Costa Rica is known worldwide for the incredibly high biodiversity in its tropical forests (this includes rainforests, cloud forests and dry forests). There are tropical mammals such as monkeys, sloths, tapirs and wild cats, as well as an amazing range of insects and other animals. There are many birds (both migratory and resident) – more on this below. With 25% of the country made up of national parks and protected areas, there are still many places where you can see the country’s abundant wildlife and lush vegetation. As everywhere, the further you get off the beaten track, the more likely you are to see a wide variety of flora and fauna.
Costa Rica is so rich in species, not only because it is a land bridge between North and South America, but also because the terrain is so diverse and the weather patterns come from the Pacific and Atlantic/Caribbean. Throughout the country there are impressive volcanoes, mountainous areas, rivers, lakes and beaches. There are many beautiful beaches – most of the popular beaches are on the Pacific side, but the Caribbean also has some excellent beaches.
One of the best activities for people who love nature is bird watching. You can see them in many parts of Costa Rica. Due to the wide variety of climates, temperatures and forest types in Costa Rica, there is a wonderful diversity of birds, with over 800 species. Some useful birding books are Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch (Cornell University Press) or An Illustrated Field Guide to Birds of Costa Rica, illustrated by Victor Esquivel Soto. These books can be found in some bookshops in San José or before entering Costa Rica. These are two heavy books; many people tear the panels out of the Stiles & Skutch book to take into the field and leave the rest of the book in the car or bedroom. Plastic cards with the most common birds are available for many areas and are sold in souvenir shops.
The list of Costa Rican birds includes:
- 16 parrot species, including the fabulous Scarlet Macaw.
- 50 species of hummingbirds.
- 10 species of trogons with the magnificent quetzal as the jewel.
- 6 species of toucans, including the ring-billed toucan and the pine toucan.
- Half of Costa Rica’s bird species are passerines, including warblers, sparrows and finches.
- 16 species of duck, including the sooty plover, white-faced duck and wigeon.
- 13 species of falcon, including the Peregrine, the Merlin and the American Kestrel.
- 36 raptor species, including grey hawk, swallow hawk, lone eagle and marsh harrier.
- 6 species of Cracidae that look like turkeys.
- 8 quail species from the new world.
- 15 Rallidae species, including the red-necked wood rail, the American coot and the red-headed duck.
- 19 owl species, including the Black and White Owl, the Costa Rican Pygmy Owl, the Central American Pygmy Owl and the Barred Owl.
- 3 types of potos, including the large, the Nordic and the common.
- 16 woodpecker species, including cinnamon, brown and pale-billed woodpeckers.
The list of shorebirds includes:
- 19 species of herons and waders such as great blue heron, great egret, broad-billed heron, great egret and yellow-crowned night heron.
- 2 species of recurvirostraid, which are waders and include the Black-necked Stilt and the American Avocet.
- 2 species of jays, including the Northern and Wattle Jay.
- 34 species of scolopacids, including the short-billed sandpiper, spotted sandpiper, peregrine thrush, surfbird and red-necked parrot.
- 9 species of gull, including Grey Gull, Heermann’s Gull and Ring-billed Gull.
- 14 species of tern, including gull-billed, Forster’s, Little and Ivory-billed.
- 4 species of vulture, including the king vulture.
- 24 species of pigeons and pigeon beetles.
- 11 swift species, including the black swift, the spotted swift and the Costa Rican swift.
- 6 species of kingfishers, including the green, Amazon and American pygmy bird.
- 5 species of Threskiornithidaes, including the Roseate Spoonbill and the White-faced Ibis.
- 2 species of Ciconiidae, including the wood stork and the jabiru.
Good places to watch birds include:
- The Monteverde cloud forest is home to more than 400 bird species, including the magnificent quetzals.
- There are 300 species of birds in Tortuguero National Park.
- There are over 250 species of birds in Santa Rosa National Park.
- Cahuita National Park is home to toucans, parrots and red kingfishers; the park is right on the beach.
- The biological station of La Selva, in the northern lowlands, is home to 420 species of birds.
- There are 228 species of birds on Helconia Island.
- There are 400 species of birds and 1,200 scarlet macaws in Corcovado National Park.
- The Huedal Nacional Terraba-Sierpe is home to a variety of birds along the coast and in the marshes.
- There are 400 species of birds in Carara National Park.
- In Tárcoles there are 400 species of birds and great river trips where you can see crocodiles.
- Whale Marine National Park is home to frigatebirds, boobies, ibises and pelicans.
- La Amistad National Park is home to 500 species of birds, including magnificent quetzals.
- Manuel Antonio National Park has 350 species of birds and three beautiful beaches.
Most hotels and tourist information centres offer birdwatching guides, maps and other essentials for birdwatching. Unless you are an experienced birder, it can be much more productive to go with an experienced birding guide. Don’t forget to bring a hat, mackintosh, boots, binoculars and camera. In hot areas, an umbrella can be more useful than a poncho or jacket. The south of Costa Rica is generally considered the best option for bird watching.
Costa Rica is a geologically active country. The most notable volcanoes are :
- Arenal, (Spanish: Volcán Arenal): an active stratovolcano with lava domes and daily eruptions near La Fortuna.
- Irazú, (Spanish: Volcán Irazú): a complex active stratovolcano in the Cordillera Central near the city of Cartago. The last eruption took place in 1994.
- Poás, (Spanish: Volcán Poás): an active stratovolcano in central Costa Rica near Alajuela. It has erupted 39 times since 1828. The last eruption took place in 2012.