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Wildlife in South America

See an astonishing array of wildlife along the diverse Pacific Coast of South America, from equatorial rainforests and isolated islands down to the fjords and glaciers of Patagonia.

3 mins read

As you travel between Costa Rica and Chile, you’ll come across desert and coastal plains, mangroves and rainforest. These are often inhabited by monkeys, guanacos, sloths, armadillos, coatis, and iguanas. Bird life is in abundance, especially on the remote islands which usually act as teeming nesting sites.

A birdwatchers’ paradise

From the tiny hummingbird to the mighty Andean Condor, the sea cliffs and rainforest canopies of South America are home to more than 3,000 species of birds. Over 2,500 are endemic to the region, such as El Oro parakeet and Scarlet Macaw.

With its oversized yellow bill, the Toco is one of the most recognisable tropical birds of South America. Their colourful beaks measure nearly half their length and play a vital role in courtship rituals, self-defence, and balance.

Keep an eye out for the striking feet of the aptly named blue-footed booby and the impressive wings of the waved albatross. Look in the sky for the latter, because this mighty flier can spend years at sea, only landing to breed.

Great diver, terrible dancer

The blue-footed boobies are exceptional divers, able to swoop from 80 feet to catch fish. Their webbed feet range from pale turquoise to dark blue and indicate how healthy they are. During courtship, male boobies parade their bright feet to the female in a high-stepping strut. However, their name comes from the Spanish ‘bobo’ meaning ‘stupid’, due to their clumsy waddle when on land.

King of birds

The Andean condor, with a wingspan reaching up to three metres, is one of the largest birds in the world. These scavengers live in the Andes Mountains and feed on the carrion of deer, cattle and even seals, and can travel 200 km in search of food. Black with bald heads, Andean condors have a distinctive collar of white neck feathers. Their head and neck feathers change colour depending on their mood.

You might not expect to see penguins so close to the equator, but the Humboldt Current brings cold water from Antarctica to South America, allowing colonies of Galápagos penguins to live comfortably along the coast. You may be able to spot these warm-blooded birds diving into the water, or panting like dogs to cool down on land.

Residents of the rainforest

Sailing through different climate zones, you’ll be introduced to an array of animal life. While hiking through tropical rainforests in Costa Rica, make sure to look up in the trees to see sloths lolling overhead, and listen out for the shriek of the howler monkey. You won’t have to listen too hard though, as their cry can be heard from up to three miles away.

Despite growing up to two metres long, the patterned skin of the iguana can make them difficult to spot in the rainforest, so watch your step! These docile reptiles are also common in the desert and along the coast.

Mighty marine animals

The warm waters of South America are filled with wonderous sea life. From marine mammals like humpback whales, sea lions and dolphins to fish like manta rays and sharks, creatures big and small are attracted to the Pacific.

The waters of South America are home to five sea turtle species. The most common are the olive ridley, Pacific green and hawksbill. Leatherback turtles are rarer. These reptiles, while slow on land, can reach speeds over 20 miles an hour when swimming and can stay underwater for up to 30 minutes.

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

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