The rare, the mystical, the brilliant and the cuddly hide in the foliage of the Costa Rican rainforest. Many nature lovers come to Costa Rica looking for just one animal: a sloth chewing on a fistful of leaves, a capuchin monkey jumping between tree branches or a chance to see the resplendent quetzal's azure and ruby plumage. While searching, they'll encounter approximately five percent of the world's biodiversity inside in a country the size of West Virginia – .03 percent of the world's surface.read more close
Walk through wildlife refuges, national parks and reserves searching for tapirs, agoutis, armadillos, coatis and capybaras. Peer underneath leaves and look closely at the tree trunks for the bats which make up more than half of Costa Rica's mammal species; that's 103 different bat species. Other mammals include four species of monkeys, including one sub-species endemic to Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio National Park, two species of sloth, six species of wild cats, three species of anteaters, and at least 82 other species of mammals inhabit Costa Rica.
Birders from all over the world visit Costa Rica for its annual bird migrations or the chance to see toucans, macaws and the resplendent quetzal. With more than 900 recorded species living in Costa Rica, birders and casual nature lovers alike will be dazzled by the colorful plumage, rapturous melodies and unbelievable behaviors of Costa Rica's birds. Roseate spoonbills, toucans, kingfishers, motmots, hummingbirds, frigate birds, ibises, sparrows, warblers, herons, hawks, kites, tanagers, trogons and vultures are just a handful of Costa Rica's bird species. Even in the country's major cities, parrots squawk raucously overhead while the clay-colored robin, the national bird of Costa Rica, sings its sweet song in the tree tops.
Exploring the landscapes in search of these creatures is half the fun. Ride on a canoe or kayak through the canals of Tortuguero National Park waiting for a basilisk lizard to make a mad dash running across the top of the water or drive over the Tarcoles River Bridge and stop to look at the 20-foot long 65 year-old crocodiles underneath. Look among the trees, especially over rivers for green iguanas or walk among the beach trails in Manuel Antonio Park looking for black spiny iguanas. Keep an eye out for Costa Rica's amazing and dangerous list of snakes like the golden-eyelash palm pitviper, fer-de-lance, American bushmaster and 132 other species (though only 17 are venomous). Visit Tortuguero (or a number of other Costa Rican destinations) from August through October to witness the miracle of life as sea turtles nest on the beach and their young emerge from their shells and scamper into the ocean.
Hedge your bets for the best wildlife watching experience
For the best wildlife watching experience, you've got to synchronize your clocks with the animals. The rainforest buzzes with life at sunrise and sunset when the wildlife searches for food, runs back home or is just waking up; so jump on a tour or hike into the wilderness during these twilight hours for your best chance to see wildlife. For additional help, it's always helpful to hire a local guide. Most have extensive knowledge of the area and all seem to possess an uncanny ability to spot even the smallest of creatures. Many have backgrounds or degrees in biology, ecotourism and environmentalism.