Top Tips for Wildlife Spotting in Costa Rica
Boasting an evergreen landscape awash with vibrant tropical jungle, tree-carpeted cloud forests and bubbling volcanoes giving way to idyllic beaches, Costa Rica is a country so rich in biodiversity, it’s basically one endless highlight reel of postcard-perfect scenery. It’s little surprise, then, that it’s also a wildlife lover’s paradise, teeming with a pick and mix bag of exotic flora and fauna (500,000 types to be exact) that’s sure to surprise and delight its guests. Here are my top tips for making sure you catch a glimpse of your favourites.
Manuel Antonio Costa Rica - Image: Carlie Mesquitta
Manuel Antonio Costa RicaImage: Carlie Mesquitta
As a relatively small country, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Costa Rica’s animal population is largely the same from top to bottom, but thanks to its rich diversity, its inhabitants actually hugely differ from place to place. It’s safe to say, then, that staying at just one resort won’t cut the mustard in the wildlife stakes, as you’ll only be exposed to a slither of what’s in store. Want to see Toucans soaring past at dusk? Head to Sarapiqui. Hummingbirds flitting between the flowers? Stop at Monteverde. Turtles nesting on golden-sand beaches? Visit Tortuguero. Just be sure to hire a sturdy 4x4 and a detailed map and you’re good to go!
Toucan in Sarapiqu - Image: Carlie Mesquitta
Toucan in SarapiquImage: Carlie Mesquitta
Take Your Time
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day and the same can be said for spotting animals in the wilds of Costa Rica. You’ll need the patience of David Attenborough filming a series of Blue Planet to see some of the nation’s most iconic species; whether you’re looking for a poison dart frog, a howler monkey or an elusive fer de lance snake, but half of the fun is in the mystery. Spend a few hours hiking through the rainforest or settle down with a cup of coffee at one of the many eco-lodges, and the moment you spy a glimpse of natural life, you’ll be glad you did.
Hiking through the dry forest - Image: Carlie Mesquitta
Hiking through the dry forestImage: Carlie Mesquitta
Draft in the Professionals
If in doubt, it’s time to draft in the professionals. The country’s ecotourism relies on nature guides who are so well versed in their surroundings you’ll be as captivated by them as you are by the scenery. While there are no guarantees you’ll see a sloth hanging from a branch or a howler monkey gnawing on a coconut, the professionals know their stuff so for the best chance of ticking off as many animals as possible from your must-see list, spend a morning hiking with a guide. Not only will they know the secret hiding places of the native inhabitants, they will have all the gear needed to give you the best chance of finding them. I did just this in Monteverde and witnessed a resplendent Quetzal flying out of its nest - a moment I’ll never forget!
Capuchin - Image: Carlie Mesquitta
CapuchinImage: Carlie Mesquitta
Get a Bird’s Eye View
When you think of Costa Rica, chances are you’ll see images of vibrant frogs painted in eye-popping colours, smiling sloths curled up in the treetops or white-faced capuchins swinging between the foliage, but it isn’t just land critters that call this breathtaking country their home. It’s also host to a collective of colourful birds - around 850 species to be exact. From tiny hummingbirds buzzing between the flora to the locally-lauded quetzal and majestic orange-billed toucans, to scarlet macaws spreading their wings as they glide over the oceans, birds are a huge part of the ecosystem here so when you get a chance, let your gaze drift skywards - you never know what you might see!
Quetzal - Image: Carlie Mesquitta
QuetzalImage: Carlie Mesquitta
Expect the Unexpected
I spent my two-week Costa Rica road trip desperate to see a sloth, but as the days ticked by it started to become obvious that it just wasn’t happening. Despite our best efforts, several guides had explained they are really tricky to see, and as the days dwindled, I began to lose hope. Just as I’d given up, I was eating dinner on my final night when low and behold, I looked over the balcony and saw a two-toed sloth inching its way along a branch. It hung around long enough to pose for a few photos before ambling away back to its hiding place. If this magical experience taught me anything (other than cementing my love of sloths) it’s that this beautiful country is always full of surprises.
Sloth in Costa Rica - Image: Carlie Mesquitta
Sloth in Costa RicaImage: Carlie Mesquitta
Respect your Surroundings
It goes without saying that Costa Rica is proud of its ecosystem. It has had sustainability at the heart of its tourism well before it became a global buzzword and continue to take great pride in caring for the world around them. As a largely eco-friendly nation, it’s our responsibility as tourists to help care for the natural habitat, whether that’s using paper straws, reusing water bottles or recycling when out and about. Respecting the environment means you’re playing a part in preserving the incredible habitat and its native dwellers for the next generation, and the more respectful we are, the more likely we’ll see these species thriving for years to come.
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