Costa Rica Birding Tour

17 Days from
$6,295 USD
Land Tour
Highlights

Highlights

  • Lots of high quality, exciting birding in relatively easy conditions
  • Amazingly high diversity in such a small area, in comfortable surroundings and protected areas
  • Expect 400+ bird species
Map

Map

Tour Overview

“Pura Vida” is Costa Rica’s unofficial national slogan—you’ll hear it instead of hola or gracias. It means Pure Life and it’s an apt moniker for this vibrant country, only the size of West Virginia or Nova Scotia but holding some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet. Indeed, with over 900 bird species recorded, and half-a-million other animal types, it is a compact ecological treasure chest begging to be opened. As a long-time tourism operator in Costa Rica we open up this world to our guests, providing an extensive outing that covers most of the country’s ecosystems. On this birding tour, we include two less-accessible hotspots not included in the Costa Rica Sampler tour— the Osa Peninsula and the Caño Negro wetlands—so birders and naturalists can observe a larger proportion of the country’s avifauna. If nothing else, this itinerary offers more time simply out birding, and should satiate even the most intrepid naturalists! Around 450 species is the norm for our checklist.

Only a few days into the trip you’ll discover why Costa Rica is a naturalist’s dream. We take you beyond the brochure-cover waterfalls and beaches, to hidden hotspots known only to our guides. Beyond the avian gems, the scenery is still breathtaking at these sites, too. Costa Rica with western Panama is a major centre of avian endemism, with nearly 70 species found nowhere else! Resplendent Quetzal is high on our list of target birds, but we also search for rarities like King Vulture, Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Unspotted Saw-whet Owls and Hook-billed Kites, often using our connections with conservation projects and local farmers. We, in turn, support Costa Rica’s extensive conservation network through our visit.

Join us in the Talamanca Mountains, the Caribbean foothills, the Osa Peninsula, and other venues as we explore all of what Costa Rica has to offer, from birds to everything else, including the “Pura Vida” culture!

Dates & Prices

DATES & PRICES

What's Included

Tour Price Includes

  • All accommodation (basic to very good accommodation)
  • All meals
  • Ground transportation (Air-conditioned bus with driver)
  • 1 guide with 4 - 8 participants, 2 guides with 9 - 12
  • All park, conservation and entrance fees

Tour Price Does Not Include

  • Flights to and from San Jose
  • Travel Insurance
  • Items of a personal nature

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in San José

The tour begins with a welcome dinner at our hotel, where we’ll get prepped for the days ahead, discussing what to expect while meeting the leaders and fellow travelers on our Costa Rica birding tour. Depending on flight schedules we may bird the grounds, searching for Lesson’s Motmot, Rufous-naped Wren, Mottled Owl and Costa Rica’s national bird, the Clay-colored Thrush. Night in San Jose.

Blue-crowned Motmot

Day 2: Resplendent Quetzal

The set off early on our first morning, aiming directly on a search for Costa Rica’s most emblematic species, the Resplendent Quetzal. San Ramón has an excellent feeder set-up where we can enjoy a variety of birds while eating breakfast. Feeders in Costa Rica are normally well-appointed, providing a living for the local family, not to mention keeping the birds employed as photo subjects! Some of these, of course, are difficult to see in the forest, including Violet Sabrewing, the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald and the range-restricted Prong-billed Barbet. Nobody has yet tamed a quetzal, however, and we’ll have to walk beyond the feeders to search for the local pair, with cameras ready in case the male is perched in the open.

After this we head west to the Pacific coast where we’ll stay for two nights. This area is the transition between drier forest to the north and wetter rainforest to the south so there is a great mix of species here. Strategically, we place ourselves near the famed Carara National Park. Night near Carara National Park.

Resplendent Quetzal, Costa Rica

Day 3: Carara National Park

Carara National Park preserves a huge tract of intact semi-evergreen forest and we spend a long morning here to explore the avian bounty. The birding here is some of the best around; in fact, almost half of Costa Rica’s bird species are on the local list. Some of the highlights include: Orange-collared, Red-capped and Velvety Manakins, several species of trogon, Northern Bentbill, Streak-chested Antpitta, Great Tinamou and Green Shrike-Vireo. We’ll do an out-and-back hike where we might observe some mammals too, such as White-faced Capuchin Monkeys in the canopy and Honduran White Bats roosting under “tents” they make from Heliconia leaves. We’ll hope for other tropical birds like Great Black Hawk, White-whiskered Puffbird and Band-tailed Barbthroat, one of the many hummingbirds we’ll encounter without hummingbird in the name! We’ll especially be on the lookout for the flashy Fiery-billed Aracari on this hike.

In the afternoon, depending on available time we’ll re-visit another section of the park or explore some great birding near our hotel. Some of the dry forest specialties we’ll be looking for include: Pacific Screech-owl, Streak-backed Oriole, Nutting’s Flycatcher, Turquoise-browed Motmot, and wintering Western Tanager. Night near Carara National Park.

Orange-collared Manakin in Costa Rica

Day 4: Tárcoles River and transfer to Osa Peninsula

This morning we enjoy a pleasant boat trip into the mangroves along the Rio Tárcoles. This adventure is always a highlight, especially for photographers. We see many gawdy birds, not to mention the wry smiles of gigantic crocodiles loafing on the riverbank. Some avian targets here include: Mangrove Vireo, Mangrove Swallow, Panama Flycatcher, Boat-billed Heron, Black Skimmer and American Pygmy Kingfisher, which is not the smallest in the world but it’s easy to miss.

After this, we drive southeast toward the famed Osa Peninsula, making a few birding stops enroute. We’ll spend three nights here, giving us enough time to enjoy the wild ambience of this corner of the country. Night near Corcovado National Park.

American Pygmy Kingfisher

Days 5 and 6: Osa Peninsula and environs

The Osa is a peninsula jutting into the Pacific and can be described as a “steaming jungle,” which may be a deterrent to your average tourist, but to avid birders is just the right kind of paradise. Of course, we do our best to start early when it is cooler, and rest during the afternoon. We’ll offer options for some owling and “herping” (looking for frogs and snakes) at night, too. For two mornings we birdwatch in various zones including mangroves, shorelines, wetlands and— the best part about the Osa— lowland primary rainforest. Our lodge is found right on the border with the beautiful Corcovado National Park so we won’t have to go far to find some incredible habitats to explore.

Some of the avian highlights in this segment are, of course, those difficult to find elsewhere: Yellow-billed Cotinga, Mangrove Hummingbird, Veraguan Mango, Uniform Crake and, an endemic species found nowhere outside of the Osa: Black-cheeked Ant-tanager. This one is found in the vicinity of army ant swarms, which are a magnet for other exciting birds like Chestnut-backed and Bicolored Antbirds, Gray-headed Tanager, Cocoa Woodcreeper and White-throated Shrike-Tanager. We look up to the sky in search of swifts: White-collared, Spot-fronted, Chestnut-collared, and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift are found here. Nights near Corcovado National Park.

Mangrove Hummingbird, Costa Rica

Days 7 and 8: Talamanca Highlands

We’ll leave early for a sinuous and scenic drive from the coast, up and over Cerro de la Muerte along the spine of the Talamanca Mountains. We’ll bird our way along, stopping for some of the classic species of the Talamanca Range, which are numerous: Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher, Yellow-winged Vireo, Timberline Wren, Costa Rican Pygmy-owl, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Flame-throated Warbler, Chiriqui Foliage-gleaner, Fiery-throated and Talamanca Hummingbirds, and White-tailed Emerald. All of these are “regional endemics” restricted to this mountain spine that extends into Panama. We might have a chance along the route to look for some other difficult species: Rosy Thrush-tanager, White-crested Coquette, Barred Hawk and possibly Ocellated Crake.

When we arrive at our hotel we’ll be ready to put our feet up, but only to recover for another day of highland birding. We can do this nearby our hotel the next morning, with excellent feeders and nearby elfin forest where we can hunt down Scintillant Hummingbird, Black-capped Flycatcher, Dark Pewee, Collared Redstart, and Black Guan—more regional endemics! We’ll have another chance to look for quetzals here, too, not to mention a duo of range-restricted owls: Unspotted Saw-whet Owl and Bare-shanked Screech-owl. Dusky Nightjar and other nocturnal surprises await. Nights in San Gerardo de Dota.

Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl

Day 9: Irazú Volcano and adjacent slopes

For our third day in the highlands we’ll strategically relocate to another hotel and explore nearby mountain slopes. Depending on which targets we’re still looking for, we may visit Tapantí National Park or Volcan Irazú. In these zones, the likes of Red-faced Spinetail, Mistletoe Tyrannulet, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, and Spangle-cheeked Tanager await. Three other goodies: Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher, Blue-and-gold Tanager and the enigmatic Sharpbill could be the icing on the cake. In the vicinity we’ll go looking for some river birds such as Torrent Tyrannulet, Fasciated Tiger-Heron and Sunbittern, and we can search for another Costa Rican endemic, the threatened Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow. Night near Paraiso.

Spangle-cheeked Tanager

Day 10: Transfer to the Caribbean lowlands

After a morning of birding around our lodge we get back in the van. Our next segment involves a visit to another impressive rainforest, but this time in the most biodiverse region of Costa Rica: the Caribbean slope and lowlands. We travel down to the lowlands with a number of stops along the way. Night in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui.

Sunbittern

Day 11: La Selva

La Selva biological station has been in operation for over 70 years and is administered by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), making it a great place for learning more about birds and tropical ecology.

We’ll spend a morning birding this fantastic area with one of the local guides, whose local knowledge could help us find roosting owls (Middle American Screech-Owl or Spectacled Owl, for example) or perhaps even an Eyelash Pit-viper, which are known to sit waiting on a leaf for weeks at a time.

La Selva is simply a joy to experience and we’ll hope to encounter an army ant swarm, with up to five species of antshrike (including Fasciated and Russet), not to mention other goodies in the area like Sungrebe, King Vulture, Plain-colored Tanager, both Pied and White-throated Puffbirds, and of course Keel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucans. We’ll almost certainly have flyovers of the magnificent and endangered Great Green Macaw, and later we’ll explore the outskirts of the reserve where they are easier to see up close. Further afield is a special location for Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, a bird that has a proportionately larger bill than the macaw! Back at our hotel, the feeder setup draws in all sorts of tanagers, aracaris, and hummingbirds, making photography a snap. Night in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui.

Great Green Macaw

Day 12: Transfer to Caño Negro

After our second morning of birding around Sarapiqui for more species that are characteristic of lowland rainforest, including motmots, tinamous, cotingas and more we depart and head north to Caño Negro. We make a few opportunistic stops along the way for species of open habitat such as Pearl Kite or Savannah Hawk before arriving at our lodge. Night in Caño Negro.

Pearl Kite

Day 13: Caño Negro boat trip and on to Arenal

This morning we’ll take a boat trip around the extensive wetlands of Caño Negro. Water levels fluctuate from year to year but the bird action is always high. We’ll focus on seeing a few difficult species, two examples being the humongous Jabiru stork and the elusive Nicaraguan Grackle. Neither are easy to find but this part of the country is our best bet. Since we’re on a boat tour we’ll have a great chance to see all kinds of flamboyant—and buoyant—species, including Roseate Spoonbill, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Purple Gallinule, Anhinga and White Ibis. This area is also great for owls (Pacific Screech-Owl, Striped Owl, etc.) and we’ll also hope to see the discreet Great Potoo perched on a roost. In the afternoon we’ll move toward La Fortuna and eventually Arenal. Night at Arenal Observatory Lodge or a similar lodge.

Great Potoo

Days 14-16: Arenal Volcano National Park and area

We’re now back on the Caribbean Slope in what has become an iconic birding destination. This is an ideal location nearby the postcard-worthy Volcán Arenal. With three nights here we should catch a glimpse of the conical summit. The hotel has extensive grounds and we scarcely need to venture far to encounter exceptional birding. In the mornings we’ll walk on well-built trails amid lush surroundings and at breakfast we’ll sit beside feeders that attract Great Curassows and a myriad of tanagers. On a recent tour we sighted over a dozen species of hummingbird before breakfast! Specialty birds of this area include: Black-crested Coquette, Rufous Mourner, Stripe-breasted Wren, an array of antbirds (eg. Bicolored, Ocellated and Spotted Antbirds) and, doubtless, some surprises from the trail network or the canopy tower. In the vicinity we have found one of the most elusive birds in Costa Rica: the Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, which is something every guide hopes for when encountering an army ant swarm, but luck is needed for this mythical bird to spring to life.

We’ll stroll in a zone with beautiful views of Lake Arenal, searching for Keel-billed Motmot, Bare-crowned Antbird, Bright-rumped Attila, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, and Crimson-collared Tanager. With luck we could also find Yellow-eared Toucanet, Rufous-winged Tanager, Ornate Hawk-Eagle and Semiplumbeous Hawk.

Arenal is well-suited for night walks. We’ll search for a resident Black-and-white Owl, in addition to a few species of amphibians, especially the Red-eyed Leaf-Frog. The rare, nocturnal Margay (a jungle cat) has been seen on the grounds around the lodge. On our last afternoon we’ll commute back to San Jose to a conveniently-located hotel near the airport. Not to worry, we still have target species here, including Spot-breasted Oriole, Crested Bobwhite and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl that are present on the grounds. Nights at Arenal Observatory Lodge or similar except last night in San Jose near the airport.

Creat Curassow

Day 17: Departure

The Costa Rica birding tour finishes today. Breakfast is available, but you can take an airport shuttle to catch your flight home anytime today.

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

What to Expect

The daily travel schedule on our Costa Rica birding tour will vary to account for weather, bird species and habitat. Expect optional early morning, before-breakfast walks on most days, as well as late evening viewing. Almost without exception it is best to begin birding at daybreak in the tropics, when bird activity and song are at their peak. In forest regions, we concentrate on “edge” birding until the light is sufficient to enter forest trails. Often bird activity slackens off by noon, when we may return to our hotel for lunch and a short siesta. On occasion, picnic lunches will be prepared for us, maximizing our time in the field and allowing us a more flexible schedule.

We bird again in the coolness of the late afternoon, occasionally staying out after dusk to search for nightbirds. Weather conditions on the trip will range from hot to cool; mostly, it will be warm to hot with a mixture of sun and cloud. Our time at Carara National Park will be hot and dry. Cerro de la Muerte and our accommodation in the highlands at Paraiso Quetzal will be cool, and could be windy and wet. The Caribbean lowlands at La Selva are likely to be hot and humid. Walking conditions range from easy to moderate; if there has been rain, then trails could be muddy. Our maximum elevation on this tour is Cerro de la Muerte, where we drive up to 3,451 m (11,322 ft).

Strong, waterproof footwear is advised and a light rain-jacket and waterproof hat are often essential. There will be opportunities for photography, as many birds and other wildlife allow close approach and we visit several excellent feeder stations. Bring mosquito repellant – mosquitoes are not usually a problem but can be active after rain. In the evening we eat at the hotel or lodge where we are staying. At this time we discuss the day’s activities, review the list of birds and other wildlife that we have seen and heard, and prepare for the next day.

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Featured Wildlife

While we cannot guarantee sightings of the birds or mammals listed below, we believe that encountering these species is quite likely during this tour.

  • Resplendent Quetzal
  • Keel-billed Motmot
  • Fiery-billed Aracari
  • Sunbittern
  • Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager
  • Blue-and-gold Tanager
  • Mangrove Hummingbird
  • Black-crested Coquette
  • Great Curassow
  • Montezuma Oropendola
  • King Vulture
  • Ornate Hawk-Eagle
  • Jabiru
  • Eyelash Pit-viper
  • American Crocodile
  • Red-eyed Leaf-Frog
  • Hoffman’s Three-toed Sloth

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