If you’re an animal lover, you will absolutely love Costa Rica. With over 25% of their land protected as national parks and wildlife refuges, there is no doubt that Costa Rica is a paradise for wildlife.
If you want to see Costa Rica wildlife, we’ll tell you where exactly you can spot monkeys, toucans, sloths and more. The best places to see wildlife in Costa Rica are Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero, Manuel Antonio National Park, Uvita, Puerto Viejo, Gandoca Manzanillo, Palo Verde National Park, Sarapiqui, Monteverde, Corcovado National Park and La Fortuna.
We’ve been traveling throughout the country the past 6 years visiting all the most biologically diverse corners of Costa Rica and have been lucky to see quite a few rare Costa Rican animals. It’s one of the best parts about living in Costa Rica! We also included a video and pictures of popular animals in Costa Rica at the bottom of the post.
This post has been updated December 2018.
Click on it to skip to the section of Costa Rica wildlife.
Whales in Costa Rica
As Costa Rica has both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans, it is an excellent place to see whales and dolphins.
Humpback whales are the most common whales in Costa Rica because both the Antarctica and Alaska humpback whales overlap for a period of time in Costa Rica during their migration. This means Costa Rica has one of the longest humpback whale seasons in the world!
Best time to go whale watching in Costa Rica
- Antarctica humpback whales – July to November
California humpback whales – December to April
North Atlantic humpback whales – December to March
In the months of Oct to Nov, the early birds and late risers overlap. August and September are the best months to see humpback whales in Costa Rica.
Best places for whale watching in Costa Rica
- Drake Bay: South Puntarenas, northern region of the Osa Peninsula. Drake Bay is one of the most isolated places in Costa Rica and has excellent whale watching opportunities.
- Marino Ballena National Park: In Uvita, 16 km south of Dominical and 180 km SW of San Jose. There’s a reason why this is called the Whale National Park, this is one of the best places to see humpback whales! We went whale watching in Costa Rica during August in Uvita and we saw mom and baby whales.
- Gulf of Papagayo: This area is best to see the Antarctica humpback whales in July – September.
You can also go whale watching at Manuel Antonio, Gulf of Nicoya and Golfo Dolce.
Costa Rica Dolphins
It is pretty common to see dolphins in Costa Rica, especially on the Pacific side. You can see spotted and bottlenose dolphins and they are very playful. They love to play in the waves of the boat so you may see them swimming close by or next to you while kayaking!
Best time for dolphins in Costa Rica
Year round. Many species such as bottlenose and spotted live in Costa Rica all year so you have a good chance to see them.
If you want to see the spinner or common dolphins, they pass by Costa Rica from Dec – March and are not seen as much the rest of the year.
Best place to see dolphins
Same places as the whales except you have equal opportunity along the whole Pacific coast. They are especially common to see in the Golfo Dolce. On the Caribbean side, you have a chance to see bottlenose dolphins near Limon.
Many tours combine whale and dolphin watching since the two are commonly seen in the same waters. Some places are Osa Peninsula, Drake Bay, Flamingo, Manuel Antonio and Puerto Viejo. We have seen several times groups of bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Papagayo,.
Costa Rica Turtles
Costa Rica is an extremely important place for sea turtles in the world as several turtles nest on the beaches of both coasts. There are several different species of turtles in Costa Rica, such as the leatherback, Olive Ridley and Atlantic Ridley sea turtle. Many of them are critically endangered.
Best time to see sea turtles in Costa Rica
Some turtles are present all year long. You can see sea turtles on both the Caribbean and Pacific.
- Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback sea turtle and Pacific Green sea turtle – all year long
- Leatherback sea turtles – Feb to July
- Atlantic green sea turtles – June to Nov
The best time of year to see turtles in Costa Rica is the rainy season or July – December. This is when the mass gatherings are the most intense.
Best places to see sea turtles in Costa Rica
- Las Baulas National Park: This national park was established in 1990 to protect leatherback turtles from poachers. You can see them on Playa Grande in Oct – May laying their eggs. You have to reserve in advance for a spot and it is for turtle viewing only. Unfortunately the number of nesting leatherback turtles have decreased each year but it’s still an important turtle nesting site.
- Tortuguero: This national park in the Northern Caribbean is one of the best places to see turtles in Costa Rica. Additionally, it is one of the most important endangered green turtle nesting sites in the Western Hemisphere. Turtles come here from the months of July to October to lay their eggs. In November, you can see babies hatching.
- Santa Rosa National Park: Two beaches in Santa Rosa National Park, Naranjo and Nancite, are one of the few places in the world to experience “arribadas” or the mass nesting of turtles. However, it is difficult to visit this national park since the road is in extremely bad condition and is usually closed off in rainy season. As a result, mostly researchers and biologists visit this park.
- Ostional Wildlife Refuge: This is another important arribada nesting site in Costa Rica. Ostional is the best place to see turtles in Costa Rica because of the many mass arribadas and easy accessibility. (At least more than Santa Rosa).
- Gulf of Papagayo: It is common during July – September to see turtles mating in the water in the Gulf of Papagayo. Sometimes you can see them at Playa Blanca or Jicaro while snorkeling.
- Cano Island: During most of the year, it is common to see turtles, particularly juveniles at Cano Island. Possible to see them while snorkeling or scuba diving.
Other refuges and places
- Osa Peninsula and Corcovado: Many of the beaches are nesting sites for 3 species of turtles.
- Montezuma: The Atlantic Riley turtle lays their eggs on this beach. The local community does baby sea turtle releases in February.
- Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge: Located on the south Caribbean coast. Leatherback turtles nest here from March – May.
- Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge: Although this is a popular surfing beach, it’s also part of the Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge. During rainy season, up to 40 turtles nest per night.
The best time to come see the turtles on shore is during arribadas (synchronized mass gathering of turtles). It is appropriately named because during this period of time (usually the last quarter moon in rainy season) sees up to tens of thousands of turtles coming to the beach to nest at once. They come 24/7, even during the day!
Most importantly, this happens in only a handful of places in the world, with 2 of them in Costa Rica: Ostional and Playa Naranjo for the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. Arribadas occur during Costa Rica’s rainy season, June – December. The best months are September, October and November.
Costa Rica Sloths
I bet seeing a sloth is on your bucketlist for Costa Rica am I right? Sloths are the most popular animal in Costa Rica. Everyone wants to see a sloth when they visit Costa Rica! However, they are hard to see because they camouflage extremely well and are not found in all parts of the country.
There are two species of sloths in Costa Rica: the two and three fingered sloth.
Best time to see sloths in Costa Rica
All year long.
Best places to see sloths in Costa Rica
The best places in Costa Rica to see sloths are Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo, Tortuguero, Dominical, Uvita, La Fortuna and the Osa Peninsula. They are quite abundant in the humid rainforest areas since the forests are green all year long so they always have food.
Because of this, they are not common in Guanacaste as that has dry tropical forest. If you are in Guanacaste/Puntarenas/Nicoya Peninsula (Tamarindo/Coco/Samara/Montezuma/Santa Teresa) and want to see a sloth, you will need to travel to the rainforest or visit an animal sanctuary.
Good animal rescue centers or sanctuaries where you can see sloths are Jaguar Rescue Center, Toucan Rescue Ranch, Springs Resort, La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Diamante Eco Adventure Park. These centers rehabilitate and rescue various Costa Rica wildlife like birds, iguanas and mammals.
Read more in-depth information about sloths in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica Monkeys
Four different species of monkeys are in Costa Rica: White-face Capuchin monkeys, Howler monkeys, Squirrel monkeys and Spider monkeys. All monkeys except the white face are endangered or threatened in Costa Rica.
Best time to see monkeys in Costa Rica
All year round.
Best places to see monkeys in Costa Rica
The Osa Peninsula is the only place where you can find all four species of monkeys.
Squirrel monkeys are only found in the Southern Pacific part of Costa Rica such as Corcovado and Manuel Antonio National Park. Howlers and white face monkeys can be seen all throughout Costa Rica. Howlers are especially common in Guanacaste. Spider monkeys are common in the Osa Peninsula but can also be seen in Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Guanacaste, Cano Negro and Children’s Eternal Rainforest.
You can read more about monkeys in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica Birds
With over 800 species of birds, Costa Rica is an excellent place for birdwatchers. You can find 6 types of toucans, 2 types of macaws, 57 types of hummingbirds and much more! Undoubtedly, birdwatching in Costa Rica ranks as one of the best in the world.
Costa Rica Toucans
The 6 types of toucans in Costa Rica are the Black Mandibled, Keel-billed, Emerald Toucanet, Collarred Aracari, Fiery Aracari and Yellow-eared.
You can’t see all 6 toucans in one place in Costa Rica but you can see up to 3 in one. In Monteverde, you can see the Emerald Toucanet, Keel billed and Black Mandibled Toucan. You can see the Black Mandible and Fiery Aracari in Manuel Antonio and Osa Peninsula.
Similarly, in La Fortuna you can see the Black Mandibled, Keel-billed and the Collared Aracari. It is very hard to see the Yellow-eared toucanet though.
The best places to see toucans in Costa Rica are Puerto Viejo, Tortuguero, Monteverde, Sarapiqui, Uvita, Manuel Antonio, Jaco, Boca Tapada, La Fortuna, Osa Peninsula and Bijagua.
You can read more about toucans in Costa Rica in this post.
Macaws and Other Parrots
Parrots are very common in Costa Rica and the macaws are the most popular thanks to their size and coloration. Unfortunately, the parrot population, particularly the macaws, have been decimated over the past 50 years due to poaching and logging but they are making a come back.
There is now a healthy population of Scarlet Macaws in the Central and South Pacific and they are recolonizing areas in Northern Guanacaste, the Caribbean and Northern Alajuela.
The Great Green Macaw is only found on the Caribbean side and the Continental divide.
You will always hear parrots before you see them because they are loud! They mate for life and fly in big groups, so if you see one, you will see many.
Trogons and Resplendant Quetzal
Trogons are colorful birds with distinguishing undertail pattersn and eye-ring color. The most famous trogon is the Resplendant Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala. National Geographic declared Monteverde the best place in the world to see Resplendant Quetzals as these little birds love high elevation forests and the fruits of a certain avocado tree.
Other notable trogons are the Gartered Trogon and Slaty-tailed. Females and male coloration differ greatly so it is a lot of fun seeing these birds!
Costa Rica Hummingbirds
Beautiful hummingbirds live throughout Costa Rica. Though these little guys are quick, they are absolutely stunning, especially when their feathers catch the light just right!
Common hummingbirds in Costa Rica are the Rufous-tailed hummingbird, Green-breasted Mango, Ruby-throated hummingbird (migratory), Crowned Woodnymph.
Common hummingbirds in Costa Rica are the Rufous-tailed hummingbird, Green-breasted Mango, Ruby-throated hummingbird (migratory), Crowned Woodnymph.
Costa Rica Snakes
Snakes are one of the most dangerous animals in Costa Rica but don’t let that scare you from visiting! Snake bites and attacks are not common in Costa Rica at all and it is rare for visitors to see one. Most tourists never see a wild snake during their vacation unless they go hiking deep into the rainforest. If that is your plan, then be very careful and we recommend to hire a guide.
Common snakes in Costa Rica are the viper family, tree snakes and garter snakes. You do need to be careful around vipers as they are more poisonous and dangerous.
We saw this yellow eyelash pit viper when hiking in the Osa Peninsula. Our guide pointed him out as he was curled up in a tree, behind some flowers.
Costa Rica Crocodiles
Crocodiles are commonly found in the rivers of Costa Rica, particularly the Tempisque River and Tarcoles. They also thrive in estuaries inside national parks such as Las Baulas. Above all, they are one of Costa Rica wildlife that a lot of visitors want to see!
Caimans, part of the alligator family are also found in Costa Rica. They are much smaller than crocodiles but look very similar.
Costa Rica Frogs and Toads
Costa Rica is home to many spectacular frogs, many of which are endangered or threatened. The mascot of the country is actually the red eyed tree frog! There are poisonous and non-poisonous frogs in Costa Rica such as the dart frogs and glass frogs.
Toads are also very common in Costa Rica. Some toads you can see are cane toads and giant toad. Monteverde used to be home to a beautiful golden toad, which is now said to be extinct sadly.
Frogs and toads are very susceptible to climate change, which is occurring all throughout Costa Rica but particularly in the cloud forests. As a result, the disappearance of many significant amphibians that live in this vulnerable ecosystem is a strong indicator of climate change.
The best places to see frogs in Costa Rica are humid areas like Osa Peninsula, La Fortuna, Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo and the Caribbean. You need to go on a night walk as these animals are nocturnal.
Pictures of Costa Rica wildlife
Here are some pictures of Costa Rica animals that we want to share. We’ve been lucky to see tapirs, anteaters, jungle cats and many other animals!
Costa Rica Wildlife Video
Check out our video of some Costa Rica animals we’ve seen. We hope you get to see some of them too!
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If you want to read up or be able to identify Costa Rica wildlife, I suggest getting a pocket/field guide or a book.
For photos, make sure to bring a super zoom lens! We currently use a Canon 100-400 mm lens and a 1.4 extender on a crop Canon 80d/Canon 5d Mark iii which works great for wildlife shots. Sigma and Tamron both have a 150-600 mm lens which is excellent as well. And don’t forget a tripod!
Here are some of the books and field guides we use. We also highly recommend hiring a guide as they have trained eyes and know how to find wildlife. Especially if you are a photographer, you will need a guide to find the animal you want to photograph.
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