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Wildlife in Central America & Caribbean

The warm climate of the region creates a range of wildlife habitats: lowland rainforest, isolated beaches, mangrove swamps, waterfalls – each rich with life.

4 mins read

Given the paradise setting of Central America and the Caribbean, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little jealous of the colourful wildlife who call it home. You’ll find the wildlife to be as characterful and fascinating as you can imagine, whether that’s up among the leaves of palm tree jungles or the corals of its warm turquoise waters.

Slow and steady

Six of the seven known species of sea turtle are found in this region. Snorkelling opportunities, perhaps within Belize’s famed barrier reef, will give you a chance to scan for loggerhead, hawksbill and green turtles. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the iconic leatherback turtle in the UNESCO marine sites in Bocas del Toro, a gorgeous archipelago off the Panamanian coast.

Same habitat, opposite habits

A highlight of an optional hike in the forests here, such as the Arenal area in Costa Rica, is the chance of spotting two very different animals – monkeys and sloths. You’ll hear howler monkeys before you see them – their calls can be heard as far as three miles. Jumpy spider monkeys are usually nearby too as well as white-faced capuchins with their distinctive black caps.

Superior swingers

The secret to why the spider monkey seems perfectly adapted for high life in the canopy is down to two aspects. The first is its tail, probably the most powerful tail of all animals, and capable of supporting the spider monkey’s entire body. The underside of where the tail curls has no fur and resembles a palm, for extra grip. The other factor is the spider monkey’s long, slender fingers which wrap securely around branches, and with no thumbs to get in the way.

Unlike their noisy, never-sit-still, treetop neighbours, sloths are silent and extremely slow-paced. You’ll see them avoiding anything strenuous, hanging upside down in large-leaved trees, feeding or more likely, sleeping.

Slow but super strong

Sloths have the lowest metabolic rate of any mammal and it takes them a month to digest a single leaf as it passes through its permanently full four-chambered stomach. But their stamina, grip, and strength are the envy of any climber. From the moment they are born, they can lift their whole body weight up with just one arm. Even with 30% less muscle mass than similar-sized animals, they are still three times stronger than the average human!

Excitingly exotic birds

Central America and the Caribbean are populated by a kaleidoscopic array of birdlife including many rare species. Exploring the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha in Belize on an optional excursion will reward you with roughly 200 bird species to scan for. A bird tower will allow you an uninterrupted view of the protected Red-footed Booby in Half Moon Caye, Lighthouse Reef. Hiking in Costa Rica could include sightings of a Keel-billed Toucan, Red-lored Parrot, or a resplendent Quetzal.

The top tool for the toucan

A toucan’s beak or bill usually comprises one third of its entire body. Made of keratin – the same protein hair and nails are made of – the beak has a hollow honeycomb structure inside, making it lightweight. It also has a serrated edge, perfect for when the toucan wants to peel fruit with amazing precision. Toucans regulate blood flow to their bill to help control their body temperature and are even known to use their beaks for balance when sleeping.

A sea of living colour

In the Caribbean Sea’s crystal-clear waters, coral reefs teem with a remarkable variety of aquatic life. Over 700 fish species live here, from graceful angelfish to large manta rays. Picture yourself snorkelling in Isla de Providencia’s shallow waters off the coast of Columbia, spotting turtles, octopuses, and starfish constellations amongst the coral. Bliss.

Giants of the ocean

Seeing a pod of whales feeding or sometimes breaching the waters with acrobatic flips is a highlight of every expedition. From July to mid-November, humpback whales migrate from the Antarctic peninsula to breed in the warm waters of Costa Rica. The rock formation at Cabo San Lucas’s tip, where the sea of Cortez meets the Pacific, is a picturesque location to spot humpback whales in an optional excursion.

Playful dolphins

You’ll be able to identify common dolphins with their distinctive hourglass shape while scanning for wildlife from deck. You’ll probably spot them as well as larger bottlenose dolphins at the bow of the ship. An optional boat excursion in the beautiful Huatulco National Park in Mexico will give you the opportunity of seeing these playful creatures in their natural habitat.

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Penguins perched on the ice of Cuverville Island, Antarctica. Credit: Espen Mills / HX Hurtigruten Expeditions

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