The wonders of Costa Rica's wildlife
By Martha Hales
If you love nature, you’ll adore Costa Rica. This is a nation that puts environmental concerns at the top of its list of priorities, and it is the clear front-runner in the field of sustainable tourism and habitat conservation, and goes to extraordinary and exemplary lengths to safeguard the future of its amazing wildlife. An inspiring 25% of its territory is protected by law - contained within almost 200 national parks, reserves and refuges - making Costa Rica the top ranked country globally for percentage of landmass protected.
Costa Rica is a petite country, and though it only covers 0.01% of the global landmass, it is host to 5% of our total planetary biodiversity, including 250 species of mammals, 850 different kinds of birds, 250,000 distinct insects and more than 400 species of reptiles and amphibians.
This diminutive tropical gem is a rainforest nature documentary made real, bursting with tiny hummingbirds in jewel colours, raucous primates racing through the canopy, beautiful flowering plants and a mind bending array of insects.
Beyond wildlife watching Costa Rica is packed with appeal, so when you have seen enough dazzling displays of natural splendour why not make time for a volcano hike, some beach time, adventure sports or a soak in the hot springs. After all, there are few destinations where you can experience the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, cloud forests and rainforests, mangroves and volcanoes all just a short hop apart.
We’ve put together this bite-size guide to some of Costa Rica’s best known wildlife, so you can get an idea of just how incredible the biodiversity really is.
So many birds, so little time! There are a huge variety of birds which are permanent residents of Costa Rica, and due to its location on the land bridge between tropical and temperate zones, it also hosts hundreds of species of migratory birds. Look out for exotic and colourful kinds such as the famous resplendent quetzal, the rainbow toucan and scarlet macaw.
More than 50 species of hummingbird can be spotted in Costa Rica, four of which are endemic and all of which are mesmerising with their sparkling plumage and rapid wingbeats.
Amongst the most notable of Costa Rica’s mammals are the four species of monkey which can frequently be seen and heard screeching through the canopy of the forests around Costa Rica - the Central American squirrel monkey, Panamanian white-faced capucin, the mantled howler monkey and Geoffroy's spider monkey.
Rarely sighted but often leaving traces of their existence are six species of big cats including pumas and jaguars, all endangered and all avoid human contact where possible. More likely sightings are sloths, tapirs and anteaters plus a varied roster of rodent species. More than half the number of mammals in Costa Rica are bats, and there are more than 100 species present.
Turtles, frogs, snakes and lizards are commonly spotted in Costa Rica, and it would be a rare trip which didn’t come across numerous colourful frogs and iguanas at the very least. There may be high numbers of snakes in Costa Rica, but they are much less easily sighted, partly due to their camouflage and partly because they are mostly nocturnal and easily scared away.
Crocodiles and caimans are another genre of reptile which can often be seen if you are in or around waterways. Their fascinating prehistoric appearance may tempt you for a closer look, but beware - these animals are truly dangerous so keep your distance. Turtles are the star of the show in the Tortuguero National Park, so in season the nesting and hatching is a sight to behold.
Among the estimated 250,000 species of insects in Costa Rica, butterflies are the most celebrated and very visible. Some experts say that 20% of the world’s total butterfly population is located in this one small country, and at times, when you are surrounded by the colourful flutter of delicate wings, it certainly seems that way.
They might not be the prime reason most people visit Costa Rica, but spiders are extremely numerous everywhere. There are thought to be around 20,000 different species, and the vast majority are harmless. Bugs and beetles are incredibly numerous and important members of the ecosystem, but the most dominant insect of all is the ant. It is claimed that in a single hectare of rainforest you will find an average of 9 million ants.
With more than 2,000 species of trees found in the various climatic zones in Costa Rica, a stroll in the forest becomes an immersive botany lesson. Species to look out for include the distinctive dome shaped Guanacaste Tree (the national tree of Costa Rica), the ceiba tree (often used when planting for reforestation as it grows very rapidly); plus cedar, almond and palm trees which are present throughout the country.
Notable flowering plants that are native to Costa Rica include heliconias - you’ll see them growing wild all over the land, and with luck there could be a hummingbird feeding on the nectar of the plant's colourful flowers. Orchids are another group of wild flowers found all over Costa Rica, and there are more than 1,000 separate species present.
Make it happen
This little introduction to Costa Rica’s wildlife is simply a taster of what you can experience in this remarkable, conservation-focused destination. Our handpicked local experts have incredible knowledge of the wildlife experiences on offer to visitors, and can shape your bespoke itinerary accordingly. Get in touch with them to let them know what your dream Costa Rica trip would involve and they will get to work making it happen. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.