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The Exotic Animals of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is an animal lovers paradise! Home to to over 500,000 different species, the country holds about four percent of all plant, insect, and wildlife in the world. Here’s a quick guide showing some of the animals you may encounter on your trip to Costa Rica.

Common Basilisk

Also known as the “Jesus Christ Lizard,” basilisks got their nickname for their ability to run on top of water without sinking. These fascinating lizards feed mostly on insects, but have been known to also feed on fallen fruit.


Crocodiles, along with the smaller caiman, reside in rivers, swamps, lagoons, small islands, and have been known to come up onto the beach every once in a while. Crocodiles can live up to 70 years, thanks to their incredible immune system, are extremely fast swimmers, and have the strongest bite of any animal. Crocodile bites are uncommon, but not unheard of, so be aware of your surrounds when near one of their preferred habitats.


Out of 300 species of hummingbird, Costa Rica is home to 51 of them...three times more than are found in America. These brightly colored birds are named for the noise their wings make as they fly. Some species of hummingbirds are so quick, they can fly at speeds faster than 33 miles per hour!

Humpback Whale

These gentle giants can be found in oceans all over the world during migration, but during the winter, they head toward the tropical waters of the south pacific to breeding and birthing. The Osa Peninsula is Costa Rica's most popular destination for whale watching. If you are in Costa Rica between August to October or December to April, you should add a tour to your itinerary. Some other whales which you may be lucky enough to see are, sperm whales, killer whales, and pilot whales (technically a dolphin).


Don’t be fooled by the ocelot’s sweet face. They are far from the cuddly house cats they look appear to be! Ocelots are one of the remaining three species of wild cats of Costa Rica. They are nocturnal animals, and hunt small deer, rodents, and reptiles. During the day, they can be found resting in trees, enjoying a life of solace.

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Masters of disguise, these arboreal frogs can be found in Costa Rica’s tropical lowlands. To hide, the red-eyed tree frog sits on a leaf with its legs tucked in and its eyes closed, then opens its eyes and leaps away when danger approaches. This defense technique usually scares predators away thanks to the brilliant explosion of color when the frog jumps.

Ring-Tailed Coati

These cute mammals can grow to about two feet long, with a tail just as long. They are found through most of Costa Rica, especially near the coast. They can also be found in the rainforest, dry forest, and cloud forest. Coatis are common in the wetlands of the country, too. Closely related to raccoons, coati use their long noses to find fruit, insects, scorpions, and spiders. Don't be surprised if you see a family of coati wandering around your resort. They are skittish so it's best to watch from a distance.

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet macaws, locally known as lapas, are a vibrant specieswith life expectancy of about 30 years in the wild. Their sharp beaks are used to crack open nuts and seeds, as well as to protect themselves against predators. The best places to view them are in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, and Carara National Park, just outside of Jaco.

Sea Turtle

Costa Rica boasts dozens of important nesting areas for sea turtles. Leatherback, hawksbill, green, loggerhead, and olive ridley species all nest in Costa Rica. It is also one of the world's most important nesting sites for green sea turtles, which can lay up to 700 eggs per season. Leatherbacks start the nesting season in March, followed by loggerheads and green sea turtles. Often, the only legal way to watch turtles nest is on an official tour so be sure to make arrangements through a national park or a trustworthy tour company.


Sloths are the world’s slowest mammals. They are so slow that algae grows on their fur, and its matted hair hosts communities of parasitic moths, mites, and green algae that help them remain camouflaged from jaguars and eagles. Costa Rica has two types of sloth: two-toed and three-toed. Aside from counting their little toes, you can tell a three-toed sloth by the unwavering smiles on their faces. Local guides may know where you can spot one of these little guys since they moves so slowly. Make sure to look up next time you are walking through Costa Rica's cloud forests and rainforests!

Baird's Tapir

The Baird's Tapir is one of four species of tapir living worldwide, and the only one found in Costa Rica. Often called “living fossils,” tapirs are one of the most primitive animals in the world. Their prehensile noses are great for use to grab fruit and, delightfully, as a snorkel while they’re swimming. Closely related to horses and rhinos, babies are born with stripes and spots which disappear as they get older.


Costa Rica is home to 6 species of toucans. Toucans are very social birds that occur in pairs or small flocks. Their beaks are light and can grow to over half the length of their body. Researchers have found the toucan's bill is used to regulate body temperature, among other things. As one of the loudest birds in the jungle, a toucan’s sound repertoire includes loud barks, bugling calls, and harsh croak sounds...and can be heard for half a mile!

White-Headed Capuchin

Capucin monkeys are tree-dwellers, traveling through forest canopies to find flowers, fruit, and insects. They are omnivores, so they will also eat small birds, arthropods, mollusks, and frogs. They help maintain the rainforest by inadvertently dispersing seeds and pollen as they eat and travel around in the trees. White-headed capuchins weigh between 2 and 3 pounds when fully grown, love to nap, and are highly intelligent.

White-Lipped Peccary

The white-lipped peccary is found in Corcovado National Park and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Yet another cute but deceptively aggressive animal, they are able to kill jaguars when defending themselves. Peccary are omnivores and tend to eat tubers, fruit, roots, grasses, and invertebrates. They tend to forage in the shade and near water since they cannot regulate their temperature well. If you smell something foul in the forest, look out for a herd of peccary!

There are just a few of the many animals you may encounter while in Costa Rica. I didn't even mention the massive iguanas that you will find sunbathing on walking paths, rocks, and trees! If you would like to go whale-watching or hiking through a cloud forest to search for some of these beautiful creatures, I am happy to set you up with a knowledgeable guide.

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