Costa Rica Wildlife: Refuges/Sanctuaries & Best Places/Times to See the Animals

As you write down the itinerary to travel in Costa Rica, from beach time to the Volcano to the cloud forest, the kids chime in and say they want to meet “Flash Slothmore.” You give them confused dog tilt looks and start laughing. Flash is the character from Zootopia, and you said to them, “Yes, we need to find “Flash.”

There are more animals than the three-toed sloth in Costa Rica. Today, we want to share some of the animals to watch for and the animal sanctuaries to see up close and personal.

Are you ready to learn more about our animals in Costa Rica?

How many types/species of wildlife are there in Costa Rica?

With over 500,000 species of animals, Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries with protected jungles and rainforests. And while we will not provide the 500,000 species to you, let’s discuss some animals that the family may be craving to see during your trip to Costa Rica.

Sloths (Two-toed and three-toed): Pura Vida is the culture in Costa Rica, and one of the best animals in Costa Rica lives that quote to the fullest, the three-toed sloth. With the sloth being one of the slowest animals globally, the algae from the trees that they live in will help them stay camouflaged from predators. Sloths are known to sleep 15 – 20 hours a day, so they may be hard to spot, but we can help you.


Whales: Visitors and locals will see whales off the Costa Rican coasts, from the beautiful singing Humpback Whales to blue whales and pilot whales.

Humpback Whale in Costa Rica

Scarlet Macaws: Do you know that Macaws can live up to 60 years old? The scarlet macaws are blue, yellow, and red parrots found in Central and South America. Unfortunately, some macaws have suffered local extinction due to parrot training.

Scarlet Macaw in Costa Rica

Turtles: From Loggerhead to Green Sea Turtles to Olive Ridley turtles, the circle of life is incredible, from Momma laying the eggs to the babies hatching. Check out the blog that we wrote about turtles.

Leatherback Sea Turtle in Costa Rica

Coati: Coati, or the locals, call them “Pizotes.” These little guys remind us of the raccoons of North America, as they are part of the raccoon family. They walk along the roads, gather food, or in parks with their long tails and pointed snouts.

Coati in Costa Rica

Howler Monkeys: There are four different types of monkey species in Costa Rica, but if you are lucky enough, the monkeys will be your alarm clock when you are in the jungle. The sounds of the monkeys can travel up to a mile through the jungle.

Howler Monkey in Costa Rica

Crocodiles: Do you know the difference between a crocodile and an alligator? Alligators are dark green or black, have a u-shaped snout, and are smaller than crocs. Crocs, not the shoes, are more significant, have a v-shaped snout, and are much more aggressive. So, yes, Costa Rica has crocodiles.

Crocodile in Costa Rica

Blue Morpho Butterfly: One of the most beautiful butterflies but sometimes the hardest to find. The blue morpho is also one of the largest butterflies, with a five to eight-inch wingspan.

Blue Morpho Butterfly in Costa Rica

Where is the best place to see wildlife in Costa Rica?

As we would love to provide details on visiting the 500,000 species of animals in Costa Rica, we decided to break down the ones we discussed above to share with you where you can see them with the family out in the wild.

Please remember that with animals in the wild, you are not guaranteed not to see them, AND we do ask that you do not bother them, as this is their environment.

Sloths (Two-toed and three-toed): Sloths are very hard to spot as they are known to sleep 15-20 hours a day. A three-toed sloth, you will most likely see out and about during the day. But if you want to see a two-toed sloth, book a night hiking tour with a guide.

Whales: Take a boat ride or dolphin tour along the Pacific Coast to potentially see the whales along the Southern Coast and the Osa Peninsula.

Scarlet Macaws: Visitors of Costa Rica see these beautiful red and bright parrots on the Pacific side, Guanacaste areas, of Costa Rica. One of the best places to see the scarlet macaws is Carara National Park, about an hour from the San Jose Airport. Also, check out the Osa Peninsula as well. One of our authors has seen some in the trees at Playa Carrillo.

Turtles: You can see turtles on the Pacific Coast and the Caribbean. There are a couple of places that you can check out if you want to see the turtles. You can see the Olive Ridley turtles at Ostonial Wildlife Refuge and Santa Rosa National Park if you head to the Pacific Coast. Then, go check out Playa Nancite and loggerhead sea turtles in Tortuguero.

Coati: These raccoon-like creatures are usually sighted in the tropical rainforest of Manuel Antonio National Park, around town in Nosara, along the highways of Costa Rica, near Arenal Volcano and the mangrove estuaries of Cahuita National Park. They are getting used to humans feeding them; be mindful that they can get aggressive and beg for food.

Howler Monkeys: You can see monkeys up and down both coasts, just like the turtles; heck, you can walk into town at Nosara and see them hanging around Playa Guiones. One of the most well-known destinations is Manuel Antonio National Park. If you go, be careful of your belongings and your snacks. The monkeys like to “monkey-around.” You may not get that new phone back.

Crocodiles: Visitors will see The American Crocodiles in rivers and lakes around Costa Rica. Stop at the Famous Tarcoles River, also known as the “Crocodile Bridge,” we highly recommend it if you have a chance.

Blue Morpho Butterfly: Since their life span is only 115 days, these butterflies are in the forest, but if they need to get some warmth, you will see them in the sunlight. It is best to see these beauties in the rainforest, such as Manuel Antonio, the Osa Peninsula, Monteverde, and Tortuguero.

When is the best time to see wildlife in Costa Rica?

Instead of breaking down the animals for the section, let’s break down the “three” seasons that Costa Rica will see: the dry season from December to April, the rainy season from May to October, and if you can see animals any time of the year, you will see a note on that.

  • Dry Season: California Humpback, Turtles, in December.
  • Rainy Season: Antarctic Humpback Whales, Turtles in September, Blue Morpho Butterfly(June to November).
  • Any time of the Year: Coati, Monkeys, Crocodiles, Sloths, Scarlet Macaws (Early morning or around sunset).

What are the best Wildlife Sanctuaries & Refugees in Costa Rica?

We realize that your time may be limited when traveling around Costa Rica to see some wildlife. While we understand that it isn’t guaranteed to see sloths or macaws in the wild, we want to provide places where you can see them up close and personal.

  • The Sloth Institute: Heading to Manuel Antonio? We highly recommend heading to the Sloth Institute. “The Sloth Institute (TSI) ‘s ‘s mission is to enhance and expand the welfare and conservation of sloths.”
  • Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary: Located in Dominical, you can sign up for a guided tour in Spanish or English, and you can see a wide variety of animals: monkeys, a two-toed sloth, parrots, macaws, and toucans!
  • Sibu Sanctuary: You can check out the Sibu Sanctuary in Nosara. You will see some Howler Monkeys and White Faced monkeys, a Coati, and an anteater.
  • NATUWA: This is the Scarlett Macaw Sancturary located in Aranjuez of Puntarenas. A bird lover’s dream as you will see plenty of macaws.

How to plan a trip to see wildlife in Costa Rica?

Here is a quick trip to help you see some wildlife, rainforest, a volcano, and some beach time during your stay in Costa Rica:

San Jose Airport Adventures:

  • Head to Manuel Antonio, as you will see beaches, Whale Tours, and The Sloth Institute.
  • In Manuel Antonio, you can head to Manuel Antonio National Park, where you will see animals and maybe grab a guided tour.
  • If you want to head south for a day trip, head to Dominical for the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • Head north before you fly out to the Paos Volcano National Park. You will not be disappointed.

Liberia Airport Adventures:

  • Head to Arenal Volcano for some cooler temperatures and some adventures. You may see monkeys, tapir, plenty of birds, and maybe a jaguar.
  • After spending some time at the Volcano, it is time to head over to the beach, whether at Ostonial Wildlife Refuge or Santa Rosa National Park. You can catch a wave, take a turtle tour and enjoy some downtime with the family.
  • If you want to travel a tad south, head to Nosara to check out the Sanctuary, the wild Howler Monkeys, and catch a wave and a surf lesson at Playa Guiones.

Let us Help You See Wildlife in Costa Rica!

We are here to make it easier for you in your Costa Rican adventures. We can give you a pre-designed plan or customize it for you and the family; if those kids are adamant about finding Flash Slothmore, we can make that happen.

  • Planning Tip: Please include your phone number. We want to respect your time. A quick phone call is a mutually beneficial way to start planning your dream trip to Costa Rica!

  • Please tell us how we can help you plan a trip to Costa Rica. Our trips start at $1,725 per adult, which includes your lodging, in-country transportation, and many of your activities and meals.
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