Costa Rica offers many reasons to transform your trip into a dream vacation. Knowing and experiencing wildlife to the fullest is one of them, especially if you love animals. It doesn’t matter if you go to national parks, tropical rainforests, the central pacific coast, or any other spectacular spot, you will encounter a wide variety of beautiful animals that will amaze you.
From exotic mammals to colorful, unique birds, or outstanding aquatic animals, expect to be blown away. Keep reading to learn not only about some animals in Costa Rica, but also about where to see them, so that you don’t miss that chance.
Thanks to its geographical location, Costa Rica is one of the countries with the greatest variety of birds per square meter in America. According to the Ornithological Association of Costa Rica, the staggering number of recorded bird species reaches 922.
Toucans are surely one of the most beautiful birds you will ever see. Their particularly large and brightly colored beaks have made them a highly popular bird in the world. Costa Rica is home to six species of toucans, however, the most famous are:
This is the largest toucan in Costa Rica and the second largest in the world. The plumage is composed of black, deep yellow, a narrow white line, and an extensive red line. The bicolored bill can grow up to 7 inches long, it is dark yellow-brown and dark brown, while the feet and legs are blue. You can see the chestnut-mandibled toucan in Tortuguero National Park, Corcovado National Park, and Drake Bay.
The keel-billed toucan also has a body predominantly black and bright yellow, but its beak is a brilliant collage of colors, this is why it’s called “arco iris” in Spanish, meaning rainbow. This toucan can be found in locations such as Rincón de la Vieja and Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Parrots are signature birds in the tropics. Their usual loud sound and very vivid colors go hand in hand with the beautiful beaches and forests of Costa Rica. Out of the five more common parrot species in Costa Rica, these two stand out:
These are birds of bright colors and great size. Red is their more predominant color, with yellow wing coverts; and a blue tail, with two central red feathers. Their wingspan reaches 31 inches and their weight can go up to 900 grams. You can see scarlet macaws in the Osa Peninsula, the Pacific Coast, and close to the border with Nicaragua.
Great Green Macaws
These parrots are about 3 feet long and they weigh around 2.9 pounds, making them the third heaviest parrot species on the planet. Great green macaws can be spotted in Manzanillo, Maquenque National Park and Tortuguero National park.
Out of the 350 known hummingbird species on the planet, Costa Rica has over 50, distributed throughout the country. Hummingbirds are not only the smallest bird species in the world but the only ones able to flap their wings more than 70 times per second. Two of the most beautiful ones you can spot in Costa Rica are:
This hummingbird has brilliant bronze-green feathers on the back and a dark tail. Mangrove hummingbirds can only be found in Costa Rica, they measure between 3,7 and 4,3 inches and weigh approximately 4.5 grams. You can find them in Térraba-Sierpe National Wetland and La Paz Waterfall Gardens.
This is a tiny hummingbird. The male is unique and beautiful, his body is the color of red wine and he has a bright white cap. The female is less flashy, with snowy white underparts, and a short straight bill. Snowcap hummingbirds can be seen in El Tapir Reserve, Braulio Carrillo National Park, and Las Brisas Nature Reserve.
The diversity of ecosystems present in Costa Rica, allows more than 250 species of mammals to be part of the fauna of this beautiful country. Find below a few of the mammals you can see in Costa Rica.
Monkeys are highly associated with Costa Rica’s wildlife and for good reason, as there are four different species:
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These are known by their lengthy limbs and great agility, their tail is long and used skillfully to move between branches. Curiously, spider monkeys are the ones who don’t have a thumb.
Spot spider monkeys at Tortuguero National Park, Barra del Colorado, Rincón de la Vieja National Park, and Palo Verde.
Mantled Howler Monkey
Mantled howler monkeys are among the largest monkeys in the tropical forests of Latin America. Its head-body length is 22 to 36 inches. The tail is extremely long, as much or more than its body. They are black with yellowish or reddish tones.
These monkeys can be found in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Osa Peninsula, and Manuel Antonio National Park.
These are the smallest monkey species in Costa Rica. Their fur is short and yellowish olive, their back and limbs are orange, the crest of their head, snout, and eyes are black, and their cheekbones and nose are skin-colored.
They are not so easy to spot as they are in danger of extinction, but you could find them in Corcovado National Park, Manuel Antonio, and the Osa Peninsula.
White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys
Known for being quite smart, these monkeys are primarily black with creamy white on the head, chest, and shoulders. Their face is pink and their tail is larger than their body.
You can see white-faced capuchin monkeys in Arenal Volcano National Park, Carara National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, and Corcovado National Park.
Sloths are unique-looking mammals with shaggy fur, and big claws, characterized by moving slowly. They usually spend most of their time on the top of trees to avoid predators and get food and water. Out of the six sloth species in the world, the two types that exist in Costa Rica are:
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Two-toed sloths are easy to identify, they have 3 toes on their hind feet and only 2 on their front feet. They tend to be a light brown or blonde color and have a nose that resembles that of a pig. These sloths are more difficult to find since they are usually active at night, but you might see them at Diamante Eco-Adventure Park, Corcovado National Park, and Manuel Antonio.
The best-known sloth in the world is the three-toed, called this way as they have three toes on all their feet. They are smaller in size than the two-toed sloth and they are a bit more active. Make sure to visit Manuel Antonio, Cahuita or Corcovado National Park, if you want to spot them.
Costa Rica has 6 different wild cats out of the 36 species in the world. They are imposing beautiful animals, usually nocturnal, although they can also be seen during the daytime.
Our top three Costa Rican wildcats are:
Jaguars are the only panthera species tracked down in the Americas. Being the only big cat in Costa Rica, this majestic feline’s average weight is 249 pounds and it can be up to 6,56 feet long. Jaguars are generally muscular with a yellow background fur and large black spots.
If you are lucky you can see them in Tortuguero, Monteverde, Corcovado National Park, or in la Paz Waterfall Gardens.
Pumas are the second biggest wild cats in America after jaguars. In Costa Rica, pumas can be found on both Pacific and Caribbean slopes, from primary to secondary forests, thickets, mangroves, subalpine grasslands, and open paramos. Pumas have spotless fur, it is usually either golden, gray or reddish.
You can see them in Las Pumas Rescue Center, Corcovado, Santa Rosa and Monteverde Cloud forest.
Ocelots have a medium size, a small head, and a short tail compared to the size of their body. Their short, dull gray hair has strong brown spots bordered by a black band and they have big brown eyes.
Find them in Corcovado National park, Arenal, and La Paz Waterfall Gardens.
The incredible variety of fauna found in Costa Rica includes without doubt the reptiles. Of the 225 species of reptiles that inhabit Costa Rica, we will share the most representative below.
Iguanas are commonly seen in most beaches in Costa Rica. They hang out on the sand or trees. The two different iguana species in Costa Rica are:
This is the biggest type of iguana. Males can grow up to 59 inches from head to tail, and weigh about 33 pounds. A curious fact about green iguanas is that they change color depending on their age. Juveniles are bright green while older are grayish-green, tan, or brown, usually with orange spots on the head.
Spiny-tailed iguanas are strictly diurnal, they usually hide in caves or holes in the ground or between roots and fallen trees. It is common to see them resting or basking, especially during the hottest hours of the day.
Whether you like snakes or you are afraid or repulsed by them, it is worth knowing a little about these animals that display mystique and an incredible variety of colors. Of the more than 130 species present in Costa Rica, we present the following.
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The poisonous and aggressive Fer-de-lance is quite possibly the most popular and dreaded snake in Costa Rica. Its scales range from medium brown or olive green to black on its back, and the belly is usually a lighter color. Females are larger than males, they can grow as much as 8 feet long, while males get to 6 feet long.
The bushmaster snake is the biggest kind of snake on the planet. It has a light brown color mixed with orange and black spots in a diamond shape. The antidote that comes from this snake is used to make a type of antivenom serum that helps to counteract the poisoning of 17 other snake species.
Coral snakes are very colorful and flashy. There are two types in Costa Rica, the three-color ring coral with red, black, and yellow rings all over their body, and the two-color ring coral with either black and red rings, or black and white rings.
It is recommended to see all these snakes in captivity in La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Wildlife Center Snake Garden, Zoo Ave.
There are only two species of crocodiles in Costa Rica:
The American Crocodile
It has a mighty jaw and it is considered one of the best predators. They have a long and narrow V-shaped snout, and they are very fast, especially at short distances. American crocodiles can grow up to 9-20 feet and weigh around 2,000 pounds.
Smaller than American crocodiles, caimans have a much broader and shorter U-shaped snout. They also have some sort of glasses shape on their forehead and they are about 4-8 feet long, weighing around 100-300 pounds.
You can see both crocodiles and caimans on the bridge of the Tarcoles River, and the Tortuguero canals.
Costa Rica has 6,700 marine species, which is 3.5% of the species reported in the world and 90 of them are unique to this country. Learn below about some of the most beautiful and amazing aquatic creatures you can find here.
Although Costa Rica is such a small country, it has the presence of several species of whales, the largest animals that have ever existed. Find out below some of the types you can enjoy in Costa Rica.
Measuring between 49 and 62 feet long and weighing between 30 and 48 tons, the marvelous humpback whale can be seen in Costa Rican waters in two different seasons. Either from July to the end of October or from the end of December to the end of February. Find them at Marino Ballena Park, Drake Bay, Gulf of Nicoya, and South Pacific Coast, among others.
Pilot whales have an elongated black or dark brown body of approximately 19 feet (males) and 17 feet (females). The beak is absent on the head and a short snout is seen instead. They are less commonly seen than humpback whales but could be spotted at Coco Island and near the Pacific Coast.
These spectacular giants can be 108 feet long and their hearts alone weigh about 600 kgs. The beautiful series of folds they have from the chin to beyond their navel can be seen when they allow us to see them come out of the water. Blue whales can be watched at Marino Ballena Park, Drake Bay, and Osa Peninsula.
As crazy as this may sound, Costa Rica has 5 of the 7 sea turtle species on the planet, making its beaches the perfect oasis for these prehistoric, amazing animals. Learn below about these beautiful sea turtles and where you can spot them.
Leatherback Sea Turtles
This is the largest of all sea turtle species and it is the only one without a hard shell. Their skin is typically black and mottled with white. They are between 4-5 feet long and weigh around 1,102 pounds. You can find them at Las Baulas National Marine Park, Tortuguero National park, and Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.
Hawksbill Sea Turtles
The name of this turtle is given due to the beak shape of its upper jaw. The hawksbill sea turtle has an oval shell and is one of the smallest of all sea turtles, measuring up to 35 inches in length and reaching up to 176 pounds. They can be seen at Tortuguero National park, Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.
Loggerhead Sea Turtles
Loggerhead sea turtles are medium-sized, they can exceed 3 feet in length and 330 pounds in body mass. They have a large head, a robust neck, and strong jaws. Their brown dorsal coloration has reddish or orange edges. You can see them on the Caribbean coast.
Green Sea Turtles
Green sea turtles are medium to large, the shell color can range from brown to olive green and the skin can be brown, gray, or black. They can be found at Barra del Colorado, Tortuguero National park, and Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.
Olive Ridley Sea Turtles
Olive ridley sea turtles can be spotted along the Pacific coast between July and February. They are relatively small and they can lay about 110 eggs per nest. They are one of the easiest species to see, either at Ostional Beach in the Nicoya Peninsula, along the Pacific Ocean, North Pacific, Central Pacific, or the South Pacific.
As scary as sharks may be for most people, they are fascinating in their own way. Not all animals in the world have been around for more than 450 million years as sharks have. Next, read about a few of the shark species there are in Costa Rica.
Hammerhead sharks can reach up to 9 feet in length and weigh a maximum of 880 pounds. They are dark gray on the back and white on the ventral area. Their most distinctive feature is the hammer-shaped head. They can be spotted at Coco Island and Golfo Dulce in the Osa Peninsula.
The bull shark is an aggressive animal, known for being the most dangerous shark that exists. This is one of the few species capable of inhabiting fresh and salt waters. It is found in the North Pacific of Costa Rica.
White-Tip Reef Sharks
This shark species is easily recognizable by its slender and elongated shape, presenting white or silver coloration on its tips or broad areas of the fins. It is seen in the Gulf of Papagayo, the Brumel Islands, and the Bat Islands.
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, measuring 39 feet long or more. Their flattened head shows a blunt snout over the mouth. Their back and sides are gray to brown, with beautiful white spots between pale vertical and horizontal stripes.
They are found on Coco Island and Cano Island.
Amphibians & Insects
Even when sometimes amphibians and insects are not as easily seen as other animal species, they are also unique and worth getting to know.
Costa Rica is home to 193 species of frogs and toads. The variety in size and color of these animals is mindblowing and seeing them in their habitat is totally worth it.
Red-Eyed Tree Frog
The little red-eyed tree frog is surely one of the most significant icons of the amazing Costa Rican wildlife. The vibrant green color of its body and the dazzling red tone of its eyes make it a favorite amongst all the 43 tree frog species found in Costa Rica. You can see it at Tortuguero, Manuel Antonio, and Monteverde.
Poison Dart Frogs
Poison dart frogs are species with toxic skin. They are easily recognized both for their bright and unique combination of colors and for their tiny size (around 1,9 inches). The 8 species found in Costa Rica are most likely seen at Tortuguero National Park, Puerto Viejo (Talamanca) or Puerto Viejo (Sarapiqui).
Costa Rican butterfly species represent around 90% of the Central American butterfly population. That being said, expect to see many butterflies around in your next visit, especially in the places recommended below.
Blue Morpho Butterfly
This is one of the most common species of butterflies in Costa Rica and the largest in the world, their wingspan is up to 8 inches long. The way their scales are arranged magically reflect light showing a unique blue color. You can be around them at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, and The Butterfly Farm.
Even though this was just a quick summary of the outstanding animals you can see in Costa Rica, we hope it was good enough to entice you. So, pack your bags and embark on the unforgettable adventure of experiencing Costa Rica’s wildlife to the fullest.
FAQs About Costa Rica Animals & Wildlife
Costa Rica has all sorts of wildlife including birds, mammals, marine animals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.
Costa Rica has over 500,000 species, which represents almost 5% of the total estimated species on the planet.
Most wildlife in Costa Rica is found in its national parks.