Costa Rica Wildlife: Where to see animals in the wild

September 17, 2021
September 17, 2021 Joe Morgan

Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, accounting for 6% of the world’s biodiversity and earning the title “most biologically intense place on Earth” by National Geographic.

With over 500,000 animal and plant species, this country is perfectly placed for wildlife adventures. So between the 32 national parks, 51 wildlife refuges, 13 forest reserves, and eight biological reserves – there is no shortage of places to see wildlife in Costa Rica.

Here are the 10 must-see animals of Costa Rica:


Toucan spotting in Costa Rica

Photo by Zdene Machacek

The Toucan is one of Costa Rica’s most iconic animals. There are six toucan species in Costa Rica. The most popular of which are the Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan and the Keel-Billed Toucan. With their brightly colored bills and necks, they stand out against the rainforest landscape and are relatively easy to spot in the rainforests.

Where to see Toucans in Costa Rica?

Toucans love dense canopy and fruit trees. They can be found in places like La Selva and Monteverde, Corcovado National Park, and Carara National Park. If you are over on the Caribbean coast they can be found between Puerto Viejo and Tortuguero.


Where to see Sloths in Costa Rica

Photo by Adrian Valverde

The other popular wildlife spotting experience in Costa Rica has to be the Sloth. People love their slow and lazy pace of life, almost embodying the “Pura Vida” philosophy that encourages the appreciation of life’s simple treasures. Slowing things down, celebrating good fortune, and refusing to take anything for granted.

There are two types of sloth species in Costa Rica: the two-toed sloth and the three-toed sloth. You are more likely to see a three-toed sloth as they are out and about during the day. The toe-toed sloth is nocturnal.

Where to see Sloths in Costa Rica?

Sloths are much harder to find than people think. They stay high in the trees for days at a time, only coming down to go to the bathroom. The best places to see sloths in Costa Rica are Puerto Viejo, Tortuguero, Manuel Antonio, Uvita, Dominical and the Osa Peninsula. We highly recommend getting a guide to help you spot them.

Sea Turtles

Where to see Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

Photo by Max Gotts

The coasts of Costa Rica are known for their important nesting sites of turtles and there are four species of sea turtles that visit the Pacific and Caribbean Coasts at various times of the year: olive ridley turtle, leatherback turtle, green turtle, and hawksbill turtle.

Where to see Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

Tortuguero National Park, Ostional, and Playa Grande are all well-known beaches for turtle nesting. Make sure you book your trip during the nesting season but keep in mind that an arribada is never guaranteed.

Scarlet Macaws

Where to see Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica

Photo by Zdenek Machacek

Native to Costa Rica, Scarlet Macaws are a beautiful species of bird that are usually seen in pairs as they mate for life. Luckily for travelers, their brightly colored feathers don’t blend into the natural environment so they are pretty easy to spot if you’re around the right location. Fun fact: They can live as long as 60 years!

Where to see Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica

These vibrantly colored and talkative birds live in the coastal forests of the country and are visible in abundance in Manuel Antonio and on the Osa Peninsula. They love almond trees, so find yourself a beach with the right trees and wait for their splendor to reveal itself.



Costa Rica Whale Spotting

Photo by Mike Doherty

Costa Rica has the longest whale watching season in the world. There are three species of humpback whales that frequent the shores of Costa Rica: California Humpback Whales, Antarctic Humpback Whales, and North Atlantic St Lawrence Humpback Whales. Pilot whales, blue whales, and Pseudo-Orca whales have also been known to frequent the Pacific Coast.

Where and when to see Whales in Costa Rica

Humpback whales can be seen nearly year-round. From December to early April, the Northern Hemisphere California Humpback Whales come to the Pacific Coast to breed, and from late to July to November, the Southern Hemisphere Antarctic Humpback Whales come to the Pacific. Whales can be seen all along the Pacific Coast, but are found in the largest concentrations along the Southern Coast and the Osa Peninsula.


Where to see Monkeys in Costa Rica

Photo by Stephanie Leblanc

There are four monkey species in Costa Rica: white-faced capuchin, mantled howler, squirrel monkey, and spider monkey. They can be seen in abundance in Costa Rica so you’re almost guaranteed to see some on your trip.

Where to see Monkeys in Costa Rica

Anywhere up and down the coasts of Costa Rica is where you will find these monkeys. Manuel Antonio is one of the best places to see monkeys but they are quite tame and don’t seem quite as wild. For the best sightings, we recommend going to the Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park.


Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Where to see frogs in Costa Rica

Photo by Geoffrey Baumbach

There are many different species of Frog in Costa Rica. but the most famous is the red-eyed tree frog. Its bright red eyes and orange feet protect it from predators who perceive the frog to be poisonous.

Where to see Tree Frogs in Costa Rica

Whilst brightly colored, tree frogs can be hard to spot in Costa Rica unless looking in the right places. The red-eyed tree frogs are nocturnal and sleep underneath leaves during the day. The best places to see them are in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Tortuguero National Park, and Manuel Antonio National Park.



Where to see Coati in Costa Rica

Photo by Giovanna Gomes

Costa Rica is home to the largest species of coati, Nasua narica, known as the white-nosed coati. Also named Coatimundis, the Coati can be found everywhere in Costa Rica and are often admired for their curious nature and unique appearance with their long snout and tail. They love the hot, dry forests as well as the cooler mountainous areas and everything in between.

Where to see Coatis in Costa Rica

The Coati can be seen everywhere in Costa Rica but are most common in the Guanacaste province. They can sometimes be seen in groups of 10-30 in size.


Resplendent quetzal

Resplendent quetzal in Costa Rica

Photo by Zdenek Machacek

Possibly one of the most beautiful birds in the world and a fan favorite for birders, the Resplendent Quetzals are said to be worshipped as a god. Its plumage was sought after like gold and precious stones.

Where to see the Resplendent quetzal in Costa Rica

The best viewing time for the quetzal in Costa Rica is mid-February into July when the wild avocado trees and other fruit trees are producing. Head to the cloud forest of Monteverde for your best chance of seeing them or the aptly named Parque Nacional Los Quetzales



Jaguar in Costa Rica

Photo by chuttersnap

Wildcats are a dream for any wildlife enthusiast to see in Costa Rica but you would be one of the lucky few if you saw an endangered Wildcat in its native habitat. There are six species of Wildcats in Costa Rica: Oncilla, Margay, Puma, Jaguar, Jaguarundi, and the Ocelot.

Where to see Wildcats in Costa Rica

Wildcats are primarily live in Corcovado National Park, but can sometimes be seen in wildlife rescue sanctuaries. You are very unlikely to see wildcats in the wild. They hide well, are mostly nocturnal, and avoid encounters with humans which they can smell from very far away.