Costa Rica, the perfect spot to see wildlife migrations

By Shannon Farley Animal migrations are one of the most spectacular wildlife displays on the planet. Although best known in Africa, here in the Americas, Costa Rica’s ideal location and almost perfect climate conditions make it a convergence zone for millions of birds, whales and sea turtles seeking warmer weather and a safe haven to breed, nest or give birth. Certain species’ capacity to travel long distances across the globe is amazing. Humpback whales and many kinds of birds journey thousands of miles in their seasonal change from cold winter to the warm tropics. Sea turtles will swim up to tens of thousands of miles to nest at the exact beach where they were born. With Costa Rica’s year-round good weather, and its strategic placement between North and South America, you can see animal migrations at multiple times during the year. If you want to know when is the best time to visit Costa Rica, see our travel guide. Many animal migrations in Costa Rica coincide with Green Season, when you can get great travel deals, like in Horizontes Nature Tours’ Barefoot Luxury collection of unique hotels. Humpback Whales National Geographic calls Costa Rica the “seventh most important whale watching hotspot in the world” due to its two migratory whale watching seasons that cover almost the whole year. Humpback whales come to the Pacific waters of Costa Rica to give birth and to reproduce during the winter seasons of both hemispheres. North American whales migrate down the Pacific Coast past Guanacaste and Manuel Antonio to the Ballena National Marine Park between December and March. While southern whales from Antarctica travel up to Costa Rica between July and October to the gulf of Golfo Dulce, along the Osa Peninsula, and to the Ballena National Marine Park. In these protected areas, the whales stay close to the coast where the water is shallow and warm, and their newborns are safe from predators. Since humpback whales spend most of their time near the ocean’s surface and are known for their great acrobatic leaps and splashes, they are easy to spot. On whale watching tours, it is also common to see large pods of dolphins that live along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. Sea Turtles Costa Rica is a prime destination to see five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles when they come ashore to nest on both of the country’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts. The nation is also one of the oldest centers for sea turtle conservation in the world. Olive ridley, leatherback, green, loggerhead and hawksbill sea turtles make extensive migrations to return to where they hatched on Costa Rica’s beaches like Tortuguero, Ostional, Playa Grande and others. These beaches have strong currents that help the entry and exit of females and babies. They also are protected in national parks or watched by nonprofit organizations to create safe nesting conditions for the species’ survival. Tortuguero National Park is the most important nesting site for green turtles in the western half of the Caribbean. They nest here from July to mid-October, with the peak time in August and September. In Tortuguero, you can also see loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles, the largest sea turtle in the world, from February to June (peak time: March and April). The Ostional National Wildlife Refuge on the Pacific Coast is one of the two most important nesting areas in the world for olive ridley turtles, and the largest site in the Americas. From July to December, around the time of a new moon, hundreds of thousands of olive ridley sea turtles come ashore all at once to lay their eggs. Called arribadas, the amazing phenomenon is one of the world’s most spectacular nature events. Leatherback sea turtles and Pacific green turtles arrive to the Las Baulas National Park on Playa Grande in Guanacaste to lay their eggs from November to March. These turtles also visit the beaches at Ostional. On the southern Caribbean Coast, four species of sea turtles – green, hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback – nest in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge from March to July. Tico Times Photo Courtesy Bird Migration As chilly fall weather begins in the Northern Hemisphere, millions of birds fly south to warm tropical climates where there is plenty of food for the winter. When spring returns in March and April, they all fly back during spring migration. During these fall and spring months, approximately 3 million birds will pass over Costa Rica. Costa Rica is among the top five favorite countries for bird watching with 921 bird species recorded. While about 600 bird species are resident in the country, more than 300 kinds of birds from North America migrate to Costa Rica and further to South America every year, according to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. In October and November – and again in March and April – the skies over Costa Rica’s Caribbean region fill with an aerial “river of raptors” as millions of hawks, falcons, eagles, vultures, owls, and other birds of prey fly a long journey to South America for the winter. It is the second largest avian migration on the planet. They briefly stop in Costa Rica at places like the Kèköldi indigenous territory, where fall raptor counts average 2.5 million per year. In the wetlands of northern Costa Rica, like Palo Verde National Park in Guanacaste, you can see thousands of migrating and native birds, including endangered species such as the Jabiru Stork, between December and March. As well, throughout Costa Rica during this time, bird watching is excellent for shorebirds, hummingbirds, thrushes, warblers, orioles, and tanagers. Costa Rica migration season is the best time to see wildlife Spotting animals in the wild is a memorable highlight of any trip. So it is that much more inspirational to see multitudes during a big animal migration. Take the opportunity to appreciate and experience firsthand their extraordinary journeys by visiting Costa Rica during migration season with Horizontes Nature Tours.

Juan Carlos Ramírez
Marketing Assistant
Biographical information in English.

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