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  • Photograph of Resplendent Quetzal

    The aptly-named Resplendent Quetzal by Francesco Veronesi. A fabulous bird even though this particular individual does not have a full-length tail in which the central tail feathers may extend up to 65 cm (2 ft) beyond the rest of the tail!

    COSTA RICA

    Best Wildlife in Costa Rica

    Mammals
    Hoffmann's Two-toed and Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths, Central American Squirrel, Geoffroy's Spider, Mantled Howler and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, Humpback and Sperm Whales (both mostly Dec-Jan), White-nosed Coati, Collared and White-lipped Peccaries, Greater Bulldog (Fishing) Bat and Neotropical River Otter. Also a chance of West Indian Manatee, Baird's Tapir, Northern Tamandua, Silky Anteater, Nine-banded Armadillo, Bushy-tailed Olingo, Common Opossum, Kinkajou and Tayra.

    Birds
    Sunbittern, Scarlet Macaw, Keel-billed Toucan, Resplendent Quetzal, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-capped Manakin, Three-wattled Bellbird, Bare-necked Umrellabird, Lovely, Snowy, Turquoise and Yellow-billed Cotingas, seven trogons, nearly 50 hummingbirds, five mainland endemics; Mangrove Hummingbird, Coppery-headed Emerald, Grey-tailed (White-throated) Mountaingem, Cabanis's (Prevost's) Ground Sparrow and Black-cheeked Ant Tanager (three more occur on Cocos Island, 300 km (180 miles) offshore), and about 40 species in the eastern highlands shared only with western Panama including Black Guan, Baird's Trogon, Orange-collared Manakin, Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher, Flame-throated Warbler, Zeledonia and Golden-browed Chlorophonia, as well as Great Curassow, Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Booby, Brown Pelican, Anhinga, Bare-throated and Fasciated Tiger Herons, Boat-billed Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Jabiru, King Vulture, American Swallow-tailed Kite, Ornate Hawk Eagle, White Hawk, Collared Forest Falcon, Grey-necked Wood Rail, Sungrebe, Limpkin, Double-striped Thick-knee, Northern Jacana, pigeons and quail doves, parrots, Squirrel Cuckoo, Great Potoo, hummingbirds including Black-crested and White-crested Coquettes, Snowcap, Violet Sabrewing and Purple-crowned Fairy, trogons, motmots including Keel-billed and Tody, kingfishers, puffbirds, Red-headed Barbet, Emerald and Yellow-eared Toucanets, Collared Aracari, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, woodpeckers, woodcreepers, antbirds including Ocellated and Spotted, antthrushes, antpittas, flycatchers including Fork-tailed and Scissor-tailed (Nov-Mar), Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant (the smallest passerine bird in the world along with Short-tailed Pygmy Tyrant), Rufous Piha, manakins, Masked and Black-crowned Tityras, wrens, American Dipper, nightingale thrushes, Black-faced Solitaire, Tropical Parula, wintering warblers including Golden-winged and Blackburnian, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Green and Red-legged Honeycreepers, tanagers, and Chestnut-headed and Montezuma Oropendolas. Also a chance of Great Green Macaw, Agami Heron, tinamous, wood quails, owls including Black-and-white, Crested and Striped, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Lanceolated Monklet, White-faced Nunbird and Black-crowned Antpitta.

    Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish
    Whale Shark, Manta Ray (especially in Gulf of Papagayo, mainly Dec-Mar), Spectacled Caiman, American Crocodile, many amazing frogs including Glass Frogs, Red-eyed Tree Frog and Poison-dart Frogs, basilisk lizards, and Green (mostly Jul-Sep on Caribbean coast), Hawksbill (mostly Jul-Sep on Caribbean coast), Leatherback (mostly Nov-Feb on Pacific coast and Mar-May on Caribbean coast), Loggerhead (mostly Aug-Sep on Caribbean coast) and Olive Ridley (Jun-Dec, mostly Sep-Nov on Pacific coast) Turtles.

    Invertebrates
    Helicopter Damselflies (the largest dragonflies in the world), Hercules Beetle and many spectacular butterflies.

    Other Natural Wonders of Costa Rica

    Arenal Volcano One of the most consistently active volcanoes in the world, rising to 1657 m (5436 ft). Almost daily, lava and huge red-hot rocks tumble down the slopes and huge columns of ash rise from the crater.

    Best Sites for Wildlife in Costa Rica

    Best Times for Wildlife in Costa Rica

    Rain is possible all year round in the mountainous centre of the country and along the Caribbean coast but Costa Rica as a whole is usually less wet between December and April and most birds can be seen during this time, especially in the driest months of February and March which also fall within the periods when Resplendent Quetzal (Jan-Jul, especially Mar-Jun) and Three-wattled Bellbird (Mar-Jun) usually nest, although the peak time to see Bare-necked Umbrellabird at the lek is mid-April to mid-May.

    Many other resident birds nest in June-July and despite this period falling in the wetter season this is also a good time to look for the quetzal (although it loses its long tail streamers at this time of the year) and bellbird, when quetzals usually migrate down the Pacific slope into less dense forest at Monteverde (mostly in June) and bellbirds normally congregate on the same slope (mostly in July). July is also the best time to look for Snowcap, when this hummingbird descends to lowland Caribbean forest, where Bare-necked Umbrellabirds usually spend their non-breeding season (Jun-Mar).

    The best times to see turtles are July to December on the Pacific coast (when huge numbers of Olive Ridley Turtles usually come ashore around the last quarter of the moon each month, especially in September, October and November) and April to September on the Caribbean coast. The best time for whales is December and January.

    Recommended Books etc. for Costa Rica

    The Wildlife of Costa Rica: A Field Guide by F A Reid et al. Comstock, 2010.

    An Ecotraveller's Guide: Costa Rica by H Robinson. Arris Books, 2006.

    Travellers' Wildlife Guide: Costa Rica by L Beletsky. Arris Books, 2005.

    Helm Field Guides: Birds of Costa Rica by R Garrigues and R Dean. Helm, 2014 (Second Edition).

    An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by V Esquivel Soto. Incafo, 2008 (Second Edition).

    Where to watch Birds in Costa Rica by B Lawson. Helm, 2010.

    Mammals, Amphibians, and Reptiles of Costa Rica by C L Henderson. University of Texas Press, 2011.

    The Mammals of Costa Rica by M Wainwright. CUP, 2007.

    A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico by F A Reid. OUP, 2009 (Second Edition).

    Butterflies, Moths and Other Invertebrates of Costa Rica: A Field Guide by C L Henderson. University of Texas Press, 2010.

    A Swift Guide to the Butterflies of Mexico and Central America by J Glassberg. Sunstreak Books, 2007.

    National Audubon Society Field Guide to Tropical Marine Fishes by C L Smith. Alfred A Knopf, 1997.


    Apps etc.


    Costa Rica Birds Field Guide.

    Where to watch birds in Central America & the Caribbean by N Wheatley and D Brewer. Helm, 2001.

    Don’t know which country/countries/regions to visit in Central America? Then it may be worth considering taking a look at this book, written by this website’s author and David Brewer. It is many years old of course but it still provides a starting point, an overview and a guiding light to the best birds and the best places to look for them in the region, and could save hours of searching for similar information on the internet. However, it is important to check more up-to-date sources for sites which have been opened up, sites and species which have been discovered, lodges that have been built etc. since the book was published.

    Trip Reports for Costa Rica

    Many trip reports, some for Costa Rica, are posted on the websites listed here. On some of these websites some reports are independent and some are posted by tour companies who organize tours to Costa Rica. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites, which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Costa Rica' below.

    Local Guides and Tours in Costa Rica

    The costs of organized tours partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ. If you are travelling independently, employing such local guides will greatly increase your chances of seeing the wildlife you wish to see.

    Accommodation in Costa Rica

    Some Organized Tours to Costa Rica

    There are many tour companies who organize tours to see mammals, birds, other wildlife and other natural wonders. The cost of these tours vary considerably according to such variables as the airlines used, the number of days the tours last, the number of sites visited, the number of people in the group (an important consideration if you wish to see such wildlife as rainforest mammals and birds), the number of tour leaders, the standard of accommodation and transport, and the percentage profit the company hopes to make. Generally, where the number of days tours last and the number of sites visited are similar, the cheapest tours are those that use the cheapest airlines, accommodation and local transport, that have the largest groups with the least number of leaders, and that make the least amount of profit. The most expensive tours tend to be those which are exceptionally long, use the most expensive accommodation (ridiculously lavish in some cases, even for single nights) and which make the most profit. Some tour costs partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ.

    While tour companies organize tours with set itineraries many also organize custom tours for individuals and private groups who instead of taking a tour with a set itinerary want to follow their own itinerary to suit their own personal tastes, whether it be mammals, birds, other wildlife, other natural wonders or even man-made attractions, or a mixture of them all. Many organized tours with set itineraries are also fast-paced and target as many species as possible, whether they are mammals, birds or other wildlife or everything, which usually leaves little time to enjoy the best sites and individual species, but on a custom tour those taking part can specify the pace and the sites and species they wish to concentrate on. Custom tours also suit people who like to travel with people they already know, rather than with a group of strangers, and people with partners with different interests. Individuals and small groups will almost certainly have to pay more than the price of an organized tour with a set itinerary but a large group of friends may be able to travel for less than the price quoted for a set tour.

    Tour companies who run organized tours or can arrange custom tours to Costa Rica include the following.