Lovely Cotinga occurs along the Atlantic slope from southeastern Mexico south to extreme western Panama. In Mexico it occurs north to southern Veracruz, and also occupies northern Oaxaca and Chiapas, but does not occur in the Yucatan Peninsula (Howell and Webb 1995). In Panama it is known only from sight records (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989). Its status on the Pacific coast is not clear, but there are a few recent sight records from northwestern Costa Rica (Mazar Barnett and Kirwan 2002, Kirwan and Green 2011).
Lovely Cotinga generally is resident, but there are suggestions that it makes seasonal or nomadic movements. Land (1963) reported that "a large flock appeared" at his study site in Guatemala in midwinter, but that most of these individuals had departed by March. Beavers et al. (1991) suggested that Lovely Cotinga may be only a seasonal visitor to northern Guatemala, with records there from December-July. Lovely Cotinga also may be an altitudinal migrant, at least locally (Howell and Webb 1995).
The elevational range of Lovely Cotinga is from sea level up to 1500 m in Mexico (Howell and Webb 1995), and from 300-1700 m in most of Costa Rica, but it occurs down to sea level in southeastern Costa Rica (Stiles and Skutch 1989).