Black-bellied whistling ducks at Palo Verde National Park.

© Kryssia Campos / Getty Images

Parque Nacional Palo Verde

Northwestern Costa Rica

At the head of the Golfo de Nicoya, the 198 sq km Parque Nacional Palo Verde is a wetland sanctuary in Costa Rica’s driest province. The park’s shallow, permanent lagoons are focal points for wildlife, including the greatest concentrations of waterfowl and shorebirds in Central America. Several kilometers of hiking trails wind through the forests; boat tours (just outside the park) are an excellent way to visit the wetlands. Come during the driest months for greater concentrations of birds and animals and fewer mosquitoes.

All of the region’s major rivers drain into this basin, creating habitats including mangrove swamps, marshes, grassy savannas and evergreen forests. Low limestone hills provide lookouts over the park. The park's name comes from its abundant palo verdes (green trees), small shrubs that are green year-round.

The park harbours plenty of wildlife. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded here, such as rare black-crowned night herons and the endangered jabirú; the park is also home to many mammals including the largest population of jaguarundis in Costa Rica. There are also numerous reptiles including crocodiles that are reportedly up to 5m in length.

The dry season (December to March) is the best time to visit; flocks of birds tend to congregate in the remaining lakes and marshes, and trees lose their leaves, allowing for clearer viewing. That said, the entire basin swelters during the dry season, so bring adequate sun protection – and you’ll still want insect repellent. During the wet months, large portions of the area are flooded, and access may be limited.

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