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What to do? Ecotourism
Costa Rica Ecotourism
Ecotourism emphasizes a minimal impact on the environment. It provides income that helps to both preserve protected areas as well as benefit local populations, by reducing their dependence on activities possibly harmful to natural habitats.

Fortunately, Costa Rica, the birthplace of ecotourism, is also the place where this activity has achieved the highest level of success. Costa Rica takes pride in the fact that every day tens of thousands of visitors experience the incredible variety of wildlife in this natural paradise.

Costa Rica, a small country, measuring 51.100 square kilometers, is replete with breathtaking landscapes and a variety of natural wealth. This small stretch of land, representing barely 0.3% of the earth's total surface area, houses 5% of the global biodiversity. Costa Rica is home to more bird species than the United States, as well as to a greater variety of butterflies than in all of Africa. These facts demonstrate why this Central American nation of 4 million inhabitants has received such considerable international recognition in the area of biodiversity.

Living in Costa Rica's diverse habitats and ecosystems are: 13 thousand plant species, 2,000 moth and 4,500 butterfly species, 163 varieties of amphibians, 220 types of reptiles, 1,600 species of fresh and salt water fish, and at least 870 types of birds.

The extensive landscape also boasts many different types of forests, including deciduous, mangrove swamps, rain forests, herbaceous ponds, cloud forests, moors, palm groves, oak woods, riparian forests, and swamp groves.

Among Costa Rica's environmental wonders are extensive volcanoes, several of which are active and produce relaxing thermal springs, and are some of Costa Rica's most popular attractions. There are deep caves to explore and pre-Columbian settlements, sites of many meso-American archaeological studies. These are all part of a vast system of 22 national parks, 10 wildlife refuges, 12 biological reserves, 8 forest reserves and 26 protected zones, covering 25% of the national territory.

The Costa Rican Government, in an effort to preserve the natural riches of this country, is currently implementing sustainable development policies that foster the adequate use of natural resources.


Flora and Fauna

Scarlet Macaw

If one examines the different ecosystems that exist in Costa Rica, it becomes apparent that it is one of the biologically wealthiest nations in the world. From the forested slopes of its volcanoes to the coral reefs off both coasts, Costa Rica possesses an almost unfathomable diversity of flora and fauna.

During the last few decades, more and more Costa Ricans have come to realize what an important part of their national heritage that biodiversity is. They have consequently created an exemplary National Conservation System to ensure the survival of endangered species, and a National Biodiversity Institute to catalogue and study the country’s flora and fauna.

The greatest manifestation of Costa Rica’s natural heritage is the diversity of its flora and fauna. About 9,000 different kinds of flowering plants grow in the country, including more than 1,300 species of orchids. Nearly 870 species of birds have been identified, which is more than are found in all of the United States, Canada, and the northern half of Mexico combined.

The country is also home for 209 species of mammals, 383 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, about 2,000 species of butterflies, and at least 4,500 different types of moths. Though Costa Rica covers only a 0.3% of the surface of the Earth, about 5% of the planet’s plant and animal species are found there.
 
Protected Areas

Costa Rica Protected Areas

Costa Rica’s National Parks System protects parts of nearly all the ecosystems that exist in the country, covering about 25% of the national territory. Those parks and protected areas are not only great places for hiking and observing wildlife, but some of them also include great spots for diving, spelunking, surfing, and other outdoor activities.

No matter what your vacation priorities are, you will want to visit at least a couple national parks or other protected areas. In addition to the national parks, there are a variety of other areas that enjoy some degree of protection, such as wildlife refuges and biological reserves, and a growing number of private reserves.

The following are some of the country’s most popular parks and protected areas in alphabetical order:

Parks and Protected Areas

Protected Areas
1. Santa Rosa National Park
2. Rincón de la Vieja National Park
3. Ostional National Wildlife Refuge
4. Las Baulas National Park
5. Cabo Blanco Strict Nature Reserve
6. Barra Honda National Park
7. Palo Verde National Park
8. Guayabo, Negritos & Pájaros Island
9. Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge
10. Carara National Park
11. Manuel Antonio National Park
12. Caño Island Biological Reserve
13. Corcovado National Park
14. Golfito Wildlife Refuge
15. La Amistad National Park
16. Chirripó National Park
17. Hitoy-Cerere Biological Reserve
18. Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge
19. Cahuita National Park
20. Tortuguero National Park
21. Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge
22. Braulio Carrillo National Park
23. Poás Volcano National Park
24. Irazú Volcano National Park
25. Guayabo National Monument
26. Tapantí National Park
27. Coco Island National Park
28. Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
29. Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
30. Piedras Blancas National Park
 
Bird Watching

Bird Watching

In the 1997 Christmas Bird Count, local birders at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve identified 368 species, more than anywhere else in the world. This was the first year a Christmas Count was held at Monteverde, but in the 1996 count, 326 species were logged at La Selva Biological Research Station.

Costa Rica is renowned in the world over for the excellent birding in its protected areas, which encompass a variety of ecological zones, including dry tropical forest, tropical rain forest, and cloud forests. About 870 species have been found in the country.

Julio Sánchez, president of Costa Rica’s Ornithological Society, points out that bird watching, once exclusively a tourist activity, has been increasing steadily in popularity among Costa Ricans. “Now, wherever you go, everybody knows their birds”, he says. An excellent field guide, the “Birds of Costa Rica” by Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch, is available in both English and Spanish.

Literally hundreds of natural history guides throughout the country are crack birders, and can help visitors rack up dozens of additions to their life lists while in Costa Rica. Sánchez says that the most-sought bird in Costa Rica is the Resplendent Quetzal, which is most easily seen on Cerro de la Muerte near the town of San Gerardo, and at Monteverde.

The Three-Wattled Bell Bird is another specie birders can find at Monteverde. Scarlet Macaws, on the top of everyone’s list, can be easily seen at Carara National Park. Be at the bridge there from 6 to 6:30 in the morning, or from 5 to 6 in the afternoon, and you will see them flying from their roosts in the mangroves into the reserve.

Carara is a birding hot spot, according to naturalists Carlos Gómez and Amos Bien, with populations of Boat-tailed Trogons, Violaceous Trogons and Rufous-tailed Jacamars.

Birders are also seeking hummingbirds, most easily seen at lodges where feeders have been put up, in Monteverde, San Gerardo, and Cinchona, for example. Tanagers and Manakins can be found in mid-level forest.

Excellent birding spots in the Caribbean rain forest are La Selva Biological Station and Tortuguero National Park. Birders at La Selva will be surprised at how tame the birds have become in this long-protected reserve. In the watery world of Tortuguero are found five species of kingfishers, Chestnut-Billied Herons, Sungrebes, Rufescent Tiger Herons, and three species of toucans.

Expert birders will be looking for Costa Rica’s endemic species, about fifty of which are found in the mountainous regions. These include the Bare-Necked Umbrella Bird, the Zeledonia, the Black and Yellow Silky Flycatcher, and the Long-Tailed Silky Flycatcher. Three endemic species are found on Coco Island: a finch, a cuckoo and a flycatcher.

The best tips for birding in Costa Rica are: visit several habitats, including dry tropical forest on the Pacific side, a cloud forest like Monteverde and a rainforest site such as La Selva or Tortuguero. Take a copy of the “Birds of Costa Rica”, and hire a naturalist guide in each area who specializes in birds. If 368 species could be seen at Monteverde in a single day, just imagine how many you can see during your vacation in Costa Rica!
 
Turtle Watching

Costa Rica Turtle Watching

The nesting of sea turtles is one of nature’s most amazing spectacles. Green Turtles nest along the beaches of Tortuguero National Park from July to October.

The Leatherback Turtle is without a doubt the most important attraction at the Marino Las Baulas National Park, in fact this specie was the main reason for the creation of this protected area, and specially for being in danger of extintion. There are various nesting sites at this national park, including Langosta beach, Grande beach and Ventanas beach. The nesting season goes from October 20th through February 15th.

Hawksbills and Loggerheads, less common, nest along the Caribbean during the summer months. The Olive Ridleys nest in the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge and Playa Grande on the Pacific coast, coming ashore in large numbers for several days each month from August to September.

Sea turtles are most frequently seen when the females come ashore to deposit their eggs on beaches, usually at night. They may also be seen feeding in coral reefs by snorkelers and divers. Please remember: only one of every 5,000 baby turtles will survive to reach adulthood, and Costa Rica is one of a handful of countries that protects turtle nesting sites.

It is vitally important that the turtle successfully lays her eggs. Noise and bright lights can frighten turtles and cause them to return to the sea. The use of flashlights or cameras is prohibited around nesting sea turtles. Seek a qualified guide to accompany you. Obtain a copy of, and obey, park rules when on the beach with turtles.

Nesting Areas

Turtle Watching
Turtles and Places of it Spawns

Specie Place Season
Green Tortuguero National Park Jul. - Oct.
Baula All Caribbean Coasts
Baulas National Park
Naranjo Beach (North Pacific)
Jan. - Jun.
Loggerheads All Caribbean Coasts Dec. - Abr.
Olive Ridley Wildlife Refuge
Ostional
Grande Beach
Aug. - Sep.
 
Monkey Watching

Costa Rica Monkey Watching

Most commonly seen in the forest canopy are white-faced or capuchin monkeys (Cebus capunicus), howlers (Alouatta palliata), titi (Callicebus spp.) and spider monkeys (Ateles geffroyi).

Where to find them?
  • Guanacaste: Rincón de la Vieja National Park
  • Mid-Pacific: Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Carara National Park
  • Central Plains: Monteverde Biological Reserve
  • Santa Elena Reserve
  • Southern Pacific: Corcovado National Park
  • Caribbean Coast: Tortuguero National Park
  • Cahuita National Park
  • Puerto Viejo
  • Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

When to see them?
Early morning and mid-afternoon when family troops are on the move through the canopy feeding. Keep your eyes on the canopy and look for tree limbs that shake suddenly. You will probably hear them before you see them.

What to do?
Keep voices low and walk quietly. Capuchin monkeys used to curious visitors may be quite bold. Although it’s tempting, refrain from feeding them since it could cause the monkeys serious health problems. Howlers are territorial as are spider monkeys. If they feel you are too close to their females and young, they will shake the trees and loudly pronounce their displeasure.
 
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