Spider Monkey Jumping from Tree to Tree
Spider Monkey Jumping from Tree to Tree

If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know that my favorite thing about my home country is the diversity of animals that you can find in any given region. Costa Rica is a place with dense wildlife, and that wildlife includes four species of monkeys that I’m going to highlight today: the Mantled Howler monkey, the Geoffroy's Spider monkey, the Central American Squirrel monkey, and the Panamanian White-Faced Capuchin monkey.

I travel through the country constantly, and you can bet that when I look up, I am likely to see some monkeys swinging in the trees above me. I am always excited to travel to the next region of Costa Rica, because I know that I’ll be seeing a different species of monkey. I can tell which monkey I’m seeing by its appearance, but also by its personality! Each species is different, but they are all friendly and adorable.

If you’re traveling to Costa Rica and plan to trek through a rainforest (which you definitely should do!), or plan to stay at one of the many hotels in the country, then you are very likely to see at least one monkey. I’m giving you the inside scoop on these four species that you are most likely to encounter roaming around the jungle, so that you’ll feel like a knowledgeable traveler.

Magnificent Mantled Howler Monkey in Puerto Viejo forest
Magnificent Mantled Howler Monkey in Puerto Viejo forest

1) Mantled Howler Monkey

The Mantled Howler monkey is most commonly found in Costa Rica in Arenal Volcano National Park, Barra Honda National Park, and Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge but they really can be found throughout the country. These monkeys are large with mostly black fur, and tails that are longer than their bodies.

Howler monkeys earn their name too, as they are most famous for their loud howls. The howls can sound like screeching or screaming in the forest, and can travel as far as three miles. So, if you hear a loud howling noise it is most likely a howler monkey, so look up in the trees as they are hard to spot as they blend into their environment.

Howlers are one of only a small group of monkeys that build nests. Because of this, they are very unlikely to be on the ground ever. You’ll have to look up high to catch a glimpse of them!

These monkeys are large and slow-moving, and can be seen eating canopy leaves, fruit, nuts, and even flowers. Once in awhile a howler monkey will feel frisky and has been known to raid a bird nest to get the eggs. Howler monkeys are one of the species that are sometimes kept as pets even though this is illegal, since they are not likely to be aggressive. However, this is one of the things that threatens them, along with capture for zoos and the destruction of their natural habitat.

Central American Spider Monkey hanging by tail from tree
Central American Spider Monkey hanging by tail from tree

2) Central American Spider Monkey

Central American Spider Monkey or the Geoffroy's Spider Monkey is found in tropical forests throughout Central America including Costa Rica These monkeys are one of the most agile species in Costa Rica!

Their name comes from their appearance – they have disproportionately long limbs and a long tail. They have black or brown fur, with touches of light beige. Their bodies are slender, which makes it easy for them to roam around the forests.

Spider monkeys are social creatures, and can often be found living in groups of more than 30 monkeys. These groups live together, but they are likely to split up during the day to roam the tips of the trees in solitude. They are larger creatures, so they need a lot of space; the undisturbed primary rain forest is the place they prefer to make their home.

Spider monkeys live in the upper layer of the rain forest, so you are likely to see them if you go on a canopy tour. You’ll see them swinging from the tree branches when they are searching for food like fruit, leaves, flowers, and insects, or when they are just romping around with their friends.

Spider monkeys are thought to be intelligent creatures, and their range of sounds include barking, whining, and screaming. Humans are a threat to spider monkeys since they are hunted, and they are also threatened due to logging and land destruction that destroys their habitat.

Squirrel Monkey relaxing in tree
Central American Squirrel Monkey relaxing in tree

3) Central American Squirrel Monkey

The Central American Squirrel Monkey is most commonly found in Costa Rica in Rincon de la Vieja National Park, Sirena Biological Station, Tenorio Volcano National Park and Peñas Blancas Wildlife Refuge. These monkeys have a very distinct appearance. They have a dark snout with a light-colored front body and a dark coat on the tip of its head and back of the body.

As their name suggests, the Central American Squirrel monkeys are small. You'll want to keep a keen eye out at all times for these tiny creatures since they are only about 28-30 centimeters long. These monkeys use their long tails more as a tool for balancing, and they can move through the trees very quickly.

These tiny squirrel monkeys love company, and both species live together in large groups – sometimes up to 500 members! The groups use vocals to send out warning calls when there are large falcons or other threats. Squirrel monkeys mostly feast on fruits and insects, but sometimes they like to eat other things like seeds, nuts, and eggs.

They can live to be between 15 years and 20 years old, depending on if they are living in the wild or living in captivity. They are threatened naturally by predators in the wild as well as being threatened by loss of habitat.

Panamanian White-Faced Capuchin Monkey in tree
Panamanian White-Faced Capuchin Monkey in tree
The Best of Costa Rica

4) Panamanian White-Faced Capuchin Monkey

This Panamanian White-Faced Capuchin Monkey is most commonly found in Costa Rica in Monteverde, Manuel Antonio National Park, Corcovado National Park, Santa Rosa National Park or San Vito.

These monkeys have white faces, and they are commonly called a white-faced monkey. They have black bodies, which contrast their white faces. These monkeys are often used in movies, since they are intelligent and respond to training, so you’ve probably seen them before!

White-faced monkeys are jumpers! They can jump up to nine feet, so obviously they use jumping to get from one tree to another. This is how they spend a typically day – hidden up among the trees, sleeping and looking for food. You will occasionally see them on the ground as well, when they are looking for water to drink. They sleep up in the trees at night too, in between branches.

These monkeys live in groups that can range anywhere from 10 members to almost 40 members! They are typically lead by an alpha from each gender. Capuchins mainly eat insects and plants, but will also adapt to where they live, and might eat fruit, small lizards, crabs, and even shellfish.

The white-faced monkeys are threatened by their natural predators, which include large cats, birds, snakes, and crocodiles.