Does your dream vacation include viewing exotic wildlife and exploring rainforests? Then Costa Rica deserves a place on your bucket list. Holding 5 percent of the world’s known biodiversity, the country has upheld a longtime commitment to preservation by placing 26 percent of its land under national protection.
For wildlife lovers, Costa Rica's protected lands are a treasure trove of monkeys, jaguars, turtles, iguanas, tapirs, sloths and myriad species of birds.
Costa Rica contains an impressive 28 national parks and eight biological reserves. Don't know where to start? Start with one of the five most-visited national parks:
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Manuel Antonio National Park
Located on the country’s Pacific Coast, Manuel Antonio National Park is famous for its beautiful beaches and tropical, jungle-backed shoreline. Another major attraction is the wildlife-rich rainforest, home to four species of monkeys, as well as sloths, iguanas, pelicans, frogs, and more.
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Poás Volcano National Park
This park is named for the 8,885-foot Poas Volcano, Costa Rica's largest still-active volcano, whose crater measures more than a mile across. Geysers in the crater can spew up to 590 feet, and the entire volcano is surrounded by a cloud forest. At least 79 species of birds live inside the protected zone including the quetzal, emerald toucanet, black guan, and hummingbird. When it gets hot, keep an eye out for the sombrilla del pobre or “poor man’s umbrella,” whose enormous leaves grow in a circle with a diameter of up to six feet, providing welcome shade.
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Irazú Volcano National Park
The Poas may be the widest volcano crater in Costa Rica, but the Irazú Volcano is the country’s highest, at 11,260 feet. The volcano has several craters, including one that is 900 feet deep and spews steam. At the summit, travelers can enjoy amazing views of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on a clear day. And even when the central valley is under rain clouds, the sun may be shining on the crater thanks to its elevation.
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Marino Ballena National Park
Named after the humpback whales that migrate to the park August to November (heading north from Antarctica) and December to April (heading south from Alaska), the Marino Ballena National Park protects more than 13,000 acres of ocean and nine miles of South Pacific coastline. One of the most popular attractions is el paso de Moises or the “Passage of Moses.” At low tide, the water becomes so shallow that a passageway magically appears to form a whale's tail. On the north end of the park, you can visit the mangroves where green marine iguanas, olive ridley, and hawksbill turtles gather.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero means "turtle catcher," and this namesake national park was created to protect the endangered turtles that spawn on the country’s Caribbean Coast from July to October. Today, four different species of sea turtles nest here: the green, hawksbill, loggerhead and giant leatherback. Protecting 46,815 acres of natural wildlife habitat and 20 miles of coastline, the park is also home to 13 of the country’s 16 endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs, and monkeys.