Wildlife watching in Costa Rica: How to spot sloths, whales and birds

This Central American nation is one of the world’s most biodiverse, and it’s becoming even more accessible, thanks to new flights from the UK

Chloe Cann
Tuesday 05 April 2016 15:06 BST
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A young sloth
A young sloth (Suzi Eszterhas/NPL/REX)

From palm-fringed beaches to tropical rainforests and wildlife-rich national parks, Costa Rica is home to all creatures great and small. And admiring the strikingly coloured quetzal or the gravelly roar of the howler monkey is becoming easier; on 27 April, British Airways reintroduces non-stop flights from Gatwick to Costa Rica’s capital, San José, on the heels of Thomson Airways, which resumed flights from Gatwick to Liberia, on the north-west coast.

Slow and steady

Emblazoned on the country’s currency, sloths are synonymous with this Central American nation. For a close-up look at these languorous creatures, head to the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica (00 506 2750 0775; slothsanctuary.com) on the Caribbean coast. It houses injured, orphaned and abandoned sloths and runs guided canoe trips through their natural habitat. Tours from US$30 (£21).

Expedia (expedia.co.uk) has packages that include flights and accommodation at the Coral Hills Bungalows in Cahuita – a short drive from the sanctuary – from £799pp in May.

In a flap

Keen birders can head to the remote Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. Skirting the Nicaraguan border, the forested wetland hosts migratory birds, including the glossy ibis, black-necked stilt, northern shoveller and wood stork, as well as hummingbirds. The best vantage point is from a cruise along the refuge’s dark olive waters – a trip that features on Hayes and Jarvis’ (01293 762404; hayesandjarvis.co.uk) four-day Arenal Volcano and Monteverde Cloud Forest itinerary. It costs from £1,179pp, with accommodation, flights, local transport, some meals and tours.

Hummingbird
Hummingbird (Hugo King-Fretts)

Night watch

Surveying the forest canopy by the light of the moon is likely to be a highlight of a holiday to Costa Rica. Since 80 per cent of the animals that inhabit Monteverde’s Cloud Forest Reserve are nocturnal, a night walk allows you to observe everything from tarantulas and red-eyed tree frogs to armadillos and porcupines.

Audley Travel (01993 838 665; audleytravel.com) includes a night tour of Monteverde on its Simply Costa Rica tour, which costs from £1,870pp for 10 days, with accommodation, flights, local transport and some excursions.

Monteverde Cloud Forest
Monteverde Cloud Forest

Whale of a time

The waters off the southerly Osa Peninsula, on the Pacific coast, are said to harbour the country’s highest numbers of whales. Sightings of pilot whales, humpbacks, orcas and dolphins are common for most of the year, apart from April to June – so if spotting cetaceans is your aim, save your trip for later in the year.

An excursion to the Osa crops up on Journey Latin America’s Costa Rica Wildlife Discovery itinerary (020 3582 1758; journeylatin america.co.uk). The 15-day trip starts at £3,315pp, and includes local transport, accommodation, some meals and excursions, but not international flights.

Smoking hot

Costa Rica is peppered with smoking and mist-cloaked volcanoes, whose fertile slopes bristle with flora and fauna. Rincón de la Vieja, in the north-west, is one of the most active, home to coatis, tapirs, monkeys and even pumas and jaguars.

A hike through the lush vegetation is the best way to get to grips with the four-legged residents – an activity that features on KE Adventures’ (01768 773966; keadventure.com) 15-day Costa Rica Walks and Wildlife tour. From £2,445pp, including flights, accommodation, local transport, most meals and excursions.

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