At the head of the Golfo de Nicoya, the 184-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, while boat tours 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 a mosaic of habitats, including mangrove swamps, marshes, grassy savannas and evergreen forests. A number of low limestone hills provide lookouts over the park, and the park’s shallow, permanent lagoons are focal points for wildlife. The park derives its name from its abundant palo verde (green tree), a small shrub that’s green year-round.

Over 300 species of birds have been recorded here. Bird-watchers come to Palo Verde to see the large flocks of heron (including the rare black-crowned night heron), stork (including the endangered jabirú), spoonbill, egret, ibis, grebe and duck. Forest birds are also common. Frequently sighted mammals include deer, coati, armadillo, monkey and peccary, as well as the largest population of jaguarundi in Costa Rica. There are also numerous reptiles in the wetlands including crocodiles that are reportedly up to 5m in length.

The dry season (December to March) is the best time to visit, as flocks of birds tend to congregate in the remaining lakes and marshes. Plus, the 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.