Discover Costa Rica’s Wildlife (the Right Way)

Costa Rica’s wildlife is undeniably incredible. The country has one of the highest densities of biodiversity on the planet, which means that you can see all kinds of monkeys, lizards, parrots and even jaguars if you know where to look. One of the reasons that Costa Rica is so rich in wildlife is because it is home to a variety of different ecosystems, including tropical rainforests, cloud forests and other worldly mangrove swamps. Costa Rica also has 12 different climatic zones, enabling a whole host of plants and animals to thrive.

Costa Rica’s wildlife is a big draw for tourists who come to explore the National Parks and rainforests in search of endangered tapirs and elusive two-toed sloths. But, tropical ecosystems are incredibly fragile, and if we are not careful then our adventures in paradise could cause irreparable damage.

Sloth in MA NP
A three-toed sloth hanging from a tree in Manuel Antonio National Park.

An Encounter with Costa Rica’s Wildlife…

During our stay at Hacienda Baru eco-lodge, which is situated in an area of dense primary and secondary rainforest, we saw another tourist unwittingly mistreating an animal. One evening when we were walking along the path through the lodge, we encountered a large lizard also on the path. The lizard froze upon seeing us, so we stopped to wait for it to move on.

Another guest at the lodge came hurtling out of the bushes to the side of us, intent on catching the lizard! Her fingers missed it by inches, and she moaned to her friend that she “almost had it.” The petrified lizard disappeared into the drain, and fortunately the two girls didn’t stick around too long as they were quickly distracted by something else.

Though the girl wasn’t intending to be harmful, her behaviour was irresponsible and even foolish. She obviously had no idea that the particular lizard she was chasing was a black ctenosaur, equipped with muscular jaw, sharp teeth and known for delivering a nasty bite to humans that get too close.

Costa Rican wildlife can be dangerous. Snakes and frogs in particular sometimes have extremely powerful poisons. Fortunately, if you aren’t posing a threat to them or their offspring, they will more than likely leave you alone.

Lizard in Manuel Antonio - Charlie on Travel
A Plumed Basilisk, more commonly know as a Jesus Christ lizard due to is ability to run across water. We spotted this one in Manuel Antonio National Park.

Responsible Wildlife Tourism

Wildlife tourism should be responsible and cause as little disturbance as possible. There are lots of opportunities to get really close to wild animals, but it’s important for travellers to remember that these animals are wild and that we are in their territory. When exploring national parks or attending a wildlife tour, travellers should:

  • Keep their distance from animals
  • Never try to touch or disturb animals
  • Never feed animals
  • Never call out to the animals
  • Keep noise to a minimum
  • Turn the flash off on their camera

Disturbing animals can scare them, causing them stress and even illness. The best way to appreciate wildlife is from a distance, so that the animals are able to continue doing as they would if you weren’t there.

Unknown bug at Tipi Jungla - costa rica's wildlife - Charlie on Travel
A shield bug (more commonly known as a stink bug!)

Discover Costa Rica’s Wildlife

You can discover Costa Rica’s wildlife even when you’re just walking around, you might see sloths hanging from the trees above or toucans flying overhead. However, there are many designated areas where you can be almost certain to see some of Costa Rica’s wildlife.

National Parks

Costa Rica has 26 national parks where you can enjoy wildlife spotting. These protected places make up an admirable 28% of the country’s total territory. Hiring a guide isn’t a necessity and you will still be able to spot some wildlife on your own, however there are many benefits to having a guide if you can afford the little bit extra.

Guides definitely increase your chances of seeing some exciting wildlife that you might not otherwise spot, and they are equipped with a telescope, which they angle for you, so that you can have a clear view of the animals that are further away. Hiring a guide also a great way to support the local community, as guides are often from the local area.

Monkey in MA NP
White-faced Capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio National Park.


Capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio - Charlie on Travel
Where there’s one Capuchin ,the rest of the troop (10-40) won’t be far behind. Watching Capuchins playing and searching for food in the branches is totally engrossing.
Sloth climbing in manuel antonio 1 - charlie on travel
A sloth climbing up a tree in Manuel Antonio National Park.
Sloth climbing in manuel antonio 2 - charlie on travel
Sloths are very camera friendly, thanks to their slow movements!


Eco-lodges are also excellent places to see some of Costa Rica’s wildlife. During our eco-lodge stays we were fortunate enough to see black and green poison dart frogs, crocodiles, hummingbirds, toucans,  Capuchins, sloths, butterflies of all variety and even an armadillo – though not all of those were captured on camera.

Butterfly garden Hacienda Baru Costa Rica
Butterfly in Hacienda Baru’s Butterfly Garden.

If you read my post on Tipi Jungla, you’ll know that we also had the chance to meet a baby sloth who had been rescued by the couple who run the eco-lodge. The 4 month year old baby had lost its mother and fallen down from the treetops. The couple found it, took it to their home and found a local sloth vet who will act as its mother for the next 6 months or so until it is ready to be released back into the wild.

Baby sloth being saved at Tipi Jungla
Baby sloth at Tipi Jungla.

Baby and baby sloth at Tipi Jungla

There are also a huge number of volunteering opportunities available in Costa Rica for those who have a a longer amount of time here. These programmes range from helping out in a Jaguar sanctuary, saving sea turtles and even providing aid for stray animals.

We’re really looking forward to the Arribada, an incredible night during which thousands of turtles come ashore to lay their eggs on Costa Rica’s beaches.



For more information on responsible tourism practices and visiting forested national parks, head over to Right Tourism.


Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

12 thoughts to “Discover Costa Rica’s Wildlife (the Right Way)”

  1. When I was in Malawi this year I stayed in a lodge that was in the buffer zone of one of the national parks. I was waiting for dinner when a huge lizard appeared on the path! I also missed a herd of elephants who had walked through the lodge earlier in the day…

    Its much nicer to see animals interacting with there own environment (be it a slightly adapted one in the lodge). Being able to walk freely and undisturbed (I was like the only guest in the whole lodge).

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