A monkey leaping from tree to tree, baby sea turtles making a break for it, an anteater snoozing in the canopy tops, crabs that live in the rainforest and nearby jaguars marking their scent on forest paths. Yes, these are some of the cool, crazy and magnificent animals I saw on my recent trip to the king of ecotourism, Costa Rica.
It’s an absolute must-visit for wildlife enthusiasts, particularly bird lovers and fans of wildcats. I can’t quite describe the feeling of walking in the same spot an evasive jaguar roamed just a few short hours ago.
I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Osa Peninsula. National Geographic named it “the most biologically intense place on earth,” Home to the tallest canopy in central America, we were told by the conservationists at Osa Conservation that there are more biological interactions here than you would find in a tropical rainforest.
We also spent time in Selva Bananito wildlife reserve where we went on an epic rainforest trek which ended in going horseback riding – an incredible experience. I pretty much travelled all around the country, which mean I saw lots of different animals in contrasting environments.
If you choose your travel destinations based on how much wildlife there is to see, Costa Rica certainly has a lot to offer. Though spotting some of the animals in the wild can be tricky (don’t expect to see a Jaguar, even the conservationists only see them once every few years), there are some very cool creatures you can get (respectfully) close to.
Costa Rica Wildlife – Here are some of the coolest animals I saw in Costa Rica
Baby green sea turtles
Woah, this was far too much cuteness to take in. I felt honoured to be able to help the conservation team release baby green sea turtles (named after the colour of their skin) into the ocean. What a rush. We lay them down on the sand and watched them embark on the most epic journey of survival. They were in the hands of the ocean.
Just a day earlier I’d also helped move eggs from a dangerously located sea turtle nest to the hatchery. It’s no doubt one of the most memorable experiences of my life. These little hatchlings grow to 1.5 metres long and are an endangered species.
An injured baby sloth
Unfortunately during our trip we didn’t manage to see a sloth in the wild, but we did come across this poor fella at a wildlife sanctuary. I expected sloths to be pretty cool, but they were even more amazing in real life. I just *wish* we would have seen one bumbling about up a tree. You can’t help but instantly warm to them and feel admiration for these notoriously slow mammals. Costa Rica is home to two types of sloth, the brown throated sloth and the hoffman’s two toed sloth.
So we didn’t see a sloth up a tree, but guess who we did see taking a good old nap in between tree branches? A distant relative of the sloths, an anteater of all things! The guide said he’s probably just eaten and gone up the tree to have some much-needed post dinner down time. They are common in the rainforests (where we found this one), tropical dry forests and grasslands. Here’s a fun fact – in Spanish, the anteater is often described as ‘oso hormiguero’, which means ‘ant-eating bear’.
So, apparently in most other countries, spider monkeys, which are endangered, are really difficult to spot in the wild. So much so that wildlife experts sometimes spend years trying to see them in their natural habitat. But for some reason, they appear to be thriving in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. We saw them a few times, as well as white headed capuchins and howler monkeys (which, shock, make a lot of noise through the night).
Say what? A crab, in the forest? It was the strangest thing. He was sitting there on alert with his pincers out ready for battle. There were a few of them along our rainforest trek actually, and tons of holes along the path that they’d dug. They emerge from their holes underground at the started of the rainy season and live in the rainforests Central America as well as the coasts of Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Strawberry poison dart frog
You can’t help but be impressed by these minuscule (1 inch long) but amazing amphibians. They really stand out amongst the brown and green hues of the rainforest. You can easily spot them in all their vibrant red glory. As these bad boys are in fact poisonous, it’s best to take the look but don’t touch approach. Their names comes from Native Americans using secretions from their skin to poison their blow darts.
I found these bird particularly fascinating, they were definitely my favourite bird species from the trip, and there were some great contenders (a.k.a the Toucan and the Scarlet Macaw). Hummingbirds are so small that they almost don’t look like birds, you could be forgiven for mistaking one for a large insect. The way the colours on their feathers dazzles in the sunlight is mesmerising. You can see them quite easily around Costa Rica, but getting a decent picture is challenging.
Giant blue morpho butterfly
These were like something out of a fairytale. I found myself following after them in a bit of a trance. They don’t seem to settle in one spot as often as most butterflies do, and appear to be constantly on the move, which makes it hard to get close to them. If heaven is a real thing, I’d expect blue morpho butterflies to be flying around up there. They are such a bright and pretty blue and really add a splash of magic to the rainforest.
Why have you added a pig to your list of Costa Rica’s coolest creatures I hear you ask? Well, firstly, because pigs are cool. And secondly because the one I met in the rescue centre had such a big personality. Oh, and he was best buds with the resident dog. True story. So yeah, that’s why the collared peccary deserves a mention. It’s a shame I didn’t see any in the wild. But the chances are if you’re near these in the wild, predators such as pumas and other wildcats might also be in the vicinity.
Black spiny-tailed iguana
One day I was just chilling out in an infinity pool at a hotel in Manuel Antonio park, blissfully unaware that an iguana had stopped by. Then I spotted him on the edge of the pool and he walked all the way along the front of the pool as if masquerading how effortlessly cool he was, before sunbathing for a bit, and disappearing into the undergrowth.
So apparently these guys are actually very common in Costa Rica, and are even seen as pests by the locals. To Costa Ricans, seeing a coatimundi is probably like us seeing a squirrel in our backyard. But when I saw one bumbling about on a football pitch near the forest, I couldn’t help but fall under its spell. I’m not surprised to learn they are a member of the raccoon family and they live both on the ground and in the trees. They’re quite odd looking mammals which just adds to their appeal in my opinion.
The most wildlife I’ve seen on a trip so far…
Most of the animals we saw were in the Osa Peninsula. If you are heading to Costa Rica and you’ve got an interest in wildlife and conservation, you don’t want to miss out on seeing this place. Whether you are planning a holiday or a longer visit, planning ahead is a great idea. Take a look at this 10-day itinerary in Costa Rica to help you make the most of your trip. From the capital San Jose to the Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica has so much to offer.
There may be, or should I say definitely are other cool and amazing animals that reside in Costa Rica – but these are the ones I was lucky enough to see. So I can say first hand they really are fantastic in real life. If you want to learn more about Costa Rica’s wildlife, well, you’ll just have to visit and see for yourself.
A few of the animals I didn’t manage to see that I really wanted to catch a glimpse of included the American Crocodile, the Ocelot which is a wildcat, Baird’s tapir and the red panda. So I’ll save those animals for next time.