Capuchin Monkey in Costa Rica ©Solange Hando
Among Costa Rica's 190 national parks and reserves, an amazing number for a such small country, the Pacific Coast claims some of the finest protected areas where wild life thrives in a range of habitats, from wetlands and ocean to rivers, forest and jungle. With its exemplary conservation policy, this is a country, they say, which 'sells oxygen to the world' in return for targeted aid.
Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Coast ©Solange Hando
Down south, Manuel Antonio, the smallest of the parks, is fringed with white sand and clear waters which attract dolphins, Magnificent Frigates, pelicans and occasionally turtles.
There are coral reefs and nature trails where ramblers look out for iguanas, raccoons, squirrel monkeys and rare two-toed sloth. It's a popular place for visitors so a daily quota is in force. It's best to reserve beforehand to avoid disappointment.
Scarlet Macaws, Costa Rica ©Solange Hando
In Northern Nicoya, the Palo Verde National Park offers a superb combination of wetlands and tropical forest. You find mangrove and marshes, savannah and a great variety of trees, ironwood, sandbox, 'green stick' trees, which give their name to the park, home to some 300 species of birds, including the dazzling scarlet macaws, regarded as Costa Rica's national birds.
Crocodile in Costa Rica National Park ©Solange Hando
The park also attracts howler monkeys, white-tailed deer, puma and variegated squirrels while crocodiles are found up the Tempisque river. There are hiking trails and boat trips on the river and wetlands.
Blue Morpho Butterfly, Costa Rica ©Solange Hando
Closest to Puntarenas, the Carara National Park occupies a transition zone between dry and rainforest where sleeping hibiscus and red lilies splash colour along the trails. There are endangered spider monkeys, rare poison-dart frogs, myriad birds and blue butterflies the size of your hand.
Sunset on the Tarcoles Estuary ©Solange Hando
When the sun sets all red and gold on the Tarcoles estuary, Carara settles down for the night. Thousands of egrets come to roost in the mangrove while the raucous call of howler monkeys echoes across the canopy. It sends shivers down your spine and within minutes, darkness falls over this pristine natural world.