Looking for a way to ethically see animals in Costa Rica? I was with you! I think you’ll find that Costa Rica is luckily one of those places that makes finding animal rescues fairly easy. Why you ask?
Zoos are banned in Costa Rica! Like really. It gets a little hairy as you dig into what the word “zoo” means, but basically animals only legally live in captivity if they are going through rehabilitation to release them back to the wild. Or, if they cannot be released to the wild because of injury or past experience. How amazing is that? (United States of America, wouldn’t it be great to take a note out of that book?)
So there are multiple ways to ethically see animals in Costa Rica, with sanctuaries to visit all around. We went to Rescue Center Costa Rica and Natuwa Sanctuary. Both are an easy stop on the drive to Monteverde or Puntarenas if you’re driving from San Jose. They both also provide amazing opportunities for volunteers to stay on property and help.
1. Rescue Center Costa Rica
You DEFINITELY need to make this stop a part of your itinerary! You will get to see animals. Tons of animals! And you’ll support a small organization that clearly does amazing work to help them.
In our experience, it’s very difficult to see animals in Costa Rica in the wild. I think every trek is different, but even with guides, we saw 4 that I can remember. And I personally think this is best. Animals should have the choice of presenting themselves to us, or not, at any given time.
But it is really nice when we do get to see them, isn’t it? They warm our hearts, and we get to learn about them in a way that we will remember forever, especially our kids.
Rescue Center Costa Rica provides the balance of both worlds, comfort for the animals, and a chance for us to see them. They only allow guests to see animals that are not going to be released back into the wild and are comfortable around humans. They don’t allow you to touch the animals. And they do not force animals to interact with you.
I can honestly say that this was the favorite part of the trip for my kids. And I think it may have been mine too. Costa Rica has a lot of amazing things to see, and this rescue center is definitely in the top few.
As far as logistics, we visited on the first morning of our trip. We flew in late on a Friday night and stayed in a hotel near the San Jose International Airport. The next day we drove to Monteverde, and this was the first stop. We were there no more than 2 hours, which included a guided tour and a chat with the owners.
2. Natuwa Wildlife Sanctuary
We stopped by Natuwa Sanctuary on our way back to San Jose from Monteverde. This property was a little more formally set up for tourists, so it didn’t feel as intimate. But we still had a great time seeing the animals and learned a lot.
There are an incredible number of birds here. And their colors and personalities will blow your mind.
Natuwa Sanctuary also has a few big cats living with them. It’s always hard to see cats in confined spaces, but given that they cannot be released to the wild, it’s nice that they’re taken care of.
We spent less than two hours on our tour here too. To book, visit their website and scroll to the bottom footer for tour schedule and phone numbers.