37 Costa Rica Animals (2023 Wildlife Guide)
👉 Jump to: Amphibians | Birds | Insects | Mammals | Marine Animals | Reptiles | Tips | FAQs
Despite being a tiny Central American country, there is an incredible array of Costa Rica animals. The country is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, thanks in large part to its impressive conservation efforts.
I lived in Costa Rica for five years and I know all about the country’s animals and the best places in Costa Rica to find them. So, chances are, if you’re planning a visit to Costa Rica, then you’re excited about spotting a beautiful bird, a sloth, or a monkey – and if you aren’t, then this article will get you excited!
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Amphibians in Costa Rica
Red-Eyed Tree Frogs
As one of Costa Rica’s most emblematic animals, seeing one of these stunning frogs is a must
📍 Where to find red-eyed tree frogs: Manuel Antonio National Park | Best time to see them: Year-round, nighttime | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Because of its uniquely beautiful colors, the red-eyed tree frog has become the poster child of Costa Rica. During the day, you can find them snoozing on giant tropical leaves in the rainforest, but at night, these green, blue and yellow frogs become active and open their strikingly red eyes.
Poison Dart Frogs
These tiny, colorful frogs are difficult to spot but worth the search
📍 Where to find poison dart frogs: Puerto Viejo de Talamanca | Best time to see them: Year-round, nighttime | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
As their name suggests, these frogs emit poison from their skin that can cause harm to predators and irritate human skin. Like many poisonous animals, these tiny frogs sport flamboyant colors to warn off other animals.
Despite having such bright colors, poison dart frogs can be difficult to spot and often hang around damp leaf litter in humid rainforests.
These see-through frogs are one of nature’s most unique creatures
📍 Where to find glass frogs: Tortuguero National Park | Best time to see glass frogs: Year-round, nighttime | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Glass frogs are considered by many to be one of the strangest animals on Earth. At night when they’re active, the small, whitish-colored frogs look relatively unremarkable. But during the day when they sleep on the leaves, their red blood cells collect in the liver and they become nearly completely transparent, revealing their organs.
Birds in Costa Rica
These flamboyant parrots are endangered but flourish along the coast of the Osa Peninsula
📍 Where to find scarlet macaws: Osa Peninsula | Best time to see scarlet macaws: Year-round, mornings | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Arguably the most spectacular of all parrots, you’ll often find a scarlet macaw in the zoo. However, the best way to see them is in their natural habitat.
The Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica is one of the few places in the world hosting a healthy population of these endangered birds. It blew my mind when I stumbled upon 20 scarlet macaws chattering with one another on a tree on the beach, but in Osa, it’s a common sight.
This stunningly beautiful bird showcases the artistry of the natural world
📍 Where to find resplendent quetzals: Monteverde Cloud Forest | Best time to see resplendent quetzals: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: rare
Anyone remotely interested in birds will have the quetzal high on their wish list, but seeing this elusive bird is not just a highlight for birders. The stunning bird is difficult to spot as there are very few of them and because, despite their bright colors, they blend in impressively with the vibrant cloud forests.
👉 Pro Tip: Go with an experienced guide for the best chance to glimpse a quetzal.
These beautiful pink water birds can be found wading in canals and wetlands
📍 Where to find roseate spoonbills: Tortuguero Canals | Best time to see roseate spoonbills: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Roseate Spoonbills give flamingos a run for their money as the coolest pink bird on the block. You can find these birds wading in wetland areas and canals, using their unique spoon-shaped bills to snap up crustaceans which gives them their pink color.
Resembling prehistoric dinosaurs, wood storks often prowl wetland areas searching for fish
📍 Where to find wood storks: Ostional National Wildlife Refuge | Best time to see wood storks: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Wood storks make the link between birds and dinosaurs seem glaringly obvious. The giant, prehistoric birds look like they could have been roaming around coastal wetland areas millions of years ago. They tend to aggregate in large groups and will fish for food in waterways.
If you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of one of these massive, white vultures circling up in the clouds
📍 Where to find king vultures: Osa Peninsula | Best time to see king vultures: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: rare
The king vulture lives up to its name, with a regal, white appearance with intricate head decorations. Similar to their more common counterpart, the turkey vulture, king vultures tend to circle high up in the clouds, almost beyond sight, making them very difficult to spot.
Keep an eye turned toward the sky when you see vultures to see if any of them are larger and white.
It’s always a treat to spot any of the toucan species that call Costa Rica home
📍 Where to find toucans: Osa Peninsula | Best time to see toucans: Year-round, mornings and dusk | Difficulty to spot: Common
These iconic tropical birds are always a joy to spot, usually perched on a tree branch eating berries.
Costa Rica has two species of toucans, the keel-billed toucan, which sports a beautiful rainbow-colored beak, and the black-mandibled toucan. Less commonly seen are the aracaris and toucanets which are smaller varieties of the toucans.
50 species of tiny, vibrant hummingbirds call Costa Rica home
📍 Where to find hummingbirds: Quetzales National Park | Best time to see hummingbirds: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Common
Costa Rica is home to a jaw-dropping 53 species of hummingbirds, each of which sports incredibly vibrant plumage ranging from purple to green and orange.
While you can see hummingbirds throughout the country, most of the species inhabit mid to higher-elevation regions like Quetzales National Park and Monteverde Cloud Forest. If you stand still, you’re sure to catch a glimpse of one.
There are only a few places to catch a glimpse of these herons, and a tiny lagoon in the middle of Costa Rica’s forest is one of them
📍 Where to find agami herons: Pacuare Nature Reserve | Best time to see agami herons: March-May | Difficulty to spot: rare
The agami heron is one of the most strikingly beautiful birds I’ve ever seen. I’m lucky enough to have visited one of the very few places where these elusive birds congregate to nest. After seeing them, it’s no wonder that birders and photographers travel across the world just to see them.
The only place that I know of where you can see this phenomenon is at a remote little lagoon nestled deep in the Pacuare Nature Reserve.
Insects in Costa Rica
Blue Morpho Butterflies
You’ll often catch glimpses of the morpho as a flash of vibrant blue in the forest
📍 Where to find blue morpho butterflies: Anywhere | Best time to see blue morpho butterflies: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Common
The blue morpho butterfly is an example of just how large and vibrantly colorful the insects of the jungle can get.
These are the largest and flashiest butterfly species in Costa Rica and often float through the forest understory unexpectedly, appearing as little flashes of sky blue among the leaves.
Leaf Cutter Ants
These industrious insects dominate the forest, cutting and carrying thousands of pounds of vegetation to their homes
📍 Where to find leaf cutter ants: Anywhere | Best time to see leaf cutter ants: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Common
While ants might not typically be high on your list of must-see animals in Costa Rica, I urge you to stop and appreciate these incredible animals. Leafcutter ants can be found throughout Costa Rica, winding through the forest in unending lines of workers carrying leaves weighing over 50 times the ant’s body weight back to the nest.
They use the leaves to grow a fungus that they feed to aphids that they farm and consume as food – all with an efficiency that rivals our own food production.
Mammals in Costa Rica
Somewhere between a cow and an elephant, tapirs are one of the most unique and quirky animals in Costa Rica
📍 Where to find Tapirs: Corcovado National Park | Best time to see Tapirs: Year-round, dawn and dusk | Difficulty to spot: rare
Tapirs look like they belong in a Dr. Seus book rather than in the forests of Costa Rica. The largest mammal in central and south America looks like a cross between an elephant and a cow and once roamed all of Costa Rica.
Due to development in their habitat and hunting, tapirs can now only be found close to Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula.
Costa Rica’s tiniest and rarest monkey can only be found on the Osa Peninsula
📍 Where to find squirrel monkeys: Corcovado National Park | Best time to see squirrel monkeys: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: rare
The tiny squirrel monkey just may be the cutest animal on this list. They are the smallest kind of monkeys found in Costa Rica and leap from tree to tree with impressive agility.
While you can see the other species of monkeys throughout Costa Rica, you’ll have to make the trip to the Osa Peninsula to see these cuties.
Costa Rica’s iconic animals can be seen munching leaves and napping in the trees
📍 Where to find sloths: Cahuita National Park | Best time to see sloths: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Chances are that these iconic animals are at the top of your Costa Rica bucket list. There are two types of sloths in Costa Rica–the two-toed sloth and the three-toed sloth–both of which can usually be found sleeping high in the tree branches.
They’re often difficult to spot because they don’t move much, but the one place that I’ve seen them regularly is near Puerto Viejo and Cahuita.
These elusive cats are nearly impossible to see, but once in a while, a lucky visitor to Corcovado National Park catches a glimpse
📍 Where to find jaguars: Corcovado National Park | Best time to see jaguars: Year-round, early mornings | Difficulty to spot: rare
Depending on the person, seeing a jaguar can either be an exciting prospect or a terrifying one. I would have loved to be lucky enough to glimpse one, but never did in my five years despite seeing their tracks often. Luckily for those who don’t find a jaguar encounter appealing, they’re extremely rare to see and never attack humans.
As I like to say… you probably won’t see a jaguar, but they’ll probably see you.
Costa Rica’s loudest animals announce their presence throughout the country
📍 Where to find howler monkeys: Anywhere | Best time to see howler monkeys: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Common
You’ll most likely hear a howler monkey long before you see it. The calmest of Costa Rica’s four species of monkeys holds the title of loudest animal in the forest and their impressive roars contradict their calm, sleepy nature.
Howlers are common throughout the country and can often be found in large groups lounging in treetops and munching on leaves.
White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys
Intelligent and mischievous, these primates rarely fear humans and can be seen almost anywhere there’s a forest
📍 Where to find white-faced capuchin monkeys: Manuel Antonio National Park | Best time to see white-faced capuchin monkeys: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Common
Capuchin monkeys are Costa Rica’s most cunning and mischievous residents and always provide tons of entertainment. The small primates are super active and constantly run and jump through tree branches. Manuel Antonio National Park has a large group of capuchins that is used to being around people, making it a great place to watch their antics.
Just be sure to keep your distance and protect your food because these bold monkeys have sticky fingers.
This miniature species of anteater is extremely difficult to spot but will make you fall in love if you get lucky
📍 Where to find silky anteaters: Tortuguero National Park | Best time to see silky anteaters: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: rare
These miniature anteaters are so rare that many people haven’t even heard of them, let alone seen one.
Part of the reason they’re so elusive is that they sleep wrapped around branches during the day, so they’re challenging to spot. But if you’re lucky enough to see one, you’re sure to fall in love at first sight.
Resembling small jaguars, ocelots are almost as difficult to see as their larger relatives
📍 Where to find ocelots: Osa Peninsula | Best time to see ocelots: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: rare
Imagine a jaguar had a baby with a house cat and you get an ocelot. These medium-sized predators have all the spots of their larger cousins but far less intimidation factor. They’re equally elusive, however, and very difficult to see in the wild.
👉 Pro Tip: Many places in Costa Rica keep wild cats like ocelots in captivity and brand themselves as sanctuaries or rehabilitation centers. Keep in mind that these places should be re-releasing animals back into the wild to be true rehab centers. One of the more reputable centers is the Jaguar Rescue Center near Puerto Viejo.
Similar to raccoons, these precocious mammals can be found causing mischief all over Costa Rica
📍 Where to find coatimundis: Anywhere | Best time to see coatimundis: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Common
Somewhere between a raccoon and a pokemon, these curious creatures peruse developed areas similar to their striped cousins. They’re recognizable by their long, ringed tails that stick straight up and their elongated snouts.
These giant guinea pig-like creatures are quirky and common in Costa Rica
📍 Where to find agoutis: Anywhere | Best time to see agoutis: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Common
Agoutis are common in Costa Rica and give giant rodents a good name. The oversized guinea-pig creatures often hang out in open areas, making them easy to spot and they’ll often hang out and let you watch them for a while.
Boasting an incredible diversity of bat species, there are many places to learn about bats and their conservation
📍 Where to find bats: Tirimbina Biological Reserve | Best time to see bats: Year-round, dusk and nighttime | Difficulty to spot: Common
Costa Rica is home to over 100 bat species, making it a “biodiversity hotspot” – meaning it’s an extremely important area for the winged mammals. Biologists flock to the tropical country to study bats and some offer tours to teach visitors about them.
I did one of the tours offered at Tirimbina Biological Reserve and learned a ton about the different species and the efforts to protect them.
These wild pigs have been recovering from overhunting and are now thriving throughout the Osa Peninsula
📍 Where to find collared peccaries: Osa Peninsula | Best time to see collared peccaries: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Also known as javelinas and musk hogs, wild peccaries can be glimpsed wandering through tropical rainforests in large groups. They have a strong musky smell that often announces their presence long before you see them.
Marine Animals in Costa Rica
Humpback whales migrate through Costa Rica’s Pacific waters twice a year, making it a great place for whale watching
📍 Where to find humpback whales: Uvita | Best time to see humpback whales: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Whether it’s your first encounter with a humpback whale or the 100th, seeing one of these gigantic animals is always breathtaking. The Pacific coast of Costa Rica is an unbeatable place for whale watching because the season is so long.
Whales migrate to Costa Rica from the South to give birth between July and November and from the North between December and April. Depending on when you visit Costa Rica, you just may just get to see a mom and baby.
White-Tipped Reef Sharks
White-tipped reef sharks are tranquil sharks that can be seen dozing near coral reefs
📍 Where to find white-tipped reef sharks: Isla del Caño | Best time to see white-tipped reef sharks: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
If you scuba dive or snorkel at any of the coral reefs off of Costa Rica’s coastline, chances are you’ll get to see one of these docile sharks resting on the ocean floor. I was lucky enough to see them while snorkeling in Costa Rica off of Montezuma, and scuba diving off both Islas Catalinas and Isla del Caño.
Dolphins are common marine animals to see on boat tours off of Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast
📍 Where to find dolphins: Montezuma | Best time to see dolphins: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Being on a boat at sea in the middle of a pod of playful dolphins puts a smile on anyone’s face. Dolphins love the warm waters off of Costa Rica’s coastline, so you’re almost guaranteed to see dolphins on a boat tour.
Reptiles in Costa Rica
Leatherback Sea Turtles
These massive sea turtles can be seen nesting in large numbers along the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica
📍 Where to find leatherback sea turtles: Pacuare Nature Reserve | Best time to see leatherback sea turtles: March-May | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Leatherback turtles are the largest sea turtle species in the world and resemble dinosaurs more than the typical turtle.
These gentle giants nest in large numbers on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica between March and May each year. If you’re willing to make the trek to less developed areas and walk the Costa Rican beaches in the middle of the night, you can have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a leatherback.
Green Sea Turtles
You experience the miracle of green sea turtles laying their nests in Tortuguero National Park
📍 Where to find green sea turtles: Tortuguero National Park | Best time to see green sea turtles: July-September | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
My first time seeing a green sea turtle lay a nest was in Tortuguero National Park and it was a magical experience. Tortuguero is the birthplace of sea turtle conservation, and all of their hard work protecting the species shows through the thousands of green turtles that nest each year.
Olive Ridley Sea Turtles
Witness a bucket-list experience called an arribada when hundreds of thousands of ridley turtles nest at once
📍 Where to find olive ridley sea turtles: Ostional National Wildlife Refuge | Best time to see olive ridley sea turtles: September-November | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Like all sea turtle species, olive ridleys come to the beach to lay their nests in the sand. Unlike other turtles, there are certain beaches where they nest in the hundreds of thousands over a few days. One of these beaches is Ostional, located on Costa Rica’s west coast.
These gentle snakes can be found in the dry forests of Costa Rica, usually minding their own business
📍 Where to find boa constrictors: Anywhere | Best time to see boa constrictors: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Boa constrictors are docile snakes that can be found throughout Costa Rica. They have a beautiful brown and black pattern that allows them to go unnoticed on the ground, but if you look hard enough you may spot one.
Be sure to appreciate them from a distance as they resemble a venomous snake found in Costa Rica.
Eyelash Pit Vipers
These vibrant yellow, green and brown venomous snakes can be spotted with a good eye in rainforests
📍 Where to find eyelash pit vipers: Tortuguero National Park | Best time to see eyelash pit vipers: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: rare
These venomous snakes are gorgeous but best admired from afar. There are three types of eyelash pitvipers–yellow, green, and brown.
They usually drape themselves around the low branches of trees and wait to strike at a prey that runs under them. They don’t tend to move much and usually hang out on the same branch for a week or more.
Costa Rica’s most deadly venomous snakes are best appreciated from a distance
📍 Where to find fer-de-lances: Anywhere | Best time to see fer-de-lances: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
It’s best to avoid Costa Rica’s most venomous and most dangerous snake. They are widespread and, because of their brown and black colors, they camouflage with the leaflitter where they tend to reside. Any time you’re hiking, be sure to keep an eye out and watch your step.
Both dinosaur-like animals often sunbathe in the branches of tall trees
📍 Where to find iguanas: Guanacaste | Best time to see iguanas: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Common
There are both black and green iguanas in Costa Rica, both of which look like small dinosaurs. My favorite is the green iguana, which has stunning coloration and spikes and enjoys lounging in the sun on high tree branches.
These incredible reptiles can run along the surface of the water, earning them the nickname “Jesus Christ Lizards”
📍 Where to find basilisks: Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands | Best time to see basilisks: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Bassilisks may look like an average lizard but they didn’t get the nickname “Jesus Christ lizard” for nothing. Thanks to their elongated back feet, basilisks can run across the surface of the water to escape prey.
Hoards of these giant lizards congregate under the Tarcoles Bridge where you can appreciate them from afar
📍 Where to find crocodiles: Rio Tarcoles | Best time to see crocodiles: Year-round | Difficulty to spot: Moderate
Crocodiles are intimidating animals and I highly recommend avoiding any bodies of water where they reside. However, they’re impressive to see from a sturdy boat or from afar. For a truly unique crocodile experience, head to the Rio Tarcoles Bridge and look down on the huge number of crocodiles that congregate on the banks.
3 Tips for Seeing Animals in Costa Rica
Keep Your Distance
For those of us who love animals, Costa Rica is paradise. Just keep in mind that, no matter how cute or beautiful they are, these are wild, unpredictable animals. For the safety of you and them, keep a safe distance and avoid feeding any of them.
Appreciate Animals in Their Natural Habitats
There are a variety of places in Costa Rica that keep animals in captivity, some of them falsely claiming to be sanctuaries or rehabilitation facilities. Some of them are truly helping, but there are plenty that don’t have the animals’ best interests in mind.
It’s always best to appreciate wild animals living in their natural environment. To guarantee your best chance of seeing more elusive animals, hire a guide.
Take a Tour From a Local Guide
When choosing a guide in Costa Rica there are tons of choices. I recommend using a local guide when possible since they will be the most knowledgeable and familiar with the surrounding areas and animals. Plus, supporting local tour agencies is a great way to travel responsibly.
FAQs about Costa Rica Animals
What are typical animals in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is an incredibly biodiverse country where you can easily spot animals including four monkey species, tons of tropical birds, sea turtles, frogs, bats, and sloths.
What Animal is Costa Rica famous for?
Costa Rica’s most iconic animals are sloths, monkeys, and red-eyed tree frogs.
What are 5 unusual animals in Costa Rica?
The five most unique and unusual animals in Costa Rica are tapirs, leatherback sea turtles, glass frogs, quetzals, and silky anteaters.
What is the largest animal in Costa Rica?
The largest animal in Costa Rica is the leatherback sea turtle, with can weigh up to 1,500 pounds.
Costa Rica animals are worth planning an entire trip around. Between the incredible diversity of animals and Costa Rica’s national parks that protect huge tracts of habitat, this tiny country is a top destination in Central America for wildlife lovers.
Have fun seeing the Costa Rica animals!
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