Top 5 Costa Rica Butterflies to Spot on Your Trip

Planning a trip to Costa Rica? Be prepared to see some beautiful species of butterflies float by while you are there! These 5 Costa Rica butterflies are a “must see” on your trip.

butterflies from costa rica

It is always fun to see butterflies that are so different from those we see in our yards in the United State – like a giant Owl butterfly floating above your table while eating dinner on a restaurant patio (this happened to us!).

Costa Rica is THE place to visit for nature enthusiasts thanks to all their biodiversity and natural resources. Don’t miss my list of 15 Costa Rica birds to see on your trip too!

5 Costa Rica Butterflies to Know

While I saw each of these butterfly species on my trip, I wasn’t the best at photographing them. As you know, butterflies don’t do a great job staying still! These photos were all sourced from

​1) Blue Morpho Butterfly

This giant blue butterfly is Costa Rica’s most famous butterfly. You’ll see lots of these framed for sale at a souvenir shop in the San José airport. However it is much more exciting to see them alive in Costa Rica’s tropical rainforests!

There are actually numerous species of Morpho butterflies throughout Central and South America, but the species you’ll likely see in Costa Rica is Morpho peleides.

blue butterflies in costa rica
The striking blue color of the Morpho butterfly.

When Morpho butterflies fold their wings you don’t see their brillant blue color. They could even be confused with Owl butterflies (see #2 below), thanks to their eye spots that they use to scare off predators.

In addition to flower nectar, many butterflies like to eat rotting fruit and tree sap. Placing some fruit out may attract these butterflies, like the Morpho pictured below.

Costa Rica blue morpho butterfly
A blue Morpho butterfly with its wings folded, showing off its many eye spots.

2) Owl Butterfly

Owl butterflies are some of the largest butterflies in Costa Rica, with wingspans up to 6 inches across. These beautiful creatures look similar to giant moths with their brown coloring.

The large eye spot on their wing looks similar to the face of an Owl, giving them their name.

Costa Rica owl butterfly

3) Heliconian Butterflies

There are a number of Heliconian butterfly species you may spot while in Costa Rica. Look for the elongated wings of these medium sized butterflies. That is why another name for this species is “Longwing.”

Their host plants are Passionvines, similar to the Gulf Fritillary butterflies we get here in Texas! These are the only plants their caterpillars can eat. Pictured below (top to bottom) are:

  • Erato Heliconian
  • Zebra Heliconian
  • Tiger Heliconian
Costa Rica Longwing butterflies
Heliconian species from top to bottom: Crimson Patch Longwing, Zebra Longwing, Tiger Longwing

4) Malachite

I was so excited to see one of these butterflies fly by me while in Costa Rica. These beautiful butterflies with lime green coloring sometimes make their way up to San Antonio, Texas where I live. However, sightings are rare, and I’d never seen one “in the wild” before.

Costa Rica malachite butterfly

5) Monarchs

The Monarch butterfly is one of the varieties of butterflies that I did NOT expect to be in Costa Rica! I thought the farthest south Monarchs traveled was their overwintering grounds in Mexico, however I was wrong.

There are year-round Monarch populations in Costa Rica and other Central American countries, where their host plant Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is native and blooming year round. These Monarchs don’t make long migrations like the North American Monarchs.

Costa Rica monarchs

Visit a Butterfly Observatory in Costa Rica!

There is a good chance you’ll spot some of these butterflies in their natural beauty while out and about in Costa Rica. But you can also visit one of the country’s many butterfly gardens and observatories.

They are the perfect place to see all of the five different species listed above, as well as many others. Get ready to see a lot of butterflies in one place!

1) Butterfly Conservatory in El Castillo

Located near in the small town of El Castillo, near Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna, the Butterfly Conservatory is known for its conservation efforts. It also claims to be the largest butterfly conservatory in Costa Rica, complete with a variety of enclosed habitats, trails through tropical rain forests, and even a medicinal plant garden. Check out the extensive grounds:

Costa Rica butterfly garden

I’m embarrassed to say that we stayed at an airBnb down the street from the conservatory and I didn’t get a chance to visit it! The day we planned to go was pouring rain and I knew it wouldn’t be ideal to see the butterflies and walk the trails. It means I need to make a return trip to Costa Rica!

2) Mariposario Alas del Destino Butterfly Garden

We did stop at this butterfly house on a rainy drive back to San Jose. This small operation is run by a father and son team. What started out as a butterfly farm is now an educational butterfly garden for tourists passing through .

We started our tour with a short lesson on the butterfly life cycle and learned about the importance of host plants. Then we got to explore the butterfly enclosure full of Morphos, Owls and Longwing species of butterfly.

Costa Rica butterfly sanctuary

The hosts placed a small amount of banana and beer mixture (a butterfly favorite!) on our hands to attract the butterflies. It was a fun experience to see their delicate wings up close, and feel their tiny proboscis tickling our hands!

3) La Paz Waterfall Gardens

This popular tourist spot less than an hour outside of San Jose has a variety of things to see including an animal sanctuary, aviary, and butterfly observatory with over 25 species of butterflies. As the name suggest, there are also some beautiful waterfalls!

4) Monteverde Butterfly Gardens

Located among the cloud forests, the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens feature up to 30 species of butterflies and 20 species of insects and arachnids. They offer hour-long tours daily.

Excited to spot these butterflies of Costa Rica on your next trip? Make sure to bring your binoculars so you can spot these 15 Costa Rica birds too.

Save this Costa Rica Butterfly List to Pinterest!

Costa Rica butterfly guide

Live in Texas? Don’t miss my Texas Butterfly Guide!

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