Costa RicaCosta Rica

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  - Costa Rica

Iconic Wildlife

Iconic Wildlife

Watch as wildlife explodes around you in Costa Rica, a country estimated to house 5% of the world's total biodiversity. From the Osa Peninsula to the Caribbean lowlands of Tortuguero, here is your guide to some of the country’s most iconic animals.

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Blue Morpho Butterfly

One of the most emblematic of Costa Rica’s butterfly species, the blue morpho is identified by its iridescent blue and black wings, and its lilting, erratic flight. With cerulean wings spanning up to eight inches, the blue morpho is among the largest butterflies in the world. They are frequently seen in clearings and near streams where their dramatic colors are most visible.  Amazingly, the morpho’s lifespan lasts a mere 115 days, which means most of their time is spent reproducing and eating. Costa Rica is a haven for the blue morpho, and you will find them enchanting onlookers throughout the country. For more educated observation, head to one of Costa Rica's many butterfly gardens, which offer tours and interaction with this magical species.

Howler Monkey

Nothing incites excitement like the telltale call of Costa Rica’s vociferous howler monkeys. The otherworldly sound resonates for miles announcing their presence amid dense jungle. Known locally as “mono congo,” mantled howlers are some of the most prevalent monkeys in Costa Rica; look for them in Corcovado National Park, the dry forests of Santa Rosa National Park, Nosara Biological Reserve, Arenal Volcano National Park, and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Watch their agile movements through the treetops — a prehensile tail acts as an extra arm, gripping branches while they traverse the rainforest canopy. Howlers feast on leaves, flowers and fruits and are arboreal creatures, spending most of their time in the treetops foraging for food. Encounters with curious troops – usually numbering 12-15 individuals – are common, but please refrain from feeding them since it often leads to aggressive behavior and an unhealthy dependence on humans.

Humpback Whale

Costa Rica boasts the longest humpback whale season in the world as whales from both the northern and southern hemispheres migrate through the country’s temperate seas. These marine mammals measure 40-50 feet, weigh up to 80,000 pounds and eat 1.5 tons of krill and small fish every day. Take a sunset sailing tour or whale-watching excursion to glimpse these breaching giants. Humpbacks migrating from the south arrive from July - November while whales from the northern hemisphere visit between March - June. The best destinations for seeing these magnificent creatures include Drake Bay and Cano Island, as well as Ballena Marine National Park, outside of Dominical.

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Perhaps the most iconic of Costa Rican fauna, red-eyed tree frogs are common countrywide and can be seen in the lowland rainforests of Tortuguero National Park, along the central Pacific coast in Manuel Antonio National Park and in the cooler regions of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Despite their striking coloration, red-eyed tree frogs are not poisonous; their brilliant eye color is a natural defense against predators known as startle coloration. If disturbed, the frogs open their large red eyes and expose their bright orange feet. Birds and snakes are often so startled by the sudden flashes of color that they hesitate momentarily, allowing valuable seconds for the frog to escape. Red-eyed tree frogs are most active at night; they camouflage themselves in the rainforest foliage and ambush insects, moths and occasionally smaller frogs using their long, sticky tongues.

Scarlet Macaw

One glimpse of the vibrantly colored feathers among emerald leaves and you’ll be hooked: scarlet macaws are famed for their radiant red plumage streaked with blue and yellow. They call to each other with deep, raucous squawks while in flight, but are rather quiet while feeding. Macaws consume a wide variety of fruits, nuts, seeds, flowers and nectars. With their powerful wings they can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour; they are often seen flying in pairs as they mate for life. The best place to view them is in the Osa Peninsula’s Corcovado National Park where an estimated 800-1200 macaws reside. The country's second largest population (estimated at 450) inhabits the dry tropical forest of Carara National Park, on the outskirts of Jaco.


It is every wildlife lover’s dream to observe a sloth in the wild; whether you’re keen on spotting a two or three-toed sloth, your chances are quite good in Costa Rica. These adorable creatures are usually found sleeping in the treetops during the day, as they are most active from dusk till dawn. You may notice a green tint on their gray fur; this is caused by algae that provide an effective camouflage against the backdrop of the rainforest. Typically solitary animals, sloths spend the bulk of their lives in trees sleeping and eating leaves, flowers and the occasional insect. The slow-moving creatures are often observed in their favorite food tree – the cecropia – which are found throughout the country. Look for sloths (three-toed sloths are more common than the two-toed variety) in these hotspots: Manuel Antonio National Park, Tortuguero National Park, Cahuita National Park and Corcovado National Park. You can also see both species at the Sloth Rescue Center (Aviarios del Caribe) located north of Cahuita. The center rescues and rehabilitates injured sloths and cares for those that have been separated from their mothers.

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