We decided to dedicate a whole article and create a COSTA RICA WILDLIFE CALENDAR to help you chose what time of the year to visit Costa Rica, if you are looking to spot a specific animal.
Costa Rica host 5% of the world’s biodiversity.
With nearly 30% of the country dedicated as national parks and wildlife reserves, wildlife abounds in Costa Rica.
Iconic species include howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, blue morpho butterflies, three-toed sloths and humpback whales. No need for binoculars here – Costa Rica’s wildlife is ubiquitous!
Click on the list to skip to the section:
Humpback whales are the most common whales in Costa Rica because it has the longest humpback whale viewing season in the world. Both the Antarctica and Alaska humpback whales overlap for a period of time in Costa Rica during their migration.
BEST TIME TO SEE WHALES IN COSTA RICA
Antarctica humpback whales: July to November
California humpback whales: December to April
North Atlantic humpback whales: December to March
In the months of Oct to Nov, the early birds and late risers overlap. August and September are the best months to see humpback whales in Costa Rica as they are very common all up and down the Pacific coast.
BEST PLACES TO WHALE WATCHING IN COSTA RICA
Drake Bay: Drake Bay is one of the most isolated places in Costa Rica and has excellent whale watching opportunities.
Marino Ballena National Park: There’s a reason why this is called the Whale National Park, this is one of the best places to see humpback whales!
Golfito: Humpback whales come to the Golfo Dulce bay from July to October to give birth and breed their calves, so Golfito is the ultimate place to spot humpback whales in Costa Rica.
The best place to see dolphins & whales in Costa Rica is the Golfo Dulce, but you can spot them almost everywhere in the country pacific coast.
Most of the Dolphins you can spot here are residents in Costa Rica, so you can spot them year round.
Possibilities to spot dolphins on a dolphin tour in Costa Rica are incredible high!
You can see sea turtles on both the Caribbean and Pacific, some turtles are present all year long.
- Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback sea turtle and Pacific Green sea turtle: all year long
- Leatherback sea turtles: Feb to July
- Atlantic green sea turtles: June to Nov
The best time of year to see turtles in Costa Rica is the rainy season or July – December. This is when the mass gatherings are the most intense.
The best time to come see the turtles on shore is during Arribadas (synchronized mass gathering of turtles). It is appropriately named because during this period of time you can see up to ten thousands turtles coming to the beach to nest at once. They come 24/7, even during the day!
This happens in only a few places in the world, with 2 of them in Costa Rica: Ostional and Playa Naranjo for the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles.
TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK TOURS
Best places in Costa Rica to see sea turtles are:
- Las Baulas National Park: This national park was established in 1990 to protect turtles from poachers. You can see them on Playa Grande in Oct – May laying their eggs. You have to reserve in advance for a spot and it is for turtle viewing only.
- Tortuguero: This national park is in the Caribbean North. It is one of the most important endangered green turtle nesting sites in the Western Hemisphere. Turtles come here from the months of July to October to lay their eggs. In November, you can see babies hatching.
- Santa Rosa National Park: Naranjo and Nancite, two beaches in the park are very mportant for sea turtle nesting. It is difficult to visit this national park since the road is in extremely bad condition and is usually closed off in rainy season.
- Ostional Wildlife Refuge: This refuge is one of the most important places for turtles in Costa Rica, specifically the Olive Ridley turtle.
- Gulf of Papagayo: It is common during July – September to see turtles mating in the water. Mostly Olive Ridley sea turtles as they then nest in Playa Naranjo or Ostional.
- Caño Island: It is common to see turtles, particularly juveniles at Caño Island and you can snorkel with them.
- Osa Peninsula and Corcovado: Many of the beaches are nesting sites for 3 species of turtles.
- Montezuma: The Atlantic Riley turtle lays their eggs on this beach. The local community does baby sea turtle releases in February.
- Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge: Located on the south Caribbean coast. Leatherback turtles nest here from March – May.
- Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge: Although this is a popular surfing beach, it’s also part of the Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge. During rainy season, up to 40 turtles nest per night.
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Sloths are plentiful throughout Costa Rica but may be difficult to spot to the untrained eye. A professional naturalist guide can help point them out. As a general rule, the further south you go along the Pacific coast, the more likely you are to see wildlife as the concentrations are higher. The South Pacific and Osa Peninsula are prime wildlife watching destinations.
WHICH SLOTH SPECIES LIVE IN COSTA RICA?
There are six sloth species in the world, and two types of sloths: two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths.
Two of the six sloth species live in Costa Rica:
- Hoffman’s Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus Hoffmanni): It’s nocturnal and much more difficult to find. If you do find them during the day, they’ll probably be napping.
- Brown-throated Sloth (Bradypus Variegatus):The most common three-toed sloth in the world is the diurnal Brown-throated sloth. They are a bit smaller in size than Hoffman’s sloth as they slightly more active.
BEST TIME TO SEE SLOTHS IN COSTA RICA
All year long.
BEST PLACES TO SEE SLOTHS IN COSTA RICA
The best places in Costa Rica to see sloths are Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo, Tortuguero, Dominical, Uvita, La Fortuna and the Osa Peninsula. They are abundant in more humid areas since the forests are green all year long so they always have food.
However, they are not common in Guanacaste where it is very dry. If you are in Guanacaste/Puntarenas (Tamarindo/Coco/Samara/Montezuma/Santa Teresa) and want to see a sloth, you will need to travel to the rainforest or visit an animal sanctuary.
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Four different species of monkeys are in Costa Rica: White-face Capuchin monkeys, Howler monkeys, Squirrel monkeys and Spider monkeys.
The Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park is the only place where you can find all four species of monkeys.
Squirrel monkeys are only found in the southern part of Costa Rica such as Corcovado and Manuel Antonio National Park.
Howlers and white face monkeys can be seen all throughout Costa Rica. In particular, howlers are especially common in Guanacaste.
Spider monkeys are more common in the Osa Peninsula but can also be seen in Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Guanacaste.
Best time to see monkeys in Costa Rica is all year long.
If you want to spot monkeys in their natural habitat you should book a tour with a tourist guide that knows the area and will help you spot them on the trees.
6 different species of toucans are found in the rain forests of Costa Rica. The Black-mandibled toucan is the largest of the six and all can be seen in the tropical and subtropical forests.
Best time to see Toucans in Costa Rica
All year long but best during rainy season when the fruits they like are in season. Sometimes you can see up to 10 or more toucans in one tree!
Best places in Costa Rica to see Toucans
You can’t see all 6 toucans in one place in Costa Rica, but you can see up to 3 in one.
In Monteverde, you can see the Emerald Toucanet, Keel billed and Black Mandibled Toucan.
In Manuel Antonio and Osa Peninsula you can see the Black Mandible and Fiery Aracari .
In La Fortuna you can see the Black Mandibled, Keel-billed and the Collared Aracari.
It is very hard to see the Yellow-eared toucanet though.
Some other excellent places to see toucans in Costa Rica are Puerto Viejo, Tortuguero, Poas, Uvita, Boca Tapada, Osa Peninsula and Bijagua.