Wildlife in Central America – The Top 5 Destinations in Central America to Visit to See Animals in the Wild

With an intense environment and a unique geography, Central America is made up of a series of naturally beautiful landscapes, many of which are home to rare and exotic wildlife not easily seen in other countries across the world. Many species of animal prefer to live in tropical areas, so Central America is an ideal habitat, with its rich variety of flora and fauna and ideal climate.

Below, TravelSupermarket looks at the top 5 destinations in Central America to visit to see animals in the wild:

Costa Rica

With a varied landmass, Costa Rica boasts one of the world’s most impressive and numerous concentrations of native animals, adding up to a staggering 850 recorded species. Birds are a big attraction and around 200 varieties flock here, many lighting up the sky with their intense tropical colours and distinct beauty.

Costa Rica is abundant in national parks, nature reserves and wildlife centres and these environments provide plentiful opportunities to study creatures such as spider monkeys and poison arrow frogs, as well as to perhaps come across rare sightings of four-eyed opossums or silky anteaters.

As a year-round destination, visitors have plenty of opportunities to marvel at the exceptional wildlife, but peak times tend to be from December to February, as the bird population is at its most spectacular in the dry season.

sunset on cano island costa rica

Belize

Renowned for having some of the best dive sites in the world, Belize also offers much native life above the water. Despite being a relatively small country, it is one that offers plentiful opportunities for discovering wildlife, including at least 56 species of snakes (eight of these are considered a danger to humans). The country is also a prime location for birds and reptiles that thrive in the conditions in and around the savannahs and lowlands.

With a dramatic and varied landscape, Belize is also home to big cats, including jaguars and pumas who take refuge in the vast forests and mountainous regions. In terms of the ultimate diving experience, Belize offers the stunning Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which attracts more species than any other marine ecosystem. Home to about 65 coral species and over 300 fish species, there is no better underwater environment.

beachfront belize caye caulker

Guatemala

With extreme contrasts and some challenging but starkly beautiful terrain, Guatemala is home to more than 95 species of mammals and around 400 different types of birds. The largest protected area is situated around Mesoamerica, a reserve that sees howler and spider monkeys exist alongside pumas, jaguars, storks and exotic birds such as scarlet macaws.

With a rich terrain resulting in lush vegetation, including areas of tropical forest, areas such as the Petén provide opportunities to get close to nature and more specifically the area’s wildlife. Lizards, iguanas and coyotes have made the land their home, while the waters support a range of creatures including catfish, turtles, lobster and crabs.

The best time to visit is typically from November to April so you’ll have to hurry to book a last minute trip if you want to enjoy the best conditions! However, even during the ‘best months’ to visit the climate can still be variable with rain possible at any time of the year and humidity generally quite high.

main-plaza

Nicaragua

Nicaragua has high levels of biodiversity and consequently, much of the native wildlife resides in protected areas, which make up about 17% of the landscape. With rainforests giving way to lakes and mountains, the country is very diverse and supports many mammals, fish and reptiles.

The Bosawás Biosphere Reserve covers a vast area and subsequently is the second largest rainforest in the Americas after the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. Areas like this are home to unusual mammals, including the three-toed sloth and two species of armadillo, as well as several monkey varieties and big cats such as the puma.

Located in the central part of Central America, Nicaragua is the largest country but also one of its poorest, although it does haven rich history and heritage, making it a fascinating place to visit. A good time to visit is from June to January, when the area looks particularly inviting and the temperature is cool and pleasant.

isletas-tour-granada-nicaragua-boats

El Salvador

The smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America, El Salvador has a long and chequered history and benefits from a tropical climate that is favourable for much wildlife.

With its close proximity to the sea, El Salvador has a variety of species of sea turtles, including the leatherback turtle, the hawksbill and the olive ridley, which is the most common. The Hawksbill and Leatherback varieties are unfortunately critically endangered and therefore much rarer. In addition to the turtles, there are 500 species of birds, 1,000 species of butterflies and 800 species of fish in and around El Salvador.

Central America is an intensely beautiful part of the world, benefiting greatly from a variety of rich natural landscapes, making its countries a haven for wildlife lovers worldwide. With a history dating back to the Mayans and Aztecs, there is much to see and do and many areas incorporate some fascinating ruins and the remains of once great cities and towns.

There are plenty of tours that offer the opportunity to see native wildlife in their natural habitat, but it’s important to remain sensitive to the sometimes fragile environments when visiting. With a largely warm and tropical climate, many of the countries can be visited at any time of the year and any visit is bound to be memorable.

playa-sunzal-el-salvador

About Marina Villatoro

Marina Kuperman Villatoro CEO of TravelExperta.com, a travel resource site to inspire families to travel with kids of all ages. Marina has been an expat 20+ years in Central America raising 2 boys in a multicultural, trilingual household. She travels all over the world with her family to give first hand experiences of where to eat, stay and play with kids. Needless to say, it’s never boring! Join Marina on Facebook and Twitter for more unique and boutique family travel!

4 Responses to Wildlife in Central America – The Top 5 Destinations in Central America to Visit to See Animals in the Wild

  1. Hi Marina,
    In my experience, there are great possibilities to see wildlife in all the countries located in Central America. You just need to know where to go. I have seen wildlife in all the countries I have visited in the area (all except Nicaragua). Panama (not mentioned here) is full of wildlife too. You can visit the wild areas surrounding the canal and be in contact with a whole different world. I recently visited, El Imposible National Park in El Salvador and saw tons of animals.
    Ruth (Tanama Tales) recently posted..Brazil’s Dusty Azurre: Day 10My Profile

    • HI Ruth,

      Central America is great for wildlife, the best full on experiences I had were in Tikal, Guatemala and Costa Rica. I found El Salvador tough in the sense the beaches are more for birds, rather than mammals.

      I haven’t been to Panama, so can’t tell you about it yet 🙂

  2. Great locations covered. I have been to Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama. I have some great photos of animals and creepie crawlies I have even gotten on film! I just actually wrote a blog about them on my site http://www.thewondersofwandering.com I would love to share adventures and get more tips on great places to visit. I will be staying at a sloth sanctuary in a month, and I can say these creatures stole my heart!!-Daniella
    The Wonders Of Wandering recently posted..Creepy Crawlies in Costa RicaMy Profile

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