From bug-eyed frogs to slinky big cats, swinging monkeys with plumes of white fur to great sea beasts on the edge of extinction, this list of Central America’s rare creatures is just a taster of some of the majestic fauna you can spot while touring the region with LBW…
The real king of the Costa Rican jungle surely has to be this venerable creature. Famed for their lethargic movements and their endearingly self-satisfied facial expressions, three-toed sloths are something like Central America’s answer to the Giant Panda: uber-cute and curiously human-like, though (at least in the pygmy edition of Panama’s Isla Escudos de Veraguas) critically endangered and in desperate need of conservation!
Central America’s answer to the roaring lions of Africa or the great tigers of India, this stalk-and-pounce beast roams right the way from Mexico to Colombia. Crouching and sneaking through the jungle vines and montane forests, the plains and Pantanal, the awesome creature and its trademark spotted fur can be seen in reserves like the Parque Nacional La Amistad (Panama), the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (Belize), the Maya Biosphere (Guatemala) and more.
Strawberry Poison Dart Frog
Get ready to scour the undergrowth and the gnarled trunks of Central America’s jungles for this one, because the strawberry poison dart frog can be as miniscule as one centimetre across. These critters shouldn’t be that hard to spot though, thanks to a rambunctious color scheme that evokes the kaleidoscopic hues of the Summer of Love. Most are bright red with flecks of green, while some mutations come in sun yellow and bumble-bee black. And while the tones look cool, they are a perennial warning of this one’s toxicity – don’t touch, and definitely don’t lick!
Keep your eyes peeled while roaming the wilds of Monteverde folks, because this favourite ecotourist stop-off on our Rockin’ Rica itinerary is the veritable home of the resplendent quetzal. These proud and psychedelically colored fliers can be seen flitting and squawking in the canopies above, showing off their moss-green talons and scarlet breast to the other, less vibrant, creatures of the cloud forests.
The curious white mane of the Geoffroy's tamarin makes this swinging primate – found only in the jungles of Panama – look like something of a cross between an English judge and Ian Dury punks circa London 1987. Also known as the red-crested tamarin, the creature spends most of its time swinging between the boughs of the country’s secondary forests – see if you can spot them along the Canal Zone and in the Metropolitan Natural Park of Panama City itself!
West Indian manatee
These great basking beasts are most commonly found around the warm Mexican Gulf waters of America’s Sunshine State. However, for travelers hitting the far-flung reaches of the sprawling Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge – one of the largest conservation areas in Costa Rica – there’s a chance that their huge galumphing bodies will pop up in one of the winding bayous and jungle-shrouded rivers. Uber-rare, the so-called ‘cow of the sea’ is now considered vulnerable to extinction.
Red-backed squirrel monkey
There’s just a small clique of the red-backed squirrel monkey left in all of the Americas, straddling the borderlands between Costa Rica and Panama on the Pacific edge of the continent. That’s right, these vulnerable little grasshopper-eating, papaya-devouring primates are pretty much only on show amidst the beautiful coastal forests of Corcovado and the gorgeous beach groves of the Manuel Antonio National Park.
Geoffroy's spider monkey
Another endangered creature bearing the prestigious moniker of French naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, the spider monkey comes up trumps in our selection of curious Central American primates as the largest New World monkey in existence. With a weight of up to 10 kilograms, this fruit-eating swinger in the treetops of Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize and even southern Mexico boasts a gorgeous black-topped head and arms that are almost a quarter length longer than its legs. Talk about lanky!
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"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."
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