Costa Rica - easy birding and natural history

From the western Pacific habitats to the eastern Caribbean slope, this holiday is a perfect introduction to the Tropics, exploring Costa Rica’s exciting landscapes and bird life.
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Wildlife Travel leaflet Costa Rica 2020

12 – 27 March 2020


Mike Symes and local guides



Single Room Supplement – £750


Return flights: London to San Jose. Local transport as specified in itinerary. Fourteen nights’ accommodation (one extra night is overnight flight), full board basis.

Not included

Drinks and refreshments. Gratuities. Travel insurance.

Group size

Minimum 6, maximum 14.

Costa Rica is a natural history paradise, as discovered by those who travelled with us on our previous 11 visits to this biodiverse country, where a high percentage of the land is managed for conservation. The wildlife in the tropics will captivate both the new and the more seasoned traveller as we explore coastal forests and mangroves, cloud forests, rain forests and dramatic volcanic cones. Visiting national parks and reserves, we pass through several different regions.

We begin at Poas Volcano where there are spectacular tropical rainforests and beautiful waterfalls. At La Selva Biological Station in the Caribbean lowlands we join local conservationists to gain an insight into conservation work in the Tropics. The exciting Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast is not accessible by road but, travelling by boat to our lodge, we have a wonderful tour through the waterways. Moving to the Talamanca mountains, we explore high cloud forest with a chance to see the Resplendent Quetzal! We then move to the Pacific coast, visiting the tropical forests in the far south west of the country, home to Scarlet Macaw and several species of monkey, and the dry forests close to the Tarcoles River.

As we travel we will find out about the ecology, agriculture, and the culture and history of Costa Rica. Accommodation is mostly at attractive lodges and our travel is at a comfortable pace. Walks on easy trails will give us many chances to see howler monkeys, fruit-eating bats, poison-dart frogs, and many tropical plants.

Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.

Contact us to reserve your place

Day 1 Fly to San Jose, arriving in the late afternoon, and transfer to hotel.

Day 2 Early risers will begin to familiarise themselves with the ‘garden birds’. We visit Poas Volcano enjoying the wonderful view of one of the most accessible volcanoes in the country, and we hope to find Volcano Hummingbird and Poas Squirrel. We then go to La Paz Waterfall, where we will see many hummingbirds and tanagers, Blue-throated Toucanet and Prong-billed Barbet coming to the feeders. From here we set off to the lowlands of the Sarapiqui region, to our lodge, located on the edge of the rainforest on the banks of the Puerto Viejo River.

Day 3 We spend all day at La Selva Biological Station with its wonderful trails and walkways through stands of primary rain forest. We will find out more about the research being carried out here, at one of the most famous places for tropical research studies in the world. A great variety of birdlife could include trogons and manakins, Great Currasow and Crested Guan. We will be looking out for Collared Peccary and Central American Agouti, as well as Eyelash Pit Viper and other reptiles.

Day 4 We travel to the sultry Caribbean coast and the Tortuguero National Park, which can be reached only by boat or plane. Near the mouth of the Parismina River we meet our boat that will be our transport through the Tortuguero canals.

Day 5 We take a boat trip along the canals, keeping our eyes peeled for otters, monkeys, turtles and numerous birds, including various herons and kingfishers. In the afternoon we walk one of the easy trails through the forest to the beach beyond.

Day 6 Time to leave Tortuguero, we again travel by boat through the canals, exploring the riverside habitat. Back on dry land, we head southwards, stopping for lunch, before arriving at our lodge close to Turrialba. In the afternoon we have time to explore the grounds of the lodge, renowned in particular for their hummingbirds including the lovely Snowcap and Blackcrested Coquette.

Day 7 We  spend the day exploring the trails of Rancho Naturalista Forest Reserve.

Day 8 We head to the area of San Gerardo de Dota in the middle elevations (2000m-2200m) of the Talamanca Mountains. We travel through deep cloud forest filled with huge oaks and other native species, stopping to watch hummingbirds, paying particular attention to two local specialities, the Talamanca Hummingbird and Fiery-throated Hummingbird. We will look out for the beautiful Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher and the beautiful Resplendent Quetzal.

Day 9 We may have a prebreakfast trip to look for the quetzals again. We then travel higher, to the paramo habitat of Cerro de la Muerte (~3,100m), home to a very different flora, and the endemic Volcano Junco. After a leisurely lunch we explore part of the famous Los Quetzales NP along the Savegre River, an area rich in birdlife.

Day 10 Today we have some miles to cover, as we head into the remote south west of Costa Rica, near the border with Panama. Our home for the next three nights is Tiskita, located at the end of the road on the secluded southwest coast of Costa Rica, facing the Golfo Dulce and the Osa Peninsula, home to Corcovado National Park.

Day 11-12 We spend two days exploring the Tiskita area, described as the best kept secret in Costa Rica. Tiskita supports a long running Scarlet Macaw conservation program with over 75 Scarlet Macaws released since 2002. During our time here, we will take at least one night walk, depending on weather conditions. The forest comes alive at night: various tree frogs and reptiles are easier to find, while nightbirds include potoos, owls and nightjars. Nocturnal mammals could include various species of opossum, Nine-banded Armadillo, Kinkajour and Mexican Porcupine.

Day 13 We travel northwards to the Central Pacific coast. The dry forest in this area is a wonderful contrast to the rain- and cloud forests we have seen elsewhere, and has a very different set of species. We hope for a good sunset over the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Nicoya, with frigatebirds, pelicans and macaws flying to their roosts.

Day 14 The Carara Biological Reserve, located between the dry forest of the north-west and the rain forest of the south Pacific slope is described as a ‘must’ for anyone interested in tropical biology, with high species diversity and relatively easy access. After lunch, we take a boat trip on the Tarcoles River looking for many birds including Scarlet Macaw and Boat-billed Heron, as well as American Crocodile.

Day 15 We head back towards San Jose, stopping along the way at the famous ‘crocodile bridge’, where the large American Crocodiles can be seen sunbathing on the river bank. In the afternoon we arrive back at the airport for our flights home, arriving Day 16.

Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.

All of the lodges and hotels are of a good standard, some with very attractive settings. All the rooms have private bathrooms with hot water and are either air-conditioned or have ceiling fans where needed. Some lodges may have a swimming pool available. Single rooms are available in all locations. The exact lodge or hotel used may be changed if local conditions change or if we feel a different choice would suit our needs better.

All meals are included – some lunches will be in local restaurants, and we will take a picnic on some days.

We will do our best to ensure that our travelling is as comfortable as possible. There will be days when we are transferring from one
area to another where the journey may take much of the day but we will take plenty of stops for comfort breaks and to enjoy interesting areas. Some journeys will be made by boat (to Tortuguero).

Group flights are with British Airways from London Gatwick:

12 March depart Gatwick 11.15, arrive San Jose 16.50
26 March depart San Jose 18.40, arrive Gatwick 11.00 (27th)

It may also be possible to fly from Manchester with Delta Airlines, via Atlanta and JFK – check with us for options and costs. You can book the trip without flights – please contact us for the price reduction.

Costa Rica is six hours behind UK time.

You must have a valid passport for this trip (recommended valid for at least six months after the end of the holiday). A temporary tourist visa is issued on arrival in Costa Rica if you hold a UK passport. For holders of other passports it is essential that you check with your embassy or consulate and obtain the necessary documents prior to travel.

We will be travelling in the dry season making travelling easier and with less likelihood of rain in some areas.

In the lowland rainforest of the Caribbean side, a number of plant species are in flower at any one time, depending on local climate patterns, and this area, and the mountains, can be visited at any time of year to see a good variety of birds, other animals and plants. March is a good time of year to visit the drier Pacific coast.

In the lowlands, particularly on the coast, it can be humid and relatively hot but we will adapt our plans to the temperatures. The cloud forest is, effectively, a higher altitude rain forest and we can expect generally cooler weather with, perhaps, some showers.

No strenuous walking is involved but you need to have a reasonable level of general fitness to be able to participate in the holiday. The tour visits several locations and travelling in the tropics can be tiring if you are not used to it. However, the trip is designed to be relatively comfortable so please discuss any concerns with us.

Although most of the walks are not long, we will sometimes be walking on rough or wet ground. Walking boots (lightweight ok) are essential for most areas. There are a few occasions when we walk uphill but this is not excessive.

The highest altitude will be c 3100m at Cerro de la Muerte (the lodge is at a lower elevation). There is some risk of altitude sickness although rest and drinking plenty of water usually relieve any mild effects (headaches and tiredness). If you have suffered from altitude problems before or are suffering from any medical condition, you should take your doctor’s advice. We will be taking it easy at these higher altitudes and none of the walking will be strenuous. Altitudes elsewhere are lower – Poas Volcano being c 2,800m.

As we are in the tropics, the sun is very strong, even when it appears overcast. Sun protection (hat, sunglasses and suncream) is essential. We avoid walking far in the hottest part of the day.

There are no compulsory inoculations for Costa Rica but some are recommended. We do not visit any yellow fever areas. NB If you are travelling from any country where there is yellow fever, you must have an inoculation certificate so if you are not taking the group flight, please check this. There is no longer any risk of Malaria in Costa Rica. You should consult your own doctor for specific advice. General inoculations for overseas travel are recommended. You must drink only purified drinking water at all times.

At times, we will travel in small boats on the canals and rivers. Safety regulations will be adhered to when travelling in this way. Safety guidelines must also be followed when using canopy walks or in relation to volcanic areas or regarding other natural risks. Safety advice given by the leader and guides must be heeded at all times.