Despite Costa Rica’s small size, it’s big on biodiversity: it’s home to more than half a million animal species. In this Central American nation, you’ll find tropical rainforests, arid and volcanic plains, dry forests, and the famous cloud forests, which provide a chance to see some of the best nature in Costa Rica.
But don’t think Costa Rica nature is only dense, muggy rainforests. There are also beaches with roaming iguanas, rivers, and waterways with amazing nature that rivals anything on land. From whitewater rafting and hiking adventures to visiting animal sanctuaries, here are some of the best ways to experience Costa Rica’s natural wonders during your Central American vacation.
Spot Scarlet Macaws at a Bird Sanctuary
Perhaps no animal is more associated with Costa Rica than colorful scarlet macaws. These large, bright birds come in vivid shades of greens, reds, and blues, and at this sanctuary, you can learn all about the country’s efforts to protect its bird populations and care for macaws that have been injured in the wild at the NATUWA Macaw Sanctuary in Puntarenas.
As you walk through the sanctuary, you’ll have a chance to see these birds flying around the gardens. During your visit, you’ll learn about the sanctuary and how the Costa Rican government is protecting the birds.
Go Whitewater Rafting on the Reventazón River
To see the best nature in Costa Rica, catch a ride down the Reventazón River on a whitewater paddling adventure. The river flows into the Caribbean Sea, creating rapids along the way. While the river has hosted international rafting competitions, it also has more gentle class-1 and class-2 rapids, which are easier for first-timers to maneuver.
Your guide will tell you when and where to paddle as you cruise past lush rainforest and mountain vistas, so you’ll know when you need to focus on the river and when you can sit back and enjoy the Costa Rica nature views. You’ll definitely get wet as you bounce around, but with a bit of teamwork, your raft should easily make it down the tame rapids.
Explore the Sprawling Veragua Rainforest Park
Welcome to Veragua Rainforest, arguably one of the most gorgeous places in Costa Rica. To get up close and personal with the best nature in Costa Rica, book a day trip to the sprawling tropical park in Puerto Limón.
There’s much to do in Veragua Rainforest, like taking the open-air tram through the canopy while passing centuries-old trees, sloths, and tropical birds. From the tram, you can then hike to the edge of a flowing riverbank or up to the top of a waterfall.
Aside from the tram, you can explore the snake, frog, and butterfly habitats on-site, take a guided walk with a naturalist, or take a canopy tour. If you opt for the latter, you’ll get access to 11 ziplines and 11 observation points from which you can spot wildlife and get a macaw’s-eye view of the jungle.
Meet Costa Rica’s Wildlife
You don’t need to venture miles into the jungle to get up close with wildlife like sloths, iguanas, monkeys, and deer. Just plan to visit the Botanical Garden and Rescue Center, which serves as a haven for wildlife injured or displaced due to farming, hunting, or habitat loss.
The center takes in animals that need help and provides vet care and medical attention. Once the animals are healthy and well, the staff at the center continue to keep them engaged with mental health activities, enrichment and games, and opportunities to express their natural behaviors.
Zip Through a Forest Canopy at Mahogany Park
It’s not hard to find zip lines in most tourist destinations, but the zip line at Mahogany Park has a unique distinction: it’s the first-ever zip line in the world! You’ll soar through a private reserve in primary growth jungle, potentially going past wildlife like capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, sloths, birds, and more. There are 9 traverses and 11 platforms, so you’ll get plenty of opportunities to swing and soar over the jungle canopy.
Gliding through these massive trees is one of the most exciting ways to see Costa Rica nature, since you’ll be able to see views you’d never experience on foot. The park is near Puntarenas, and some tours make stops along the way to spot crocodiles and caimans nearby.
Stand in the Clouds at the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Costa Rica is known for its stunning biodiversity and landscapes, but one of its most famous draws is the cloud forests in the central part of the country. Evaporation from the ocean turns into clouds when it hits the mountains, and the result is an ethereal, otherworldly climate in which rare plants and animals thrive.
Cloud forests are extremely rare throughout the world, so don’t miss seeing some of the best nature in Costa Rica at the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A tram will whisk you to the top as a guide discusses the forest’s ecology.
From the top, nature walks and suspension bridges offer a chance to literally stand in the clouds. Costa Rica is overflowing with amazing places, but given the rarity of cloud forests throughout the world and accessibility of this one, it’s genuinely a must-see stop on your Costa Rica vacation.
Meet the World’s Most Famous Sloths
It’s hard to think of a creature more adorable than a three-toed sloth, and the animals at the Aviarios del Caribe Sloth Rescue Center are especially well-known: they were the stars of Animal Planet’s “Meet the Sloths.” You actually can meet the sloths when you visit, as well as learn about their habits and behavior.
The rescue center is surrounded by jungle, so you may also get the chance to spot a wild sloth snoozing in the trees during your visit. You can also board a fiberglass canoe along the Estrella River, where a local guide will help you look for even more sloths during the relaxing 45-minute ride.
Spot Wildlife in the “Costa Rican Amazon”
Stretching across nearly 77,000 acres of land are the Tortuguero Canals, located in Tortuguero National Park. Owing to the wide human-made and natural canals, maze-like pattern they form, and extensive biodiversity around the waterways, the canals are often called the Amazon of Costa Rica. They’re one of the best places to visit if you want to be in the heart of Costa Rica’s nature.
The best way to see the canals is via pontoon boat. A guide can help you spot marine-based wildlife like crabs and turtles, crocodiles, eels, and sometimes even manatees. Keep your eyes focused on the treeline, too, as you could see any number of animals like sloths, monkeys, snakes, macaws, or even the elusive jaguar.
Search for Exotic Species in Carara National Park
Have you ever seen a kinkajou? How about an agouti or coati? You’ll have a high chance of spotting at least one of those exotic animals at Carara National Park. The park consists mostly of primary rainforest, so it’s one of the most biodiverse areas in the country. More than 150 types of birds live here, too, and the best way to see them is to slowly move through the forest on foot with a guide who can help you spot them.
The park is next to the Tarcoles River, which offers another chance to see the best nature in Costa Rica. Plan to take a motorboat down the river, which twists and turns through a mangrove jungle. You’ll likely spot iguanas, macaws, and crocodiles, since the Tarcoles River has the highest crocodile population in Costa Rica.
Paddle and Hike through the Jungle in Punta Uva
In Punta Uva. Hop on a tandem (two-person) kayak and paddle your way through the jungle. Your route will first pass by sea cliffs and caves before turning inland to paddle up the river, with dense rainforest on both sides. You’ll have a good chance of spotting monkeys, sloths, birds, turtles, lizards, and more.
If you don’t spot any animals from your kayak, don’t worry. After your paddle, you’ll head into the jungle on foot with a naturalist guide who will take you to one of the best vista points in Punta Uva. This is a truly active adventure perfect for people who want to get up close and personal with the best nature in Costa Rica.
This small Central American nation is a haven for nature enthusiasts and animal lovers. Discover its natural wonders on a cruise to Costa Rica. You’ll experience thrilling outdoor adventures during days in port, and unwind in luxury on board.
Browse cruise itineraries on our website and book your next nature-filled vacation today.