No visit to Costa Rica is complete without at least one chance to witness Costa Rica monkeys in the wild. Costa Rica is home to several species of monkeys that populate Costa Rica National Parks and many remote towns and resorts. The most common Costa Rica monkeys can be viewed easily at parks and scenic attractions, and even the rare monkey species can sometimes be glimpsed on canopy tours or from a safe distance with a pair of binoculars and a little bit of luck.
The most common species of Costa Rica monkeys are the capuchins. Called ‘mono cara blanca’ in Spanish for their distinctive little white faces, capuchins are lively, medium-sized monkeys with strong prehensile tails and a wide-ranging habitat that includes Costa Rica’s Central Valley and the western cloud forests up in the mountains. Manuel Antonio National Park is chock full of capuchin monkeys and it is nearly impossible to miss them if you visit. Many tourists hand feed the monkeys at Manuel Antonio, but this practice is dangerous for monkeys and humans alike and should be avoided.
Never feed monkeys and never frequent places that encourage hand feeding of monkeys. Monkeys need to know how to find their own food in order to survive in the wild. When monkeys become too dependent on humans for junk food and snacks, not only is it bad for their physical health, it also increases the spread of disease and puts humans at risk for unpleasant and sometimes dangerous monkey bites. Monkeys may look like tiny people and seem very cute, but they are wild animals and should be respected as such.
Howler monkeys are another easily seen Costa Rica monkey species. Howlers are large black monkeys with a ferocious appearance and a long eerie howl (the reason for their name). Howler monkeys howl to mark their territory; in reality they are timid creatures and rarely come close enough to humans to interact let along cause trouble. Howler monkeys are easiest to spot in the dry tropical forests of the Nicoya Peninsula and Costa Rica’s coastal Guancaste Province in the west.
On the opposite coast, in Tortuguero National Park, tiny, elusive Costa Rica monkeys called spider monkeys live high up in the trees. Spider monkeys are dark and agile, and spend most of their time swinging from branch to branch high up in the canopy. They are easiest to spot in Tortuguero from a distance using a pair of binoculars focused high up at the treetops. If you are patient you may catch sight of a number of them moving about.
The most rare and hard to spot Costa Rica monkey is the little squirrel monkey. Squirrel monkeys are found mostly in Manuel Antonio National Park and on the Osa Peninsula, where they eat a diet comprised almost entirely of fruit and travel in large groups. Squirrel monkeys are very distinctive-looking and have large dark eyes surrounded by white rings, white ears, white chests, and very long tails. They are not easy to spot even when you are on the lookout for them, but if you do get lucky you will almost certainly see a pack of them, never just one.
Monkeys are amazing creatures and it is thrilling to see them in the wild, especially since no monkeys are native to North America or Europe. Most tourists have never seen monkeys in the wild and are excited to spot them for the first time. Just remember that Costa Rica monkeys are wild animals and be sure to maintain a safe distance and an attitude of respect, and your experiences encountering rain forest monkeys will be positive and memorable.