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Costa Rica’s biodiversity is legendary, so it should come as no surprise that the country offers unparalleled opportunities for wildlife- and bird-watching. A quality pair of binoculars is highly recommended, and can really make the difference between far-off movement and veritable face-to-face encounters with monkeys bounding through the treetops, sloths clinging to branches and toucans gliding beneath the canopy. For expert bird-watchers, a spotting scope is essential, and multi-park itineraries will allow you to quickly add dozens of new species to your all-time list. Beyond the usual suspects, there are several rarer species worth the hunt.

Scarlet macaw
Few canopy dwellers are as majestic as these monogamous birds, whose distinctive calls are a quick indicator to stop and look up. To maximize your chances of spotting scarlet against a backdrop of verdant green, head to Parque Nacional Carara, a famous refuge for these winged beauties.

Squirrel monkey
Regarded as one of the country's most spectacular destinations, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is typified by rain-forest clad mountains sweeping down to the sea. With a little luck (and patience), you might experience a face-to-face encounter with its most famous inhabitant, the increasingly rare Central American squirrel monkey.

Leatherback sea turtle
Costa Rica is one of the few places in the world where leatherback sea turtles routinely nest. One place where you can watch these denizens of the deep roost is Playa Grande, particularly when there is a full moon above the horizon. Pacific leatherbacks have laid their eggs at Playa Grande for thousands of years.

Jaguar
Seasoned wilderness guides spend entire lifetimes in the rain forests and jungles of Costa Rica without ever so much as catching a glimpse of this elusive feline. However, if you are keen to follow the trail of spoors and footprints left by this top predator, your best bet is in the remote and rugged Parque Internacional La Amistad.

Humpback whale
Topping the must-see list of marine animals, humpback whales are famous for their breaching displays, which are very photogenic and impossible to forget. To catch a glimpse of these gentle giants on their annual migration path add Parque Nacional Marino Ballena to your itinerary.

Baird's tapir
Something akin to a river rhinoceros, these lumbering beasts are one of the most distinctive animals in the rain forest. Although they are highly endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching, they are commonly sighted at the famed Sirena ranger station in Parque Nacional Corcovado.

© Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Wildlife watching in Costa Rica’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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