Costa Rica’s Most Iconic Wildlife and Where to Spot Them
Costa Rica is a wildlife lover’s paradise, the country home to an insane number of fascinating and iconic wildlife blanketing no fewer than 28 distinct national parks and reserves. On a Costa Rica adventure vacation, wildlife spotting is a daily occurrence – be it on a trail in a remote reserve, on a whitewater rafting trip, or as you’re having breakfast on the outdoor terrace of a spectacular eco-lodge.
Given most vacationers have a week to 10 days to spend in the country, we thought we’d offer an overview of the best destinations in Costa Rica where you’ll have the highest chances of spotting the most iconic wildlife.
Corcovado National Park
The single most bio-diverse reserve in Costa Rica is, unsurprisingly, in one of its most remote regions: the Osa Peninsula. Tucked away in the south easternmost corner of the country, the Osa hosts just a handful of amazing lodges and not much else in terms of infrastructure – the region revered for maintaining an eco-tourism standard almost unseen anywhere else in the world.
This is the ideal destination for those who wish to totally unplug when visiting Costa Rica and dive right into its world-class (and jaw-dropping) wilderness. For company, you’ll have over 450 species of birds (including the largest concentration of scarlet macaws in the whole country), more than 100 types of butterflies (some bigger than your hand!), all four species of sea turtles and monkeys found in Costa Rica and an untold number of other truly fascinating creatures, including jungle cats which are difficult – but not impossible – to see.
Corcovado and the Osa Peninsula at large are recognized the world over for their biodiversity – so if unique wildlife and adventure are what you seek on your Costa Rica vacation, you really couldn’t pick a better spot to visit.
Here are a few of our favorite Corcovado hotels.
Manuel Antonio National Park
The smallest reserve in Costa Rica hosts a crazy concentration of iconic wildlife species, including over 100 species of mammals and almost 200 species of incredible birds. Spotting monkeys, coatimundis, toucans, and even iguanas, sloths and all sorts of insects is easier with a naturalist guide by your side, as these elusive creatures can be difficult for the untrained eye to see. White-faced capuchins are easy to spot (and hear!) in Manuel Antonio and seeing them hunt for clams along the park’s beaches is an unforgettable highlight.
Do know that small and compact are wonderful attributes for a national park although it also means the trails can get easily overcrowded in high season – and whenever a crowd gathers, wildlife tends to hide.
How to increase your chances of spotting wildlife in Manuel Antonio? Simple: plan your visit during the Green Season (between May and August) so you can dodge the dry season crowds, be at the gates when they open at 7am (this has several benefits, including tackling the trails at the coolest time of day) and, perhaps the best tip of all, stay in an eco-lodge bordering the park.
This way, you get to experience an immersive nature experience in one of the most bio diverse corners of Costa Rica.
Tortuguero National Park
Another superb wildlife hot-spot, this time on the opposite side of Costa Rica – the northeastern corner – Tortuguero is reached only by plane or boat and is a whole other wilderness world of its own accord. All four species of sea turtles we mentioned earlier? Well, this is where they come to nest so if seeing Giant Leatherback, Olive Ridley’s, Green and Hawksbill turtles is high on your agenda, then make a beeline for this magnificent reserve.
Aside from turtles, however, Tortuguero’s wilds also host an abundance of monkeys, birds, crocodiles and exotic frogs, which is why it’s often dubbed the Amazon of Costa Rica.
Much like Corcovado, Tortuguero is also minimally built-up, which makes for phenomenal and immersive wilderness experiences. Tortuguero’s eco-lodges are rustic, comfortable and offer unforgettable, off-the-beaten-path experiences.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
The wonderful thing about wildlife spotting in Costa Rica is that you need not get lost in its remotest corners to have a fulfilling experience. Close to the central tourist trail and much easier to reach, the Monteverde Cloud Forest is a real wildlife gem, particularly for bird lovers. This prized reserve attracts avid bird-watchers every year, all keen to get a glimpse of the resplendent quetzal – one of the rarest and most beautiful birds in Costa Rica. This most ethereal forest boasts over 400 species of unique birds, as well as over 160 species of reptiles and amphibians and 100 species of mammals. This is the best spot to explore to fall in love with Costa Rica’s toucans, aracaris and plethora of hummingbirds.
Tourist infrastructure is well established in and around Monteverde, which means you can spend a couple of nights in a wilderness-immersed eco-lodge and have this bounty at your doorstep, 24-7.
Wildlife Refuges, Rescue Centers & Sanctuaries – Country Wide
Many first-time visitors have a hard time believing that many of the most iconic wildlife species in Costa Rica can be seen just about anywhere, at any time. But it’s true. Enjoy an epic road trip here and you’ll come across ‘sloth crossing’ signs, see monkeys and vibrantly-colored crabs on beaches, and be overwhelmed at the (very many) colorful birds at every turn. So yes, a Costa Rica adventure vacation naturally becomes a wildlife spotting journey by default although, for animal-mad visitors, the country’s many wildlife refuges, rescue centers and sanctuaries are ideal.
The best (and our favorite) eco-lodges in Costa Rica are set in acres upon acres of protected wilderness and host a wildlife refuge within their grounds. Staying in one of these gems offers infinite rewards – you can experience amazing comforts, luxury, cuisine and activities, nestled in a pocket of nature that’s bursting at the seams with unique creatures.
Aside from staying in one of these lodges, you can also easily include a visit to a dedicated sanctuary – Costa Rica has tons of them, spread out throughout the country.
No matter where in Costa Rica you wish to take your adventure vacation, we can help you plan a bespoke itinerary that places emphasis on wildlife spotting.
Keen to know more? Then start planning your bespoke Costa Rica adventure vacation today!