Costa Rica wildlife best time to go

Best time to go on a wildlife vacation to Costa Rica


Late Dec-April are the best time to go on a wildlife vacation to Costa Rica as they are the driest and sunniest months – plus you’ll escape the northern winter. However, rainforest and cloud forest were named for a reason; downpours can occur at any time. Rains in Sep-Nov are the most disruptive, especially around the Osa Peninsula which may see road closures in Oct-Nov. Most wildlife is present year round. In Tortuguero, turtles nest from July-Oct (peaking in Aug), with leatherbacks nesting Feb-April. In Ostional, the huge olive ridley turtle arribada can be witnessed Aug-Dec.

Things to do on a wildlife vacation in Costa Rica…

If anyone knows how to do ecolodges, it’s Costa Rica. Striking the perfect balance between rustic and comfort, staying in the cloud forest, rainforest or on the coast in one of these environmentally conscious cabins is perfect for those who want their wilderness with a side of WiFi. Many generate their own renewable energy (solar, hydro), and serve locally-sourced food; as Costa Rica grows tropical fruit, coffee and – yes! – chocolate, this is something to savour indeed. You’ll also be closer to the wildlife: awake each morning to the sound of howler monkeys, watch birds from your porch, and dine to the sound of cicadas at dusk.
They say you should never work with animals or children – but Costa Rica does both happily. It’s fantastically easy to travel here as a family, with great infrastructure and family-friendly lodges, plus bilingual guides who turn the forest into a giant, thrilling classroom. The more developed Monteverde and Tortuguero are fab for those with younger children – or less keen on wilderness. Plus, it’s an easy self-drive destination – great for toilet stops, and packing plenty of toys.
Spending a couple of nights in each location is a good rule of thumb anywhere – but particularly important on a wildlife vacation in Costa Rica. The forests come alive at dusk and dawn, so daytrippers miss out on the morning birdsong and the impossibly raucous sunsets. Turtles, too, nest at nighttime – so adjust your body clock to become more in tune with nature!

Things not to do on a wildlife vacation in Costa Rica…

You may be here for the sloths and sea turtles – but don’t overlook the local people that live alongside – and protect – this incredible biodiversity. Ticos – as Costa Ricans call themselves – may lack the easily recognisable culture of Mexico or South American nations – but the Afro-Costa Rican people of the Caribbean coast, the indigenous Bribri and Boruca villages of the southern provinces and the artsy, quirky, contemporary culture of the cities are all well worth getting to know.
It should go without saying, really, but – never buy items made from endangered species. This includes tortoiseshell (made from the shells of sea turtles), feathers and furs. As well as being terrible for the environment, you could get a nasty surprise when you try and carry them through customs.
Costa Rica may feel like a giant wildlife park at times, but “wildlife” is called that for a reason: it is wild, and its natural behaviour should remain as undisturbed as possible. This means no feeding monkeys, no encouraging your boat driver to chase dolphins, and no obstructing turtles who come to nest on twilit beaches. It may seem like fun – but interfering with the wildlife can alter its natural behaviour forever.

Costa Rica wildlife travel advice


Walking shoes or trainers?

Natasha Preston, from our supplier Exodus, shares her Costa Rica wildlife vacations advice: “I was impressed at how well the national parks were all geared up with very good trails. I did take my walking boots, but I didn’t have to wear them all the time. Sturdy footwear is a good idea for ankle support as some parts are uneven and there are tree roots, but I was surprised how good the paths and trails were, I was expecting it to be a lot more off-road, and the trekking would be a lot more difficult, but none of the walks were too challenging. But walking trainers or shoes are a good idea.”

Tips on the best time to go

David Orrock, from our supplier Pura Aventura, shares his advice on the best time to visit Costa Rica: “It’s hard to advise when to go because one of the things that makes Costa Rica so amazing is the insane amount of microclimates and ecosystems. I wouldn’t advise someone not to go in the rainy season – because that covers seven months of the year! It’s known as the “green season” so you’ll see some rain but being a tropical country there’s always that chance in Costa Rica anyway. We take families in July and August but we don’t hear that they’ve had any issues.”

Family travel advice

Tenille Moore, from our supplier Geodyssey, recommends Costa Rica for a family wildlife vacation: “It’s a really, really popular family destination. There are excellent guides, the place is very accommodating for kids. And the kinds of interaction they can have with the wildlife – it’s up close and personal. It’s not like the Galapagos, but a lot of lodges will have butterfly gardens, for example. Or maybe some kind of veg patch, so things that kids can get involved in. There’s also lots of fun activities – so for older kids there’s ziplining, boat tours, watching turtles nest. Also you don’t really need any vaccinations. You have to be up to date with the typical ones, but there’s no Yellow Fever, and you are unlikely to need anti malarials.”

Packing tips

Natasha Preston, from our supplier Exodus: “Even though the rainforest is hot with tropical temperatures, it’s a good idea to take waterproofs as it can rain at any time in short, sharp showers – there’s the rainy season and the rainier season! In the cloud forest it’s a good idea to take a waterproof jacket too, but I also used my fleece a couple of nights after about 8pm. It’s not cold, but especially when it’s been so hot during the day, you notice the drop in temperature. So it is cooler, but you have a relief from the mosquitoes and not needing to be covered in repellent; it’s a bit more comfortable and you can sleep.”

Costa Rica wildlife travel advice


At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Costa Rica wildlife vacations travel advice that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation - and the space inside your suitcase.
“Add in time to relax at each destination as well as booking all the tours... we had at least 3 days in each main location with 2 days of activities and one to enjoy the hotel and surroundings.. and this worked really well, you could settle into the place and it meant a vacation with a fab mix of adventure and relaxation. Most people we met only had 2 nights and it seemed a bit rushed.”Adele Burrow

“It is much easier to see wildlife in the rainforests when you are with a local guide. Make sure you do at least one forest night walk - it's a different world at night. Take a good pair of binoculars for everyone in the party. As one guide said ‘we promised you wildlife, we didn't promise it would be very close!’”Simon Andrewes

“Bring thin cotton shirts or tops that dry fast because you will sweat bucketloads, wherever you are; a telescopic umbrella is much more effective for keeping tropical downpours off than rain jackets, and doubles as a sunshade when needed; Vegetarians will have no trouble finding lots of excellent food.”Kate Macdonald

"Costa Rica is a small country, but has a tremendous amount to offer. It would be impossible to experience it all in one trip. You need to decide exactly what you want to get out of the vacation and then be ruthless about the itinerary... 3 centres in a fortnight was great for us; more would have been a rush."David Oakley

“I was very impressed on how clean Costa Rica was, everything gets recycled! It was great to see all the work being done in the national parks and conservation areas in respect to sustainability. EcoTourism is the major employer in Cost Rica and the people are so happy to greet you, help you and give you a perspective on their country. We felt completely safe in their hands as the level of safety in respect to all the activities we did was extremely high. They are concerned to make sure that no one gets hurt and that you end up leaving Costa Rica with perfect memories.”Charles Czajkowski
Photo credits: [Temp chart: Paul Kehrer] [Walking shoes or trainers?: Christian Haugen] [Family travel advice: Roy Luck] [Review 1 - Lynne Clayton: Coral Blanche Hummer] [Review 2 - Hilary Mackintosh: Wagner T.Cassimiro "Aranha"]
Written by Vicki Brown
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