Wildlife travel: What animals can I see in Costa Rica?

It's a wildlife paradise and a famous ecotourist destination – so which species are you most likely to spot?

Costa Rica illustration

Illustration by Dawn Cooper


1. Mantled howler monkey, Santa Rosa NP

Mantled howler monkey © Kryssia Campos / Getty

The rasping calls of adult males can travel up to 1km even in dense rainforest, so you will probably hear these monkeys before you see them. Morning and evening are the prime howling times.


2. Resplendent quetzal, Los Quetzales NP

Resplendent quetzal © Juan Carlos Vindas / Getty

Covering some 5,000ha of cloud forest in the Talamanca Mountains, Los Quetzales is a great place to encounter one of Central America’s ‘must-see’ birds – they are often spotted in wild avocado trees.


3. Jaguar, Tortuguero NPas 

A jaguar at Las Pumas Rescue Shelter © Paul Souders / Getty

The most sought-after of the Americas’ big cats, the jaguar is fond of nesting green and leatherback turtles. Look out for paw prints on the beach.


4. Strawberry poison arrow frog, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Strawberry poison dart/arrow frog in Tortuguero National Park © Sean Arrowsmith / Getty

While poison arrow frogs can be seen over much of lowland Central America, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is extremely accessible – listen out for the ‘chirping’ of the strawberry or ‘blue jeans’ species.


5. Olive ridley sea turtle, Caño Island Biological Reserve

Olive ridley turtle in Costa Rica © Nature Picture Library / Getty

There’s a host of marine wildlife – from brain corals and sea fans to reef sharks and pilot whales – to be spotted in this fabulous island paradise, but an encounter with an olive ridley would take some beating.


6. Three-toed sloth, Manuel Antonio NP

Three-toed sloth in Corcovado National Park © Kevin Schafer / Getty

A small national park with easy trails, Manuel Antonio is the perfect place to search for either of Costa Rica’s common sloth species – look out for large, grey-brown mammalian oddities high in the canopy.


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