Costa Ricaís evergreen forests and protected nature reserves provide the ideal environment for medium-sized mammals to mature and thrive with sloths, kinkajous, pacas, coatimundis and collared peccaries all known to inhabit areas of dense forest and river banks.

Often the more confident mammals will make their way into jungle lodge gardens to see what fruit is on offer, and although white-faced capuchins, squirrel and spider monkeys and the brazen white-nosed coati, may look kind of cute theyíre certainly not to be touched, fed or encouraged.

With tapirs, giant anteaters and jaguars occupying, often, unchartered territory donít expect to see every animal on the list but search with a sense of peace and be pleasantly surprised by all that you encounter.


Although many travelers come to Costa Rica in the hope of watching nesting leatherback, green sea and olive ridley turtles, there are numerous other reptiles that are just as worth keeping an eye out for. Lizards, including the largest on the continent, green iguanas, and the fastest on the planet, spiny-tailed iguanas, pose a real thrill when encountered on a jungle path especially when exceeding expectations in terms of size and vibrant skin colour. Other reptiles, best observed from a safe distance, include American crocodiles, spectacled caimans and several snakes, including fer-de-lance and eyelash palm pit vipers, all of which should not be approached but are rarely encountered, especially when heeding ranger and guide instructions.


Sweet, sticky fruit and equally delicious bugs combined with evergreen tree cover and an all-year-round tropical climate make Costa Rica ideal for native and migratory birds. Showing off their finest feathers always comes with the territory with blue-crowned motmots, great green and scarlet macaws, toucans and resplendent quetzals all vying for first place in a multicoloured plumage parade. Other notable species include three-wattled bellbirds, bare-necked umbrellabirds and the Montezuma oropendola which will often be heard first due to its distinctive, melodious warble. Migratory swallows, swifts, ducks and teals increase numbers around wetlands and inland lagoons whilst brown pelicans, petrels, terns, sandpipers and magnificent frigatebirds appear along the coast


Although frogs tend to dominate the amphibian scene in Costa Rica there are also several species of salamander as well as numerous toads including cane toads which will always stop you in your tracks and not just because of their record-breaking size. Some of the frogs are just out of this world with red-eyed tree, glass and blue jeans poison dart frogs standing out like fairy lights as they hang onto mossy tree stumps and search for fish-free pools and moist soil from where to lay their eggs.

The tale of the now extinct amphibian, the golden toad, is certainly one worth heeding because this species was once prevalent in Costa Ricaís highlands. So enjoy the chirruping chorus on a nocturnal nature trail but donít forget, what youíre hearing might not be far from sounding its last croak.


Before we tiptoe into the realm of arachnids, itís worth remembering that although you may come close to an array of weird and wonderful insects, bugs and bitey things, including scorpions, nine times out of ten you will not be in danger of anything worse than an irritating itch. Keep covered up the best you can, especially at night, and avoid leaving crumbs of food or windows open and lights on so as not to invite insects into your accommodation. Hercules beetles, leaf-cutter ants and masses of butterflies and moths provide a fascinating glimpse at life at the lower ends of the food chain and discovering defense mechanisms used by fire and bullet ants, mosquitoes, tarantulas and Brazilian wandering spiders (you donít want to know), are best learned through word-of-mouth rather than first-hand experience.
Photo credits: [Top box with quote: Roy Luck] [Mammals: Sean and Lauren] [Reptiles: Geoff Gallice] [Birds: C.P Ewing] [Amphibians: sdbeazley] [Creepy crawlies: Greg Gilbert]
Written by Chris Owen
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