Best Spots for Wildlife Watching in Costa Rica

The rare squirrel monkey © Chi Hang Ong/Flickr
The rare squirrel monkey © Chi Hang Ong/Flickr
Photo of Jenn Parker
31 August 2017

Costa Rica is an animal lover’s utopia – around 5% of the world’s biodiversity is found here! It is a birding hotspot, home to over 25 types of dolphins and whales, host to 18% of the world’s butterfly species, and teeming with all sorts of fascinating mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. There is wildlife everywhere in Costa Rica, with 25% of its land preserved as national parks, reserves, and sanctuaries. Here are the best spots to see wildlife in Costa Rica.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is relatively small in comparison to some of the other famous national parks, but offers visitors some of the most frequent wildlife sightings. The park is made up of primary forest, secondary forest, mangrove swamp, lagoons, and coastal habitat. There are over 100 different types of mammals and nearly 200 different varieties of birds that have made their home in this world famous national park.

Life on every branch | © Roy Luck/Flickr

Corcovado National Park

The Corcovado National Park is located on the lush Osa Peninsula and has been recognized as one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. The park is made up of lowland rainforest, highland cloud forest, palm forest, mangrove swamps, and coastal marine habitat. All four species of monkeys and all four species of sea turtles in Costa Rican can be found in the Corcovado National Park. There are over 40 species of frogs, more than 100 species of butterflies, 28 types of lizards, and over 400 species of birds, including the largest population of scarlet macaws. Wildlife sightings are abundant and magnificent here.

So many macaws | © Nina Hale/Flickr

Tortuguero National Park

The Tortuguero National Park is a rather remote park on the Caribbean coast. You can only access this zone via small plane or boat. It is this remoteness that has helped make this national park an exquisite place to see a variety of wildlife. The Tortuguero National Park is Costa Rica’s equivalent to the Amazon rainforest. The beaches of the park are especially important to all four species of sea turtles, as they all come here to nest every year.

Turtle hotspot | © Shawn/Flickr

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity. This wildlife and plant rich ecosystem is an incredible place to visit and explore. National Geographic described the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve as “the jewel in the crown of cloud forests.” This is a particularly exciting place for all bird lovers out there. The rare resplendent quetzal can be spotted here hiding amongst the trees.

The crown jewel of birds | © Frank Vassen/Flickr

Palo Verde National Park

Palo Verde National Park is located in Guanacaste and made up of tropical dry forest and wetlands. The Tempisque River runs through the park. A guided boat tour is the best way to explore this wildlife rich area. Iguanas, monkeys, crocodiles, and an impressive variety of birds are the most common sightings here. On a boat tour down the Tempisque, it can almost be guaranteed that you will see all of these animals and quite possibly more.

Giants rule the riverbeds | © Sudarshana/Flickr

Santa Rosa National Park

The Santa Rosa National Park is situated up in the northern part of the Guanacaste province. This spectacular park is made up of both terrestrial and marine protected areas. The land portion of the park is primarily tropical dry forest. The marine portion is home to a spectacular variety of dolphins, whales, rays, sea turtles, tropical fish, sharks, and sea birds. The park is home to the elusive jaguar, ocelot, and mountain lion, as well as an important sea turtle nesting site. Small mammals like peccaries, coatis, and monkeys are common sightings here too.

The elusive ocelot lives here | © Marco Zanferrari/Flickr

Marino Ballena National Park

The Marino Ballena National Park is located in Uvita. This park is particularly famous for its large population of humpback whales. Dolphins, sea turtles, and a variety of seabirds are common inhabitants of this protected marine area. Wildlife sightings are frequent above and below the surface. There is excellent diving, amazing whale watching tours, and beautiful beaches to explore here.

Ocean beauty | © Christopher Michel/Flickr

La Amistad International Peace Park

La Amistad International Peace Park is shared between Costa Rica and Panama. It is the largest protected area in Costa Rica and one of the lesser visited national parks. All six species of wildcats, over 600 types of birds, 300 amphibian and reptile species, as well as a great variety of mammals and insects all call this park home. To access the park, you must hike in, which is quite a commitment but one that is totally worth it. To experience this park is an experience of a lifetime, but one that is reserved for only the most adventurous trekkers.

Sacred jungle beast | © Nigel Swales/Flickr

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