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Best places to view wildlife in Costa Rica

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visit to Costa Rica is likely to be a completely unique experience, and one that you will not likely forget. As one of the world’s most biodiverse places, the opportunities for exotic wildlife encounters alone make Costa Rica an unrivaled holiday destination. Though vacationers head to this country to enjoy many of its natural treasures, spending some time discovering the interesting, exotic animals native to Costa Rica is obligatory. From land to sea, there is so much to explore and learn about. To help guide you in planning your tour, here is a list of the best destinations to observe unique and plentiful wildlife in Costa Rica.

1. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is where you will find the Quetzal.
The resplendent quetzal can be spotted in the Monteverde Forest.

Monteverde remains one of the top destinations to visit in Costa Rica for its spectacular cloud forest. The scenery is not only enchanting to the eye, but it’s also home to many interesting animals. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is popular place to visit, which permits excellent hikes throughout the animal-dense cloud forest. But Monteverde area is actually home to several different reserves, parks, gardens, and farms making this a great destination to explore multiple areas

Wildlife present: Pumas, jaguarundis, margays, ocelots, deer, sloths, tapirs, butterflies, snakes, frogs, toads, and rare birds, such as the resplendent quetzal and three-wattled bellbird

2. Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is well known for different species of monkeys
These cute squirrel monkeys are an endangered species that live in Manuel Antonio National Park

Another gem for viewing wildlife is Manuel Antonio National Park, where the rare opportunity exists to see all four species of monkeys and two species of sloths that live in Costa Rica. Though this park is one of the country’s smaller protected areas, it is jam-packed with 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds.

Head on a day tour and you would be hard-pressed to leave this park disappointed. It includes both forested and coastal trails for walking, while nearby estuaries can be explored by kayak.

Wildlife present: Monkeys, sloths, iguanas, tree frogs, bats, butterflies, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and various species of birds, including toucans, macaws, hummingbirds

3. Osa Peninsula

Osa Peninsula's Corcovado is a habitat for a lot of rare animals.
The critically endangered Tapirs can be found in the Corcovado National Park.

Home to over fifty percent of Costa Rica’s wildlife species, Osa Peninsula is a no-brainer for wildlife enthusiasts. This peninsula includes rainforest, freshwater, and marine ecosystems. Due to limited development and environmental protection, encounters with wildlife are abundant.

Spend time in Drake Bay for excellent marine life sightings, particularly during annual migrations. Or dare to take a multi-day trek into Corcovado National Park, which protects 13 different ecosystems, including the last remaining area of primary rainforest in Pacific Mesoamerica. This park is home to an impressive number of Costa Rican rainforest animals, including 6 species of wildcats, 4 species of monkeys, and several endangered tropical bird species.

Wildlife present: Jaguars, pumas, jaguarundis, ocelots, margay, oncilla, tapirs, monkeys, aracaris, iguanas, tree frogs, sea turtles, macaws, toucans, parrots, whales, dolphins, sharks

Check out this 4-day tour in Osa Peninsula to discover the unique wildlife of the region. 

4. Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

Ocelot are a common wildlife sighted in Costa Rica
The ocelots are wildcats that prey on small birds, rodents and fish.

Birding enthusiasts will agree that Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places to see wildlife in Costa Rica. This refuge has been designated a Wetland of International Importance. Fed by the Rio Frio and tributaries, it is particularly significant for its protection of over 230 migratory bird species and several endangered animal species. Boats board daily for trips through the river, canyons, and lake of Caño Negro.

Wildlife present: Caimans, basilisk, iguanas, river turtles, anteaters, jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, monkeys, rare birds such as jacanas, ibises, jabiru storks, and roseate spoonbills, and rare fish including snook and guapote

5. Palo Verde National Park

Explore rivers and swamps of Costa Rica for swamp wildlife
The white egret is spotted near a river bank.
Palo Verde National Park is home to unique river wildlife in Costa Rica
Though the terrain of Palo Verde National Park differs from the rainforests, it is still an ideal place to spot wildlife.

Imagine spending the afternoon scouting animals in the swamps and marshes of Costa Rica by riverboat. Or perhaps, sit peacefully in an undisturbed reserve listening to the cheerful songs of Costa Rica’s wildlife. This is the coveted experience you’ll find if you venture to Palo Verde National Park. Though the terrain contrasts with Costa Rica’s more famed rainforests and beaches, these remote wetlands are a haven for wildlife and adventure.

Wildlife present: Birds including cattle egrets, green-backed herons, and roseate spoonbills

6. Marino Ballena National Park

Whale watching in Costa Rica is the finest in Marino Ballena
Spot humpback whales and false orca in Marino Ballena National Park.

Costa Rica whale-watching is the finest in Marino Ballena National Park. Known for annual migrations of humpback whales from December to April, this destination offers many incredible marine adventures. It boasts over 270 acres of land and 13000 acres of ocean, protecting beaches, mangroves, and coral reefs. This park is popular for both day trips and camping overnighters.

Wildlife present: Humpback whales, false orca, pilot whales, dolphins, sea turtles, manta-rays, coral, sponges, sloths, monkeys, puma, ocelot, toucans

7. La Amistad International Peace Park

Wildlife in Costa Rica is abundant thanks to its lush, green vegetation
A white-faced capuchin looks over the branches in the rainforest.

Sharing land that spans between Costa Rica and Panama, La Amistad International Peace Park is a lesser known oasis for wildlife in Costa Rica. Though this UNESCO World Heritage Site is Costa Rica’s largest protected area, the remote location requires an adventurous spirit to venture to it, which keeps it out of the main tour guide books. But the trip rewards visitors with one of the most spectacular opportunities to encounter tropical wildlife in Costa Rica, perhaps in the world. You may even spot one of Costa Rica’s six species of elusive wildcats.

Wildlife present: Pumas, jaguars, ocelots, margay, jaguarundi, oncilla, coatis, monkeys, anteaters, tapirs, reptiles, fish, around 600 species of birds

Tips for wildlife spotting in Costa Rica

  • Listen for sounds, such as animal calls or rustling nearby. These are two important cues to tune in quickly for a close encounter.
  • Carry binoculars to improve your eyesight. Some sightseeing happens from afar and may be fleeting. You don’t want to miss it!
  • Throughout Costa Rica, guided wildlife tours with a local expert will maximize your viewing opportunities as they are more familiar with local animal behavior and habitats.
  • In the rainforest specifically, much of the wildlife stays high in the forest canopy, so taking canopy wildlife tours in Costa Rica is recommended to increase your chances of spotting the animals. 
  • If you want a unique experience to view the wildlife, head on a nocturnal wildlife excursion to discover the rainforest by night. 

There’s no doubt about it, your time in Costa Rica will be a wild adventure with these places on your itinerary. Start planning now for your trip to view wildlife in Costa Rica and enjoy this unspoiled paradise full of amazing discoveries.

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