Critters of Playas del Coco

Beach sunset Playas del Coco

Everyone who knows me knows I love all kinds of critters. The best part of travel is seeing new and exciting animals in their mostly natural environments. I could spend hours (and sometimes do!) watching the critters around Playas del Coco, Costa Rica.


Daily routines develop quickly. I wake up, have tacos, and make coffee. Then I take my coffee out to the front patio to watch the landscapers clean the pool. Mesmerizing! After coffee, I’m off for a walk along the beach (or swimming in the ocean if there is no red tide). Pool time! After the pool, it’s some amazing lunch that is frequently involved but always deliceous. Now for the best part of the day! Monkey La La time. It’s a blended drink with rum, vodka, bananas, coconut milk, cream of coconut, coffee, and ice. Noms!

Iguana eating a mango
Iguana eating a fermented lawn mango. Noms!

Back out to the patio. This is when the fun begins. At about this time, the iguanas that live in the four giant mango trees on the other side of the pool come down for warm fermented lawn mangos. The iguanas vary in appearance. There are green ones, black ones, orange ones, and grey ones in all different sizes. The biggest being about 4.5 feet from tip to tip. Sometimes they get into a tiff and fall into the pool! They swim really well and have no problem getting back out again, but it’s still quite exciting.

An iguana sometimes stays up in the tree as a lookout. The iguanas on the ground wander around, munching on mangos and occasionally taking drinks from the pool. They have to watch out for street cats and dogs. They also don’t like humans getting too close. I think some humans might eat them, so it’s important to be cautious (I hear iguanas taste like chicken!). I’m not sure what the signal is but suddenly all the iguanas will go crashing back up the tree, nails and tails a flying. It’s very dramatic.

There must be a few different species of iguanas. They are so many colors and sizes. Although the sizes might just be age. Most of the ones we see live in the trees, but I saw a giant one that had a burrow in the ground. After that, all the holes I had been seeing on walks made a lot more sense.

Bugs, bugs, bugs

It’s the dry season here in Playas del Coco, so I haven’t seen too many biting bugs. The occasional mosquito at dusk and dawn, some biting ants, and whatever keeps taking the rare chunk out of people’s ankles on the beach. The biters come out after it rains, which is pretty uncommon right now.

In the tropics, expect to see the occasional cockroach (aka: land-shrimp). They are not like the city kind, as they rarely live indoors. They like it better outside. However, if they smell deliciousness coming from your place, they will come in to investigate. All my fruit/veggie clippings, meat packaging, eggshells, and such get stored in a bag in the freezer. I take it to the street when it gets full as to minimize smells in the place. I even store food in the fridge that I would normally just keep on the counter or cupboards in the states. Rice and noodles seem to be fine on the shelf, but cockroaches will find that open bag of chips!

Dragonfly on a pool noodle
I rescued this dragonfly from the pool using a handy pool noodle.

When I first got to Coco, there were swarms of dragonflies over the rooftops. I would lounge in the pool and watch them eating bugs above me. Those flying dragons are truly amazing predators with exceptionally high kill rates. It’s no wonder I hardly had any mosquitos! Dragonflies are fun to watch, and I have seen all different colors and sizes. Green, brown, blue, purple. So cool!

Ants! Keeping most of my food in the fridge or freezer does wonders to keep out ants. In addition, I wash the dishes and sweep up any spills rather expediently. I have several mango trees outside which feed a large population of ants. Those little buggers do like to bite you right between your toes, but they are so tiny, you hardly notice. I really enjoy watching the leaf-cutter ants. They just walk along in a line with their giant loads. It’s just fascinating!


Another great pastime while sitting by the pool is to watch the squirrels. There are all these low hanging power-lines around Coco. The squirrels use them as super highways to get from one tree to the next without touching the ground. It’s like a game of Lava! They squeak and chase each other, sometimes above the wire like a tightrope and sometimes from below like a zipline. It’s all very dramatic.

The squirrels themselves are a fun silver color. You wonder how old they are! I’ve seen friends spend loads of money and countless hours getting their hair dyed that color. It’s really pretty. I’m getting a few of those silver strands myself. A friend thinks the squirrels look like gremlins that ate after midnight. Whatevs.

They have monkeys here

Costa Rica has howler monkeys. They are a small, dark critter with a really loud voice. They move about the town in the treetops and hoot among themselves. Sometimes, they are carrying little baby monkeys. So cute! Be careful though, because I have heard stories of them peeing on people as they walk underneath. They also use the power lines to avoid getting hit by golf carts.

I used to see a bunch of howler monkeys in the mango trees by the beach. Then a ‘for sale’ sign went up, and they cut down all the mango trees. This was pretty heartbreaking, but there is not much you can do. There are just a lot of humans and a lot of money to be made in humans selling other humans beachfront property.

Green parrots in tree
Small green parrots just hanging out. The tree will get leaves again once the green season starts.

Costa Rica is known for its birds

I think Costa Rica has something like a hundred million different species of birds here (or 400, which is still a lot). I see green parrots patrolling the tops of the mango trees, hanging from the fruit, chattering away. They are extremely social. Never buy one of these birds, as that is just not nice. It’s better to come here and see them in all their glory instead of in a cage.

It startled me to see giant vultures. Big dark birds with sharp beaks and long talons. They are big fans of trash day (and make quite a mess of it) but they mostly stick to the skies. They ride the thermals above the town, looking very majestic. It’s pretty cool to see them.

Vultures on the side of the road
I think something got hit by a car because these vultures were very excited. They are really large birds!

Another great birdwatching adventure is at the beach. Coco beach is home to numerous frigate birds and pelicans. They are both crazy big and cruise around above the water looking for fish. The frigate birds will skim fish off the surface while the pelicans splash land very dramatically. People spend hours watching these amazing creatures.

There are loads of other types of birds that I see around town and by the pool. The hummingbirds fly around the cacti in a very spastic fashion, which I love. I can’t tell if they are eating bugs or finding some flowers in there. I also like the yellow flycatchers. They look like they could do some damage to a bug or two. Get the bugs!

Do you belong to anyone?

Right when I got here, I noticed this tiny cat with a crooked tail that looked like it broke and then mended poorly. The cat had taken a liking to our Canadian neighbor, who captured her and got her fixed before she could have any babies. She loved to sleep on his bed under the air conditioning unit during the hot day. Spoiled kitty! When he went back to Canada, a couple of neighbors took over the duties of feeding her, affectionately naming her Betty White.

Cat drinking from the pool
Betty White drinking from the pool. She has fresh water. She just likes the pool instead.

Turns out Betty White is very spoiled here. She goes from door to door and various people feed her or let her sleep inside. They even included me in the rotation. Another Canadian was heading home and gave me some pork chops to feed Miss Betty. I chopped them up, froze them, and now I give her a small amount when she stops by the unit. She’s quite adorable and I figure it might keep her from eating the geckos.

It is really hard to tell the domestic dogs from the street dogs. Most people ignore the leash laws, so dogs are just running around on the beach. They play in the surf and dig holes in the sand. It all looks like a fantastic time. None of them look hungry or wanting for anything. Most have collars on and probably live with a human, but who knows? Pura Vida!

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