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When in Costa Rica, do as the Ticos. If this is your philosophy, you’ll want to explore the countryside on horseback, a traditional and revered way of travel. Nowadays, horse farms and tour companies are closely monitored to ensure humane treatment of the horses. Riding tours are available in all main tourist destinations, often traversing national parks, making it a fantastic way to experience the country.
The area around Volcán Arenal National Park is particularly popular for horseback riding, not the least because it is cowboy country, home to expansive cattle ranches and spectacular scenery. Ride for a day or ride for a week, exploring lush forests, mountain slopes and country villages. Ambitious riders can travel the popular tourist route between Monteverde and Arenal on the back of a horse.
Wildlife watching & birdwatching
One of the greatest thrills of spending time in Costa Rica’s national parks is the chance to see fantastic birds, bugs, reptiles and mammals in their natural habitat. You don’t have to go far to catch a glimpse of playful monkeys, sleeping sloths and ostentatious birds flitting about the treetops. Manuel Antonio is the country’s smallest and most popular national park, and it is one of the best places to spot the most common species, including capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, two- and three-toed sloths, and white-nosed coatis, not to mention the rare Central American squirrel monkey.
The best wildlife watching arguably takes place at Corcovado National Park, and especially at Sirena ranger station. The station’s location in the middle of the park means that it requires a one- or two-day hike to get there (although charter flights are also available). Half of Costa Rica’s animal species live right here in Corcovado. And if you make it to Sirena, you’re likely to spot some good ones, such as all four species of indigenous monkeys, white-lipped and collared peccaries, Baird’s tapirs and northern tamandua, as well as the more common mammals like coatis and sloths. Corcovado also contains the largest population of scarlet macaws, which often make themselves known along the coastal trails.
Birdwatchers flock to national parks to see the country’s most famous species – the scarlet macaw at Carara and the resplendent quetzal at its namesake Los Quetzales National Park. In recent years, the great green macaw has made a comeback thanks to habitat restoration around the (proposed) Maquenque National Park. Wading birds and water birds are the stars of show in the wetlands of Palo Verde, while hundreds of species inhabit the rainforests and cloud forests at national parks throughout the country. If you’re ticking off your bird list, there are 630 indigenous species, plus another couple hundred migratory birds that might be passing through.