Costa Rica: Caribbean Mountains to Coast

12 Days from
$3,450 USD
Land Tour
Highlights

Highlights

  • Wonderful birdwatching at mid-to-low elevations awards us with a stunning diversity of not just birds, but mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and even fish!
  • A chance to see and photograph some of the world’s most colourful birds, but also some of the most elusive, such as antbirds.
  • Raptor migration with the passage of millions of hawks en route to their wintering grounds.
  • A chance to see nesting sea turtles or hatchlings shuffling into the Caribbean surf.
  • Devout coffee drinkers can enjoy a short tour of a family-run finca while sipping on a freshly-brewed café, and bring some home too!
Map

Map

Tour Overview

A small country that packs a giant biodiversity punch, Costa Rica is considered one of the most—if not the most—diverse country on the planet by land area! Owing to its tropical latitude, varied topography and microclimates, and an enviable amount of protected areas, there is no better place to enjoy a good day’s worth of birding for the level of effort involved. And within this magnificent country, there is nowhere more diverse than the Caribbean slope and lowlands.

From the cloud forests of Tapanti Reserve to the sandy shores of Cahuita, up to the rolling foothills, we take in some of the most exciting birdwatching sites this country has to offer. At this time of year, raptor and passerine migration is in full swing and is an underestimated natural phenomenon that can provide hours of entertainment with the restless birds doing all the work! We combine seeing these alongside less familiar tropical resident birds such as macaws, toucans, owls and antbirds to name a few. We will soak in the vistas of the pyramidal Volcan Arenal and stay on the grounds of a top birding site, Arenal Observatory Lodge, where Great Curassows can be seen from the breakfast table. Along our relatively short route (we only cover one side of the country, after all!), we will have a special opportunity to visit a local farm and explore a wonderful array of tropical orchids.

On top of its astonishing diversity, Costa Rica offers a first-class health care system, comfortable accommodation, solid infrastructure and peaceful policies. This, in combination with the untapped naturalist’s dream that is the Caribbean side, prompts us to offer this exciting new Costa Rica Caribbean birding tour!

Dates & Prices

DATES & PRICES

What's Included

Tour Price Includes

  • All accommodation and meals
  • Ground transportation (air conditioned bus with driver)
  • Guides
  • All park, conservation and entrance fees
  • Gratuities to local drivers

Tour Price Does Not Include

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

Itinerary

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.

Blue-crowned Motmot

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 near Orosi.

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.

Volcano Junco

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.

Watching thousands of Broad-winged Hawks and Turkey Vultures

Day 7: Inland to the foothills

Today we will begin working our way north along the coast to a private reserve called Veragua Rainforest, which gives rare access to a remnant patch of lowland forest. Our main targets here will be Rufous-winged Tanager, Central American Pygmy-Owl, Spot-crowned Antvireo and especially Sulphur-rumped Tanager. This will also be our best chance to see the spectacular Bare-necked Umbrellabird! After lunch we will make our way to the central Caribbean for the late afternoon to spend the night in Guápiles.

Flame-rumped Tanager

Day 8: Caribbean Foothills Birding

After an early breakfast and a short drive to Las Brisas Nature Reserve we will spend the morning in one of the most diverse habitats and most important migratory stopover sites for Neotropical migrants. Here we will be especially looking for mixed-species flocks dominated by dozens of tanagers such as Emerald, Speckled, Bay-headed, Silver-throated, Black-and-yellow and Tawny-crested, Wood creepers such as Cocoa, Wedge-billed, Northern-barred and Brown-billed Scythebill, and a multitude of flycatchers including Tawny-chested. It is also a great place for several species of trogons including Gartered, Black-throated, Slaty-tailed and the near endemic Lattice-tailed.

Las Brisas is also the study site for a project run by Eagle-Eye Tours' guides Ernesto and Paz where they study migratory birds, especially the Cerulean Warbler. We will continue watching birds as we have our picnic lunch around the field station in the multiple fruiting bushes where dozens of Red-eyed Vireos, Swainson's Thrushes, honeycreepers and euphonias feed on fruiting bushes. After lunch we will continue birding Las Brisas and the surrounding areas before returning to Guápiles for another night.

Speckled Tanager and Silver-throated Tanager Costa Rica

Days 9 and 10: Arenal Observatory Lodge

This morning we will pack our bags and leave the hotel to visit another section of Las Brisas Nature Reserve at a lower elevation where we will be looking for different species such as White-fronted Nunbird, Pied Puffbird, White-necked Puffbird, Purple-throated Fruitcrows Royal flycatcher and Great Green Macaw, as well as an exceptional suite of lowland forest swamp birds such as kingfishers including American Pygmy Kingfisher and the rare Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, as well as Boat-billed Herons and the extremely elusive Agami Heron.

After lunch at a local restaurant where we will watch for Fasciated Tiger-Heron, we will continue our way northwest to Arenal Observatory Lodge, 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.

Boat-Billed Heron

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.

Red-legged Honeycreeper

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.

What to Expect

Overview

The Costa Rica: Caribbean Mountains to Coast tour is a moderately paced birding tour. Expect optional early morning, before-breakfast walks on most days. 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. We bird again in the coolness of the late afternoon, occasionally staying out after dusk to search for nightbirds. We have at least two nights in each birding zone so there is some opportunity to relax between outings. 

Food

We generally have breakfast at the hotel before we head out for the day. We often take a picnic lunch in the field, but will occasionally stop at a restaurant for lunch. 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.

Accommodation

Generally we stay in standard hotel rooms or rustic lodges, in remote locations, close to where we want to go birding.  

Walking

The walking on this tour is rated easy to moderate. Generally we do not walk further than 5 km (3 miles), however the terrain can be uneven and muddy. The maximum elevation on this tour is approximately 3,000 m (10,000 ft) during our day on the Irazú Volcano. Our accommodations in the highlands sit at 2,200 m (7,200 ft), but other accommodations are at less than 1,500 m (5,000 ft).

Driving

This tour involves a moderate amount of driving, as we relocate to several amazing locations throughout the tour. Most accommodations are 2-3 hours apart, except one which is an hour away and another four hours distant. We will take frequent rest stops and birding stops on these travel days. On the non-relocating days, we will drive just short distances to amazing birding locations. Throughout the tour, we travel on paved roads, however there will be some twisty roads when driving through the mountains.

Climate

Temperatures will range from warm to hot, with an often daily mixture of sun, cloud, showers and rain. In general, the Caribbean is a wetter area but showers are often at night. Mosquitoes are not usually a problem but can be active in the evenings or in certain areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Isn't it rainy in October?
On the Caribbean side of the country, the amount of rain is relatively consistent through the year and our past tours have found that they didn't miss any birding due to rain.

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
  • Great Green Macaws
  • Black-crested Coquette
  • Sulphur-rumped Tanager
  • Swainson’s Hawk
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Keel-billed Motmot
  • Great Curassow
  • Black-chested Jay
  • Three species of primates
  • Poison Arrow and Tree Frogs

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