more remote parks. And while its location does requires a bit of extra planning to get to (the park is only accessible by boat or plane) the payoff is well worth it– especially for wildlife lovers. In fact, the park is often referred to as Costa Rica’s version of the Amazon rainforest because of the abundance and variety of wildlife that can be found here.
A variety of habitats are represented in Tortuguero National Park, including beach, estuary, marine, freshwater riverine and tropical lowland rainforest. The park’s extensive network of lagoons and freshwater creeks are especially worth mentioning as they make for a unique wildlife viewing experience given most of it is done by boat.
But perhaps the biggest draw to this wild destination are the hundreds of thousands of sea turtles that come here to nest every year.
Tortuguero National Park is famous for its sea turtle nesting, so much so it has been named after it (in English “tortuguero” translates to land of turtles). Here visitors have a chance to spot all four of Costa Rica’s sea turtle species (Olive Ridley, hawksbill, leatherback, and green), who regularly come ashore to lay their eggs. Green sea turtles are especially prevalent as the park is the largest nesting ground for this species in the Western Hemisphere.
In addition to the region’s sea turtles, there are also seven species of river turtles that can be found in Tortuguero’s extensive freshwater network. Spectacled caiman, southern river otters, West Indian manatees (although rare), a number of crustaceans and over 50 species of freshwater fish also call these waters home.
Notable land mammals that visitors can look forward to spotting include 3 of Costa Rica’s 4 monkey species (Geoffroy’s spider monkey, mantled howler and white-headed capuchin), three-toed sloths, and if they’re a little lucky — jaguars. Tortuguero National Park also offers plenty of fun reptile and amphibian species to check out (like Basilisk lizards and poisonous frogs) as well as some 405 bird species.
Best Time To Go
The nesting period generally goes from February to October, with October being one of the busiest months for Tortuguero’s sea turtles, and their admirers (so expect heavier tourism and higher prices around this time). For those visitors looking to strike a balance between promising sea turtle activity and tourist traffic July through September look pretty good.
While the beaches here are beautiful the strong currents and sharks off the coast make the waters here unsuitable for swimming. To make up for the lack of ocean activities in the park be sure to take advantage of the many wildlife boat tours offered by local guides, like THESE folks.
Located in Costa Rica’s southwestern Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. Due to its off-the-beaten-path location and diverse, rugged terrain (made up of lowland rainforest, highland cloud forest, palm forest, mangrove swamps, and coastal marine habitat) Corcovado is one of the country’s less visited parks and is often referred to as Costa Rica’s ‘last wild frontier’. This makes it perfect for those intrepid travelers looking for a real wild adventure — like spotting Costa Rica’s elusive jungle cats.
In addition to the incredible wildlife viewing opportunities in this park visitors can also enjoy its 23-mile (39 km) stretch of deserted golden sand beach lined with picture perfect coconut palms or hike to one of the parks many ‘secret’ waterfalls.
As for wildlife, Corcovado National Park is home to an estimated 463 bird species, including 16 different hummingbird species and the largest number of scarlet macaws anywhere in Central America.
From collared peccary and Baird’s tapir to white-nosed coatis and white-lipped peccary, roughly 140 mammal species can be found here as well.
The park is also one of only two places (the other being Manuel Antonio National Park) where primate lovers can spot all four of Costa Rica’s native monkey species in their natural habitat, as well as jungle cats like jaguarundi, puma, margay, ocelot, and the endangered jaguar can be seen — although they’re much harder to spot than the park’s less nocturnal mammals.
Over 40 species of frogs can be found in Corcovado National Park along with dozens of snakes, including a variety of Boas and the dreaded Bushmaster.
Last but not least Corcovado’s beaches also see their fair share sea turtles — all four of Costa Rica’s species.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit is during Costa Rica’s dry season, which runs from late December through April when there is little or no rainfall and reliable sunny weather. Keep in mind however that this is also the most popular (and expensive) period.
During the region’s ‘green season’ (May through late August/early September) afternoon showers are common, but if you don’t mind a little rain this is when you can snag some killer deals– and don’t worry the wildlife viewing is still great this time of year!
If you can, avoid late September and October as they’re two of rainiest months and many lodgings are closed.
Did you know that National Geographic once described Corcovado National Park as ‘the most biologically intense place on earth? If not now you do . . .
So if you’re a hardcore wildlife fan I’d definitely consider bumping this wild destination to the top of your Costa Rica itinerary.
Located on Costa Rica’s South Pacific Coast, Marino Ballena National Park is primarily an oceanic park made up of more than 13,281 acres of sea and just shy of 272 acres of land. Named after the humpback whales that migrate to the region multiple times a year, this park plays an important role in conserving the rich marine ecosystem that makes up Costa Rica– a country with almost 11 times more marine territory than land.
The park is great for visitors interested in exploring the abundant wildlife that lives below the country’s surface. From excellent diving and snorkeling to incredible whale watching opportunities, Marino Ballena National Park really is arguably the best marine-centric wildlife destination in Costa Rica.
Without overstating the obvious, if you’re a fan of marine mammals this is the place to be. Whales and dolphins can be spotted off the coast of Marino Ballena’s lush rainforest beaches almost year-round, and for those wanting a close encounter, this park offers some of the best whale watching in Central America.
Seabirds like frigate birds, brown footed boobies (really, that’s how it’s spelled), and pelicans can be seen combing the waters for their next meal. Meanwhile, back on the coast, you can Olive Ridley and hawksbill sea turtles nesting between May and November (roughly) as green marine iguanas look-on.
Further inland you’re likely to spot monkeys, sloths, raccoons, pizotes, and even the occasional puma or ocelot.
Best Time To Visit
Humpback whales migrate through the park from July to October and again from December to March. So if you’re main goal is to get in some epic whale watching I definitely suggest coordinating your trip to Marino Ballena National Park during these months (August and September are ideal here).
During the last couple month of August, the local town of Uvita (the closest town to the park) holds its annual Whale Festival which celebrates the arrival of the humpback whales that come to give birth in Costa Rica’s waters.
Well, that rounds out Mar Gone Wild’s list of 5 Must-See Wild Places in Costa Rica. For more wild travel inspiration check out the Related Posts below!