The Big Cats of Las Pumas Rescue Center

Last Updated: January 5, 2021

Costa Rica is home to six different kinds of wild cats. Although thousands of visitors take to the country’s hiking trails each day, the chances of spotting one of these elusive, nocturnal felines is slim to none. Most likely, they turn up when injured or captured illegally. When this happens, it is Costa Rica’s many animal rescue centers that provide shelter and care.

If you’re traveling to Costa Rica’s northwestern province of Guanacaste, one shelter you won’t want to miss is Las Pumas Rescue Center. In this post, we’ll share all the details you need to plan you visit and see these impressive cats for yourself.

Jaguar at Las Pumas Rescue Center | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

About Las Pumas Rescue Center

Located just outside the small city of Cañas along the Inter-Americana Highway is Las Pumas Rescue Center (Centro Rescate Las Pumas). Las Pumas provides a temporary, or sometimes permanent, home for wild cats and other animals that have been injured, rescued, orphaned, or confiscated in the illegal pet trade. Like many rescue centers, this one began with the passion of one individual and grew.

In the early 1960s, Lilly Bodmer de Hagnauer, an animal lover originally from Switzerland, began taking in animals that were in need of help. At the time, Guanacaste was in the midst of a boom in deforestation for farming. Habitat loss was displacing the area’s wildlife, and more and more animals were being captured and kept as pets or injured by passing cars and hunters.

Not knowing what to do, Hagnauer’s neighbors would drop off wild animals at her doorstep. Soon even government agencies in Costa Rica were turning to “Mrs. Lilly” for help. Within just a few years, the project had grown into a full center with 160 animals, including monkeys, wild cats, parrots, and an array of other species.

Lilly Bodmer de Hagnauer | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
“Mrs. Lilly” Bodmer de Hagnauer. Photo Credit: Las Pumas Rescue Center.

Mrs. Hagnauer passed away in 2001 though her good works live on. The non-profit foundation created in her name and dedicated staff continue to further her mission by rehabilitating those animals that can be released and providing a safe, humane home for those that cannot.

Las Pumas Mission Quote | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

What to Expect at Las Pumas Rescue Center

The Animals

Of the six species of wild cat found in Costa Rica, five can be seen at Las Pumas Rescue Center. These include the two largest, the jaguar and puma, as well as smaller ones like the margay, ocelot, and jaguarundi.

The wild cats are definitely the highlight of Las Pumas, but the center has many other resident animals too. Both the white-faced capuchin and spider monkey can be seen, as well as white-tailed deer, river otter, a badger-type animal called a greater grison, and birds like the Toucan, Scarlet Macaw, Red-lored Parrot, and Mealy Parrot.

Red-lored Parrots at Las Pumas Rescue Center | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
A Pair of Red-lored Parrots. Well loved by the staff and each other.

The Enclosures

What’s great about Las Pumas is that the animals live in spacious enclosures, and you can tell that the staff takes pride in their care. Unlike at some zoos where animals are confined to small cages, the enclosures are spacious and mimic the natural environment. Small streams run through the spaces and full-grown trees, rocks, thick plants, and dead logs provide shelter and camouflage. Although it is of course ideal for animals to live in the wild, release is not always possible for various reasons. Providing a comfortable place for the animal to live is the next best option and also serves the important purpose of providing public education.

Puma (mountain lion) at Las Pumas Rescue Center | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
A puma (mountain lion) blending into the habitat in one of the elaborate enclosures.

Planning Your Visit to Las Pumas Rescue Center

Las Pumas Rescue Center is easy to find and is set up so that you can either make a quick visit while passing through or stay a while if you have more time. If you’re traveling along the Inter-Americana Highway, it would make an ideal stop between the beaches of Tamarindo, Flamingo, Playas del Coco, etc. and Arenal Volcano/La Fortuna or the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

The center does do tours if reserved in advance (see details below), but it is also easy to guide yourself along the nice walking paths using the map provided at the ticket window. The enclosures have signs that describe the story of each animal and explain how they arrived at Las Pumas so you will get a feel for the issues that face Costa Rica’s wildlife. There are 18 enclosures total, and it takes about an hour to see all the animals and walk around the whole facility. There is also a small gift shop, which helps support the foundation.

Ocelot at Las Pumas Rescue Center | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Nap time for Max, an ocelot that was once kept illegally as a pet.


Las Pumas is located 4.5 km (2.8 miles) north of Cañas off the Inter-Americana Highway (Route 1). It has a large sign by the highway with a picture of a puma (mountain lion). Follow the dirt road for about 100 meters (325 ft.) and the entrance will be on your left.


Las Pumas’ property is set off on its own and the admission area where you pay the entrance fee is right next to the lot. There are plenty of staff walking around the facility as well so the parking is fairly secure. We still recommend taking your most valuable belongings with you and carrying them in a backpack just in case.


Las Pumas Rescue Center is open daily, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Last entrance is at 3:00 p.m. 

Cost (self Guided)

Non-residents: Adults: $12. Children and students (+12 years): $8 

Residents: Adults: ₡3,000. Students (+12): ₡2,000. Children (4-12): ₡1,000. 

Reserving a Guided Tour

The center’s Environmental Educator will give a guided tour at no additional cost; however, availability is limited. Email: laspumascr(at)gmail(dot)com to get in touch and schedule your date. 

How You Can Help

The price for admission and proceeds from the gift shop help to support the center by providing medical care and food for the animals. It also aids in advancing the foundation’s other objectives, which include environmental education, conservation, and wildlife management.

Those wanting to give some hands-on help can read about the volunteer and internship programs on Las Pumas’ website. Just click the get involved button near the top. 

Finally, if you would like to help out but can’t make it to Costa Rica anytime soon, you can make a donation or sponsor one of the animals in your own name or the name of your company. 

Last Updated: January 5, 2021

Have you been lucky enough to see Costa Rica’s big cats out on the trail or have you visited them at a wildlife center? Let us know below!

Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

Llanos de Cortez Waterfall: The nearby Llanos de Cortez is one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Costa Rica and makes another great pit stop. Read about how to visit with this post.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens: Wildlife Up Close – This is another wonderful animal sanctuary near San Jose. It has similar animals, plus a big butterfly enclosure and snake and insect exhibits.

Costa Rica Rental Car Discount: The Guanacaste region is best explored with a rental car since attractions like this are a drive away. Check out our discount through one of the most reputable companies.

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  1. I’m always looking to find places like this when I travel – just small ways to give back. Great find, I will definitely be heading there when I go back to Costa Rica – hopefully sooner rather than later 😉

    1. You should definitely stop by here Nadine! If you want to film, we’d recommend getting in touch with them beforehand. There was a film crew there when we visited and they had a “special setup” to get some great shots but you might need to prearrange.

  2. Great article! I’ve driven by this place dozens of times and never thought to stop and check it out. I’ll have to drop by next time I do. Wild cats are on the top of my wish list of animals I wish I could get some pictures of here. I’ve seen a couple from a far, but they always disappear before I can get my camera out. Maybe I can “cheat” and get a few nice ones at the rescue center.

      1. Hi Jen, Matt,
        This is a bit late, but I figured I’d share a link to a Flicker album of some of the pictures I took at rescue center.
        It’s worth a short visit if your in the area. For most people it’ll be the only time they’ll be able to see those animals because they are so difficult to cross paths with in the wild. I found it kind of funny that on my second trip I went with family and my little nephew attracted the attention of the big cats which seemed to be pretty indifferent when I went alone. I’m pretty sure they were thinking he’d make a nice snack if only the pesky fence wasn’t there.

        1. Hi Siggy, Nice to hear from you! Thanks for sharing your pics. You had some nice ones of the big cats. That’s funny about your nephew. I bet you’re right about that 🙂

      2. I definitely plan to visit on my next journey to Costa Rica as I love big cats! Where can I possibly spot a sloth in the area? Thank you!

  3. Matt and Jenn what an awesome recap! TOO bad that we missed this spot 2 summers ago when we did Costa Rica. We traveled right through Liberia too before we headed up north so it would not have been too far. Oh well we’ll hit hit it on our return as I am obsessed with big cats and animals in general.

    The pictures are awesome. The cats are awesome. Like you noted too these fab causes are about always founded by one person with a purpose, a passion, and God bless that Swiss woman who started this. I believe we all have God in us and that she and others who give up their lives for animals allow God to shine through them in a major league way.

    Loving the blog guys!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂


    1. Thanks Ryan. We appreciate the kind words. You’re right- so many of these organizations are started because of the kindness of one person. I can’t even imagine figuring out how to take care of injured jungle animals, but somehow she made it work. Truly inspirational!

  4. Great work highlighting LPRC. It’s unfortunate that places like this have to exist but I am sure glad they do. Public outreach is definitely key and it sounds like this place is doing a wonderful job. We hope to make it back to Costa Rica next winter and will be sure to support LPRC.

    1. Hi Alana, it is unfortunate that places like this exist, but we’re so happy they do. I always have a hard time seeing wild animals in captivity, but it’s reassuring to see them so well taken care. It makes the best of the situation. Hope you get back to CR and fit in a stop at Las Pumas!

  5. I’d love to visit this rescue center, it would be fantastic. I like what they are doing to help these gorgeous creatures, I wish there were more places like this one 🙂

  6. Have you been to the Jaguar center in Puerto Viejo? How would this compare?

    I am also looking to visit a sloth sanctuary. I would like a bit more hands on or indepth visit rather than just seeing animals in enclosures as I work at a zoo facility. Suggestions of any animal related must sees?

    1. Hi Betty, We have been to Jaguar Rescue Center. It’s a great tour but it is similar and not very hands on. At the end they do let you go in the monkey enclosure, though, if they are still doing that. You should look at Proyecto Asís near La Fortuna. They have a volunteering tour that is more hands on that people love. Kids Saving the Rainforest near Manuel Antonio has a volunteering program too. We don’t recommend the Sloth Sanctuary anymore because of questionable practices towards the animals and that’s the only facility in the country that is dedicated to sloths. Hope that gives you some ideas!

    1. Hi Paula, The Center has been posting on their Facebook page lately so we think they are open. We were actually in this area of the country recently and many of the businesses that were affected by the hurricane are back open. There is still a lot of rebuilding happening especially to the north in places like Bijagua but you should be fine visiting Las Pumas.

  7. How feasible would it be to visit without renting a car? We will be in Samara for a language school & flying in/out of Liberia.

    1. Hi Erica, It would tough but not impossible. You would want to do it on either end of your trip so that you access it from Liberia. Without a car, your options are a cab, which would be pricey since it’s about 45 min. from Liberia, or the public bus. There’s a bus station in Liberia. You could take any bus heading south on Highway 1 towards Canas, Puntarenas, etc. and ask the driver to drop you off near Las Pumas. The Rescue Center is on the other side of the highway (northbound side) so you would have to cross at one of the pedestrian overpasses and I don’t think there’s one close by. A better way might be to take the bus all the way to Canas, just past the Rescue Center, and then a quick cab ride from Canas there to avoid crossing the highway.

  8. How long would you normally recommend spending there? If we go between hotels, would there be somewhere safe to stow our luggage?

    1. You can see all the exhibits in an hour or hour and a half easily.

      The facility is fairly far off the main road, set on its own, and last time we were there, there was a booth to check in at when you arrived. So it would probably be fine to leave your bags in the car, but feel it out when you get there. You could always ask them to hold them for you. Either way, take your most valuable items out (passports, cash, electronics, etc.) and carry them in a backpack with you.

  9. Hi We are flying in to Liberia and staying a couple of nights in Bijaqua then driving over to Guanacaste (RIU Palace) is Las Pumas Rescue Center on the route to Gunacaste area? Also, I love your site and all the information you have offered. We will be renting a car and using your links has been so awesome. Thank you for all you posts!

    1. Hi Lori, Glad that our website has been helpful! Thanks for renting your car through us. Yes, Las Pumas is directly on the way from Bijagua to the RIU so it would make a great stop.

  10. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    My husband and I will be staying in Samara in January, and then heading to La Fortuna for the second half of our trip. Based on maps (which I know can sometimes end up being unreliable or unrealistic once actually driving in country!), would this be a good stop on that route? This looks like a wonderful place to visit – especially because I worked in animal rescue for 10 years! As an aside, I have to say I LOVE your website, and it has been hugely helpful to my husband and I on our nearly 10 trips to Costa Rica now 🙂

    Pura vida!

    1. Hi Brittany, It will add around a half hour if you stop at Las Pumas because you would go around via Route 21 up to Liberia and then down Highway 1. The most direct route is Route 18 to Highway 1 north. Here is the map. But the 30 min. isn’t much different so we would say to go for it if you really want to visit.

      So glad our site has been helpful to you over the years! Thanks for your support!

      1. That is super helpful! Really appreciate your guidance, especially since it seems like we are looking at a roughly 4+ hour trip from Samara to La Fortuna. A quick break to help support a wonderful rescue center AND see some amazing animals at the same time is clearly a win/win! Thank you so much, and really looking forward to seeing the newest updates on the blogs! Take care, and pura vida!

  11. I tried to go to the links shown in order to donate – but the website has been moved or taken down. I have visited Las Pumas Rescue Center in the past, and it was marvelous. I wanted to help. Any information you can pass on relative to where I can send a donation would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Mary, that is so nice that you would like to help them and thanks for letting us know about the links. We went ahead and updated them so you can find the information on making a donation!

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