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Why January is the best time to go to Costa Rica

As one of the world’s fastest growing travel destinations, Costa Rica really offers something different – from humpback whale spotting to spying on rare butterflies; forest-heavy national parks to mountain ranges; unique adventure experiences to lazy beaches. But when is the best time to go? 

In this exclusive extract from Where to Go When, your guide to the most amazing places in the world and the best time of year to visit them, we find out how Costa Rica is at its best in January, with temperatures just about ripe for exploring all there is to see across the country and experiencing the astonishing range of wildlife on offer.

The red-eyed tree frog, just one of the many frogs found in the Corcovado National Park

Why go?

With a bounty of parks and wildlife reserves that buzz with wildlife at this time of year, Costa Rica is the perfect place to experience the diversity of the Central American tropics.

Scarlet macaws screech overhead, howler monkeys swing in the dense forest canopy and crocodiles loll along riverbanks. This is Costa Rica, a menagerie unlike any other. The abundance of colourful wildlife is a major thrill of any visit to the tiny Central American country, where 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity makes its home. Cloaked in a thousand shades of green, the nation is a patchwork of national parks and wildlife reserves spanning 12 different ecosystems – all ready to be explored.

A deserted beach in Corcovado

The mountain-top cloud forests of Monteverde, draped in ethereal mists, are a world apart from the tropical dry forest of the Pacific northwest, the mangroves of Terraba-Sierpe, or the lowland rainforests of Corcovado and Tortuguero – the latter a watery world laced with canals perfect for wildlife viewing.

Volcanic eruptions can be spied from the summit of Cerro Chirripó

All along the coast, lush forests spill onto long swathes of sand where marine turtles deposit their precious eggs and paw prints betray the passing of a jaguar. Then there are the steaming volcanoes that stud the mountainous spine; dive into bubbling hot springs around passive Arenal, then peer into simmering craters from the summit of Poás. To the south the hulking grandeur of the non-volcanic Talamanca range soars and craggy Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest mountain, tempts hikers to ascend through cloud forest and páramo – a high plateau – for all-round views from the summit.

Sunset in Manuel Antonio National Park

Stitching the varied ecosystems together into a seamless journey is easy given the country’s small size and brilliant transport facilities. Many travellers prefer adrenaline-charged pick-your-own adventures as a way to immerse themselves in nature: quad-biking excursions, exhilarating zipline rides through the forest canopy, surfing in the ocean or whitewater rafting on the Pacuare or Reventazón rivers – with a wealth of yoga retreats and lazy beaches providing laidback alternatives.

Whichever way you explore it, Costa Rica will inspire you.

When else to go?

August - September

Great whale-watching opportunities in the Southern zone, as mothers nudge their infants to the surface near Bahía Ballena.

October

Límon Carnaval inspires a party on the Caribbean side, with floats, music and costumes aplenty. 

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