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Located in Central America, Costa Rica is relatively small in stature yet packs a big punch when it comes to tourist offerings. The local population sits at 4.9 million people, and the capital and largest airport are found in San José. As a people, Costa Ricans are known for being one of the happiest peoples on the planet and have coined the expression ‘Pura Vida’ – the pure life.
Costa Rica holds more than 5% of Earth’s total biodiversity and as more than 800 miles of coastline as well as 7 of the world’s active volcanoes (including Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna).
As a destination, Costa Rica appeals to travelers of all tastes. If you’re you’re looking for exciting, adrenaline-packed adventure with abundant wildlife sightings, Costa Rica is your answer. If you are looking for cultural immersion, spa and hot spring packages or fresh food tours, Costa Rica has something for you, too.
Eco-travel is made simple in Costa Rica as the country is aiming to be 100% carbon neutral. Costa Rica offers travelers a wide range of eco-hotels and sustainable resorts. There are also exciting wildlife & environmental volunteer projects, and responsible adventure tours that combine a love for plants & animals at prices that meet all budgets.
For most people that visit Costa Rica, spotting sea turtles is at the top of their list. Costa Rica is a primary nesting ground for four main species – the Olive Ridley, Leatherback, Green, and Hawksbill. The turtles can be seen at various times of the year, and turtles sightings are likely to occur year round.
The Olive Ridley turtle has a mass nesting migration each year and it can be difficult to determine where that will occur. It is rare to see the Hawksbill sea turtle, largely due to the decline in their populations, as well as a tendency to nest in solitude. As a whole, travelers are more likely to spot the Leatherback sea turtle or Green Sea Turtle while in Costa Rica.
Best places to visit to see Sea Turtles:
The Green Sea Turtle is most often found at Tortuguero National Park (on the Caribbean Coast), which is home to the largest nesting ground in the Western Hemisphere.
Leatherback Sea Turtles are found from February to June in Tortuguero National Park.
The Nicoya Peninsula (on the Pacific Coast), is often where the Olive Ridley arribadas (migrations) take place from September to October, and in fewer numbers from January to June.
Consider a 2-week research conservation holiday with GVI in Tortuguero National Park where you’ll contribute to the long-term survival of green & leatherback sea turtles. In addition to supporting conservation holidays, help keep wildlife wild by foregoing souvenir purchases that include turtle shell, as well as following proper garbage disposal methods when visiting beaches.
Sloths are some of the most adorable, impossibly slow moving, strange animals in the world, and they can be found in Costa Rica. Having the chance to spot one in the rainforest is a huge perk to any holiday, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look.
Two species of sloths live in Costa Rica – the Brown-Throated Sloth, and the Hoffman’s Two-toed Sloth. The two-toed sloth is nocturnal and much more difficult to find during the day. You are most likely to see the brown-throated sloth on your travels.
Best places to visit to see sloths:
Wildlife in Costa Rica becomes more abundant as you move further south, so a good place to start is in the forests of the Osa Peninsula and the southern part of the Pacific side of the country. Listen for movement in the trees and look up, or join a tour with a naturalist guide who can point them out!
Consider an active adventure exploring Costa Rica’s volcanoes and wildlife-rich national parks on this 10-day tour with Lost World Adventures.
The largest cat found in Costa Rica is the Jaguar. It is also one of the most fascinating and mysterious of the big cats in Costa Rica. The Mayans believed the jaguar to be the rulers of the underworld, largely because they are difficult to spot during the day. Your best chance to see a jaguar would be on a conservation holiday that is focused on jaguar tracking as a means to research and conservation.
Best places to visit to see jaguars:
Jaguars are more likely to be found in the rainforests of Costa Rica in Tortuguero National Park, Corcovado National Park, as well as the Monteverde Cloud Forest and other dense forests.
If interested you can join a 2-week jaguar conservation holiday with GVI in Tortuguero National Park and learn about tracking jaguars using cameras.
A picture-perfect tropical vacation is complete with the sightings of whales or dolphins. In Costa Rica, five species of dolphins are found in the waters including spinner dolphins, spotted dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, orca whales, and the short beak common dolphin. The best way to see a dolphin is in their natural habitat without much interference.
Some tour operators (like those on SEEtheWILD) may offer non-invasive boat-trips with whale & dolphin watching portions, which can as designed safely for the animals. We strongly discourage any hotels or excursions where you can swim with dolphins, or that allow you to touch, ride, or interact personally with dolphins.
Best places to visit to see dolphins:
Consider the beaches of the Osa Peninsula, Drake Bay, Manuel Antonio, and Espadilla Sur, for your best chance of seeing dolphins in the waters. Plus the area is ideal for nature lovers of any age!
Costa Rica is home to a variety of primate species including the Howler Monkey, White Throated Capuchin, Spider Monkeys, and Squirrel Monkeys. It is exciting to see monkeys swinging through the trees while walking in nature, and these monkeys definitely make it worth your while.
The Howler Monkey can sound terrifying and since they rarely come down to the ground, you’ll need to be extra alert as you look for them. Their funny defense mechanism includes urinating to keep bothersome people away.
The White-Throated Capuchin is curious and aggressive. They use their teeth and the shaking of trees to deter threats.
Spider Monkeys in Costa Rica are considered Endangered according to the IUCN list and are by far the most intelligent of the monkey species that inhabit the country.
Squirrel Monkeys are not found as abundantly as Howlers and Capuchins. They are most often found in Manuel Antonio National Park. They are considered a vulnerable species on the IUCN list.
Best places to visit to see monkeys:
Monkeys can be found in many of the national parks and forests of Costa Rica. This includes the Osa Peninsula, Nicoya Peninsula, Tortuguero National Park, Corcovado National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park and more.
If wildlife conservation is your passion, consider joining Love Volunteers at this heart-warming Wildlife Rescue program for your chance to help rescue and rehabilitate primates and other animals.
There’s no question that a highlight of Costa Rica is their incredible array of bird species. Bird watchers around the world flock to Costa Rica on wildlife holidays. The biodiversity of the country, it’s temperate climate, make it a paradise for birds and travelers alike. Some of the most recognized bird species include the Scarlet Macaw and the Resplendent Quetzal.
The Scarlet Macaw is the largest of the parrot species and is recognized largely by their bright red, yellow, and blue feathers. They typically have a white, nearly featherless face, and strong beak meant for breaking nuts. In Costa Rica, the scarlet macaw’s biggest threat remains being taken and sold on the black market. The bird’s reproduction is relatively slow, however, they are not considered to be vulnerable or endangered according to the IUCN list.
Perhaps one of the most magnificently colored birds, the resplendent quetzal nearly glows an emerald green. The most fascinating thing about this bird is that it is actually colored brown and its coloring is by melanin, the same as in humans. The feathers of a quetzal alternate brown and translucent, which captures light and reflects green back to the human eye. The resplendent quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, however, it is more common to see them in Costa Rica due to the protected forests in the country.
Best places to visit to see birds:
Costa Rica has a rich bird population and in most parks and protected forests, visitors can witness Scarlet Macaws and Resplendent Quetzals in the wild. The Scarlet Macaw is mainly found throughout the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, and Carara National Park. The Resplendent Quetzal is primarily noticed in the Monteverde Cloud Forest & Quetzales National Park.