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Into the Rainforest: How to Explore Costa Rica's Biodiversity

Costa Rica is home to some of the largest rainforests in the world. About 51% of the country is forested, offering plenty of opportunities to explore after relocating there.

Moving to an urban area? There are even rainforests within driving distance of San Jose, so you can explore the country’s native habitats wherever you live.

Educate yourself before you relocate to get the most out of your experience. It’s also important to take basic precautions to keep yourself safe. Read these guidelines before venturing into the rainforests.

Know Which Forests to Explore

Costa Rica features a number of fantastic rainforests that are worth exploring. Here are some of the most popular options to choose from:


Corcovado is one of the most ecologically-diverse rainforests in Costa Rica. You may encounter the following:

  • Nearly 50 species of frogs, including the Red-Eyed Tree Frog

  • The American crocodile

  • Nearly 30 species of lizards, such as the tree-dwelling iguana

Get started by visiting the Corcovado National Park located along the Osa Peninsula near Puerto Jimenez. If you live in that area, you'll have an opportunity to visit Corcovado.


Monteverde is home to two cloud forest reserves. Cloud forests tend to have more humidity than typical rainforests, because the sun can't penetrate the clouds to evaporate the moisture in the air.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was created in 1972. It initially covered about 800 acres, but has expanded significantly over the last 40 years. The reserve currently spans across 35,000 acres, making it one of the largest in Costa Rica.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is home to more animal species than just about any other forest on earth. There are over 400 species of birds and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles.

The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is also a wonderful day trip. It only encompasses 765 acres, which makes it much smaller than the Monteverde reserve. However, it is home to numerous species of plants and animals.

Piedras Blancas

The Piedras Blancas National Park protects an evergreen rain forest along the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This reserve is located near Lagamba and Golfito. It's approximately the same size as the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Biologists are continuously exploring the rainforest, and there are still many unidentified species of animals in the area. To date, they do know the area is home to over 50 different species of bats, many snakes, and several big cats, including Jaguars and Pumas.

Rainforest Safety Tips

Rainforests have an undeserved reputation for being very dangerous. In reality, you can keep yourself safe by exercising the following precautions.

Travel in Groups

Never venture into a rainforest alone. While emergencies aren't particularly common, designate someone that you can call on for assistance or to provide first aid if a crisis arises. It’s also a good idea to travel with a guide, because getting lost in the rainforest can be a frightening experience.

Use Bug Repellents with DEET

Mosquitoes and other pesky insects are very prevalent in most Costa Rican rainforests. They are the source of malaria and other illnesses that can cause major health problems, so it's important to use strong bug repellent. Make sure your repellent contains DEET, which is necessary to keep mosquitoes away.

Keep Your Vaccinations Up to Date

While traveling in the rainforest, it's possible to contract diseases such as yellow fever or malaria. Fortunately, the odds of developing these diseases are extremely small if you're properly vaccinated. Check with your physician to find out which vaccines you need before going into the rainforest.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends getting Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines before visiting many other countries, including Costa Rica. They are usually prescribed to protect you from getting sick after eating contaminated foods, but you could still need them if you are exposed to contaminated water in the rainforest.

Be Cautious Near Bodies of Water

Creeks and other large bodies of water in Costa Rica’s rainforests can prove hazardous. They attract many disease-carrying insects and are often home to crocodiles and other dangerous water-dwelling predators. It's essential to ask your guide which bodies of water to stay away from.

Overview of Wildlife in Costa Rica’s Rainforests

Costa Rica’s rainforests house many species of wildlife you will never encounter in the United States (at least outside of a zoo). Here's a list of some of the animals to look out for.


You can find parrots in lower-elevation rainforests. There are over a dozen species in Costa Rica. They come in different colors, but most are green.


Toucans are another common bird in the rainforests. They are known for their rainbow-colored bills and bright feathers.


There are several different species of frogs in Costa Rican rainforests. Rain Frogs are very small amphibians that can be found there. The average Rain Frog is only about an inch long.

Tree frogs are another popular species in Costa Rica. They are slightly larger than Rain Frogs and are usually found in more thickly-forested areas.

Poison dart frogs are less common. Despite their foreboding name, they're not overly dangerous. Their skin is poisonous, but the venom isn’t strong enough to kill a human. In fact, you can even touch them as long as you don't have any cuts or sores.

American Crocodiles

American crocodiles are more dangerous than great cats. The average crocodile is at least 10 feet long. Unlike many other creatures you may encounter in the rainforest, they may actually attack humans for food.

The likelihood of encountering an American crocodile is fairly low, because there are only 1,500 known species in the world. However, they do tend to congregate near bridges because unknowing tourists often toss them food. Use caution while traveling near bridges.


There are several different species of monkeys in Costa Rica, and all of them are endangered. The howler and white-faced monkeys are probably the most common monkeys in the area. You can find both types in Corcovado, but they can also be found elsewhere.

Great Cats

Great cats are at the top of the rainforest food chain. The most common types are Jaguars and Pumas. Although they are not likely to attack humans for food, they can become hostile if threatened. If you do encounter them, try to keep your distance.

How to Take Great Pictures in the Rainforest

Few people ever have the chance to explore the majestic beauty of Costa Rica’s rainforests. Bring your camera to take photographs to preserve these moments forever.

Here are some tips for taking beautiful rainforest photographs.

Perfect your Timing

Knowing when to take pictures is one of the most important parts of rainforest photography. Follow these guidelines to choose the right time to shoot photos:

  • It's a good idea to take pictures on days that are slightly overcast. It may seem counterintuitive, but you'll actually get better pictures without clear skies and bright sunlight.

  • Track the direction of the sun around your subject. Some landmarks cast large shadows during certain parts of the day, so it's important to be aware of them.

  • It's best to take pictures around an hour after dawn and an hour before sunset. You'll have enough light, but it won't ruin your atmospheric shots.

Timing is a difficult art to perfect. However, you'll have a better sense of it with practice.

Focus on a Single Subject

You'll see many beautiful areas that will grab your attention in the rainforest. These subjects won't stand out in your photographs unless you focus on them carefully.

This article on the rule of thirds explains how to make sure your subject is properly centered.

Consider Using an Actual Camera

These days, most people take pictures with their smartphones. However, you can often get better quality pictures with a real camera and a variety of lenses.

For example, wide angle lenses such as the Canon 70-200 are great for rainforest photography. They allow you to capture pictures of birds and small mammals without frightening them away.

Don't Deviate from the Path

For safety reasons, it's best to stick to designated paths. Staying on the path also improves the quality of your pictures. You'll minimize obstructions and have better shots by keeping your distance from large landmarks.

Start Planning Your Rainforest Trip!

Approximately half of Costa Rica is covered with rainforests. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to explore the wooded areas and gaze at beautiful animals and exotic plants.

Are you looking forward to exploring the rainforests? Share your thoughts in the comments below: