Costa Rica may be known for its perfect beaches and sunny climate, but the wildlife is even more remarkable in the Central American nation. Despite being only the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica is home to more than 500,000 different species, making up an astounding 4% of all the plant, insect and wildlife species on the entire Earth!
Today, I wanted to introduce you to some of the cool, cute, and even cuddly animals and species that you'll encounter in Costa Rica!
The three-toed sloth
Costa Rica may be best known for its exotic and unique animals like the Three-Toed Sloth. As you might guess, these jungle dwellers are incredibly slow on land (but good swimmers) and lazy (they sleep 16-18 hours a day), living high up in the canopy and descending only once a week to go to the bathroom! In fact, these sloths dig a hole in the ground with their stubby tails, go to the bathroom in the hole, and then cover it up with leaves using its hind legs.
Interestingly, they are homebodies, spending about 20% of their life in the same tree and never venturing too far.
Sea turtles can be found in many parts of the world, but Costa Rica boasts the greatest concentration and variety of any nation. In fact, five of the seven species of sea turtles nest on the beaches of the Central American nation, where you can find leatherbacks, green, loggerhead, and hawksbill. But the most famous of Costa Rican sea turtles if the olive ridley, also called the arribada, which is Spanish for “arrival by sea.”
An incredible natural ritual that’s worth witnessing in Costa Rica is when tens of thousands of sea turtles come to shore, laying their eggs in the sand before leaving en masse. This happens up to eight times a year, and even scientists haven’t figured out how they know when it’s time to do this. Approximately two months later, the eggs hatch and hundreds of thousands of newborn turtles make their way back to the ocean to swim away. There are plenty of beaches up and down the coast where you can see this, but the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best.
If you’ve spent some time in the lowlands or beaches of Costa Rica, you may have been woken up at an un-Godly hour by the ear-splitting shrieks and howls of nearby howler monkeys. In fact, these calls from the adult males can be heard for almost a mile away. They usually “howl” at sunset or sunrise in response to encountering people, rain, thunder, other monkeys, or even airplanes overhead, though some biologists think these noises are their way of communicating with the troop. While they are loud, they’re not dangerous, and you might see a whole family swinging from trees with their particularly long tails or picking leaves or fruit to eat. Howler monkeys make up 69% of the total primate population in Costa Rica.
Toucans sail and swoon through the sky in the Costa Rican rainforest, emitting a unique yipping call. You can usually distinguish their flight patterns from other birds because
they rise with a few flaps of their wings, but then the weight of their beaks pulls them down again, so they rarely fly in a straight line like other birds.
The Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan is largest species of toucan in Central America and eats fruit, insects, and an occasional small snake. In Costa Rica, they prefer the wet forest lowlands of the Caribbean and Cordillera de Talamanca up to Carara on the Pacific side of the country.
Mexican tree frogs
There are a stunning 193 species of frogs and toads from 14 families in Costa Rica, and Tree frogs account for about one-third of their numbers. The tree frog – or Smilisca baudini – is known for making a distinct sound often
described as the horn on a clown car. Despite being named after Mexico to the north, they do inhabit Costa Rica in large numbers and tourists can often hear them in jungle areas.
Costa Rica’s cloud forests, rainforests, and tropical dry forests are the perfect habitat for butterflies, or caligo eurilochus if you want to use their scientific name. In fact, Costa Rica is such a lepidopterist’s (butterfly watcher) dream because 90% of all the butterflies in Central American can be found in the country, as well as 18% of the world’s total butterfly species. That means Costa Rica has more butterflies than all of North America and Europe combined!
I hope you enjoyed these cute and cuddly critters, but don't get too comfortable out in the wild in Costa Rica.
In fact, there are a whole lot of exotic, dangerous, and even deadly animals, from crocodiles to poisonous frogs and more. I'll highlight them in a future blog or you can discover the flora and fauna of Costa Rica extensively in the Moving to Costa Rica Handbook!
When it comes to buying real estate back home, you’ve probably heard that the three most important factors are “location, location, and location.”
The same could be said for choosing the right place to move in Costa Rica (except it’s “lugar” in Spanish!). There is no one “right” location, as everyone values different things.
I suggest visiting as many places as you can and making a list of pros and cons based on the lifestyle and amenities you value most. For some, a lack of suitable roads, ATMs, stores and hotels, dependable Wi-Fi, and sporadic aircon will drive them nuts. For others, getting away from the hustle and bustle and getting as close to nature as possible is just what the doctor ordered!
But here are some great suggestions where to live in Costa Rica in places that are popular with expats.
First, let’s look at where you might want to live by region:
• Includes capital city of San José
• Plenty of well-established expat havens: San Ramon, Grecia,
Alajuela, and Atenas
• Ideal climate due to high altitude with year-round average
temperature in the 70s F
• Great existing communities for expats that have gyms,
restaurants, social clubs, theater groups, game nights
• Conveniently located near San José, go anywhere in the region in
1 to 1.5 hours
• Good infrastructure, amenities, and shopping with American-style
malls, super stores, and warehouse shopping
• Cultural heart of the country with the most theater, art galleries,
• Convenient to Costa Rica’s largest international airport just outside of San José
• Describes the northwest Guanacaste province of Costa Rica
• Most sunny days and the least rain in the entire country
• Ideal beach lifestyle and beach culture
• Good mix of Ticos and expats
• More relaxed and friendlier than San José, but the roads, amenities, and infrastructure are rougher
• Popular tourist places like Tamarindo can be expensive
• Rural, tranquil lifestyle
• Relatively underdeveloped a few B&Bs and small boutique hotels
• Nuevo Arenal is where most expats live, so you will find grocery
stores, pharmacies, and basic necessities
The Southern Zone
• Quintessential Costa Rica environment
• Some of the best beaches in the country
• Plenty of lush, exotic wildlife and nature
• Lacks big resorts or concentrated development
• Great opportunity to get in early on real estate or business before
• Infrastructure like roads and cell towers quickly catching up
• Home to Jacó
• More laid-back, tranquil surf spots like Esterillos, Bejuco, and
• Easy drive to the capital of San José
• Great secluded beaches like Punta Uva, Playa Chiquita and Manzanillo
• Perfect for fishing, watersports, and nature lovers
• Totally different Caribbean culture and vibe – almost like Jamaica
with Creole English commonly spoken
• Far less touristy and developed than the bustling Pacific Coast
• Real estate prices can get high right on the beach but cheaper
Some of the most popular cities, towns, and communities for expats in Costa Rica:
• Great shops and restaurants in the town
• Surfers should check out Hermosa and Esterillos Este
• Easily accessible day trips to great nature hikes
• Easy drive to San Jos
• Flooded with Ticos vacationers and expats on holidays, not the ideal spot for peace and quiet
• Some expats steer clear of Jacó because they see it as over- developed, touristy, and has “Little Vegas” resort town feel
• More drugs and crime
• Very popular spot for beach lovers and surfers
• Hanging on to that small village feel but plenty of shops,
restaurants, and amenities
• Strong and growing international community
• Some issues with petty crime and drugs
• Not an easy drive (3-4 hours) San José
• Closest big city is Liberia, 1.5 hours away with great international
• Not too far from Liberia to get to the Nicaraguan border for visa
• Very expensive place due to tourist activity
• Other expat communities nearby like Playa Coco
• Plenty of commercial activity, restaurants, and supermarkets
• Right along the Pan American Highway, and there are direct bus
lines to San José
• Beautiful mountains right along the coast
• Much less developed than other coastal area
• Great for nature lovers, more secluded and pristine nature but close access to necessities
• Lower cost of living than many other expat regions
• Tons of expat societies/organizations to welcome newcomers
• Very chill, slow-paced lifestyle
• An upscale suburb popular among expats
• Close to central San José
• For expats, most developed place to live for quality schools,
shopping, and western-style amenities
• Good climate with cooler temps and a little breeze that expats
really enjoy because it’s in the foothills
• Very safe community
• Some say expats have driven up prices and made it too
• Gated communities
• Dining and nightlife is limited - trade off with the small town vibe
• Good climate
• Not very exciting, residential
• Safe, convenient
• Small town on the Caribbean coast
• About 2-hour drive to San José
• Plenty of family and locally-run small hotels, lodges and
• Less expensive real estate
• Infrastructure isn’t as developed as resort towns on the Pacific
• Authentic, traditional Caribbean culture and vibe
• Amazing boating, fishing, and fresh seafood
I hope this helps!
Contact me if you need any more help and you can get a WHOLE lot more information in The Official Expat's Moving to Costa Rica Handbook!
Don't miss the #1 resource for moving to Costa Rica and living the dream here.
Download for free here.