A Guide to Costa Rica’s Wonderful Wildlife 

Renowned for its biodiversity, no holiday to Costa Rica is complete without taking in its magnificent array of wildlife. 

Wildlife in Costa Rica

 There’s nothing quite like experiencing Costa Rica’s wildlife first-hand; the sound of playful monkeys calling out to each other through the jungle, the smell of the forest after rainfall, or the sight of unique birds filling the treetops with splashes of colour.

Costa Rica is home to over 500,000 animal and plant species and is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. From leisurely sloths to bright amphibians, you’ll find a variety of animals across Costa Rica’s rainforests and jungles, making it an ideal destination for wildlife enthusiasts.

To help you experience this nature-lovers paradise, our travel experts have put together this guide on some of the most iconic animals in Costa Rica. With tips on when and where to travel, as well as the best ways to see these animals in their natural habitats, discover everything you need to plan the perfect Costa Rica wildlife holiday.

Animals in Costa Rica

There's no shortage of weird and wonderful animals in this fascinating country and wherever you visit, you're guaranteed to spot a few unique creatures as you explore. While there's an endless list of animals to see in Costa Rica, here are some of the most famous and abundant species that you might find:

Spider Monkeys

A spider monkey hanging from a tree branch 

As you look up at the trees and see them hanging by their tails, with arms and legs dangling, it’s easy to understand how spider monkeys got their name. These cheeky animals spend their days swinging through the forests, searching for fruits and nuts to eat. They also keep to the treetops, meaning they’re a frequent sight during canopy tours.

While spider monkeys live across Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of their endearing faces. In fact, Corcovado National Park is the only place where you can see all four of Costa Rica’s native monkey species together. Alongside spider monkeys, you’ll see howler, squirrel and capuchin monkeys weaving in and out of the trees.

Brown-throated three-toed sloth

A brown throated three toed sloth hanging from a tree branch

Possibly the most famous animal that lives in Costa Rica, spotting a three-toed sloth relaxing in the branches is an unforgettable sight.

Their sleepy eyes and serene smiles make it easy to see why these peculiar creatures are popular among visitors and locals alike, with many heading to the rainforest for a chance to see these laidback animals.

If you want to spy a sloth for yourself, Monteverde Cloud Forest and Manuel Antonio National Park are the best places to go, with the latter even offering a dedicated sloth trail. These parks are also home to Hoffman's two-toed sloth, but this species is predominately nocturnal and much harder to spot.

Coati 

A coati walking on a tree branch

With the distinctive ringed tails and long snouts you’d expect from a member of the racoon family, the coati can be found across Central and Southern America. Known locally as pizote, coatis also share racoons’ mischievous nature and can be found clambering their way through the trees or sniffing around the forest floor throughout Costa Rica.

Arenal is a great place to go to see these impish animals in the wild as they play and look for food. However, thanks to their varied diet and ability to live in different habitats, you could bump into coatis across Costa Rica, so keep your eyes peeled.

Red-eyed tree frog

A red eye tree frog on a big leaf

Characteristic red eyes, bright bodies, and expressive faces make these adorable amphibians one of our favourite wild animals to see in Costa Rica. Also known as the ‘monkey frog’ for their jumping abilities, red-eyed tree frogs live throughout the country’s jungles and cloud forests. While they can be difficult to see, blending in with the verdant leaves around them, these tiny green frogs are abundant, so all you need is patience - and a little luck!

We’d recommend heading to Manuel Antonio National Park for the best chance to catch a glimpse of one balancing on a branch or perching on a leaf, ready to leap.

Birds of Costa Rica

 

Bird watching is a popular activity in Costa Rica, with amateurs and more experienced bird watchers travelling across the country to see some of the world’s most unique species. Since Costa Rica is home to over 900 species of bird, we’ve listed some iconic birds you might see as you look to the treetops:

 

Resplendent Quetzal

A Resplendent Quetzal bird mid flight

If you walk through the rainforest and cast your eyes upwards, you might just spot the shimmering feathers of one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful birds: the resplendent quetzal. As its name suggests, this bird’s iridescent green plumage gives it a striking and sumptuous appearance that earns it a place on every keen birdwatcher’s list.

You can find the resplendent quetzal across Central America, but they are abundant in Costa Rica, particularly in Monteverde Cloud Forest. While this elusive bird can be hard to make out amongst the leaves, your guide will help you listen for their distinctive trill and spot their bright red bellies as they fly through the canopies.

Scarlet Macaw

A Scarlet Macaw bird on a tree branch

One of the most famous birds of Costa Rica, seeing a scarlet macaw in its natural habitat is a breathtaking sight. These dazzling birds are easy to spot thanks to their brilliant red, blue and yellow feathers which create a burst of colour in the treetops. Macaws are also very social so you’ll usually observe them in pairs or groups, clustered together in the branches.

Scarlet macaws mostly live on the Pacific side of the country, so we recommend visiting Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula for the best chance to see these amazing birds. You’ll often hear them before you see them, so make sure you listen out for their characteristic squawk as you wander through the park.

Keel-Billed Toucan

A toucan on a branch

 Also known as the rainbow-billed toucan, the keel-billed toucan is a jewel in Costa Rica’s wildlife crown. With a sleek black body, vivid yellow breast, and multicoloured beak, these remarkable birds can often be seen in small groups up in the treetops, tossing fruit to each other.

Like monkeys, Costa Rica is home to several species of toucan which can be found across the country. If you want to find the keel-billed toucan, Tortuguero National Park is one of our favourite locations to see groups of toucans nestled in the canopies. Since they’re some of the largest birds in Costa Rica, you should have no trouble getting a glimpse of their colourful beaks.

Hummingbirds

A hummingbird flying next to a flower plant

 Another of Costa Rica’s famous bird species, we couldn’t finish our list without mentioning the delicate hummingbird. From the vibrant Violet Sabrewing to the iridescent Green Hermit whose feathers gleam in the dappled forest light, Costa Rica is home to over 50 species of hummingbirds, ranging in colour and size.

Watching one of these tiny birds flying over your head or hovering above bright flowers is an unforgettable experience, but seeing one in the wild can be tricky as they zoom around. Thankfully, you can see these amazing birds up close at Selvatura Park in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Here you’ll find the hummingbird garden, a dedicated area where you can spot and photograph hummingbirds as they flit between feeders.

The Best Places to Stay in Costa Rica for Wildlife

You can experience Costa Rica’s magnificent wildlife in destinations across the country, but choosing where to stay can make all the difference to your trip. At Scott Dunn, our travel experts have picked a range of accommodation to complement any wildlife holiday.

If you want to spot macaws and monkeys in the Osa Peninsula, the award-winning Lapa Rios is an ideal place to rest your head. This eco-lodge sits within 1,000 acres of rainforest reserve, bringing nature to your doorstep. The lodge also offers guided exclusions such as bird-watching tours and night hikes, and after a day of exploring the wilderness, you can unwind in the lodge’s luxurious outdoor pool.

On the Caribbean coast, Tortuga Lodge is an eco-rustic hotel perfectly primed for exploring Tortuguero National Park. This is also a fantastic location to see some of Costa Rica’s spectacular marine life including humpback whales and sea turtles as they come to the beach to nest. For exploring hot spots like Manuel Antonio National Park and Monteverde Cloud Forest, we have a range of eco-minded accommodation options such as Arenas del Mar and Senda Monteverde. Both offer breathtaking views of the surrounding jungles and rainforests and provide a slice of luxury in Costa Rica’s rugged landscapes.

The Best Time to See Wildlife in Costa Rica

Like many other Central American countries, Costa Rica’s seasons can be split into rainy and dry. This means that the best time to go to Costa Rica for wildlife depends on where in the country you want to visit.

If you’re travelling to locations on the Pacific side like Monteverde, anytime between December and April is best, bringing bright and dry conditions. Alternatively, if you’re visiting Tortuguero on the Caribbean side, we’d recommend planning your trip between March and September.

Spring brings the best conditions for animal and bird watching across the country but that does mean national parks will be busy, so bear that in mind. If you want to beat the crowds, Costa Rica’s ‘green seasons’ - between May and June or in November (just after the rainy seasons) - are another great time to see the country’s variety of wildlife. November is also when many species of birds like falcons, hawks, swifts and swallows migrate over to Costa Rica to enjoy the warm weather.

See It All with a Luxury Wildlife Tour

If you want to see everything this beautiful country has to offer, why not try one of our Costa Rica wildlife tours?

On our Wild Costa Rica tour, our experts will help you experience this country’s natural highlights as you travel across different destinations. Enjoy days filled with wildlife encounters - all led by expert guides who will help you see birds high in the trees or spot elusive animals in the greenery - and unwind at a selection of luxury accommodations.

For those travelling with family, our Costa Rica with Kids tour gives you the chance to experience destinations like Tortuguero and Arenal with your loved ones. Watch animals like sloths, turtles and monkeys as you explore with specialist naturalist guides, ready to answer all your questions.

Alternatively, if you want to craft your own itinerary, we can arrange the best wildlife activities, such as guided night treks and immersive boat tours, to help you enjoy all that Costa Rica has to offer.

Meet Our Costa Rica Travel Specialists

Call us on 020 3918 9367 to start planning your holiday

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