Thankfully, the country of Costa Rica recognized the gift of its incredible biodiversity early on, and began protecting it with an extensive network of national parks, wildlife refuges and biological reserves. Our four Costa Rica itineraries visit numerous protected areas; here are just five of our favorite.
1. Ballena Marine National Park
Where: The southern Pacific coast near the small town of Uvita, about 10 miles south of Dominical
Known for: The largest coral reef on the Pacific side of Central America and, from December to April, humpback whales
Species to spot: Humpback whale, olive ridley and hawksbill turtle, marine iguana, orca, bottle-nosed dolphin, brown booby, frigate bird
Conservation efforts: The park, which encompasses over 13,000 acres of ocean, protects important breeding and feeding ground for whales, particularly humpbacks
The trip: Costa Rica Wilderness Explorer
2. Manuel Antonio National Park
Where: The Pacific coast, about 100 miles south of San Jose, Costa Rica
Known for: Diverse ecosystems, impressive variety of wildlife, white sand beaches
Species to spot: Mantled howler, squirrel and capuchin monkey; two- and three-toed sloth; agouti; green and black iguana; toucan; scarlet macaw
Conservation efforts: The park is part of the Central Pacific Conservation Area and home to endangered species, including the titi monkey
3. Los Quetzales National Park
Where: About 75 miles southeast of San Jose
Known for: A paradise for birding enthusiasts, sightings of the shy quetzel
Species to spot: Quetzel, hummingbird, trogon, temerald toucanet
Conservation efforts: In 2005, the former biological reserve was given a national park designation to offer better protection against agricultural pressures.
4. Tortuguero National Park
Where: The remote, wet northeast along the Caribbean coast
Known for: An important nesting site for the endangered green turtle
Species to spot: Green, leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead turtle; spider, howler and white-faced capuchin monkey; caiman; jaguar
Conservation efforts: The protection of Tortuguero’s beaches is critical in restoring green turtle numbers.
5. Corcovado National Park
Where: The southwest’s Osa Peninsula
Known for: One of the most biodiverse regions on the planet
Species to spot: Poison-arrow frog, three-toed sloth, Baird’s tapir, Chestnut-mandibled toucan, harpy eagle, common dolphin, armadillo, jaguar, more than 200 butterfly species
Conservation efforts: The park protects a quarter of the country’s tree species and its biggest scarlet macaw population. WWF was a part of the creation of Corcovado National Park in 1975.
By Marsea Nelson, WWF guest blogger