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

© Carlos Drews/WWF-Canon

The olive ridley turtle species is the smallest of the sea turtles and is considered vulnerable because they nest in a very small number of places. © Carlos Drews/WWF-Canon

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

© Patrick J. Endres/NHA

Though it is considered of least concern on the IUCN Redlist, illegal trade is ongoing as it is considered a popular pet in many countries. Ecotourism is proving to be a valuable way to keep them out of captivity in certain areas. © Patrick J. Endres/NHA

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

The trip:  Costa Rica Wilderness Explorer or a Costa Rica Private Custom Adventure

3. Los Quetzales National Park

© Natural Habitat Adventures

The resplendant quetzal, pictured here, is considered near threatened by the IUCN Redlist, because of the destruction of its cloud-forest habitat. © Natural Habitat Adventures

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.

The trip: Costa Rica Wilderness Explorer or a Costa Rica Private Custom Adventure

4. Tortuguero National Park

Green turtle © WWF-US/Steve Morello

The endandered green turtle is named for the greenish color of their cartilage and fat, not their shells. © WWF-US/Steve Morello

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.

The trip: Natural Jewels of Costa Rica or a Costa Rica Private Custom Adventure

5. Corcovado National Park

Chestnut-mandibled toucan © Patrick J. Endres/NHA

Locals say that the call of the chestnut-mandibled toucan sounds like it’s saying in Spanish, “Dios te de te de” which translates to “God gives you.” © Patrick J. Endres/NHA

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.

The trip: The Panama Canal & the Wonders of Costa Rica or a Costa Rica Private Custom Adventure

Visit Costa Rica with WWF and NatHab

By Marsea Nelson, WWF guest blogger