12 best places to see wildlife in Costa Rica (2024)

Costa Rica is one of the best places in Central America to spot wildlife.

In fact, it’s almost impossible to not come across a monkey or even a sloth during your stay – at least if you’re going to the national parks.

Based on my travels to the country and thorough research, I’ve made this list of the best places to see wildlife in Costa Rica. That way, you’ll have an idea of where to go and which animals you might meet.

Let’s dive in!

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The best places to see wildlife in Costa Rica

1. La Fortuna

In La Fortuna near Arenal Volcano, you can’t miss out on wildlife experiences.

The place is a hotspot for birding, thanks to protected areas.

When you’re out trekking or kayaking, you might also come across sloths, exotic species of birds, frogs, monkeys, caimans, butterflies, turtles, iguanas, and more.

costa rica wildlife - sloth

2. Tortuguero

Tortuguero National Park on Costa Rica’s Northern Caribbean coast is known for its turtles – hence the name Tortuguero, which means “region of turtles” in. Spanish.

It’s one of the best places in all of Costa Rica to see nesting leatherback turtles, green sea turtles, and hawksbill sea turtles.

You can also spot crocodiles, monkeys, sloths, birds, and frogs on a boat cruise along the Tortuguero mangrove swamps and canals.

costa rica wildlife - turtles

3. Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio National Park might be Costa Rica’s smallest, but it’s packed with wildlife.

You’ve got over 109 mammal species and 184 bird species there. Definitely take a guided tour – the trails go from rain forest right to white-sand beaches with coral reefs.

With a local guide to lead the way, chances are you’ll see monkeys, sloths, iguanas, toucans, and maybe even tree frogs, and coatis.

costa rica wildlife - toucan

4. Marino Ballena National Park

Marino Ballena National Park on the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica is a hot spot for humpback whales that breed here every year.

In Uvita, there’s even this cool whale tail-shaped sandbar that shows up at low tide.

You can spot whales and dolphins from the beaches, and there are monkeys, iguanas, sea turtles, toucans, and sloths around, too.

costa rica wildlife - humpback whale

5. Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is a wildlife hotspot.

You’ll see howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins in the trees, along with toucans, sloths, and iguanas.

Keep an eye on the shores for sea turtles during nesting season, and you can also visit the Jaguar Rescue Center, which is a home for ill and orphaned animals.

costa rica wildlife - Jaguar

6. Cahuita and Gandoca Manzanillo

Cahuita National Park and Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge are must-sees in the Southern Caribbean.

Think beaches with coconut palms and reefs full of colorful fish, and keep an eye out for sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, and crocodiles near the shore.

On land, you’ll hear, if not see, howler monkeys in the trees.

The seaside trails in both parks are great for spotting wildlife. And if you want to see sloths, a tour of the Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary is the way to go.

costa rica wildlife - alligator

8. Palo Verde National Park

Palo Verde National Park is a huge, 18,410-hectare mix of everything nature’s got, from sea level up to 268 meters high.

You’ll be surrounded by wildlife, so look out for animals like collared peccaries, deer, capuchin monkeys, and those loud howler monkeys up in the trees.

Underneath, there’s a whole bunch of reptiles and amphibians, including huge crocodiles, colorful iguanas, quick whip-tail lizards, and even boa constrictors.

costa rica wildlife - snake

9. Sarapiqui

Sarapiquí is one of the last places with untouched rainforests, and it’s home to more than half of the country’s bird species.

The variety of life there is huge – think 1,850 plants, 448 bird types, 70 bat species, and five out of Costa Rica’s six big cats (source: www.wildlifeworldwide.com).

You can visit by boat or on foot. If you’re into more action, white-water rafting and kayaking are pretty popular there too.

costa rica wildlife - frog

10. Monteverde

If you’re into bird watching, you’ll like Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica’s central highlands.

It’s a good idea to go with a naturalist guide who can show you a variety of wildlife and tell you everything about this place. That’s what we did.

Monteverde has loads of hummingbirds, orchids, and even the hard-to-find resplendent quetzal. Also, if you go on a night tour, you might see the nocturnal two-toed sloths!

Read next: 10 best bird watching tours in Costa Rica

costa rica wildlife - quetzal

11. Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, near Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua, is tough to visit on your own. It’s in a remote, often flooded area.

Tours don’t actually enter the refuge, but the nearby regions are just as cool, so you won’t miss out. You need to join a day tour, usually on the Río Frío – like this one from La Fortuna.

There, you’ll see birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians like spider monkeys, sloths, caimans, turtles, and Jesus Christ Lizards. Keep an eye on the river for freshwater sharks, too.

costa rica wildlife - Monkey
One of the white-faced Capuchin monkeys

12. Corcovado National Park 

Corcovado National Park is a haven for biodiversity. It’s well-protected, keeping its wild character.

Here, you can see no less than 463 bird species and 140 mammals, from monkeys and scarlet macaws to tapirs and sloths.

It’s also a sanctuary for elusive jungle cats like jaguars and pumas, but spotting them is rare.

costa rica wildlife - Iguana

FAQ – Wildlife in Costa Rica

Which part of Costa Rica has the most wildlife?

In Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula is your best bet for seeing lots of wildlife.

This area, especially around Corcovado National Park, is teeming with creatures like monkeys, sloths, and all sorts of birds.

Where can you see animals in Costa Rica?

In Costa Rica, you can see animals all over, but some top spots include Corcovado National Park for its rich biodiversity, Tortuguero National Park for sea turtles, and Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve for bird watching.

When can you see wildlife in Costa Rica?

You can spot wildlife in Costa Rica year-round, but the best time is during the dry season, from December to April.

This is when animals are more active and easier to see, especially in the national parks and rainforests. Certain species like turtles are only nesting for a few months of years, though, so plan accordingly.

Just remember, even in the rainy season, there’s still a good chance of finding plenty of wildlife, just bring a raincoat!

Where is the best place to see sloths and monkeys in Costa Rica?

To see sloths and monkeys, head to Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s full of these animals, and they’re pretty easy to spot.

The park is a favorite for many because you can see a lot without too much effort. Plus, the beaches there are really nice, too.

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Check out my list of the best places to see wildlife in Costa Rica. I've got the top spots where you can easily find Costa Rica animals, from lounging sloths to chattering monkeys. Whether you're trekking through Monteverde or chilling in Manuel Antonio, you're in for a treat with Costa Rica wildlife. #CostaRicaAnimals #WildlifeSpotting #NatureLover

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