Visit the Best Big Cats of Costa Rica- Centro El Rescate Las Pumas

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Visit rescued big cats in Costa Rica- just off Highway 1 going between San Jose and Liberia.

About Costa Rica’s Cat Sanctuary

Even though Costa Rica is home to six different types of wild cats, you will be hard-pressed to see many of them unless you have a lot of luck, an expert guide, and are in a national park. Add that to the fact that you probably don’t want to get too close to big cats in the wild when visiting Costa Rica with kids.

Luckily, just off Highway 1 is the Centro El Rescate La Pumas, a wildlife refuge for Costa Rica’s biggest cats and other wildlife.

Like many of the rescue centers in Costa Rica (namely Zoo Ave and La Paz Waterfall Gardens), the sanctuary is focused on keeping rescued animals safe, healthy, and with a good life for as long as possible after their trauma.

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This sanctuary was started by a Swiss national who translated to Costa Rica in the early 60s. She began taking in animals that needed rescuing, and soon people started just dropping animals off at her doorstep.

This was not a sustainable situation as her could not be a permanent home for animals- so she started the rescue center. Today Las Pumas receives an average of 225 animals in need of rescue.

Today, the center has strong ties to the University of Costa Rica and the SINAC, the national agency for land protection (they also oversee the national parks of Costa Rica). In partnership with national park employees, policemen, and firefighters, the center is able to rehabilitate and release almost 50% of the animals they receive each year.

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Location and Admission Information

Las Pumas is super easy to get to if you are driving in Costa Rica as it’s just off the main highway between San Jose and Liberia- highway 1.

Just about 5 kilometers north of Canas you’ll take a right turn at the sign and you’ll arrive no problem. This is a fun stop to combine with the Llanos de Cortez Waterfall.

The price of admission is incredibly reasonable- you are looking at $8 for children and seniors and $12 for adults. Nationals receive a significant discount.

Related: Top Costa Rica Excursions

When you arrive you’ll park and pay your entrance fee at a small house right next to the lot. You will receive a nice map of the sanctuary, and there is a great education center right there with kid-friendly information about Costa Rica. We loved seeing the different types of wood throughout the country. Kids will love to interact with the information.

The walk-through is short, and you can go at your leisure. We spent about 90 minutes here, including a trip through the tiny gift shop.

Make sure to pack bug spray and water. There are nice bathrooms here.

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Note- about 45 minutes away from here is the Blue River waterfall and you can also see Costa Rica’s largest tree– a ceiba tree.


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When we are driving through this area, we stay at either La Carolina Lodge, Casitas Tenorio, or Hacienda Guacheplin. All are about an hour away. You can also just stop by when you are driving by as a quick educational and fun pit stop.

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You can bring a picnic to the sanctuary, or there is a nice family-run restaurant next door. We ate next door and the food was great and the prices weren’t super high. If you have some extra time, there is also a river float option next door the restaurants that leave several times a day for birding tours down the Cano River.


The sanctuary provides guided tours if you contact them in advance. Otherwise, you will guide yourself through the area. There are plenty of bilingual signs that tell each animal’s story, and the volunteers on site are more than happy to stop and chat to provide more information for interested visitors.

Since the cats sleep during the day, it is best to visit the wildlife rescue center in the morning if possible to see the largest number of cats moving about.

There are lots of other types of rescued animals here, such as scarlet macaws, parrots, parakeets, primates, birds, and mammals such as coatis and raccoons. So if the cats are sleeping, you will still get to see lots of activity.

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Christa Jimenez

Welcome! I’m Christa, a Spanish teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. We’ve spent over 25 years living in and traveling to Costa Rica with our daughters, and this website is my love letter to all things Costa Rica- and to bilingual parenting too. You can read my full story here. Thanks for stopping by!

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