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Great Outdoors
Not-In-The-Guidebook Costa Rica

Tips from the Wildlife Experts at Wild Planet Adventures

Toss the guidebooks if you want quality viewings of Costa Rica's wildlife, says international wildlife viewing experts, Wild Planet Adventures (

"In Costa Rica it's really no mystery why some parks and preserves get most of the tourist traffic," explains Josh Cohen, Wild Planet Adventures founder and owner. "It's where the popular guide books say to go. Sure, you can still have quality sightings if you know where and when to look, but to locate and observe the best of the country's exotic wildlife you really have to go where humans don't usually venture."

Following are five tips that Costa Rica guidebooks fail to mention, notes Cohen: 

  • The more eco-systems you visit, the more wildlife you'll see. Unlike anyplace on earth, Costa Rica has a wide variety of eco-systems that are relatively close together. Each eco-system with its own unique wildlife is best explored through different activities. Avoid the temptation to park yourself at just one or two of "the best" eco-systems (no such thing); instead expose yourself to as many eco-systems as you can in a comfortable, relaxed pace. The most comprehensive itineraries will include lowlands rainforests on both Caribbean and Pacific coasts, mid-elevation forests, gallery forests, rivers, high elevation cloud forests, volcanoes, hot-springs and beaches. Timing your arrival so you see all of the wildlife at each destination requires a level of efficiency that is unrealistic to expect from reading guidebooks. If you want to enjoy your morning in Monteverde Cloud Forest and arrive in Carara National Park just in time to see the scarlet macaw migration, it's best to join a small group tour.

  • Allow enough days so you can circle around the continental divide without retracing your steps. After six, each day added to your trip exponentially adds both value and ease. While you can squeeze in two destinations in six days, you can fit five destinations in nine days with ease because of the geography. Target 14 days if you want to visit the major ecosystems including the far south Pacific Coast.
  • Consider traveling during July's "Veranito" phenomenon.  It's not just a gimmick.  The gentle early rains of late May and early June yield flowering trees and fruits, which attract a lot of wildlife. In July a break in the rainy season occurs, which in recent years has expanded from two to over five weeks, and brings with it near-ideal viewing conditions. With fewer tourists in the parks, it's the season-of-choice for wildlife lovers in the know.

  • It's a cliché, but your guide really does make your trip. You may have gotten the impression from guidebooks and even friends that there are tons of high quality naturalist and biologist guides who have nothing better to do than sit around the park entrances all day waiting for you to show up. Another misconception is that you can find great quality guides at your lodge who really LOVE doing the same several-hour tour day after day, seven days a week, never tiring of going to the same place to see the same old tired monkeys (who are used to human presence if they visit every day.) The guide at the destination is only part of your trip. Some of the most special sightings / experiences occur enroute -- without other tourists around you. If you tour the country in a small group with a high-end naturalist or biologist guide accompanying you, you have a better chance to see wildlife in between destinations. Accompanying guides prefer visiting a wide variety of destinations to keep their work new and exciting. The best guides follow the tips, and they know they can get bigger tips after spending a week or more with you. Accompanying guides are more cost effective in a small group, but they can be arranged for custom itineraries.
A large percentage of wildlife is both diurnal and nocturnal, which doesn't always correspond with times tours are offered. Think dawn, dusk and especially at night when animals can be most active. To really increase your chance of seeing more wildlife, and more rare and endangered species, organize your rainforest hikes to take advantage of all three peak daily times. This will likely require an accompanying guide unless you find a quality lodge guide willing to work after hours. Another advantage of a dawn, dusk and especially night excursions is that you will likely encounter a fraction of the tourists.