AT A GLANCE
The beautiful country of Costa Rica is situated in central America, with water on either side (the Caribbean sea to the east and the Pacific ocean to the west), Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. It is famous for top quality coffee, for having no standing army, for its more than 200 volcanoes, for the highest life expectancy on earth, for butterflies and hummingbirds, and for being the most carbon-neutral country on earth.
Costa Rica is home to an incredibly rich variety of plants and animals. While the country has only about 0.03% of the world’s landmass (less than 20 000 square miles), it contains almost 5% of the world’s biodiversity! In fact Costa Rica is home to more than 500 000 fauna species! Around 25% of the country’s land area is in national parks and protected areas, the largest percentage of protected areas of any country in the world. One of the principal sources of Costa Rica’s biodiversity is that the area formed a land bridge connecting the north and south American continents approximately three to five million years ago, allowing the very different flora and fauna of the two continents to mix.
Hundreds of species of fauna are endemic to Costa Rica, including frogs, snakes, lizards, finches, hummingbirds, gophers, mice and many more. Costa Rica’s biodiversity can be attributed to the variety of ecosystems within the country. Tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, Atlantic and Pacific coastline, cloud forests, and mangrove forests are all represented throughout the country. This variation provides numerous specific habitats which are filled by a huge diversity of species.
The country boasts almost 10 000 species of butterflies and moths, 175 species of amphibians, 225 reptile species and nearly 250 species of mammal. Of special interest to us, is that over 850 species of birds have been identified in Costa Rica! More than 600 of the Costa Rican species are permanent residents, and upwards of 200 are migrants, spending portions of the year outside of the country, usually in north America. Seven of the Costa Rican species are considered endemic, and 19 are globally threatened. Costa Rica has recently geared itself heavily towards avitourism and has developed a superb infrastructure to service the numerous visiting birders from all over the globe.
On this Nature Travel Birding tour we will visit some specific key areas in the country, including the Tenorio volcano region, Sarapiqui, the Cerro de la Muerte highlands, the San Isidro valley and Carara National Park. Some of the country’s most notable avian species that we will target include the Resplendent Quetzal, Scarlet Macaw, Black Guan, Three-wattled Bellbird, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, and the Keel-billed Toucan among many others. As a bonus, Costa Rica is also one of the best countries on the world for nature and birding photography, with all the lodges and locals geared for some amazing photo opportunities! Let’s go birding!
NEXT TOUR: To be confirmed
ITINERARY – COSTA RICA BIRDING TOUR
Arrival in San José, Costa Rica
Your arrival into Costa Rica will be via the Juan Santamaria International Airport, 23 kilometres (14 miles) west of San José.
You will be net by a company representative and/or driver, and taken to your comfortable city hotel. Costa Ricans will often greet one another and bid farewell by saying “pura vida.” But pura vida, which translates to “pure life,” is more than a turn of phrase to Costa Ricans; it’s a state of mind. So remember to greet locals with “pura vida”!
San José is the capital of Costa Rica and home to about 2 million people, and is named in honor of Joseph of Nazareth, but the locals affectionately call it Chepe. It’s a hilly, spread-out city with a lot of greenery and excellent cuisine. Top attractions in San José include the neoclassical Teatro Nacional, the Museo de Jade, the arty area of Barrio Amon, Spanish Park, Democracy Plaza, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Museo de Oro Precolombino with its priceless artifacts.
If you arrive in San José with daylight to spare and have time for a walk in the carefully tended 10 acres of our chosen hotel’s gardens, look out for hummingbirds typical of the central valley of Costa Rica, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Blue-capped Motmot, Rufous-capped Warbler, Greyish Saltator and maybe even the elusive White-eared Ground Sparrow. The gardens also host over 50 species of bromeliads, Costa Rican native trees, and numerous species of orchids, ferns, herb and cacti.
Please note : all meals today will be for your own account.
San José to Tenorio volcano Region
After breakfast we will depart San José and head in a northwesterly direction to the Tenorio volcano region.
En route we will stop at Hacienda Solimar for a good birding walk. At Solimar we will see excellent examples of dry deciduous forest, riparian corridors and wetlands. It is home to more than 300 bird species! The summer months offer the best bird life with species such as White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Bare-throated Tiger Heron and Limpkin, along with a big list of other water birds that feed in the lagoons and marshes.
After lunch and maybe one more bird walk we will continue to the Tenorio volcano region.
The slopes of the Caribbean side of the Tenorio volcano are covered with rural farms, cattle ranches, small villages, mountain forest, rivers and waterfalls that create one of the most scenic regions of the entire country. The Río Celeste in Tenorio National Park, with its turquoise coloured water and its numerous waterfalls is one of the main attractions in the area, but the region also provides many other possibilities like horseback riding, white water rafting, hiking, birding and other wildlife viewing opportunities through trails in the park and private reserves.
Some of the species that we will hope to see in this region are Yellow-eared Toucanet, Rufous-winged Tanager, Lovely Cotinga, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Keel-billed, Tody, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmot, Olive Tanager, Dull-mantled Antbird, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, White Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Black-eared Wood Quail, Song Wren, Lattice-tailed Trogon, White-fronted Nunbird, Central American Pygmy Owl, Crested Owl, White-tipped Sicklebill and Violet-headed Hummingbird.
Late in the afternoon we will arrive at our accommodation, check in and have dinner. We will spend two nights here. Our beautiful lodge is surrounded on three sides by deep jungle. Wildlife abounds, often allowing spotting and observing of local fauna such as monkeys, an extensive bird species list such as toucans, hummingbirds or parrots and even rare species, also butterflies and mammals like the Baird’s Tapir roam the property.
Tenorio volcano region
Today we have a full day to explore this region more extensively, visiting different sites.
The Heliconias Hanging Bridges Trail will be one of our stops. Here we will walk for approximately 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) and explore the surrounding rain forest as well as three hanging bridges. The first bridge is 75 m long (250 ft) long and 27 m (90 ft) high, the second one is 105 m long (350 ft) and 37 m high (122 ft). The third bridge is 95 m long (314 ft) and 30 m high (99 ft). All the bridges are situated over the forest canopy and will let you explore some of the most relevant ecosystems safely. 70% of all forms of life in the rain forest live or originate in the forest canopy, so we need to keep our eyes open! Here we will look for Ornate Hawk-Eagle, King Vulture, Song Wren, Spotted, Bicoloured and Ocellated Antbird, Orange-bellied Trogon, Great Tinamou, Long-tailed Manakin, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Lovely Cotinga, Tody and Keel-billed Motmot, White-fronted Nunbird, Spectacled and Crested Owl, Great Curassow, Hepatic Tanager, Sharpbill, Crested Guan, Streak-crowned Antvireo, up to 18 species of hummingbirds and many many more.
You will be able to enjoy a myriad of epiphyte plants including bromeliads and orchids, as well as a sizable number of birds and even mammals occasionally.
We will also visit Finca Danta, located close to our accommodation, where even the access road provides great opportunities for birding. Finca Danta is located on the slopes of the Tenorio volcano, in a U-shaped valley surrounded by mature forest and secondary growth, with a marsh and pasturelands with patchy woods, and offers the opportunity to look for specialties of this elevation, like Rufous-winged Tanager, Central American Pygmy Owl, Black Hawk-Eagle and many more. We will follow a dirt trail with beautiful views of the area.
What to bring today: comfortable hiking shoes, binoculars, camera, sun block, water bottle, hat and insect repellent.
We will return to our lodge after a good day’s birding and enjoy a good night’s rest. Even in the lodge grounds and immediate surroundings there is excellent birding to be had (over 300 species recorded!), with highlight species we might find including Tody Motmot, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Three-wattled Bellbird, Black-eared Wood Quail, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Speckled Mourner and of course some stunning hummingbirds.
Tenorio volcano region to Sarapiqui region
Today after breakfast we will depart for the Caribbean lowlands of the Sarapiqui region. The forest on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica is rich in flora and fauna species, and Sarapiqui is a good example of this. Sarapiqui provides excellent birdwatching opportunities, along with seeing many species of plants, flowers and trees.
There is a lot to do here, including canopy walks, river rafting, fantastic photographic opportunities, frogging, and many possibilities to encounter a large variety of mammals such as bats, monkeys, Brown-throated and Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth, White-nosed Coati, anteaters, Central American Agouti and squirrels. The abundant forest will also be home for many species of reptiles like Green and Black Iguana, Brown Basilisk and an impressive variety of snakes.
Some of the species that you will see in this region are Collared Aracari, Black-mandibled and Keel-billed Toucan, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmot, Cinnamon, Chestnut-coloured, Black-cheeked and Cocoa Woodcreeper, White-necked Jacobin, Long-billed and Bronzy Hermit, Ringed and Amazon Kingfisher, Green Ibis, White-winged Becard, Snowy Cotinga and White-necked Puffbird.
In the afternoon we will visit the Cope Wildlife site, a site targeted exclusively to bird and wildlife photographers. Jose Alberto or “Cope”, like everyone knows him, has been feeding and caring for birds for many years and his house gardens are always full of tanagers, honeycreepers, toucans, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and more. He has built photography hides around the garden strategically positioned to get great lighting and background.
The hides are very comfortable, you can charge your batteries or drink a cup of coffee while photographing some fantastic birds that visit it daily. The hide is also overlooking a small pond where some very cool birds can be seen, with the star of the show being the Grey-necked Wood Rail. We will also look for Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Crowned Woodnymph, White-necked Jacobin, Montezuma Oropendola, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Shining Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, and Crimson-collared Tanager. Around the pond and the property other reptiles and amphibians can be also photographed.
We will then move onto our next overnight accommodation, where we will also spend two nights. Our lodge is located near the Braulio Carrillo National Park. The beautiful property is part of a biological corridor that connects “La Selva” OTS, (Organization of Tropical Studies) with the park and many privately-owned reserves.
We will have a full day in Sarapiqui to specifically visit La Selva Biological Station.
Estación Biológica La Selva (OTS) is located in the lowlands of Sarapiqui, on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. This station is owned and administered by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), a consortium of U.S. and Costa Rican institutes of higher learning. It is an internationally renowned research station, with fantastic laboratories, online geographic information system, extensive trails, and large lowland tropical forest reserve bordering the Braulio Carrillo National Park. La Selva hosts approximately 300 scientists and 100 university courses every year.
We will be walking the trails long enough to really discover the treasures of La Selva, taking our time to observe many species of native wildlife. The reserve is home to a wide range of wildlife, including large predators, rare birds, and an astonishing number of invertebrates.
There are more than 300 species of birds reported for La Selva, and more than 400 if the surrounding areas are included. We hope to see many species of hummingbirds (Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer and others) and tanagers, including Scarlet-rumped Tanager, along with others like Great Green Macaw, Great Tinamou, Agami Heron, Olive-throated Parakeet, Lovely Cotinga, Short-billed and Scaled Pigeon, Great Antshrike, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Northern Barred, Pale-billed and Rufous-winged Woodpecker, trogons, toucans, honeycreepers, euphonias, wrens (Black-throated and Stripe-breasted Wren among others) and many more.
Besides the birds, we can find at least two species of monkeys, agoutis, anteaters, sloths, and even a peccary or two. Also keep an eye out for lizards, iguanas and several species of snakes.
Important Note: you must wear close-toed shoes to enter the trails at La Selva. Open sandals, Tevas or Crocs are not allowed.
What to bring: Hiking boots or Close-toed Sturdy Footwear, Light clothing, Rain gear, Bottle of water, Insect repellent, Sun block, Camera & Binoculars (optional).
We will return to our lodge after a good day’s birding and enjoy a good night’s rest.
Sarapiqui to Cerro de la Muerte highlands
Today depart for the Costa Rica highlands at Cerro de la Muerte, south of the capital.
Cerro de la Muerte literally translates to “Mountain of Death”. This very unappealing name was given to the peak by the travellers that intended to conquer the mountain many decades ago.
Before any roads were built, and during the time that nobody lived in this region, crossing the Cerro de la Muerte’s high elevations on foot was a real challenge. The rain and the cold temperatures just made the task harder and kept the area isolated from the Central Valley and the capital San José. This mountain is in the Talamanca range, which extends from eastern Costa Rica into neighbouring western Panama.
Elevations at the Cerro de la Muerte are close to 12,000 feet (3,700 metres) above sea level, and the landscape is very particular. Both the “Paramo”, which refers to the vegetation that grows above the timber line, and the Oak Forest are considered rare nowadays in Central America. During the construction of the Pan-American Highway during the 1950s, many workers ventured into this land and some small villages were born in the midst of this remote area.
Today, the region has a special importance for conservation, and for the development of crops like apricots, apples and black berries, as well as eco-tourism. There are many different species of trees that can be seen in this high altitude, the different varieties of oak, as well as the wild avocado species are particularly important for the area. Besides, there is an abundant plant life in the area such as mosses, bamboo, and tree ferns. Aside from birds, wildlife is rarely sighted at this point. Cerro de la Muerte is considered a birdwatcher’s paradise with the iconic Resplendent Quetzal the bird that most people come here for.
Nearly 50% of the bird species recorded from Cerro de la Muerte are endemic to the Talamanca range. Besides the Resplendent Quetzal, other fairly common sightings are Emerald Toucanet, Acorn Woodpecker, Black Guan, White-winged, Flame-coloured and Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Barred Becard, White-throated Mountaingem, Scintillant, Steely-vented and Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Mexican Violetear, Bare-shanked Screech Owl, Mottled Owl, Dusky Nightjar and Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher.
Our chosen accommodation offers spectacular views, great food and top quality personalised service, in a comfortable rustic atmosphere, only one and a half hours from San José. The valley, the cloud forest and over 200 bird species make this area an excellent place to stop and relax for a few days. As a result, we will spend the next two nights here.
Cerro de la Muerte highlands
We have a full day to explore the Paraiso de Quetzales site, with an extension of 80 hectares (200 acres) containing a wealth of flora and fauna. More than 140 species, some of them endemic to the area, make this place a birdwatcher’s dream.
Paraíso Quetzal has managed to respect and safeguard the Cloud Forest. Its varied fauna, especially the quetzal, make this place a good sightseeing area. A gentle 1.5 km (1 mile) walk through the cloud forest will lead you to the Resplendent Quetzal’s habitat. Epiphytes, such as orchids and bromeliads, make this tour a gratifying experience en route to your possible encounter with the avian highlight. Despite its normally reticent and silent behaviour, the male, during the mating season, sometimes emits a wide range of sounds to attract a nearby female and so initiate their reproductive cycle.
Paraíso Quetzal is located in one of the most prolific zones for this bird species, but we will also look for Sooty Thrush, Black-and-yellow Phainoptila, Black-capped Flycatcher, Volcano Hummingbird, Dusky Nightjar, Yellow-thighed and Large-footed Finch, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Ruddy Treerunner, Wrenthrush, Yellow-winged Vireo, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Ochraceous Pewee, Ochraceous Wren, Collared Whitestart, Flame-throated Warbler and many more.
What to bring: hiking boots, long pants, long-sleeved shirt (recommended), dull colour clothing (recommended), sunblock, insect repellent, water bottle, camera and binoculars (recommended) as well as protection gear for your optics in case of rain.
Also note: you’ll hike at about 9500 f (2900 m) above sea level, so plan for cold, windy and misty weather.
We will return to our lodge for dinner and a good night’s rest, hopefully having seen one of the top target birds for the trip!
Our chosen lodge is situated at a lower elevation than some other lodges, with drier forest that turns up an interesting suite of species. There are hummingbird feeders at the lodge that we need to keep an eye on. Species to look for include Violet Sabrewing, Stripe-tailed, Magnificent, Rufous-tailed and Scintillant Hummingbird, Mexican Violetear, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Purple-throated Mountaingem and Green-crowned Brilliant. On the non-hummingbird side we could see Dark Pewee, Barred Becard, Spotted Wood Quail, Collared Trogon, Flame-coloured Tanager and Rough-legged Tyrannulet among many others.
Cerro de la Muerte to San Isidro valley
Today we travel further south to the San Isidro valley.
En route we will stop at El Tolomuco. This is a small private reserve, where we will do some birdwatching in the grounds around the main building, where there are hummingbird feeders, fruit feeders and many plants that attract birds. Some species here are Red-headed Barbet, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewing, White-tailed Emerald, White-crested Coquette, Black Guan, Blue-crowned Motmot, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Red-fronted Parrotlet, Speckled and Golden-hooded Tanager and Elegant Euphonia among others.
In the afternoon we will arrive at our next destination, where more than 200 bird species have been recorded in the grounds. This rustic lodge in the country near San Isidro Valley next to the Chirripo river has excellent wildlife viewing opportunities on the grounds, and protects a small patch of subtropical forest in an otherwise heavy agricultural area. Many birds come to the feeders in the gardens, and it is an excellent place to see Turquoise Cotinga, Fiery-billed Aracari, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, White-crowned Parrot, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Olivaceous Piculet, Masked Tityra, Canivet’s and Garden Emerald, Slaty Spinetail and Red-legged and Green Honeycreeper.
San Isidro valley to Carara National Park
This morning before departing for the central pacific region and the Carara National Park, We stop for a visit of nearby Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary.
In 1941, Dr Alexander Skutch, an American botanist and naturalist, purchased the land that would become Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary. The farm, which is named after the Fiery-billed Aracari, inspired Dr. Skutch to write more than 30 books and hundreds of papers on Costa Rica’s biodiversity and ornithology. You´ll be able to discover Dr Skutch’s study grounds, as well as a small museum devoted to his memory. Along the road to access Los Cusingos, you will observe several crops, small villages, working facilities and mountain landscapes. Once at the property, we will walk the trails and premises to explore.
A highlight of any visit to Los Cusingos is sitting on the porch watching the hummingbird feeders. In addition, a trail through the forest along the Penas Blancas river is also worthwhile. Here we hope to see White-crowned Parrot, Baird’s Trogon, Black-hooded Antshrike, Orange-collared Manakin, Riverside Wren, Fiery-billed Aracari, Red-crowned and Golden-naped Woodpecker, Turquoise Cotinga, Speckled Tanager, Streaked Saltator, Spot-crowned Euphonia and many others.
What to bring: insect repellent, rain gear, hiking boots or close-toed sturdy shoes, light clothing, sunblock, hat or cap, camera and binoculars (optional).
After the visit to Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary, we will continue our drive northwest to the Central Pacific Region. It encompasses a variety of habitats distributed in different zones of life from the ocean level up to 3000 ft above sea level. This is an overlapping area where the northern hemisphere flora & fauna meets the southern hemisphere species. Consequently, there is a large diversity of plants and animals found in this environment.
Among all the many species of birds we can observe in the area, the Scarlet Macaw is probably the most famous, colourful and loud. There is no way to miss them when they fly around the forest. This region encompasses some important conservation areas like Carara National Park.
Established originally like a Biological Reserve in 1978, Carara was upgraded to National Park status in 1990. The landscape in the area consists of a mix of secondary growth forest and farmlands. Lately, many of the farm owners have opted for reforesting their land with exotic trees like Melina and Teak wood. These trees ended up providing extra nourishment for the macaws and parrots that have adapted quickly to the new species. Besides the Scarlet Macaw, other species in this area are Fiery-billed Aracari, Crane Hawk, White-throated Magpie Jay, Double-striped Thick-knee, Southern Lapwing, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Black-headed Trogon, Cinnamon Hummingbird and Steely-vented Hummingbird.
Located on a farm in Tárcoles, our accommodation for the next two nights is surrounded by trees, palms, gardens and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, mangrove forests and Carara National Park. Around the lodge gardens you might have the chance to see the Black-and-white Owl, Pacific Screech Owl and the diurnal Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, along with Crane Hawk, Grey-headed Kite, Striped Cuckoo, Black-headed and Gartered Trogon, Collared Forest Falcon, White-necked Puffbird, Turquoise-browed Motmot and Blue-throated Goldentail, plus many more.
Carara National Park
We will have a full day to explore the wonderful Carara Park and the mangroves at Rio Tarcoles.
Carara National Park is located between the dry forests of the north and the humid ones of the south. As a result of this confluence of species and habitats, Carara provides interesting opportunities for anyone interested in nature & photography. Many endangered and threatened species live and breed here, like the American Crocodile. The Tarcoles River, which forms the northern boundary of the park, is inhabited by crocodiles throughout most of the year.
There are also several snake and lizard species, and poison dart frogs are among the amphibians present. Mammals include White-tailed Deer, Red Brocket, Collared Peccary, Central American Agouti, White-fronted Capuchin, Mantled Howler Monkey, Hoffmann’s Two-toed and Brown-throated Sloth. However, mammals can be difficult to see due to the dense tree cover.
There are two excellent walking trails that showcase the best of what Carara has to offer. The trails are in good shape, and they’re mostly flat with shaded sections under trees. Designed by architect Ibo Bonilla and built by popular contribution, the park has facilitative features such as animal sculptures, haptic maps, Braille signs, etc.
Carara National Park is considered by many to be one of the best birding locations in Costa Rica. The ranges of many birds found to the north extend to Carara and not much beyond. The same is true of many birds found to the south. Carara is also considered a sanctuary of the Scarlet Macaw, as well as many more species of special birds like Black-hooded Antshrike, Red-capped, Long-tailed and Orange-collared Manakin, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Olivaceous Piculet, Lesser Ground Cuckoo, King Vulture, Baird’s Trogon, Marbled Wood Quail, Russett Antshrike, White Hawk, Yellow-naped Parrot, Fiery-billed Aracari, Streak-chested Antpitta, Rufous Piha, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Black-striped, Long-tailed, and Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Rufous-naped, Black-bellied, Rufous-breasted, Rufous-and-white and Riverside Wren, Charming Hummingbird, Spectacled, Mottled and Striped Owl and many others.
There are many other highlights in Carara in addition to the fantastic birding. The Brown-throated Sloth lives, feeds and mates in the trees, and they can be spotted occasionally along the pathways. The area in which the park is located was occupied by an indigenous culture that lived from 300 B.C. to 1500 A.D. Extensive tomb sites have been excavated here, and the burial places of people of high status are remarkably complex.
What to bring: hiking boots, rain gear, hat or cap, insect repellent, sunblock, plenty of drinking water, light “fast-dry” clothing, camera & binoculars, backpack (recommended)
This afternoon we are in for a treat! We will go on a river by boat! As soon as we take off from the pier, we will start observing a good number of species of birds. We can easily spot more than 50 bird species, including Clay-coloured Thrush (Costa Rica’s National Bird), Scarlet Macaw, Boat-billed Heron, Gartered Trogon, Anhinga, herons, egrets, kingfishers and hummingbirds.
What to bring: Light and comfortable cotton clothes, raingear, sunscreen, sport footwear, camera and binoculars handy (recommended)
Carara to San José and Departure
Depending on your international flight departure time, your guide will take you back to the San José International Airport, about a 90 minute drive.
Please keep in mind that you must be at the airport at least three hours prior to your departure time.
Please note : irrespective of your departure time, only breakfast is included today.