Costa Rica is literally rich. In wildlife. This tiny country has built up an incredible reputation as a sustainable destination founded on the idea that its natural resources are to be valued in theory and practice. By protecting these resources, Costa Rica’s people have also benefited. In 2014 the travel industry’s total direct and indirect contribution to employment made up 12 percent of total employment. Travel’s contribution to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was also about 12.5 percent of total GDP. Costa Rica also became the first nation to commit to neutral carbon emissions by 2021.

Though Costa Rica has become a more popular travel spot in recent years, you wouldn’t know it automatically when visiting some of its more remote nature parks.

In January, I traveled with Natural Habitat Adventures to Costa Rica where we had sublime encounters with wildlife.  If you think you’ve seen all that Costa Rica has to offer, think again.

Reason #1: Seeing Sloths

I couldn’t believe we came across this mama and her baby. The grounds around the Tiskita Jungle Lodge, near the Panama border in Southwestern Costa Rica, were fabulous for viewing all kinds of wildlife, but this is by far my favorite experience and shot.

© WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Three-toed sloth and baby looking into the warm sunlight. © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Reason #2: Prime Primate Viewing

We saw so many baby squirrel monkeys on the grounds around the Tiskita Jungle Lodge, near the Panama border in Southwestern Costa Rica. This mama and baby were on the roof of the main lodge and were not afraid of us at all. We also got to see a pregnant squirrel monkey traveling with this mama—something our guide Jimmy Tosso had never seen and was super excited about.

the common squirrel monkey is not threatened however the Central American squirrel monkey and the black squirrel monkey are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

The common squirrel monkey is not threatened; however, the Central American squirrel monkey and the black squirrel monkey are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Reason #3: Brilliant Bird Life

I photographed this scarlet macaw as we were winding down the Sierpe River. As we floated through, we came across a large tree with four macaws, there were two lovebirds sitting in the tree together. I was very lucky to be able to capture one in flight as it left the tree. This shot was one of my favorites of the entire trip.

Scarlet macaw © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Scarlet macaw © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Reason #4:  Primates Gone Wild

We encountered this defensive white-faced capuchin monkey on our adventure down the Sierpe River. It was great to see this primate in the wild as they often, unfortunately, become dependent on food from humans in less regulated tourist areas.

Agressive white-faced capuchin monkey along the Sierpe River. © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Aggressive white-faced capuchin monkey along the Sierpe River. © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Reason #5: Curious Dolphins

We had a great day whale watching off the coast of Playa Ballena, also known as the Whale’s Tail. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales that day but not for lack of trying. We saw plenty of dolphins though; they were very curious and would come up right next to the boat. We even saw a baby. After the boat trip, we got to explore the colorful beach town of Uvita.

About 25 dolphin and whale species inhabit Costa Rica's oceans. © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

About 25 dolphin and whale species inhabit Costa Rica’s oceans. © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Reason #6: Tortuguero’s Namesake

As we were winding down the channels of Tortuguero, we came across this little guy sunbathing on a log. I think he was posing for us.

© WWF-US/Abby Wadley

The coastal zone of Tortuguero National Park provides nesting ground for beach-nesting turtles; however, seven species of land turtles are also found in the park. © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Reason #7: Elusive Birds

As we continued to wind down the channels of Tortuguero National Park, we came across an agami heron. This bird is quite elusive. In fact, after returning to our hotel, the Evergreen Lodge, we shared this image with some fellow Nat Hab travelers on another tour—some of them were avid birders and they were very envious of our find on the waterways of Tortuguero.

© WWF-US/Abby Wadley

The elusive agami heron in Tortuguero National Park. © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Reason #8: More Sloths

I would have never seen this sloth if our guide hadn’t pointed him out. We had just left our hotel in Tortuguero, the Evergreen Lodge, and we came across this two-toed sloth covered in moss on the other side of the channel. We had seen a three-toed sloth with a baby at the beginning of our trip on the other side of the country at Tiskita Jungle Lodge, so it was really awesome to see this species in Tortuguero.

© WWF-US/Abby Wadley

© WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Reason #9: A Treetop Experience

Having seen many toucans during our time in Tortuguero, I was on a mission to see the Rainbow Toucan. On our last day out on the waterways, our boat trip was nearing its end and I told the boat driver how disappointed I was that I hadn’t come across a “Rainbow.” He then made it his mission to find one, and five minutes later we spotted this beautiful bird at the top of a tree. The wildlife of Costa Rica is amazing, but the great guides we traveled with really made the trip.

© WWF-US/Abby Wadley

A rainbow toucan in Tortuguero National Park. © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Reason #10: Quetzals!

We were very lucky to find the quetzal, which is probably the most famous bird in all of Costa Rica, and we didn’t have to travel far from our Savegre hotel to do so. After laying my eyes on one, I could definitely see why so many people flock to Costa Rica each year to see them.  If you are lucky enough to see one with the sun shining on it, you will be amazed by how brilliant its feathers become.

© WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Quetzal © WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Reason #11: Phenomenal Nature Guides

Jimmy and our quetzal guide gave us some smiles before we headed out on our journey in search of the most famous bird in Costa Rica (the quetzal). We found four that day, and they were so beautiful.  Nat Hab partners with great on-the-ground operators and local guides, in order to give travelers access to private areas not normally accessible to the public (such as the fruit farm we visited, which is often frequented by quetzals).

© WWF-US/Abby Wadley

© WWF-US/Abby Wadley

Abby Wadley is a Development Officer with WWF’s Central Region in Chicago. She has been with WWF since December 2011 and has the privilege of working with the organization’s generous supporters. When she’s not working, she loves to cook, watch football and travel. Most recently she took a three-week trip to four countries in Southern Africa and had what she describes as a life-changing adventure.