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Capturing Wildlife: 10 Incredible Animals to Photograph in Costa Rica

Animals in Costa Rica are one of the key facts that attract thousands of tourists from all over the world as this tiny country is famous for its rich diversity of fauna and flora.

This tiny country is considered a wildlife refuge as more than 5% of the world biodiversity can be found here and more than 25% of the country’s surface are protected areas.

Based on recent studies, there are more than 550.000 Costa Rican animals and plants that can be found on this strip of land that connects South American with North America.

Spread all over the country there are more than 30 national parks, 50 wildlife refuges, 12 forest reserves and 7 biological reserves.

You have really high chances to spot wildlife not just in the protected areas but all over the country so have your camera ready for such unexpected encounters.

Most of the tours for observing wildlife in Costa Rica start in San Jose, the capital city of the country and continues in Manuel Antonio National Park, Monteverde cloud forest reserve and continues in Tortuguero National Park and Arenal Volcano or one of the parks from the Osa Peninsula.

After an exciting tour of the forests and national reserves, tourists can rest and perfect their tan on one of the very beautiful beaches from the Caribbean Coast or from the Pacific Coast.

Although a small country, Costa Rica is considered the richest country in the world when speaking about flora and fauna.

Here is the list of 10 most beautiful and representative animals that you can spot in your Costa Rican adventure, some of these animals are hard to spot in any other place on Earth.

Keel billed toucan Costa Rica Toucan

Keel billed toucan Costa Rica Toucan

10 must-see wild animals in Costa Rica

1. Scarlet Macaws

This colourful animal in Costa Rica can be seen mainly in the rainforests from the Osa Peninsula, as well as in the forests from Carara National Park on the Pacific Coast.

Scarlet Macaws Costa Rica

Scarlet Macaws Costa Rica

Scarlet Macaws are one of the very few birds that mate for life so seeing them in pairs of two is quite frequent.

They generally eat seeds, fruits and vegetation and can live for almost 60 years and thanks to the efforts of organisations like The Ara Project and Zoo Ave these beautiful red birds have made an incredible recovery.

2. Monkeys

The list of animals in Costa Rica continues with the playful and fascinating monkeys that can be found all around the country.

There are 4 species of monkeys that live in the Costa Rican forests: squirrel monkeys, mantled howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and white face capuchin monkeys.

The rarest and hardest to see from all the four species is the spider monkey that lives in Corcovado National park and on the beaches around Manuel Antonio National Park.

Spider Monkey Costa Rica

Spider Monkey Costa Rica

Another place from the Osa Peninsula where you can spot these beautiful creatures is Piedras Blancas National park.

All these monkeys live in troops so if you spot one individual you will probably see the whole gang in a few moments.

You will most probably meet these beautiful creatures on the forests and nearby beaches from the Pacific coast and Caribbean coast, while the central valleys and the interior highlands are not the best habitats for these beautiful Costa Rican animals.

Most of the monkeys are accustomed to the human presence and some of them are quite aggressive especially if you have food with you most of the tourists feed them.

Their stomach is not used with our food and many diseases can be caused by a wrong diet so I strongly advise you not to feed wild animals even if they will ask for food.

Read more about the monkeys you can see in Costa Rica on this article about The best places where you can see monkeys in Costa Rica.

3. Sloths

You cannot visit Costa Rica without seeing one of the most emblematic animals in Costa Rica: the sloth.

These curious creatures continue to amaze not just tourists but also naturalists from all over the world.

In the lush forests of Costa Rica can be found two species of sloths: two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths.

Sloths in Costa Rica Animals

Sloths in Costa Rica Animals

On your trips across the forests, you will probably spot the three-toed sloth as these are animals that move around the whole day, while two-toed sloths are nocturnal.

For those of you interested in seeing both species of sloths, we recommend you to book not just a day tour in the forest but also a night tour in the parks where tourists are allowed to enter during the night.

The best places to spot the sloths are in the parks from the Osa Peninsula or in one of the many sloth sanctuaries that can be found in Costa Rica.

Discover more about Costa Rican sloths on When and where you can see sloths in Costa Rica.

4. Colourful frogs

Among the most colourful and fascinating animals in Costa Rica are the frogs, which can be found in most of the forests from the country.

My favourite one and a top attraction from the country is the red-eyed tree frog that lives in the rainforest from Costa Rica.

Red Poisonous Frog Costa Rica Animals

Red Poisonous Frog Costa Rica Animals

Red eyed frogs are quite easy to recognise as they have red eyes and orange feet and these vivid colours protect the tiny frog against predators that associate these colours with a poisonous animal.

This is a nocturnal animal that is quite hard to see during the daytime as they use to hide and sleep under the leaves from the rainforest trees.

The tiny and colourful frog lives in the wild for about 4 or 5 years and spends most of its life in the trees, as the name suggests.


5. Toucans

An interesting Costa Rica animal is definitely the toucan, a weird bird with a big beak that can be seen on the forests from the Pacific Coast and Caribbean shore.

There are 6 different species of toucans that can be found in Costa Rica, out of which the most spectacular ones are the Keel-billed toucan and the chestnut mandibled toucan.

Keel billed toucan Costa Rica Toucan

Keel billed toucan Costa Rica Toucan

These two species are very easy to recognise if you know what to look after; the keel billed toucans have yellow necks and are very colourful, with blue, orange, green and red on their bills.

On the other hand, the chestnut mandibled toucans are yellow and red and even if they might look scary these animals are harmless.

By far the most exotic species of toucans is the Collared Aracari which is considered to be the most exotic bird from the country with its bright markings and large bill.

Toucans do not eat other birds or insects, but their diet is completely based on fruit and can be spotted in the dense canopy of Monteverde cloud forest and Santa Elena natural reserve.

If you want to find some detailed information about toucans in Costa Rica read this article.

6. Butterflies

One of the most colourful and diverse animals in Costa Rica are the butterflies with their staggering number of species that can be found in this tiny country: 1500 species of butterflies and more than 12.200 species of moths.

Actually, Costa Rica has about 90% of the total number of species that live in Central America and about 20% of the total number of species that can be found on Earth.

Arenal Volcano Butterfly Costa Rica Animals

Arenal Volcano Butterfly Costa Rica Animals

You can spot these magnificent creatures everywhere, from the sunny beaches surrounded by tropical forests to the Central Valley of San Jose city and up in the mountains of Arenal Volcano national park.

The rare and beautiful Blue Morpho Butterfly is a Costa Rica animal that can be seen on your trip to this tiny country.

7. Wildcats

You really need to be extremely lucky to spot a wildcat in its natural environment, as these creatures are among the most elusive animals from Costa Rica.

Even the jaguar that is the largest wild cat from Central America is almost impossible to spot in the tropical forests and you need a bunch of luck to see one of them.

Female Jaguar Costa Rica Wildcats Animals

Female Jaguar Costa Rica Wildcats Animals

All across the country live 6 different species of wildcats: margay, oncilla, jaguar, puma, jaguarundi and the elusive ocelot.

Although your chances of seeing them in their natural habitat are really low, you can see them in one of the many wildlife rescue sanctuaries that can be found across Costa Rica.

All these 6 species of wildcats are nocturnal and they generally live in the dense forests from the Osa Peninsula and in the highlands, far from peoples’ eyes.

8. Tapir

The largest herbivorous Costa Rican animals are tapir, a weird creature that looks like a pig but has a short trunk nose.

Tapirs might look like a pig but they are related to horses, rhinos and donkeys and can be found in the tropical forests of Costa Rica.

The best places to spot these incredible animals in Costa Rica are Monteverde Cloud forest, Santa Rosa National Park and Corcovado National Park, too.

These herbivores eat just leaves, fruits and twigs and can weigh between 160 to 310 kilograms and play a very important role in spreading the seeds around the dry and tropical forests of Costa Rica.

9. Whales

Blue whales, humpback whales, Pseudo-orca whales or pilot whales are just some of the species of whales that can be seen near the Costa Rican shores.

This tiny but incredible country has the largest whale watching season in the whole world so if you are interested in seeing whales, then Costa Rica is the right place to go.

From December to April you can see especially the humpback whales that come from the Northern Hemisphere in these waters to breed, while from July to November the southern Hemisphere whales come here, too.

You can see these gentle creatures all around Costa Rican Pacific Coast, but for the best shots, you should head to the Osa Peninsula and the southern coast.

10. Sea turtles

Sea turtles lovers, Costa Rica is the right place to be especially during the hatching season as many species come year by year to the same beaches to nest.

Leatherback sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles are just two of the species that return each year on the beaches from the Caribbean and Pacific coast to breed.

Sea Turtle Turtoise Costa Rica Animals

Sea Turtle Turtoise Costa Rica Animals

Tortuguero National Park, as well as Playa Grande and Ostional Beach, are the most famous places where you can see these turtles during the nesting season.

You are not allowed to enter on your own on the beaches where turtles lay their eggs so book a tour as soon as you arrive in Costa Rica to secure your place at this unique natural show.

Learn more things about these gentle creatures and their nesting habits in the article All you need to know about turtles in Costa Rica season.


Besides these spectacular animals in Costa Rica, many other interesting and unique species are waiting to be photographed and observed by you.

Green iguanas, eyelash viper or tent bats are just some of the most beautiful species that can be seen in Costa Rica.

Book at least two weeks in this tiny country and include in your travel plans a few nights in the Osa Peninsula as it is one of the best places to spot wildlife in Costa Rica in their natural environment.

Logistical tips and tricks for your trip

Book your accommodation
We always use as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.

You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.

Don't forget travel insurance
We never leave home without HeyMondo Insurance or Safety Wings Insurance as they offer the best services and a good value for money.

When we go for longer trips around the world we get Globelink Insurance as it offers a good cover for an affordable price.

Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected costs caused by medical events like illness, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.

We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.

Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.

We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.

Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.

We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.

Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.

Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.