Last Updated on January 16, 2023
We have seen ‘exotic’ wildlife in every Central American country, but not in the abundance we had imagined – a few snakes in Mexico, the sea life in Belize, some howler monkeys in Guatemala, a few macaws in Honduras, a bunch of spider monkeys in Nicaragua. But once we crossed the border to Costa Rica, our wildlife sightings increased instantly. In every place we visited, the mountains of Monteverde, the beaches of the Caribbean or Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast, we spotted sloths, coatis, huge Golden Orb spiders, frogs, colorful crabs, snakes and bright Blue Morpho butterflies, tiny hummingbirds and huge iguanas. The wildlife in Costa Rica is unrivaled.
Here is a selection of our wildlife photos from our time in Costa Rica, and scroll down to the end for our top five spots to see wildlife in Costa Rica:
and spent a lot of time just hanging around…
… but in Monteverde we didn’t even need to search – one just lived across from our hostel in the trees by the road and used the electricity wires as a shortcut on the way home:
In Monteverde, we also ‘met’ a curious coati (anteater) in the woods:
Costa Rica is also known for its great variety of butterflies, especially the Blue Morpho, but also colorful ones like this:
We saw several snakes during our stay in Costa Rica – can you spot this tiny green snake in this picture?
The crabs we saw in Cahuita on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast were the most colorful ones we’ve ever seen anywhere:
Near the village of Manzanillo we saw hundreds of huge Golden Orb spiders sitting in their webs:
In Monteverde, the spiders were living in the ground – you will see lots of tarantula nests:
Costa Rica is also a birdwatchers’ paradise, being home to rare species such as the blue crowned mot mot:
… and countless hummingbirds:
The best places to see wildlife in Costa Rica:
- Manuel Antonio National Park: If you only have time for one place to see wildlife in Costa Rica, head to Manuel Antonio. The National Park has plenty of wildlife – monkey sightings are guaranteed,
- Bogarin Wildlife Trail in La Fortuna. This short trail has plenty of sloths! It’s recommended to go with a guide because the sloths tend to be high up in the trees (you definitely need a zoom lens or binoculars, or field glasses provided by a guide). Admission for the trail without a guide is CRC5,000 (about US$8.50). If you don’t want to fork out the money for a guide, look out for guided tours on the trail – they know where the sloths hang out, keep your eyes peeled at what they’re looking at. You may also be lucky to see a sloth hang out further down in a tree, like we did (photo below). Another wildlife experience in La Fortuna: You can take an organized half-day boat tour down the Peñas Blancas River. On this boat ride, you’ll see monkeys, sloths, plenty of birds and other wildlife, and you’ll learn about the wildlife native to this area.
- Crocodile Bridge – If you visit Manuel Antonio, you’ll pass this bridge on your drive from San Jose to Jaco. If you drive to Manuel Antonio from Punta Arenas, Monteverde or La Fortuna, you will also pass the bridge – a great spot to break up the long drive. The bridge, which you can find on GoogleMaps by simply typing in “Crocodile Bridge”, offers perfect views over the Taracoles River which has the largest congregation of crocodiles in all of Central America. The river is literally infested with large American crocodiles – over 2,000 of them live in the Tarcoles River! They are up to 16 feet (5 meters) long and you’ll see at least a handful crocodiles lounging on the shores of the river, if not more. If you want to get closer to the crocodiles than the bridge allows for: there are boat trips on the Taracoles River that include commentary about the crocodiles and other wildlife.
- Ostional – If you want to see turtles nesting / hatching, head to Ostional on the Nicoya peninsula on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. Between August and November, tens of thousands of Olive Ridley turtles and leatherback turtles come to shore here to nest, and a few weeks later, the baby turtles hatch and march into the ocean. This is a very rare occurrence – something that happens only at less than ten beaches in the entire world. While the main arribadas (arrivals) happen in the fall, they actually happen monthly year-round right after the new moon, but the fall arrivals bringing the largest number of turtles onto the shore.
- Cahuita National Park – A National Park on the Caribbean coast, just north of Puerto Viejo. It’s only US$5 to visit, and we spotted plenty of monkeys, colorful crabs, small crocodiles, a snake, and more.
- Tico Rainforest B&B – If you are a bird watcher, you will love this place. We spotted so many different birds at this small, rustic B&B – a bird watcher’s paradise. Also check out Culture Trip’s top ten bird watching lodges in Costa Rica..