Costa Rica

Costa Rican Wildlife

Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse countries on Earth, making it one of the best places in the World for viewing wildlife.  5 different types of rainforests and several micro-climates provide different habitats for its prolific wildlife.  Costa Rica also features abundant marine life, particularly on the Pacific coast.

Hiking is the most popular way to see Costa Rica’s wildlife, but you can also view them by boat or aerial tram.  Seeing wildlife in the rainforest can be difficult due to the dense vegetation, so we always recommend being with a guide.  Guides know what to look for and where.

Because there are no guarantees in the wild, your best chance to view and photograph exotic wildlife is at sanctuaries, attractions or zoos. Zoo Ave in San Jose has the greatest diversity of rare Costa Rican animals. There is a wildlife santuary near Arenal at El Castillo. For great photo opportunities, we recommend La Paz Waterfall Gardens, with its open habitat settings for most exhibits. This allows you to get great shots without trying to fit your camera lens through the wires of a cage. In addition, they have the country's best native cat exhibits at La Paz and their sister property near Arenal volcano.


Costa Rica is a bird watchers paradise with exotic, colorful species such as toucans, trogans, parrots, quetzals, hummingbirds and motmots. Scarlet Macaws are the highlight--highly intelligent and spectacular birds who can live up to 70 years and keep the same mate for life.  Two large populations live in Carara National Park on the Central Pacific Coast and in Corcovado National Park on the South Pacific Coast.


Capuchin, Howler and Squirrel Monkeys are found throughout Costa Rica.  Howler monkeys are the largest.  Their distinctive and loud call can be heard for miles through the rainforest.  White-faced Capuchin monkeys are small, highly intelligent and mischievous monkeys particularly common to the Central Pacific, South Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

Land Mammals

Coatimundis are opportunistic raccoon-like mammals like to hang around where there’s plenty of food (like restaurants!), but like any wild animals, please don’t feed them. Two and three-toed sloths are slow moving and blend in to the forest canopy. Look for them literally hanging out in Cecropia trees. Jaguars and ocelots are mostly found in Corcovado National Park on the South Pacific Coast. Although hunted nearly to extinction, law enforcement, habitat protection and rehabilitation/release efforts have all helped to maintain and increase the populations of these beautiful cats.

Butterflies are the most celebrated insect featured in Costa Rican tourism. Butterfly farms and exhibits are scattered all over the country.  The most notable species is the Blue Morpho with its brilliant, cobalt blue wings. By far the largest butterfly observatory is found at La Paz Waterfall Gardens which also has excellent educational exhibits about their lifecycle and varieties. Leaf cutter ants are fun to watch as they move along their forest floor highway.

Caiman are found on the caribbean and some central inland habitats; however, the giant crocodiles near Tarcoles are the stars and have been featured on National Geographic. Colorful poison dart frogs are fascinating, can be found throughout the country and also seen in "ranarios" or frog exhibits. Basilisks or "Jesus Christ lizards" can run across the water in a delightful show. Green and black iguanas are prevalent and fun to watch. Serpentariums have safely housed snakes for viewing.
Sea Turtles

Four species of sea turtles nest on the beaches of Costa Rica. Leatherback are found on both coasts; Green nest primarily on the caribbean; Olive Ridley chooses the Central Pacific and Hawksbill like Cahuita on the Caribbean. Their nesting habits can vary by days or weeks, so we don't recommend that you plan your vacation around seeing them nest. Rather, enjoy it as a lucky happenstance should it occur during your stay.

Ocean Mammals

Ocean going vessels often are flanked by dolphins jumping alongside. We recommend viewing these wild, untrained animals from the safety of a craft instead of tours where you can swim with them. It is possible to see orcas, humpback and blue whales during their migratory route along Costa Rican waters.


From small Guapote "rainbow bass" in fresh water lake Arenal, to tarpon and snook in the Caribbean brackish water, to sailfish and marlin in the open ocean, Costa Rica has great fishing. The Pacific Coast is also home to many other species such as whale sharks, dorado, jacks, rooster fish, moon fish and snapper. To view them from underwater, scuba diving and snorkeling is possible but marginal in quality.  

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