16 recommended wildlife locations. The species listed below are just a selection of those you may see.

Braulio Carillo National Park

Not far from San Jose, this national park preserves a pristine rainforest full of tropical plants, waterfalls and wildlife. Over 340 bird species have been recorded. The highlight is a ride on the famous rainforest aerial tram, from which you can look down into the forest canopy. There are also several walking trails.

  • Where: Heredia province
  • Ideal for viewing: Howler monkey, Tapir, Keel-billed toucan, Blue-throated trogon, White-faced monkey
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Cahuita National Park

This small national park on the southern Caribbean coast consists of tropical lowland forest, black sand beach, and a beautiful reef around the tip of Cahuita Point. The forest shelters various forms of wildlife, whilst the coral reef has an astonishing variety of marine life. A snorkel and mask are essential here!

  • Where: Limón Province
  • Ideal for viewing: Capuchin monkey, Green iguana, Northern tamandua, Porcupine, Racoon
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Carara National Park

This national park protects the last noteworthy tract of primary rainforest in the Central Pacific region. Due to its proximity to the capital, it attracts a lot of visitors – both local and international. However, if you can avoid the crowds it has sufficient wildlife to impress the most avid enthusiast.

  • Where: Central Pacific Region
  • Ideal for viewing: Collared peccary, Green and black poison arrow frog, Scarlet macaw, White-faced capuchin, Boat-billed heron
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Corcovado National Park

For a fitting finale to your visit, take the scenic flight to the remote beautiful Osa Peninsula, on the Pacific Coast. It is a natural paradise with a remarkable species count. You can stay at either a rustic lodges or a tented camp on an idyllic beach amidst lush tropical splendour, surrounded by wildlife!

  • Where: Puntarenas province
  • Ideal for viewing: Jaguar, Scarlet macaw, Tamandua, Tapir, Ocelot
  • Excellent for: Whale watching, Birdwatching

Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

This stretch of Caribbean coast is one of the finest in the country. The combination of sandy beach, gentle waves, and coral reef close to the surface make it a paradise for nature lovers and underwater enthusiasts. Inland, the wildlife refuge protects many species that are either endangered or at risk.

  • Where: Limón Province
  • Ideal for viewing: Black caiman, Ocelot, Keel-billed toucan, Ornate hawk-eagle, Tapir
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Gulf of Nicoya

This stunning coastal landscape includes wetland, jagged rocky islands, cliffs and mangroves. The offshore islands protect seabird sanctuaries where visitors are not allowed, however with binoculars you can watch the birds from the shore. Guayabo has the largest of Costa Rica’s four known brown pelican nesting sites.

  • Where: Puntarenas province
  • Ideal for viewing: Humpback whale, Brown pelican, Brown booby, Giant frigatebird, Olive ridley turtle
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Manuel Antonio National Park

The country’s most visited national park covers a rocky peninsula and its hinterland, plus a large tract of Pacific Ocean. From trails along the rainforest-fringed beach, you can see copious wildlife, including Costa Rica’s only populations of endangered squirrel monkeys, as well as exploring the mangroves.

  • Where: Puntarenas province
  • Ideal for viewing: Brown pelican, Brown throated three-toed sloth, Central American squirrel monkey, Mantled howler monkey, White-faced capuchin monkey
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Marino Ballena National Park

Named after the humpback whales that arrive between December and April each year, this park extends along a stretch of beach interspersed with mangroves, and out to sea. The largest reef on Central America’s Pacific Coast forms a crescent necklace, with three small islands known as Las Tres Hermanas.

  • Where: Puntarenas province
  • Ideal for viewing: Humpback whale, Hawksbill turtle, Olive ridley turtle, Spinner dolphin, Bryde’s whale
  • Excellent for: Whale watching

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

This reserve is thought to be one of Central America’s finest protected areas. Weather from the Caribbean and Pacific create a cloud forest ecosystem that is home to over 100 species of mammal, 400 birds, tens of thousands of insects (including 5,000 different moths) and 2,500 plants (including 420 varieties of orchid).

  • Where: Puntarenas province
  • Ideal for viewing: Bare-necked umbrellabird, Swallow-tailed kite, Keel-billed toucan, Ocelot, Resplendent quetzal
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Piedras Blancas National Park

Located on the southern Pacific coast outside Golfito town, this national park protects some 14,000 hectares of primary rainforest containing many indigenous plants and lots of wildlife. Its creation in 1993 marked a huge victory for conservationists, as the area had been damaged by deforestation and hunting.

  • Where: Puntarenas Province
  • Ideal for viewing: Jaguar, Ocelot, Scarlet macaw, Two-toed sloth, Agouti
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Named after the active volcano at its centre, this park protects the dry forest of the northwest, which is home to some 200 bird species. Less than an hour’s drive from Liberia, it nevertheless receives relatively few visitors, so you can walk its trails, ride horses, or enjoy its hot springs and pools of boiling mud in relative solitude.

  • Where: Guanacaste province
  • Ideal for viewing: Coati, Howler monkey, Red trogan, Puma, Tapir
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Sarapiqui

This fascinating lowland area is a good base for exploring Poas Volcano. However the main highlight is La Selva Biological Station, a major research centre for tropical ecosystems. The species diversity here is astounding, with more than 1,850 plants, 448 birds, 70 species of bat and five of Costa Rica’s six felines.

  • Where: Heredia province
  • Ideal for viewing: Ocelated antbird, Short-tailed nighthawk, Sungrebe, Great potoo, Great green macaw
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Tamarindo

The bustling surf capital of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is blessed with stunning beaches, but also makes a fine base to explore the surrounding rainforest for wildlife. Its extensive mangroves are protected reserves, and in Marino Las Baulas National Park giant leatherback turtles come ashore at night to lay eggs.

  • Where: Guanacaste province
  • Ideal for viewing: Capuchin monkey, Howler monkey, Leatherback turtle, Green turtle, Olive ridley turtle
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Tortuguero National Park

A vast area of untouched rainforest on a remote stretch of Caribbean coast, where beaches, canals and wetlands create an astonishing biodiversity. Activities centre on boat trips through the freshwater creeks and lagoons. Green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles come ashore here to lay their eggs.

  • Where: Limon province
  • Ideal for viewing: Baird’s tapir, Green turtle, Spectacled caiman, Spider monkey, Three-toed sloth
  • Excellent for: River safaris, Birdwatching

Volcan Arenal National Park

Until 2010 Arenal was Costa Rica’s most active volcano. In recent times it has entered a period of quiescence, although you can still hear subterranean rumbles and see the odd ash column. The surrounding national park contains a bizarre landscape of solidified lava flows, lush forest and tropical flora and fauna.

  • Where: Alajuela Province
  • Ideal for viewing: Boa constrictor, Mantled howler monkey, Violet sabrewing, Agouti, Armadillo
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Volcan Tenorio National Park

Around the two volcanoes of Tenorio and Montezuma, is an area of primary rainforest and cloud forest. One of Costa Rica’s most beautiful waterfalls is found here, where the water tumbles 32 metres into a pool of amazing blue. The subterranean activity endows the area with several hot springs.

  • Where: Guanacaste Province
  • Ideal for viewing: Capuchin monkey, Jaguar, Puma, Tapir, Agouti
  • Excellent for: River safaris, Birdwatching

1 recommended location for extending your wildlife trip.

San Jose

Costa Rica’s capital stands in the centre of the country at an elevation of around 1,200 metres, so enjoys an average temperature of 21⁰ C year round. It has the main international airport and is the country’s transport hub. The downtown area is fairly small and has several interesting museums and parks.

4 recommended trips. All our trip ideas are offered to inspire you, but our strength is in tailoring your itinerary.

Cloud Forests & Mountains

Enjoy the beauty and spectacle of Costa Rica's flora and fauna on this fantastic trip encompassing the best of the country's rainforests and coastlines.

  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea
  • Duration exc. international flights: 13 days

Pacific Coast Journey

 Discover the nature wonders of Costa Rican cordillera region and Pacific coastline

  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea
  • Duration exc. international flights: 12 days

Natural Highlights

Wildlife abounds on this exceptional trip which provides plenty of opportunity to see Costa Rica’s diverse flora and fauna!

  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea
  • Duration exc. international flights: 13 days

Coast to Coast

Travel from coast to coast to see and understand the complex mosaic of ecosystems of this extraordinarily wildlife rich country.

  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea
  • Duration exc. international flights: 14 days

When to go

Best visited during the Pacific coast dry season, from December to April. The Caribbean coast has less rain between March and September but, being tropical, expect rain any time.

Seasons

  • Green season

    May to Nov: Most of the country is wetter, although the Caribbean coast received less rainfall
  • Dry Season

    Dec to Apr: Costa Rica’s dry season is generally the best time to visit

Wildlife events

  • Jan to Jul: Best time to see quetzal at Monteverde
  • Feb to Apr: Leatherback turtles come ashore to lay eggs at Tortuguero
  • Jul to Sep: Night walks to see green & hawksbill turtles at Tortuguero
  • Nov to Mar: Leatherback turtles in Tamarindo (Pacific coast)
  • Dec to Jan: Humpback and sperm whales off Corcovado NP (Pacific coast)
  • Aug: Peak season for green and hawksbill turtles to lay eggs
  • Jul to Dec: Olive ridley turtles come ashore (Pacific coast)
  • Mar to Jun: Best time to see three-wattled bellbird at Monteverde
  • Nov to Mar: The best time to see scissor-tailed flycatcher
  • Aug to Sep: Loggerhead turtles land on Caribbean coast

Subscribe

Sign up for our e-news

We send news and offers about once a month

We also offer diving holidays at
Dive WorldwideTravel, Experience, Conserve

Wildlife Worldwide is a brand of The Natural Travel Collection Ltd, Capitol House, 12-13 Bridge Street, Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 0HL, United Kingdom.

For your reassurance, we are members of ABTOT and ATOL (number 10544).