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10 Exotic Animals from Costa Rica

Posted by Katie on November 28, 2017
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Costa Rica is quickly becoming known as the most complete vacation spot on earth. This small Central American country truly has something for everyone. Vacationers flock to Costa Rica each year for anything from expensive luxury resort vacations to extreme sporting competitions. Families plan beach weekends, volunteering, and cultural education into one single trip and an increasing number of tourists chose to move back to this country full-time. While groups of tourists can plan different itineraries depending on their travel priorities, there’s always one goal that makes everyone’s list: see exotic animals. Regardless if you’re in Costa Rica for a business trip or a family vacation, you’re going to want to spot some tropical creatures. Costa Rica hosts over 4% of the entire world’s biodiversity, so there’s a good chance you’ll run into some unfamiliar animals. If animal watching is on your itinerary, put a bit of research into your animals of choice and know how to spot them. For beginner animal watchers, we suggest starting with these 10 wild and exotic animals from Costa Rica.

#1: Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan

The Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan is Costa Rica’s largest specie of toucans, and is easily visible by its multi-colored beak. It is a type of yellow-throated toucan that can grow up to 56 centimeters long. These birds fly in small flocks of 3 to 12, so if you find one, you can be sure the family is nearby. Feeding mostly on fruit, Chestnut-Mandibled toucans stop periodically for lizards, eggs, and frogs. Their large, curved, and multi-colored beak and red highlights have made this bird an emblem for tropical wildlife and the Central American ecosystems. These birds can be an exciting find and the perfect photo opportunity to capture your adventure in the tropics.

Where to find it

If you want to find Chestnut-Mandibled toucans in their natural habitat, you’ll sign up for a hike in the wet forest lowlands on the pacific side. If on the Caribbean side, the thick southern jungles will give you plenty of opportunities to find a flock.

#2: Mantled Howler Monkey

The long hairs around the main of this monkey species have earned it the name “mantled howler.” This is one of the largest monkeys in Central America and can weigh up to 22 pounds. As large, loud, and scary as these monkeys may be, they feed solely on leaves, leaving them with very little energy to do much more than nap around all day. If you find one mantled howler, you’ll easily spot 15 more, and more likely than not, they’ll all be napping.

Where to find it

These monkeys are actually a vital factor in protecting the rainforest ecosystem, as they act as natural germinators and seed dispersers. If you want to see one in person, you’ll need to take a long hike in the Manuel Antonio or Corcovado National Parks.

#3: Coati

Resembling a large, pointy-faced racoon, the coati is one of the most resistant and adaptable species in Central America. It can survive in high elevation and any type of densely wooded habitat. Resembling a racoon with a long-stripped tail and ringed eyes, this mammal actually avoids cities and human contact, preferring to rough it in the wild. They have strong jaws, sharp teeth, and no fear, so coatis should be observed at a distance whenever possible.

Where to find it

You actually may be among coati during your entire trip, but the best place to observe one in action would be in the Monteverde cloud forest. These animals can survive in any ecosystem from deserts to tropical rainforests, so keep your eyes open at all times.

#4: King Vulture

These extremely colorful vultures are easily distinguished from their mono-toned relatives. With a white chest and wings, blueish-black feathers, and a bright orange beak, the King Vulture is the last remaining member of its genus. It is a competitive scavenger and can grow a wingspan of 6 and a half feet across.

Where to find it

You most likely won’t make it 24 hours in Costa Rica before seeing a flock of vultures, with King vultures being a high possibility. They gather wherever there is prey, often along the highways, so keep your eyes open and you’re bound to run into a family of these giant birds sooner or later.

#5: Common Basilisk Lizard

The Common Basilisk Lizard strongly resembles a mini-dinosaur, with long back fins and saw-like teeth. Fortunately for humans, this lizard poses no threat. Adults can grow up to two and half feet long, although their tails make up around 75% of their length. This lizard is also known as the “Jesus Christ Lizard” for its ability to walk on water.

Where to find it

The Common Basilisk Lizard is very adaptable and can handle almost any altitude. For a better chance of spotting one, aim for the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge.

#6: Three-toed Sloth

Costa Rica is well known for being one of the easiest sloth-spotting destinations, and lovers of these strange mammals come for a chance to see one in action. The three-toed sloth has a course layer of hair, a brown stripe down each side of its body, and a permanently smiley face. They sleep for around 18 hours a day and only come down from the canopy of trees once a week. You’ll have to have patience to find one of these creatures, but if you spot one, you’ll have plenty of time to observe and take pictures.

Where to find it

While you may find a sloth in any part of the country, they typically stay in the jungle canopy. Try visiting the Limón province for some jungle hikes to catch one in action.

#7: Mexican Tree Frog

This nocturnal frog may not be difficult to find as it makes a very loud and unique sound. Indigenous to a large part of Central America, Mexican Tree Frogs are considered one of the more strongly surviving frog species in Costa Rica, totaling to about one third of the total frog population.

Where to find it

These frogs prefer to settle in lightly forested areas, including woods that lead to beach land, yet somehow find themselves gathering near community swimming pools as well. You most likely will get a glimpse of a couple frogs during your stay, and their large size may surprise you.

#8: Ocelot

These adorable kittens, also known as dwarf leopards, have beautiful, soft features but a purely wild attitude. They are around twice the size of an average house cat and have similar markings to a leopard, including on the face. Once threatened by a developing Costa Rica, actions have been taking to protect their existence. Ocelots are no longer seen as a threatened species. These incredible athletes grow up to 35 pounds yet stay incredible light on their feet, climbing trees and jumping from branches at lightening speeds.

Where to find it

These felines will show up in a couple of the national parks around you, but for the best views, try the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. You’ll need to look high and be very aware of slight movements if you want to catch one of these in action.

#9: Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

Known for their strange ability to morph, the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog changes from neon blue to red, green, and navy. Their color is vibrant and unmatched in nature, and their history of being used to make poisoned arrows is well-known.

Where to find it

This bright animal will be found mainly in the lowlands, around the wet jungles. You may also find these frogs in the humid Caribbean region. Be careful observing these frogs, these animals have more than earned their name.

#10: White Headed Capuchin Monkey

Many people come to Costa Rica specifically to see these small, clever animals. With the iconic black fur, white face, and inquisitive expression, these monkeys are known for their ability to use tools and steal what they want. They can live up to a surprising 54 years of age and live their entire lives in groups of 40 or more.

Where to find it

If you head to a mountainous jungle and stay in an eco-lodge, there’s always a possibility some curious monkeys will make their way to your balcony. If you don’t run into any on a hike, try the Corcovado National Park, you’re sure to find a crowd.