Day 1 - Arrival in San José
Our Costa Rica Caribbean birding tour begins with dinner and an orientation at our hotel near the airport in Heredia. Participants arriving early can enjoy the beautiful hotel grounds, welcomed by motmots, parakeets and Costa Rica’s national bird, the Clay-colored Thrush. The hotel has a list of nearly 300 species just from the grounds alone! Night in San José.
Days 2-3 – Irazú Volcano and Tapantí National Park
After some early birding looking for one of Costa Rica’s endemic birds, the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, we depart for Irazú Volcano. We pass through the Central Valley ringed by peaks and cloud forest, working our way up the slopes of Irazú Volcano where we will look for several highland endemics such as Flame-throated Warbler, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Volcano Junco and with a little luck we might find the spectacular Resplendant Quetzal. Later in the afternoon we will descend back down into the valley to spend our first night at Hotel Río Perlas near Orosi with enough time to look for Sunbitterns right on the grounds.
The next morning we head to Costa Rica’s second largest national park: Tapantí. This reserve is a great example of middle elevation Caribbean forest with every branch and trunk absolutely covered in moss, bromeliads and orchids. Incidentally, Costa Rica hosts over 1500 species of orchids and we will take some time to look at some up close. Back to birds: some target species include: Black Guan, Brown-billed Scythebill, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Wrenthrush, Black-bellied Hummingbird, Green-fronted Lancebill and even the elusive Sharpbill. More common but no less wonderful sightings may include: Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Collared Trogon, Common Chlorospingus, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Slate-throated Redstart and the all-around weird Prong-billed Barbet. We will also be looking closely for any other raptors such as Ornate Hawk-Eagle that may be soaring in the valley below us.
After lunch we will visit our lead guide Ernesto’s family coffee farm to see how organic coffee goes from the plant to your cup! A large part of what happens on the farm revolves around producing top quality coffee and providing habitat to as many species possible, making for fantastic birding as well. Collared Aracari, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Yellow-throated Euphonia and the handsome White-eared Ground-Sparrow are generally part of the tour. Nights near Orosi.
Days 4-6 – Southern Caribbean Lowlands
Our next venue on the southern Caribbean coast won’t disappoint. A paradise frequented by beachgoers, surfers, and snowbirds alike, the Puerto Viejo area also happens to be an untapped and underrated birding destination. From the white sands, turquoise waters and intact forest of Cahuita National Park to the indigenous reserves higher in the Talamanca Mountains, we’ll explore a variety of terrain. One of our objectives will be to observe the spectacular raptor migration that occurs here at this time of year, and the natural bottleneck created as the mountains push closer to the coast make the region a prime site for this. We will visit different forested roads and walk at a relaxed pace to enjoy the forest birding where we may find Spotted and Bicolored Antbirds, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Snowy Cotinga, Black-chested Jay and maybe even a Slaty-breasted Tinamou. Below our feet we’ll hope to spot two brilliant species of Poison-Arrow frogs!
The majority of migrating raptors are Swainson’s Hawks, Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks, but there are also Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Osprey, Mississippi Kite, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks. Hundreds may pass by in a minute. There may also be thousands of migrating swallows and swifts present, in a spectacle that will surely capture our attention, but we cannot forget the forests around us. Looking around, we can find resident species such as Collared Aracari, Blue Dacnis, Shining Honeycreeper, Red-capped Manakin and Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher. Here and elsewhere several other raptors are possible including: King Vulture, Double-toothed Kite, Hook-billed Kite, White-tailed Kite, Common Black Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, White Hawk, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Bat Falcon and Laughing Falcon.
In and around Cahuita National Park we will encounter migrants such as Bay-breasted Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush and Summer Tanager, and more parrots, tinamous, owls, antshrikes, woodcreepers, and trogons. Wetland birds could include Green Ibis and Green-and-rufous Kingfisher. We look for Sulphur-rumped Tanager, which is a near-endemic found only in this corner of Costa Rica. Nights in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
Days 7 and 8 – Tortuguero
Today we drive up the coast a short distance then switch over from van to boat transport for the commute along the canals to Tortuguero, an off-the-path tourist town with no road access. Slowly plying the jungle-covered back-channels by covered boat is always a great way to see birds and other wildlife in a relaxing manner. We will see Green Iguana, Howler Monkeys and with great luck, even a Jaguarundi or other rare mammal. Exciting birds could include Boat-billed Heron, Sungrebe, Great Green Macaw, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and Crane Hawk.
We will have a full day to further explore the sinuous canals lined with Raffia palms and lush, primary rainforest. The Canadian-run research station at nearby Caño Palma could be a great place to find species such as Royal Flycatcher, White-fronted Nunbird, Scarlet Macaw and Great Potoo.
Another highlight in this area is Tortuguero’s namesake Green Sea Turtles that nest on the surf-pounded beaches. During the day we may find hatchlings making a run for it to the ocean or perhaps come across a flipped-over turtle carcass. Such an encounter could indicate the presence of an enigmatic predator, the jaguar, known to hunt turtles at night. Back to birds: Down the beach and near the “boca,” or river mouth, are excellent places to find migrating shorebirds including stilts, spoonbills and sandpipers. All in all, this area of the Caribbean coast offers many exciting options and the potential for great discovery. Nights at a lodge near Tortuguero.
Days 9 and 10 – Arenal Observatory Lodge
We return via boat to reunite with our van and driver, continuing north and east, tracing the base of rugged mountains on the way to La Fortuna, a tourism hub at the foot of Arenal Volcano. After some leg-stretching we arrive at Arenal Observatory Lodge on the other side of the volcano. This location at the northern fringe of the Caribbean slope offers the most species diversity of any site in Costa Rica and it is a fun place to end a trip. The outdoor jacuzzi, canopy lookout tower and a busy feeder setup are all nice touches, too.
Around the lodge grounds we have the potential for some good birds. Yellow-eared Toucanet, Lovely Cotinga and Semiplumbeous Hawk require some luck. Army ant swarms are common and can offer exciting viewing of Spotted, Ocellated and Bicolored Antbirds, among many other species. Rufous-tailed Jacamars sally out to catch butterflies and odd grunting noises come from Masked and Black-tailed Tityras. Mammals include Three-toed Sloth, Spider Monkey, Tamandua and Coatimundi. If it is clear, the view of the volcano is breathtaking!
We spend our time here exploring trails and roads through excellent forest, looking for more Caribbean-slope specialties. This is a great place to find Keel-billed Motmot, Ornate Hawk-Eagle and Black-crested Coquette. Conspicuous species like White-necked Puffbirds and Long-tailed Tyrants perch on exposed dead snags, and manakins will be displaying at their leks on the forest floor. Mixed-species flocks pass by with a dozen or more species: foliage-gleaners, flycatchers, dacnis, euphonias, warblers, woodpeckers and more. The birding is nothing short of exceptional in this area! Nights at Arenal Observatory Lodge.
Day 11 – Back to San José
After a morning excursion we will pack up and head back to the city, making a stop to check out some feeders at a highway restaurant. Like many other venues on the trip this is a great spot for photography. Speckled, Silver-throated, Bay-headed and Emerald Tanagers are eye-popping subjects, and so are Red-legged Honeycreepers and hummingbirds like the Green Thorntail and endemic Coppery-headed Emerald. When we arrive at our hotel soon after we’ll be in a drier habitat and close to the airport. The quaint grounds here offer a pool and some bonus viewing of species not seen elsewhere on the tour: Spot-breasted Oriole, Olive Sparrow and Cinnamon Hummingbird are possible. Night near San José.
Day 12 – Departure
Our Costa Rica Caribbean birding tour concludes today. Breakfast is available at our hotel near the airport, but you can leave anytime today. The airport is accessible via a short transfer.