Costa Rica is one of the the most biodiverse countries in the world. It’s an absolute paradise for wildlife enthusiasts and a country not to be missed. You’ll find a range of habitats from tropical rainforests, cloudforests to caribbean coasts, each supporting an abundant array of unique and rare wildlife often within easy access for tourists. The opportunities for photography are vast.
I visited this small Central American country in 2012. Read on for a short summary of the wildlife I managed to see, where and how you can go about spotting it.
Red-Eyed Tree Frog
The tropical rainforests of Costa Rica are home to the vibrantly colored red-eyed tree frog. It is also known as the red-eyed leaf frog or gaudy leaf frog. They are common throughout the country and easy to spot. Your best chance to see them will be after sunset and somewhere close to water.
Where to see the red-eyed tree frog
They are common throughout Costa Rica, but the best places to spot them include Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Tortuguero National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park. You’ll find a great range of organised trips on Viator.com, but I would recommend spending at least a few days in Tortuguero National Park and consider a kayak tour as well as a visit to the beaches to try and spot set turtles. Tortuga Lodge and Gardens is a great option for somewhere to stay as it’s located away from the main town and within close proximity to easy wildlife spotting.
Costa Rica is home to two species of sloth, these being the brown-throated three-toed sloth and Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth. Black eye patches distinguish Costa Rica’s three-toed sloths, while the larger two-toed variety have white-ringed faces, brown snouts and shaggy coats. Sloths spend nearly their entire lives hanging upside down in a tree.
Where to see the Two-Toed Sloth
In my opinion the best place to spot these sloths is in Manuel Antonio National Park on the west coast of the country. You can either chose to enter the park and wander at your own leisure, or hire a guide to take you to the best viewing spots. In my case we managed to view several located just a short walk from the beach and fairly low down and easy to spot.
You’ll get easy access to the National Park from the town of Quepos, and there are many accommodation options to suit all budget. I chose to stay at the wonderful Boutique Hotel Las Cascadas The Falls which was situated within town and close to the park.
Blue Jeans Poison Dart Frog
These tiny frogs can be found across Central American and Costa Rica in the lowland tropical rainforests. Sometimes also known as the Strawberry Poison Arrow Frog, you’ll be able to find them in various locations in Costa Rica including Tortuguero National Park, La Selva Biological Station, Rincón de la Vieja and Volcano National Park.
Where to see the Blue Jeans Poison Dart Frog
In my case I took a guided night walk in Arenal Volcano National Park and had numerous opportunities to photograph these frogs as well as various other species. You can base yourself in or near the town of La Fortuna to experience all that the national park has to offer. I chose to stay for 2 nights at Hotel Arenal Lodge which was set amongst 2,000 acres of rainforest filled with exotic birds, wild animals and tropical vegetation.
Central American Squirrel Monkey
The Squirrel Monkey is a small primate that inhabits rainforests of Costa Rica’s South Pacific. It is active during the day and night. They are are social creatures, forming troops commonly consisting of 30 members or more. Unfortunately they are the most endangered primate that lives in Costa Rica.
Where to see the Central American Squirrel Monkey
I was lucky to spot these little monkeys whilst visiting Manuel Antonio National Park. In fact they were located only a few hundred metres from my hotel at Boutique Hotel Las Cascadas The Falls. They didn’t hang around long though.
Green Sea Turtles
Costa Rica is home to a number of species of sea turtles including the most common Green Sea Turtle. These creatures will spend most of their lives at sea apart from certain times of the year when they come ashore to make a nest and lay hundred of eggs, before promptly returning the sea.
Where to sea Green Sea Turtles
Tortuguero National Park, located on the east coast of Costa Rica, is the most important nesting site of the endangered green turtle in the Western Hemishpere. Other species do also nest here, including the Giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles. Since the Green turtle population came perilously close to extinction in the 1960s, conservation efforts have helped boost the turtle population.
Visiting Tortuguero National Park is one of the highlights of any trips to Costa Rica and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. If you visit between March and November it will coincide with turtle nesting and hatching season. You can chose to either take a day trip or spend several nights there, and partake in hiking, boat trips or even kayaking. I stayed at the wonderful Tortuga Lodge and Gardens for 2 nights and found this a good amount of time to be able experience the national park.
Hourglass Tree Frog
One of the many species of Tree Frogs in Costa Rica, the Hourglass Tree Frog are one of the most photogenic. Their name comes from the hourglass shaped pattern which is usually present on the frog’s back.
Where to see the Hourglass Tree Frog
You’ll find these frogs in the lowland tropical rainforest of both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica. In my case I found many of them whilst visiting Arenal Volcano National Park during my stay at Hotel Arenal Lodge.
several species of these Katydids have evolved camouflage that resembles leaves in order to conceal themselves from birds and other predators. There are both brown and green variations of these insects that take on the appearance of either living green leaves or dead brown ones.
Costa Rica is home to numerous species of Hummingbirds. They come in a vast range of sizes and colours, but one thing for sure is that you are certain to see some during your trip in Costa Rica. Many of the hotels or lodges have dedicated feeders in their grounds to attract the birds and help you get a close u view of them.
Where to see Hummingbirds in Costa Rica
One of the best places to observe Hummingbirds in Costa Rica is in the various Cloudforest reserves dotted across the country. I would recommend a visit to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve as this gives you the best chance to see them, as well as an opportunity to experience a different type of habitat with opportunities to see various bird species which you might not see in the lowland tropical rainforests. As well as various outdoor activities that you can do in the reserve, one of the best things to do is to head out on foot and view the wildlife close up, for example on this organised tour. There are plenty of accommodation options in the area, but I loved the El Bosque Trails & Eco-Lodge.
There are a 6 species of Toucan in Costa Rica, including the Fiery-billed Aracari. Toucans are among the most colourful and bizarre looking birds in the tropics, but their distinctive appearance make them one of the most well know animals in Costa Rica.
Where to see Toucans in Costa Rica
Toucans are widespread throughout Costa Rica, from the tropical rainforest to the cloud forest. Just listen for their distinctive calls and for trees with ripe fruit and you will have a good chance of spotting them.
Side Striped Palm Pitviper
The Side Striped Palm PItviper is a venomous snake found in the mountains of Costa Rica and Panama. Adults can be up to 1 metre in length and are often active at night time. Whilst venomous, a bite from this snake is rarely fatal.
Where to see the Side Striped Palm Pitviper
These snakes are generally found in mountains above an altitude of 800 metres. I came across them whilst hiking at night in the tropical rainforests around Arenal Volcano during my stay at Hotel Arenal Lodge.