I know Costa Rica is known for protecting it's rain forests (since the 70s!) and for being and eco destination, but I also know it is a very tourist-heavy country. I expected to see development everywhere I went when in fact it has been quite the opposite.
Sure, towns like Santa Elena have grown a lot and I don't think I even want to see Tamarindo at this point, but the nature still dominates in a big way. You can drive for tens of miles in this country and see almost no development at all among the green thick-with-trees rolling hills.
Going for walks in forest trails or on local dirt roads, you go slowly. There's so much to see. You look down to see the leaf-cutter ants (don't step on their long trail through the brush!), you look to your sides to see flowers and butterflies, you look up for birds, monkeys, and sloths. I'm sure I've walked right past some amazing things and haven't even seen them!
Some of My Photo CapturesThis by no means covers even a portion of the diversity you'll find in Costa Rica, nor all the interesting plants and animals I've encountered, but it's a taste. Here are my photo-heavy posts:
Cool Insects I've Seen in Costa Rica
Cool Birds I've Seen in Costa Rica
Cool Animals I've Seen in Costa Rica
Cool Plants I've Seen in Costa Rica
Popular Costa Rican WildlifeBaird's Tapir
I have not personally seen any tapir, but we hung out with a guy who was studying them on the Osa Peninsula, tracking and tagging them.
Margay Cat, Ocelots and Jaguarundis
There are other cats in Costa Rica, too. Although still pretty illusive and difficult to come across in the wile, these are the most common.
Ooh, don't we love these but little guys! I have only seen a brown one and a red and blue one on the side of a path and it hopped away so quickly I almost wasn't sure I saw it!
There are butterflies all over this country. It's almost like a fairy-tale. But wait until you see a huge Blue Morpho cruise on by with its iridescent blue color and labored flutter. It's simply magical.
These are high on my favorites list. They're so interesting! Basically, the ants trek up to hundreds of feet from their nest and up a tree to cut off (huge in relation to their body size) pieces of leaves which they then haul back home in cleared leaf-cutter ant paths through the jungle. They then use the leaves to farm fungus that feeds the entire colony.
There's no way to cover all the unusual yet consistently creepy and/or gorgeous insects you might come across in Costa Rica. There have definitely been a few that have sent me straight back into the house, but otherwise they're so fascinating to look at.
The Rhino Beetles are strong and scary looking but they're actually a type of scarab and don't bite at all. People will pit two males against each other in a fight though as a sort of sport.
I had tons of these Spiny Orb Weaver spiders in my yard in Zancudo. They almost look like little crabs! The list goes on and on of the odd insects I've encountered here from stick bugs to colorful beetles to pretty damselflies.
See Cool Insects I've Seen in Costa Rica for more photos.
This bird, the national bird of Guatemala, is my chupacabra. I think I saw one once sitting on a sign as the bus sped past in Monteverde many years ago, but that's it.
Seeing these magnificent colorful normally-only-seen-in-captivity birds in the wild is just jaw dropping. They have been successfully reintroduces to southern Costa Rica and I saw them every day, multiple times a day from my house in Zancudo. You can't miss their loud, rather unpleasant cry as they fly from almond tree to almond tree, eating the nuts as they go. And wow, seeing a couple squabbling is also a gorgeous display!
Yep, also seen in the wild. I love this country! Of the 6 species in Costa Rica, I saw only the one but that satisfied the need for sure. Black (or Chestnut) -Mandibled Toucan is the larges and most common and is the type I have seen. The Keel-Billed Toucan is the one that's pictured most on souvenirs and such. Which kind is Toucan Sam you ask? Really none of the above as there is not a blue toucan with a rainbow bill. But the Keel-Billed Toucan is considered to be the Toucan Sam of the lot.
Like the insects, there's no end to the beautiful birds you will see here. I have never even been that into birds but I sure am here! I have seen green parrots, parakeets, different types of woodpeckers, hummingbirds, tanagers, and birds of prey to name a few.
See Cool Birds I've Seen in Costa Rica for more photos.
These monkey travel in troops and you'll never be sure which area they'll be going through. My second morning in Zancudo, a troop came through the yard and they certainly weren't timid! Like the ubiquitous Macaque monkeys in SE Asia, these monkeys can get quite aggressive. And don't stand underneath them, they will piss on you. :(
Wait until you hear these for the first time, usually as the sun is coming up. You'll understand what inspired Jurassic Park! They don't move around a whole lot like they Capuchins that jump around the trees so they are harder to spot. Their throaty howl can be heard for up to 3 miles!
Squirrel Monkeys and Spider Monkeys
I haven't seen these in Costa Rica but they are common in certain areas and parks here.
The Coatimundi and Agouti are pretty common in Costa Rica. I have seen quite a few of each but don't always have the camera ready. A huge coati cruised right on by my porch the other morning. The Coatimundi are the raccoons of Costa Rica. They'll get into anything and everything. The agouti are just big cute rodents. I have yet to see an armadillo here but I'm told they're around.
I was excited to try and spot my first sloth while I was here. I had no idea how much I would be enamored by them! They are just so cute and mellow and doing their own thing. You just need to keep looking up into the trees until you spot a furry blob up there sleeping. I've been lucky enough to see a couple of them moving around, too! On Playa Zancudo, I was told that at any given time, at least someone will have a sloth in their yard along the beach.
I keep hearing about big ole' boa constrictors (my neighbor even had one in her yard when I was there - like 8 feet long!) and beautiful green palm snakes, but I have yet to have one cross my path. Or so I am telling myself.
About other poisonous snakes, one local was telling me "The most poisonous sea snake has such a complicated mouth that it really can't bite you. The other ones like the pit vipers, yeah they can extend their mouth and get you but the anti-venom is available now so you usually survive. You just might lose most of the tissue on your limb." Okay, thanks for that!
From small to big, you'll see "jungle chickens" everywhere; usually running away from you. LOL
Jesus Christ Lizards
I just love these guys too! They have their nickname because they'll actually scamper across water - right on the top! I wanted so badly to catch one of these in action in a slo-motion video but it just didn't happen.
Yes, there are a lot of American Crocodiles here. They mostly keep to the rivers but sometimes are actually out in the sea. It's super rare that they would ever attack someone at the beach but it did happen once in the popular beach town of Tamarindo and it so much press that now everyone thinks that beach is dangerous. Want to see them at a safe distance? Check them out in Tarcoles. The Crocodile Bridge in Tarcoles - An Unexpected Tourist Attraction