• Travel
  • Wildlife Conservation

Costa Rica’s Biodiversity: A Journey Through Its Forests

Article by GVI


Posted: May 6, 2023

Costa Rica, a small Central American country, is known for its incredible biodiversity and stunning natural landscapes. Despite its small size, Costa Rica is home to over 5% of the world’s biodiversity, making it an unparalleled destination for ecotourism and wildlife enthusiasts. In this article, we will take a deep dive into the unique ecosystems found in Costa Rican forests, meet some of its iconic wildlife species, and explore the importance of biodiversity for both the local economy and global climate.

The Unique Ecosystems of Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s diverse landscapes are a result of its varied climate, topography, and geological history. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica’s climate ranges from tropical and subtropical to temperate in the higher elevations. This variety of climates has given rise to several distinct ecosystems, each home to a unique collection of plant and animal life.

Tropical Rainforests

The tropical rainforests of Costa Rica are located primarily in the lowland areas along the Caribbean coast and the southern Pacific coast. Characterised by lush vegetation, tall trees, and abundant rainfall, these ecosystems boast an unparalleled level of biodiversity. Some of the key species found in tropical rainforests include howler monkeys, jaguars, toucans, and thousands of different types of insects, reptiles, and amphibians.

Among the most famous rainforests in Costa Rica are Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve, Tortuguero National Park and Corcovado National Park, both of which are known for their diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife species. Visitors to these parks can explore the dense forests through guided hikes, birdwatching tours, and nocturnal walks.

Cloud Forests

Located at higher altitudes, primarily between 1,000 and 2,500 meters above sea level, cloud forests are characterized by their constant mist and moist conditions. These unique habitats are home to a plethora of orchids, mosses, ferns, and other epiphytic plants, which grow on trees rather than soil.

The star attraction of cloud forests is undoubtedly the resplendent quetzal, which can be found in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and other high-altitude preserves. In addition to the quetzal, you can find other spectacular wildlife such as hummingbirds, bellbirds, and the enigmatic but elusive jaguarundi.

Dry Forests

Dry forests in Costa Rica are found primarily in the western part of the country, particularly in the province of Guanacaste. These forests receive significantly less rainfall than their rainforest and cloud forest counterparts, which has led to a distinct ecosystem characterised by deciduous trees and other drought-tolerant vegetation.

The dry forests are home to many unique species, such as the white-nosed coati, the black iguana, and numerous species of bats. The Guanacaste National Park and the Palo Verde National Park are two popular destinations for those interested in exploring this unique habitat.

Mangrove Forests

Mangrove forests, located along Costa Rica’s Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, play a crucial role in supporting a wide variety of marine life. These unique ecosystems are characterized by salt-tolerant tree species that can thrive in the brackish water found along the shoreline. Mangroves provide essential habitat for many species, including fish, crustaceans, and the American crocodile.

Some of the most popular mangrove forests in Costa Rica to visit include Sierpe-Térraba National Wetlands, Damas Island, and Esterillos Este.

Foggy Sky in the Jungle. Tropical Forest. Morning in the Woods. Exotic Trees and Bushes. Palms are Extremely High. Costa Rica.

Iconic Wildlife Species

With such diverse ecosystems, it is no surprise that Costa Rica serves as a haven for spectacular wildlife species. Here we will explore some of the most emblematic creatures found within the country’s borders.

Resplendent Quetzal

Considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world, the resplendent quetzal is a symbol of Costa Rican forests. With its iridescent green plumage and long tail feathers, this bird can be found in high-altitude cloud forests.

Quetzals are particularly sought after by birdwatchers and can be spotted year-round, although their nesting season, from March to July, offers the best chance of seeing them. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the top destinations for quetzal sightings.

Three-toed Sloth

The three-toed sloth is one of the most emblematic mammals of Costa Rica’s rainforests. This slow-moving tree-dweller is a master at camouflage, making it difficult to spot in the dense foliage. However, with patience and sharp eyes, lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of this adorable creature as it meanders through the treetops.

Manuel Antonio National Park and Tortuguero National Park are among the best locations to observe three-toed sloths in their natural habitat.

Scarlet Macaw

The scarlet macaw is a large, colourful parrot found mainly in the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica. With its striking red, yellow, and blue plumage, this bird is easily recognized and admired by visitors.

Once endangered due to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade, the scarlet macaw population has rebounded thanks to conservation efforts. Corcovado National Park and the Carara National Park are both popular places to see these magnificent birds.

Eyelash Viper

While this venomous snake may not be as adorable as the sloth, it is undoubtedly a fascinating inhabitant of Costa Rican forests. The eyelash viper gets its name from the modified scales above its eyes, which resemble eyelashes. These snakes can be found in a range of colours, including yellow, green, and even pink, making them difficult to spot in the dense foliage of the rainforest.

Several national parks and reserves offer the opportunity to see eyelash vipers, though sightings are never guaranteed due to their elusive nature. Hiking with a knowledgeable guide can increase your chances of spotting this unique reptile.

The Importance of Biodiversity

Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity is not only a treasure for the country itself, but it also holds significant importance for the entire planet. In this section, we will discuss some key aspects of why preserving biodiversity is vital for everyone.

Ecosystem Services

Biodiverse ecosystems provide many essential services, such as carbon sequestration, water filtration, and soil formation. In addition, they support pollinators, which are essential for the production of many of the world’s food crops. By maintaining a diverse range of species, ecosystems are better equipped to withstand and recover from disturbances, such as natural disasters and climate change.

Ecotourism and Sustainable Development

Costa Rica has embraced ecotourism as a way to preserve its natural treasures while promoting sustainable economic development. Tourists flock to the country to explore its pristine ecosystems and to encounter its unique wildlife species up close. As a result, the ecotourism sector has become a major source of income for the country, providing incentives for locals to conserve their natural heritage.

Climate Change Mitigation

Forests play a crucial role in mitigating climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Costa Rica’s forests are estimated to store around 200 million metric tons of carbon in their biomass, making them valuable allies in the fight against global warming. By preserving its forests and promoting reforestation initiatives, Costa Rica is contributing to global climate change mitigation efforts.

Conservation Efforts

Over a quarter of Costa Rica’s land area is protected in national parks, reserves, and wildlife refuges, showcasing the country’s dedication to preserving its natural wonders. Costa Rica has become a leader in conservation and sustainable development on an international level, providing a model for other nations to follow. By working to protect its forests and biodiversity, the country is helping to ensure the health of our planet for future generations.

In conclusion, Costa Rica’s richly diverse forests offer a stunning array of ecosystems, providing refuge for countless plant and animal species. From tropical rainforests to cloud forests, these unique habitats reveal the importance of biodiversity for ecosystem services, human development, and the health of the global environment.

Protecting the biodiversity of Costa Rica

GVI has a remote research station in the middle of the incredible Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve. The reserve is protected by indigenous tribes, and is home to some of the richest jungles on the planet. As a volunteer or intern you’ll help to protect some of the most vulnerable habitats and some truly remarkable wildlife, including such species as jaguars, ocelots, howler monkeys, toucans, sloths and coati. Explore nature conservation programs in Costa Rica.

what’s up next?
Raja Ampat: Indonesia’s Diving Paradise

Discover Raja Ampat, Indonesia's diving paradise in the Coral Triangle. Explore rich marine life, pristine waters and unique dive sites like Misool and Cape Kri.

You might also like these articles

Adaptations of Desert Wildlife in the Namib
Read the article
Wildlife Conservation
Los Brasiles: Nicaragua’s Best-Kept Secret
Read the article
Volunteer and Adventure
From Gaudí to Picasso: Barcelona’s Artistic Icons
Read the article
Volunteer and Adventure
Discover the Magic of South Africa’s Whale Coast
Read the article
Volunteer and Adventure
Exploring the Marine Life Around Naifaru Island
Read the article
Volunteer and Adventure
Taste the Tropics: A Food Lover’s Guide to Bocas del Toro
Read the article
Volunteer and Adventure
Nepal’s Traditional Food: A Culinary Journey through the Himalayas
Read the article
Discovering the Best Beach Towns of Costa Rica: A Guide to Surf, Sand, and Sun
Read the article
Bioluminescence in Costa Rica: A Natural Wonder to Behold
Read the article