11 Amazing Animals To See In Costa Rica

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Animal Spotting In Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries on earth. They are very active in caring and supporting their wildlife with many refuges and sanctuaries throughout the country. The national parks of Costa Rica are a huge drawcard for many tourists as they should be.

After spending three weeks in Costa Rica there were only 2 animals I wanted to see and didn't. I can't even say I was disappointed as I had such a great trip from a nature perspective.


1: The White-Nose Coati

These cute looking animals are much more dangerous than they look. They have massive long claws and to me were a lot like monkeys in Borneo. They are loosing their fear of humans so you need to be very aware of them especially if you have food. They will come and steal it right out of your hand and as they are primarily scavengers you wouldn't want one biting you. They are cute and I was very surprised how readily we found them, but it was on a hiking trail where they knew people stopped for lunch so we were surrounded in short order. Obviously, don't feed them!

A White-Nose Coati Costa Rica
A White-Nose Coati Costa Rica

2: The Ocelot

Even though I have had so many amazing animal expereinces in my lifetime, sadly (although not surprisingly) I didn't get to see an Ocelot.

They are exceedingly rare to see in the wild so of course I didn't see one. They are known for their huge paws, which are very large in comparison to the rest of their body. They look amazing and I love how they look to have almost all big cat colorings on their body. Stipes, spots and leopard style dots even.

An Ocelot in Costa Rica
An Ocelot in Costa Rica

3: The Jesus Christ Lizard

Actually called a Basilisk Lizard (which of course always makes me think of Harry Potter!), these lizards are referred to as Jesus Christ lizards because they can walk on water. Well run on water I guess is the accurate term. They feed on insects and small fish so have to be supremely fast to catch their prey.

We saw them everywhere in Tortuguero and got a bit sick of them there were so many. They are very cool to see if you can catch them running though.

Basiliscus Lizard also known as a Jesus Christ LIzard.
Jesus Christ Lizard Tortuguero National Park

4: Scarlet Macaws

While there are macaws everywhere in Costa Rica the Scarlet Macaw is less easy to spot. They have red heads and chest with yellow and then blue wings. I did see a few in the wild and they never seemed to be as large as the other Macaws but I'm not sure if they just seem smaller or they actually are. The are at their most impressive when they are flying as that is when their colors are really on display. They used to be almost extinct however have recovered very well since lawas were introduced banning their capture. I saw them in the Manuel Antonio National Park.

Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica
Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica

5: The Red Eyed Tree Frog

Frogs creep me out – I'm not scared to say that, however this one is pretty cool. They often rest with their eyes closed and then if they suspect something is close or if they are in danger they flash open their eyes, which is meant to startle their stalker and give them time to escape. I only actually saw one do this once but it was pretty startling. With their eyes closed they are all green with their orange toes but blend in pretty well. When they open their eyes it does give you a start and I can imagine does work in giving them a few seconds to escape.

Red eyed tree frog
Red eyed tree frog

6: The Resplendent Quetzal

This is the other animal I didn't manage to see in Costa Rica. Well that's not entirely true, I did see one but it was moving so quick I can't really count it.

Despite the fact that they seem so bright in color, they blend into the forest so well that they are really hard to spot. They are found through central American and are actually Guatemala's national bird. They aren't as small as you might think either. They can grow to 40cm long with another 65 cm of tail for the males.

Costa Rican Quetzal
Costa Rican Quetzal

Jenny Marsden - Charge The Globe
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7: Capuchin Monkeys

These white faced monkeys are pretty prevelant and you can see theme in a lot of national parks.

They eat everything so can really take over an area if they get out of control. Their damn screeching is one of the most horrific sounds I've ever heard. If you are out in the forest and you can hear them and not see them, man it can be terrifying. You have visions of these massive animals drooling aka The Hunger Games but they are these little monkeys that look like old men. I'm not saying they are any less dangerous but it is a releif when there isn't some massive animal behind you.

White faced Capuchin monkey.
White faced Capuchin monkey.

8: Tapirs

Tapir's always remind me of Rhino's. They are very strange looking but incredibly cute. They can also be HUGE! We saw one in Monteverde that was easily 200 kilos and our hiking guide told us they can get as big as 650 pounds which I believe is about 300 kilos.

They are very important to the eco system as they are a little like birds in that they consume their food and then poop out the seeds elsewhere, keeping the forest alive.

Costa Rican Tapir
Costa Rican Tapir

9: Three Toed Sloth

I had no idea now bizarre looking these sloths actually were until I saw one. Their claws are amazing, however I wouldn't want one to hug me I don't think!. Their faces have very prominont eye sockets and then their nose and mouth is formed in a permanent smile.

Interesting fact: They usually only climb down to the forest floor once a week to do their business. They do move a slow as you think which is I'm sure some reason that they have those massive claws.

A sloth hanging in a tree in Costa Rica
A sloth hanging in a tree in Costa Rica

10: Peccary or Skunk Pigs

OMG these are so cute. They look like a cross between a really sweet dog, a wombat and a pig.

They are clearly pigs but they are so sweet looking. Their hair is actually really bristly but they look like they would be soft. You always see them in family groups and often wallowing in water holes or on the bank of a stream. I was surprised to see them so readily and despite their seemingly being a healthy population they don't seem to cause the same level of destruction that we we see here in Australia from wild pigs.

Costa Rican Peccary Pig
Costa Rican Peccary Pig

11. Toucans

Toucans are on cereal packets. That's the most I'd ever had to do with Toucans before I went to Costa Rica. I had hoped to see one but had no idea how prevalent they are. I saw many many Toucans of all different varieties and was so glad that I did.

You won't have trouble finding a Toucan. Almost every forest we went into you could hear them which straight away meant you could find them.

Rainbow billed Toucan
Rainbow billed Toucan in Costa Rica

Best Animals To See In Costa Rica

If you are planning on visiting Costa Rica and want to see any of these animals, it will require a bit of research. Some are only found in particular area's and some like the Ocilot you will have almost zero chance of seeing.

Regardless its always exciting to see an exotic animal in the wild. I was chuffed I saw a sloth and the other one I really loved was the Toucans. They don't seem real to me so I loved that they were everywhere.



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