Cocos Island, a national park off the shore of Costa Rica is located some 330 miles southwest of the Costa Rican mainland, has the country’s best diving by far. While the island is covered with virgin forest, the ocean that surrounds it contains abundant marine life, and the visibility is good year-round. Divers at Cocos Island regularly see such impressive animals as manta rays, dolphins, and hammerhead sharks, which sometimes gathering in schools of 30 or 40 animals. It takes about 36 hours to reach Cocos Island, and some companies have ships that run regular dive cruises there, which last ten days and include three dives per day.
Costa Rica has long been famous among serious bird watchers, but many people who would never consider the activity at home quickly become interested in the country’s spectacular avian diversity. With almost 850 species of birds in Costa Rica — more than in all of North America — packed into an area half the size of Kentucky, it’s hard not to become enthused about the variety of feathered creatures one encounters.
One of the reasons for Costa Rica’s extraordinary birdlife is the country’s great variety of habitats: rain forests, mangrove swamps, beaches, cloud forests, rivers, etc. And any two of those ecosystems, with their resident bird species, are often only a short distance apart. Birders from North America who visit Costa Rica during the northern winter invariably recognize familiar faces in the forest, since many species of warblers, flycatchers, vireos, orioles, etc. migrate to Costa Rica every winter.
Costa Rica’s National Parks System protects examples of nearly all the ecosystems that exist in the country, covering about 14 percent 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 skin diving, spelunking, surfing, and other outdoor activities. No matter what your vacation priorities, you’ll want to visit at least a couple of Costa Rica’s national parks or other protected areas.
In addition to Costa Rica’s 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 preserves. Considered one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, Costa Rica is divided into 20 natural parks, 8 biological reserves, and a series of protected areas that captivate ecotourism lovers. The variety of activities includes horseback riding, hiking mountainous paths in the cloud forests, and guided bird-watching tours.
Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park is especially famous for sea turtle nesting that takes place every year, and the natural canals that abound with protected species such as crocodiles, manatees, and otters.