Costa Rica Sampler

12 Days from
$3,995 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
  • Tour of an organic coffee farm
Map

Map

Tour Overview

Costa Rica is one of those magical places where nature takes the main stage. A small, peaceful country, it is covered in verdant rainforest within a vast network of national parks and private reserves. The name means rich coast, and on this tour we’re never too far from the Pacific or Caribbean. The famed beaches and coastal zones are indeed alluring, but it’s when we explore the mountains and foothills that the naturalist truly discovers the wealth of Costa Rica.

We’ll ascend to the cloud forests of the Talamanca mountains where hummingbirds and quetzals abound. We’ll spend ample time in the foothills on either side of the divide, with every zone offering a different suite of birds, from tanagers, warblers and flycatchers, to antbirds, woodcreepers, macaws and a mind-boggling array of other species. Mammals, reptiles and amphibians are well represented, and scenic vistas like the perfect cone of Arenal Volcano provide the backdrop.

We’ve designed our “sampler” itinerary so we don’t have to travel far between a select few lodges. From day one until the grand finale at La Selva, our expert guides will introduce birders of all abilities to everything Costa Rica has to offer! 

Dates & Prices

DATES & PRICES

What's Included

Tour Price Includes

  • All accommodation and meals
  • Ground transportation (air conditioned bus with driver)
  • 4 - 8 Participants will be guided by one guide. 9 - 12 participants will be guided by two guides.
  • All park, conservation and entrance fees
  • Gratuities to local guides and drivers

Tour Price Does Not Include

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

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival

Our Costa Rica Sampler birding tour begins with a welcome dinner at the hotel, where you’ll meet your guides and fellow travelers. We’ll talk about what to expect in the coming days (hint: lots of birds!) and discuss some of the already-sighted tropical species hopping around the hotel grounds, such as Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Lesson’s Motmot and Clay-colored Thrush (Costa Rica’s national bird). Wintering migrants like Tennessee Warbler and Summer Tanager have joined us down here. After dinner we may take an optional walk to search for a pair of roosting Mottled Owls. Night in Heredia.

Blue-crowned Motmot

Day 2: Transfer to the Pacific Coast (Carara)

We set off early heading west to the Pacific coast near Puntarenas, which is a climatic boundary between the tropical dry forest to the north and wetter rainforest to the south. We’ll start in a mangrove forest—a good place to search for Mangrove Hummingbird, one of Costa Rica’s four endemic bird species. Other representative birds include: Prothontary Warbler, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Streak-backed Oriole and the raucous White-throated Magpie-Jay. We’ve seen the mangrove-loving Crab-eating Raccon here.

As we ease into our trip, we’ll enjoy lunch near a popular tourist area, then check in to our hotel where we’ll be staying for three nights. In the evening we’ll go out to find some other dry forest species, such as Yellow-naped Parrot, Cinnamon Hummingbird, and Scrub Euphonia. We should be treated to great views of the familiar yet always-exciting Scarlet Macaw. Night near Carara National Park.

Turquoise-browed Motmot

Days 3 & 4: Carara National Park

Carara National Park preserves a huge tract of beautiful semi-evergreen forest. The birding here is world-class, and nearly half of Costa Rica’s bird species can be found here. If a mixed-flock passes by it can be electrifying, with a myriad of birds flitting through the canopy. This is when our guides are at their best, breaking down the action into memorable snippets. Stealth is required for some of the understory birds, such as lekking Orange-collared Manakin, singing Streak-chested Antpitta, and the seemingly fearless Great Tinamou. Meanwhile, Northern Bentbill, Streaked Xenops and Long-billed Gnatwren allow a comparison of cool-looking bird beaks. We’ll do an out-and-back hike, perhaps finding White-faced Capuchins and Geoffroy’s Spider-Monkeys or Honduran White Bats roosting under “tents” they make from Heliconia leaves. We’ll hope for other tropical birds like Green Shrike-Vireo, Great Black Hawk, White-whiskered Puffbird and Rufous Piha. Eventually, a Keel-billed Toucan will reveal itself, usually to much fanfare!

In the late afternoon we enjoy a boat trip into the mangroves along the Rio Tárcoles, a sit-back-and-relax adventure that is always a highlight. Although we have some targets on this trip (eg. Mangrove Vireo, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Panama and Northern Scrub-Flycatchers, and Roseate Spoonbill), this is mostly a pleasant outing along some natural canals. We’ll stop to watch American Crocodiles loaf along the river bank and perhaps view a Peregrine Falcon hunting Greater Fishing Bats at dusk. American Pygmy Kingfisher and Boat-billed Heron are often perched above the water’s edge, and Black Skimmers patrol the shallows.

On our second day in Carara we’ll explore another section of the park and surrounding environs. If conditions are right, we’ll visit a small watering hole where we can view tropical birds bathing and drinking. We’ve seen both Red-capped and Velvety Manakins, and Green Honeycreeper up close. We’ll look for Baird’s Trogon in the mid-canopy, Gray-headed Tanager with mixed flocks, and two species of iguanas lounging in the parking lot. We’ll visit a scenic vista over the Gulf of Nicoya with the possibility of seeing King Vulture, a species with an interesting behaviour we can discuss. Last but not least, we’ll focus on finding one of Costa Rica’s many “regional endemics,” the photogenic Fiery-billed Aracari. This stunner, like many targets on this tour, ranges only from Costa Rica slightly into Panama. Nights near Carara National Park.

American Pygmy Kingfisher

Day 5: Transfer to the Talamanca Highlands

After some morning birding and breakfast, we ascend to the highlands. The cloud forests and the alpine-like páramo of the Cordillera de Talamanca and Irazú Volcano are spectacular ecosystems, full of new birds. The vegetation is varied, with alder forests giving way to so-called elfin woodlands. Up here the trees drip with epiphytes and dew, and orchids are plentiful. The views are decent—from some summits it is possible to see both the Caribbean and the Pacific!

Along our route we stop for species like Fiery-throated, Snowy-bellied, Scintillant and Volcano Hummingbirds and Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher. We visit the highest roads for Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren and we’ll try for some difficult species like Dark Pewee, Sooty-faced Finch and Prong-billed Barbet—the latter visible at feeders! All of these are regional endemics, tied to the cordilleras in this part of Central America. Night near Paraiso.

Red-headed Barbet, Costa Rica

Days 6 & 7: Highlands

We have two full days to focus on our search for a new suite of highland birds. Some of these include: Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Black-capped Flycatcher, Collared Redstart, Large-footed Finch, Barred Hawk, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Golden-browed Chlorophonia and with luck, Silvery-throated Jay. One Costa Rican endemic we’ll hope to encounter in the lower elevations of this valley is the threatened Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow.

Our primary target, however, is the Resplendent Quetzal, a bird on most birders’ bucket lists. It is easily one of the most stunning animals in the world, and we sleuth out recent nesting sites to prioritize on finding this majestic beauty. A nocturnal foray can be exciting, with targets ranging from Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, Bare-shanked Screech-Owl, Spectacled Owl and Mottled Owl. During the daytime we should be able to track down a roosting Tropical Screech-Owl. Nights near Paraiso.

Resplendent Quetzal on branch

Days 8 - 10: Arenal National Park area

Today we’ll commute toward Arenal and make a couple of stops along the way. We’ll keep an eye out for Red-breasted Meadowlark, Fasciated Tiger-Heron and Sunbittern. Driving several hours will then reset us in preparation for birding the famed Arenal Volcano area, where we’ll spend three nights getting to know a whole new avifauna.

The Caribbean slope here offers the highest biodiversity in Costa Rica and perhaps all of Central America, so excitement awaits! On top of this, we enjoy some lodge-based birding, which is one of the joys of this tour. In the mornings we have optional walks on well-built trails amid lush surroundings, or sit and watch the fruit and nectar feeders. On a recent tour we were treated to 14 species of hummingbird before breakfast!

At Arenal we will be spoiled with a dazzling array of tanagers, toucans, hummingbirds, and the photogenic Great Curassow, right from the dining area. The likes of Emerald and Bay-headed Tanagers, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Montezuma Oropendola and many others can be enjoyed along with a fresh coffee and plate of delicious fruit. After breakfast we walk the grounds, searching for Black-crested Coquette, Rufous Mourner, Stripe-breasted Wren, and hopefully a mixed-species flock containing a variety of antbirds (eg. Bicolored, Ocellated and Spotted Antbirds, Great and Russet Antshrikes) and, doubtless, some surprises from the trail network or the canopy tower.

After lunch, we stroll along a quiet mountain road (for traffic, not birds!) with views of the gorgeous Lake Arenal. This tactic allows plenty of viewing space for our group, and walking here is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. One of our targets is Keel-billed Motmot, a canopy-dwelling beauty with a limited range and interesting call. Some of the more common species we might encounter are Bare-crowned Antbird, Bright-rumped Attila, Mistletoe and Brown-capped Tyrannulets, and Crimson-collared Tanager. Elusive targets include: Yellow-eared Toucanet, Rufous-winged Tanager, Great Potoo, Ornate Hawk-Eagle and Semiplumbeous Hawk.

On a night walk, we’ll search for a resident Black-and-white Owl and some amphibians with bodacious names like Loquacious Tree-Frog, Savage’s slender-toed Frog and the postcard-worthy Red-eyed Leaf-Frog. It is not often jungle cats are sighted on a tour, yet the rare, nocturnal Margay has been seen frequently here. Nights at Arenal Observatory Lodge or a similar lodge.

Birding group Arenal Costa Rica

Day 11: La Selva

Our itinerary allows for an outstanding finish to this adventure. We make a final stop at La Selva Biological Station alongside the Sarapiquí River to see what the jungle has yet to reveal. This area is one of the better-studied tropical forests in the world so be prepared for the likes of snakes, sloths, monkeys, bats, anteaters, iguanas, and of course, more birds. Usually the staff can point out a roosting owl or other dormant animals.

The list of incredible species in La Selva is daunting: Middle American Screech-Owl, Snowy Cotinga, Pied Puffbird, Fasciated Antshrike, Yellow-throated and Olive-backed Euphonias, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Black-faced Grosbeak, Golden-hooded Tanager, Buff-rumped Warbler, the raucous Great Green Macaw, and many more. After all this it’s time for a cold drink, but after that we’ll check fields in the vicinity for the rare and lovely Nicaraguan Seedfinch. Finally, we commute to our cozy airport hotel, but even here we should encounter Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and Spot-breasted Oriole. Eventually the birding winds down and we call it a wrap. Night near San Jose Airport.

Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth © Steve Ogle

Day 12: Departure

Our Costa Rica Sampler birding tour finishes today. Breakfast is available and you can transfer to the airport for flights home at any time.

What to Expect

Overview

The Costa Rica Sampler 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.

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. Our maximum elevation on this tour is Cerro de la Muerte, where we drive up to 3,451 m (11,322 ft).

Driving

This trip involves a moderate amount of driving, as we relocate to several amazing locations throughout the tour, which are between 2 – 3.5 hours apart. 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

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. Mosquitoes are not usually a problem but can be active in the evenings or in certain areas. 

Boat Trips

The tour includes a three hour Mangrove Boat Tour on the Rio Tárcoles on a 4 Stroke Outboard Motorboard. Shaded boat with plenty of seating, optimized for all guests to have a clear view of the birds along the river. No washroom on board, only at a private dock before and after the boat tour.

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
  • Scarlet Macaw
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Keel-billed Motmot
  • Keel-billed Toucan
  • Fiery-billed Aracari
  • Slaty-tailed Trogon
  • Sunbittern
  • Mangrove Hummingbird
  • Violet Sabrewing
  • Great Curassow
  • Montezuma Oropendola
  • King Vulture
  • Ornate Hawk-Eagle
  • Eyelash Pit-viper
  • American Crocodile
  • Red-eyed Leaf-Frog
  • Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth
  • White-nosed Coati
  • Mantled Howler Monkey

Tour Reviews