A Guide to Costa Rica’s Wonderful Wildlife 

Tucked between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica is a paradise of biodiversity just waiting to be explored.  

Wildlife in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a jewel of Central America, filled with vibrant landscapes ranging from dense jungle to sparkling coastlines. Yet, the unseen treasures are the myriad of animals in Costa Rica that truly captivate those who venture here. Every corner, from the shadowed depths of the wildlife in Costa Rica's rainforest to the vast expanses of its marine sanctuaries, promises wondrous discoveries for those with an explorer's heart.

For those planning a luxury Costa Rica wildlife vacation, it's common to be uncertain about the best spots to visit, to have safety concerns, and to wonder about the unique animals you might encounter. If you're looking for clear answers on where to go, how safe it is, and what animals to expect, our guide has got you covered.

Animals in Costa Rica

Costa Rica, a biodiversity hotspot, is home to many incredible animals in Costa Rica. Venture into the heart of the Costa Rica rainforest, and you're enveloped by its diverse wildlife, from vibrant birds to elusive jaguars. Alongside the verdant wonders, aquatic marvels await, showcasing the country's equally mesmerizing marine life.

While celebrating Costa Rica's wildlife, it's vital to remember both the animals native to Costa Rica and the endangered species in Costa Rica need protection. And that starts by not touching or getting too close to the animals and Costa Rica's dangerous wildlife. In fact, the country launched a campaign urging tourists to stop taking selfies with animals. Of course, you can still experience the unmatched thrill of observing these creatures in their natural environment without disturbing them.

Ultimately, the magic of this nation's fauna is profound, with some of its most famous inhabitants listed below.


A spider monkey hanging from a tree branch 

Monkeys are quintessential animals in the Costa Rica rainforest. Comprising four main species: Howler Monkey, White-faced Capuchin, Spider Monkey, and Squirrel Monkey, they are prime attractions for any Costa Rica wildlife vacation. Primarily frugivores, they're commonly sighted in Manuel Antonio, Osa Peninsula, Monteverde, Arenal, Nicoya, Tortuguero, and Palo Verde. Particularly in Manuel Antonio National Park, these curious creatures often make appearances. However, it's essential to refrain from feeding them, as they have been known to take food from tourists. Visitors should listen for the Howler's deafening calls echoing across the forest and watch for the acrobatics of the Spider Monkey in the treetops.


A brown throated three toed sloth hanging from a tree branch

When thinking of wildlife in the Costa Rica rainforest, sloths immediately come to mind. The Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth and Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth are iconic animals native to Costa Rica. Recognizable by their leisurely pace, they're scattered throughout Costa Rican forests. You can expect fruitful sloth-spotting experiences in destinations like Manuel Antonio, Tortuguero, Corcovado, Monteverde, and on the Caribbean side near Puerto Viejo, particularly in La Amistad. But, even though they're plentiful in these regions, they can be hard to find due to their catalog coloring and slow movements. The Hoffman's two-toed sloths, known for their nocturnal behavior, pose an extra challenge to spot during tours. So, to enhance your chances of spotting these elusive creatures, we set you up with skilled naturalists for a night tour of the jungle. Tourists should keep an eye on treetops for their distinctive, slow-moving silhouettes and their unique "smiling" faces.


A coati walking on a tree branch

The elusive Margays, an endangered species in Costa Rica (The International Union for Conservation of Nature designated the margay as "Near Threatened"), are masterful tree-climbers that prowl the night. Hidden within Costa Rica's dense forests, they primarily hunt small mammals and birds. In Arenal, Monteverde, and the Osa Peninsula, we provide night walks to spot this feline's glowing eyes. A guide will accompany you, pointing out the vibrant nocturnal creatures. Remember, they're known to mimic prey calls, so listen closely!

Red-eyed tree frog

A red eye tree frog on a big leaf

Symbolic of Costa Rica wildlife, the Red-eyed tree frog captivates with its vibrant colors. Predominantly found in rainforests and feeding on insects, their striking appearance is a delight for photographers. We can arrange for a professional photographer to take photos or help with your camera gear to snap these must-see creatures. For those exploring the rainforests after dark, the melodic croaks and brilliant red eyes peeping from beneath leaves are sights and sounds not to miss.

Birds of Costa Rica

Imagine a land where the symphony of colors takes flight, and the air is filled with melodic songs at every dawn. Welcome to the heart of bird-watching in Costa Rica. This tropical haven is home to a dazzling array of winged wonders, making it a dream destination for avian aficionados from around the globe. With a terrain that spans misty cloud forests to sun-drenched beaches, it's no wonder the birds of Costa Rica number in the hundreds when it comes to types.

While it's impossible to capture the essence of every species in this haven, this Costa Rica bird guide shares some of the most renowned below.

Resplendent Quetzal

A Resplendent Quetzal bird mid flight

When you're exploring the birds of Costa Rica, the Resplendent Quetzal stands out with its vibrant green plumage and scarlet breast. These birds, often seen in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Los Quetzales National Park, are famed for their long tail feathers. If you visit between March and June, you're in luck – it's their breeding season. While the creatures are normally shy and quiet, they’re much more vocal during this period making it easier to spot them. Listen for their sharp kow calls, contrasting their majestic look for a fun twist.

Scarlet Macaw

A Scarlet Macaw bird on a tree branch

One of the large birds of Costa Rica, the Scarlet Macaw, is a brilliant mix of red, blue, and yellow. Bird watchers should head to the Osa Peninsula and Carara National Park to spot these monogamous birds, often seen in pairs. Their curved beaks are not just for show – they're nut and seed-cracking experts. Visit during the dry season for the best sightings. And remember, these beauties can live up to 75 years!

Keel-Billed Toucan

A toucan on a branch

As you dive deeper into bird watching in Costa Rica, the Toucan, with its iconic beak, is a must-see. Species like the Keel-billed Toucan are native to areas ranging from humid rainforests to cooler mountain terrains. Though they look friendly, watch out for their mischievous side – they sometimes raid nests for eggs. They're active all year, so any time's good for a sighting. That means if you come during the off-season you can still add a bit of wildlife exploring to your itinerary.


A hummingbird flying next to a flower plant

A Costa Rica bird guide isn't complete without the agile Hummingbird. With over 50 species, including the Violet Sabrewing, they're known for their hovering abilities. They can be seen in various habitats, from tropical rainforests to highland cloud forests all year round. At Monteverde's Cafe Colibri, named "Hummingbird Cafe" in Spanish, visitors can get up close to over ten species of hummingbirds frequenting the feeders. Some tables even offer direct feeder views. Visitors should note their incredible appetite; they feed almost constantly. If you see them darting around, they're likely hunting for nectar or small insects.

The Best Places to Stay in Costa Rica for Wildlife

Experiencing the splendor of Costa Rica's wildlife is possible throughout the country, but the right accommodation can elevate your journey. At Scott Dunn, our seasoned travel specialists have curated a selection of destinations and stays to enhance your wildlife adventure.

If the dreamy sound of a sloth's languid movement beckons you, then the Monteverde Cloud Forest and Manuel Antonio National Park are some of the best places to see animals in Costa Rica. Imagine strolling through a dedicated sloth trail, hoping to encounter the nocturnal Hoffman's two-toed sloth or the thrill of spotting the luminous eyes of a red-eyed frog as it poises for a leap. There’s also an abundance of the resplendent quetzal in the Monteverde region. Their dazzling red bellies and distinctive trill often play hide and seek amongst the thick foliage, but with a keen ear and a good guide, you're in for a delightful surprise.

As you venture towards the Pacific, the vibrant hues and unmistakable squawks of the Scarlet macaws await at Corcovado National Park. While the melodic calls of toucans, especially the impressive keel-billed ones, are best appreciated in the canopy-rich Tortuguero National Park. Amidst the flurry of these avian wonders, the hummingbirds stand out. Their rapid wings and iridescent colors create a mesmerizing spectacle, best enjoyed at the hummingbird garden in Selvatura Park, located within the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

But Costa Rica's charm isn't just limited to its land. Its waters teem with life, making it a sought-after destination for snorkeling and whale and dolphin-watching. The shores of Tortuguero National Park particularly stand out for their marine splendors, from mighty humpback whales to nesting sea turtles.

As for the best place to stay in Costa Rica for wildlife, Scott Dunn has intricately curated accommodations to elevate your wildlife experience. In the Osa Peninsula, the Lapa Rios, set amidst a vast rainforest reserve, promises sightings of macaws and monkeys and luxurious retreats by the pool after a day of adventure. On the Caribbean side, the Tortuga Lodge offers an eco-rustic charm, perfectly positioned for marine life encounters and explorations of Tortuguero National Park. For those eyeing the popular wildlife hotspots of Manuel Antonio National Park and Monteverde Cloud Forest, the Arenas del Mar and Senda Monteverde are unparalleled in providing luxury amidst Costa Rica's wild landscapes. Whether it's the thrill of the chase or the serenity of nature, Costa Rica promises an unforgettable wildlife experience.

The Best Time of the Year to Visit Costa Rica for Wildlife and Bird Watching

The distinction between the country's rainy and dry seasons is paramount in determining the best time to go to Costa Rica for wildlife. For those targeting the Pacific regions like Monteverde, December to April offers clear skies and dry terrains ideal for wildlife spotting. Conversely, visiting Tortuguero on the Caribbean side is most rewarding from March to September. While spring is a popular season for animal and bird watching, it attracts larger tourist crowds. However, for a quieter experience without compromising on wildlife viewing, the “green seasons” in May-June and November are perfect. Particularly in November, bird enthusiasts can witness migratory species such as falcons, hawks, and swallows, making it the best time to visit Costa Rica for wildlife enthusiasts.

The Best Way to See Animals in Costa Rica

Want to know the best places to see wildlife in Costa Rica? Look no further than Scott Dunn. When you choose Scott Dunn luxury tours and activities, you're guaranteed to experience this country's rich natural beauty. The Wild Costa Rica tour covers various spots with top-notch accommodations and includes guides to help you spot birds and hidden animals.

Traveling with your family? Opt for the Costa Rica with Kids tour. You'll venture to places like Tortuguero and Arenal and witness sloths, turtles, and monkeys in their natural habitat. Of course, knowledgeable guides are there the entire time to answer all your questions.

For those seeking a unique journey, Scott Dunn lets you customize your activities. Choose from options like nocturnal treks and boat tours to fully immerse yourself in Costa Rica.


Inspired yet? Well, discover the magic of Costa Rica tailored just for you. Reach out to Scott Dunn today to craft your ideal bespoke wildlife adventure, ensuring an unforgettable experience in one of the world's most biodiverse havens.

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