Costa Rica is world-renowned as a birding destination and with good reason! This small country hosts an incredible range of habitats and birds along with very good infrastructure. If you have limited time or want a shorter tour, this tour takes in the highlights of the country.
We start on the Pacific coast in the forests and mangroves of Carara National Park then it is up to cool mountain forests to find one of the world’s most beautiful birds; the Resplendent Quetzal. Onward to the super diverse Caribbean lowlands and foothills then to the slopes incredibly beautiful Arenal volcano. At each location we find new members of these Neotropical families – tanagers, trogons, toucans, parrots, hummingbirds, and much more!
If you are looking for a longer tour, have a look at our other Costa Rica birding tour
Day 1: Arrival
Our Costa Rica birding tour begins with a welcome dinner. If you arrive in time, we take a walk through the landscaped hotel grounds admiring the many floral displays that attract several species of hummingbirds, and we may encounter our first neotropical birds such as Blue-crowned Motmot and Grayish Saltator. We have a chance of finding the resident pair of Tropical Screech-Owls in a giant bamboo thicket. Night near San José.
Day 2: Transfer to Carara
After an early walk around the hotel gardens, we head west to the Pacific coast and Carara National Park. This is the boundary between the tropical dry forest to the north and the tropical wet forest to the south. Consequently, it is incredibly diverse. We arrive in time for an afternoon outing to get familiar with some of the dry forest species, including Rufous-naped Wren, Yellow-naped Parrot, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Scrub Euphonia, and the incredible Scarlet Macaw. Night at Cerro Lodge.
Day 3: Carara National Park
Carara National Park preserves a large tract of beautiful and bird-rich tropical semi-evergreen forest. It is an amazing place and birding can be marvelous. The site offers a wonderful array of woodcreepers, trogons, and manakins including the stunning Orange-collared, likely displaying when we are there. We could see several species of woodpeckers, flycatchers, antbirds, antwrens and antpittas— the possibilities seem endless! We may find American Pygmy Kingfisher by a woodland pool, or a Boat-billed Heron perched in a tree along the lagoon, or a Long-billed Gnatwren busily hunting insects—or a troop of coatimundis seemingly oblivious to our presence or an Agouti searching the forest floor for fruits.
We enjoy a boat trip in the mangroves along the Rio Tárcoles to look for the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird, Panama and Northern Scrub Flycatchers, Common Black Hawk, and shorebirds and waders such as Roseate Spoonbill. We will also stop at a spot to watch American Crocodiles loaf along the river bank. Night at Cerro Lodge.
Day 4: Transfer to the Talamanca Highlands
After some early morning birding and breakfast, we head off to the cloud forest and páramo of the Cordillera de Talamanca. Along the way we stop at locations for White-tailed Emerald, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird and Red-headed Barbet, and visit the high paramo for Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren. Then it is off our hotel in the highlands where we will find the magnificent Fiery-throated Hummingbird at their feeders along with Green Violetear, Volcano Hummingbird and Magnificent Hummingbird. Night at Paraiso Quetzal Lodge.
Day 5: Cordillera de Talamanca
Here, along dirt roads and forest trails passing among trees draped in epiphytes, we find a new suite of highland birds such as Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Black-capped Flycatcher, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Collared Redstart, Large-footed Finch, with luck Silvery-throated Jay. Our primary target is the magnificent Resplendent Quetzal, certainly one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Night at Paraiso Quetzal Lodge.
Day 6: Highlands to the Caribbean lowlands
We have a final walk around the hotel grounds before heading down from the high mountains to the Caribbean lowlands. Along the way we will stop at Ernesto’s family’s organic coffee farm for a quick tour and an opportunity to sample delicious fresh coffee. After several birding stops along the way, we will arrive at our hotel for our two night stay. We settle in to our accommodation and may have the opportunity for an evening outing to look for Great Potoo, Black-and-White Owl, Spectacled Owl and possibly a sloth. Night at La Quinta de Sarapiquí Lodge.
Day 7: La Selva and the Caribbean lowlands
We head out after breakfast to begin looking for the species of the wet lowland forest. We will make a stop to look for the incredibly colorful Great Green Macaw. We spend the morning visiting the famous La Selva Biological Station, a wonderful tract of wet lowland rainforest where some 400 species of birds have been reported. We’ll see a fine array of neotropical fauna—tinamous, motmots, puffbirds, cotingas, trogons, toucans, chachalacas, maybe ant-followers at an ant swarm or a roosting owl, lots of tanagers, as well as monkeys and who knows what else!
We return for lunch and after a rest during the middle of the day, then go for a short excursion nearby to find lowland species including hummingbirds, honeycreepers and oropendulas. Night at La Quinta de Sarapiquí Lodge.
Day 8: Transfer to Arenal
Today is a travel day as we travel across the Caribbean lowlands and up to the hills around the Arenal Volcano and our lodge with an incredible view of the classic cone of this volcano. We make frequent stops along the way and keep a sharp lookout for species perched on the top of snags, perhaps a Bat Falcon, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, or Harris’s Hawk. On arrival, we will have a chance to get familiar with more new birds at the feeders, with a chance to see the tremendous Great Curassow. Night at Arenal Observatory Lodge.
Day 9: Arenal area
The rainforest at the base of the volcano supports a rich assortment of birds typical of the Caribbean foothills and we should find a suite of colourful tanagers, noisy raucous parrots in the upper canopy, trogons perched quietly at mid-canopy, Rufous-tailed Jacamars sallying out to catch butterflies, and spectacular Collared Aracaris and Keel-billed Toucans. Odd grunting noises come from Masked Tityras. Mammals include Three-toed Sloth and Spider Monkey. If it is clear, the view of the volcano is breathtaking!
We spend our day exploring the trails and along roads through forest and second-growth woodlands of this area, looking for Caribbean-slope specialties. If we are fortunate, we will encounter a swarm of army ants marching across the forest floor with their attendant army ant followers – antbirds, antshrikes, antwrens, woodcreepers, even hawks. White-necked Puffbirds and Long-tailed Tyrants may be perched conspicuously on exposed dead snags, manakins may be displaying at their leks on the forest floor, and mixed-species flocks could pass by with a dozen or more species in each flock - foliage-gleaners, flycatchers, dacnis, tanagers, warblers, woodpeckers and more. Night at Arenal Observatory Lodge.
Day 10: Transfer from Arenal to San José
We spend a final morning enjoying the feeders and grounds of the lodge then we travel from Arenal down the Caribbean slope, across the lowlands and over the mountains to the Central Valley. There will be several key stops along the way depending on what we have seen so far. We may stop in at more hummingbird feeders for scarcer hummingbirds such as Coppery-headed Emerald, a Costa Rican endemic, and Purple-throated and White-bellied Mountain-Gems. We arrive at our charming hotel for a final dinner to celebrate a rewarding and productive journey through this beautiful country. Night near San José.
Day 11: Departure
Our Costa Rica birding tour concludes today and you can transfer to the airport anytime today for flights home.
Departures & Prices
- All accommodation and meals
- Ground transportation (air conditioned bus with driver)
- All park, conservation and entrance fees
- Gratuities to local guides and drivers
Tour Does Not Include
- Flights to and from San Jose
- Travel Insurance
- Items of a personal nature
What to Expect
What to Expect
The daily travel schedule on our Costa Rica birding tour will vary to account for weather, bird species and habitat. Expect some early morning, before-breakfast walks, 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, possibly 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. Cerro de la Muerte can be cool, windy and wet, and the Caribbean lowlands at Las Brisas 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. 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.
Even though we cannot guarantee a sighting of the animals below, we feel quite confident that an encounter with the ones listed below is quite likely.
- Resplendent Quetzal
- Scarlet Macaw
- Collared Redstart
- Keel-billed Toucan
- Violet Sabrewing
- Fiery-billed Aracari
- Volcano Junco
- Rufous-tailed Jacamar
- Turquoise-browed Motmot
- Black-hooded Antshrike
- Slaty-tailed Trogon
Past Tour Checklists & Reports
Past Tour Checklists
View the list of birds and other wildlife we encountered on our past tours.