How to Experience the Unique Wildlife of the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica

Just look around
Just look around | © Hans Norelius / Flickr
Jenn Parker

The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is a tropical utopia that is abundant in wildlife and natural beauty. A trip to this lesser visited coast is sure to be filled with unique wildlife encounters, especially if you spend time in the wildlife sanctuaries, reserves, and national parks in the province of Limón. Here are the best places to have up close and personal wildlife experiences around Puerto Viejo and Tortuguero.

1. Cahuita National Park

Forest, Natural Feature, Park

Green sea turtle in Costa Rica
© q phia / Flickr

The Cahuita National Park is home to one of the most vibrant and thriving coral reef systems in Costa Rica. This park is a blend of dense tropical rainforest, pristine coastline, and turquoise shallow seas, all of which are teeming with wildlife. Hiking through the rainforest, strolling along the beaches, and snorkeling amongst the reefs will ensure that you observe an abundance of wildlife, including sloths, monkeys, colorful birds, tropical fish, rays, and sea turtles.

2. Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge

Forest, Natural Feature, Park

gentle giants
© US Fish and Wildlife Services / Flickr

Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge is 9,450 hectares of rainforest, palm and red mangrove swampland, white sand beaches, and a colorful and lively tropical coral reef. This spectacular refuge is home to green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, 360 species of birds, sloths, monkeys, and exquisite reptiles, insects, and amphibians, among so many other fascinating species of wildlife.

3. Tortuguero National Park


A red-eyed tree frog perches on tropical foliage in the jungle of Costa Rica
© Dirk Ercken / Shutterstock
Difficult to reach (as only an airplane or boat will get you there) Tortuguero National Park is worth the extra effort for the amazing biodiversity on offer: 11 different habitats. You might even get the chance to spot one of the 7 river turtle species, or perhaps the endangered West Indian Manatee as you head inland along an elaborate network of freshwater creeks and lagoons. Due to the difficulty of getting there, consider visiting Tortuguero as part of an organized tour for your convenience.

4. Planet One World Los Guardianes Wildlife Sanctuary

Forest, Natural Feature, Park

© Vytautas Sėrys / Flickr

Planet One World Los Guardianes is a 546 hectare wildlife sanctuary and 36 hectare permaculture farm between an indigenous reserve and the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. This densely biodiverse protected area is an incredible place to observe some of the exotic wildlife of this part of Costa Rica. There are options to stay in the sanctuary overnight, volunteer, and take several informative and exciting tours.

5. Jaguar Rescue Center

Forest, Natural Feature, Park

Monkey in Costa Rica
© Tambako the Jaguar / Flickr
There are two locations for the Jaguar Rescue Center: the nursery is located at Playa Cocles, while the Ceiba Primary Forest release area is located in Punta Uva, about 3 km (1.9 miles) from the main center. The center’s primary focus is to care for reptiles, birds, amphibians, and small primates who may be sick, injured, or orphaned. It also presents a great opportunity to come and learn about the native species found in this part of Costa Rica. And despite there not being any actual jaguars at the center, the center got its name in dedication to the memory of an abandoned baby jaguar who was brought in after its mother was murdered by local farmers. The jaguar serves as a symbol of how vulnerable nature and wild animals are, and as a reminder of the responsibility humans have to take care of the natural world.

6. Sloth Sanctuary

Natural Feature, Park

cute baby sloth
© Jean-Marc Astesana / Flickr
For over a quarter of a century the Sloth Sancutary has been saving and taking care of injured and abandoned sloths. Visitors to the Sloth Sanctuary have the chance to observe both baby and adult sloths in a very personal setting. The sanctuary also offers many different tours, with tour fees helping to keep the sanctuary up and running in order for them to continue helping all of the in-need sloths of Costa Rica.

Anywhere and everywhere

Aside from exploring and observing wildlife in the national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and refuges of this region of Costa Rica, you can actually find yourself surrounded by unique wildlife almost anywhere that you decide to stop and look around when you are visiting the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. This part of Costa Rica is far less developed than the Pacific coast and most of the accommodation choices are small and built to be in harmony with nature. Sometimes the best place to spot animals is just sitting on your patio, laying in a hammock underneath some palm trees, or taking a casual stroll from your temporary residence to the beach or through the forest.

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