Caribbean wildlife is as rich and diverse as island culture. From swinging monkeys to slow-swimming sea turtles, each country features amazing feathered and furry friends that may be wildly different from those you’re used to seeing at home.
Here are the top 7 most exciting creatures to meet while on vacation in the Caribbean. Some you may have heard of or seen, and other may be completely new. In any case, the Caribbean is the perfect vacation destination for animal lovers. Vibrant coral reefs, lush jungles, and mild weather provide the perfect environment for all kinds of exotic species to thrive.
Caribbean Wildlife: Sea Turtles
By far, the most popular sea creature to spot in the Caribbean is the sea turtle. If you’re lucky, you’ll see these slow-moving, majestic creatures moving amid deep waters as you take a trip on a catamaran or paddle out to sea in a kayak. At certain times during the year, you can see female turtles nesting on protected beaches, or tiny baby turtles hatching and swimming out to sea.
Unfortunately, several species of sea turtle are now considered endangered. Over the years, turtle fishing and egg hunting has greatly reduced the sea turtle population. In addition, mega resorts and big hotels have encroached on turtle habitats and forced these creatures to look elsewhere for nesting. For this reason, “turtle watching”, as it is sometimes called, is increasingly restricted in certain countries.
However, you can see these creatures in a responsible manner by booking an ecotour that includes turtle watching. In addition, support turtle conservation projects by visiting turtle hatcheries or making donations.
There are around 200 different species of birds just on the island of Bonaire. Imagine how many there are in the entire Caribbean! From flamingos to toucans, and whistling ducks to green-throated caribs, there are plenty of interesting species to delight ornithologists and amateur bird watchers alike.
Flamingos are some of the most popular birds to see while in the Caribbean, thanks to their exotic-looking pink feathers, and rarity in other parts of the world. They tend to stay together in large groups, which makes “flamingo watching” exceptionally fun. These quirky birds congregate on the coasts of many Caribbean countries, especially in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and the island of Bonaire.
Dolphins and whales
Dolphin and whale spotting are two of the most popular tourist activities to do in the Caribbean. During the summer, you can spot migrating pilot whales near the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, and the Turks & Caicos islands. Humpback whales migrate through the waters of the Dutch Caribbean Islands (Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire) from January to April.
You can watch dolphins play in the waters surrounding Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, the Dominican Republic, Turks & Caicos islands, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Jamaica, and many more. In addition, many aquariums and ecotourism companies offer packages that include swimming with dolphins and performing tricks with them.
There are many aquariums in the Caribbean that will allow you to see dolphins and other marine life up close. However, to see dolphins and whales in the wild, you’ll typically need to charter a boat or book a boat excursion with guides who know where these creatures might be passing by. Mid-January to mid-March is the peak season for whale watching in the Caribbean.
The very name “stingray” may sound frightening, but it’s actually quite safe to see and swim with these majestic creatures, as long as you do so with a guide. These surprisingly gentle animals often congregate in shallow waters, giving visitors the chance to see them up close. Several “stingray cities” have become famous over the years. These are areas where stingrays tend to hang out, making them popular with tourists.
The first stingray city came about in the 1970s in Grand Cayman, when local fisherman would stop to clean fish over a sandbar in North Sound. Nearby stingrays took interest in this sudden food supply, and soon began to frequent the sandbar. Years later, tourist companies bring visitors to the sandbar to swim with and feed the stingrays. The waters here are just 2 feet deep.
Other popular stingray cities are located in Antigua, Nassau and Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas and Gibbs Cay in Turks & Caicos.
There are all kinds of strange and interesting frogs in the Caribbean. Take the coqui for instance, with its signature bird-like song, and the “mountain chicken” of Montserrat, considered a delicacy to many. There are colorful tree frogs, adorable rain frogs, and frogs that croak out loud lullabies all night long.
Red-eyed tree frogs are particularly striking in their appearance. With their vibrant colors and huge, beady red eyes, they have become somewhat of a “poster child” for wildlife conservation in the Caribbean. Frogs, like many species of Caribbean wildlife, are threatened by the destruction of their rainforest habitat. In fact, amphibians suffer environmental effects sooner than other populations, making them a good indicator species.
Manatees, although endangered, live in a wide region that includes the waters around the southern United States, Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, Central America (including Belize), and the northeastern countries of South America. One species, the Amazonian manatee, lives only in freshwater. These dwell in the Amazon and Orinoco river systems of South America. Because they prefer shallow, warmer water that is only 2 to 6 meters deep, they are in constant danger of colliding with boats or ingesting trash left by humans. For this reason, all four species of manatee are listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) red list.
The best place to see manatees in their natural habitat is in Belize, where these majestic creatures are thriving, thanks to conservation activities and the lack of coastal development.