Travel down to the rugged Osa Peninsula and you’ll discover Corcovado National Park, a vast and remote protected forest area which covers 103,000 acres. It’s considered one of the most biologically pulsating places on Earth, with an unbelievably diverse range of wildlife including red-eyed tree frogs, sea turtles, scarlet macaws, the endangered harpy eagle and the endemic mangrove hummingbird – you may even be lucky enough to catch a rare glimpse of the elusive and brooding jaguar. You can hike through the rainforest between ranger stations and cross rivers, mangrove swamps, waterfalls and wild Pacific beaches, where popular activities include sea kayaking.
Piedras Blancas is another biodiversity hotspot, on the same southern stretch of Pacific coast as Corcovado and home to much of the same incredible wildlife. You’ll find ocelots, pumas, sloths, toucans and howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys, you’re more likely to spot a jaguar here than anywhere else (Piedras Blancas is one of the last spots in Costa Rica where the cats roam freely) and it’s famous for its birdwatching. The best way to explore the area is by staying in one of the eco-lodges in and around the park, where you’ll be able to cross mountains, rivers, unspoilt sands and tropical rainforest, and enjoy a great range of hikes and excursions.
Make your way further north and inland to find Los Quetzales, Costa Rica’s newest national park. It’s around 2000-3000 feet up in the misty Talamancan mountain range, two and a half hours from San José, and was named after the country’s rare Quetzal bird, best seen during mating season from February to July. You can spot another 200 species of birds here from hummingbirds to emerald toucanets and tanagers, in a superb 12,000-acre setting which is marked by cloud forest, wetlands, glacial lakes and lagoons.
Tortuguero is a secluded village in north-east Costa Rica on the country’s Caribbean coast, known for its friendly locals, pretty pastel-coloured houses and neighbouring national park. The park is an untouched gem that you can only unearth by plane or boat, with stunning scenery including lagoons, forests and a winding network of canals and rivers that has earned it the nickname ‘The Venice of Costa Rica’. Spot wildlife such as manatees, tapirs, toucans and monkeys, and learn how Tortugero got its name; it literally means ‘Region of sea turtles’, and if you visit from July to September then you could be lucky enough to see them laying eggs on the beach.