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.
19th November – 4th December 2024
Single Room Supplement – £500
Return flights from London to San Jose. Local transport as specified in itinerary. 14 nights’ accommodation, full board. Entry fees.
Refreshments. Gratuities. Travel insurance. Covid tests and associated costs.
Minimum 6, maximum 14.
Costa Rica is a natural history paradise, as discovered by those who travelled with us on our previous 12 visits to this biodiverse country, where a high percentage of the land is managed for conservation. The wildlife will captivate both the new and the more seasoned traveller as we explore coastal forests and mangroves, cloud forests, rainforests and dramatic volcanic cones.
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 dry forests in the west of the country, home to Scarlet Macaw and several species of monkey, and the American Crocodiles of the Tarcoles River. We finish our holiday at Poas Volcano where there are spectacular tropical rainforests and beautiful waterfalls.
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 hummingbirds and motmots, fruit-eating bats, colourful 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.
Day 1 After a morning flight from the UK we arrive in San Jose in the late afternoon.
Day 2 We set off north, to spend today at La Selva Biological Station. The reserve has wonderful trails and walkways through stands of primary rainforest. A great variety of birdlife could include trogons and manakins, Great Currasow and Crested Guan. After lunch at Puerto Viejo, we will explore the Pueblo Nuevo area.
Day 3 We travel to the sultry Caribbean coast and Tortuguero National Park, which can be reached only by boat or plane. In the afternoon, we will take a boat ride to visit Tortuguero town, where we will learn about the Green Turtle Conservation Project.
Day 4 We take a boat trip along the canals, watching for otters and monkeys, turtles and numerous birds, including various species of herons and kingfishers. In the afternoon we will walk one of the easy trails through the forest to the sandy beach beyond.
Day 5 We travel by boat through the canals, exploring the riverside habitat on the way. Back on dry land, we head southwards, before climbing into the middle elevations of the Caribbean slope to our destination close to Turrialba. We have time to explore the grounds of our lodge, renowned in particular for its hummingbirds, including the lovely Snowcap and Black-crested Coquette.
Day 6 We explore the trails of the Rancho Naturalista Forest Reserve. As well as the feeding flocks of tanagers, euphonias and other colourful birds, the feeders around the lodge are occasionally visited by White-nosed Coati and (if we are really lucky) Tayra, an enigmatic rainforest predator with a particular liking for well-ripened bananas!
Day 7 A second day acquainting ourselves with the species of the Caribbean slope, with colourful highlights likely to include Lesson’s Motmot, Keel-billed Toucan and Gartered Trogon. In the afternoon, we visit the nearby Angostura Reservoir, where the wetland habitats will introduce us to a different suite of birds: various herons and kingfishers, and the lily-trotting Northern Jacana
Day 8 We head to the area of San Gerardo de Dota in the middle elevations (2,000m–2,200m) of the Talamanca Mountains. We travel through deep cloud forest, stopping along the way to watch more hummingbirds, paying particular attention to two local specialities, the Talamanca Hummingbird and Fiery-throated Hummingbird. Further along the road we will look for one of the most beautiful birds of the Americas, the Resplendent Quetzal. The largest trogon, famous for its ridiculously long tail, it feeds on the wild avocados in this area, and we will be hoping to find a fruiting tree.
Day 9 We may put more time in to looking for the quetzals again, and we also expect to travel higher, to the paramo habitat of Cerro de la Muerte (approx. 3,100m), home to a very different flora, as well as the endemic Volcano Junco, Volcano Hummingbird and Timberline Wren. After lunch we explore part of the famous Los Quetzales National Park along the Savegre River, an area rich in birdlife.
Day 10 We head down into the foothills of the Pacific slope. On the way, we stop at Bosque del Tolomuco, a great place for hummingbirds and tanagers, where more typically ‘highland’ species such as Spangle-cheeked Tanager mix with foothill species such as Snowy-bellied Hummingbird and Speckled Tanager. We finish our day down in the lowland forests of the lower Savegre valley.
Day 11 We have a full day exploring the trails around the lodge. Species we hope to find include Golden-hooded Tanager, Fiery-billed Aracari, and the appropriately-named Charming Hummingbird. During our time here, we hopeto take at least one night walk. The forest comes alive at night: tree frogs and reptiles are easier to find after dark, while night birds include potoos, owls and nightjars. Nocturnal mammals could include various opossums, Nine-banded Armadillo and Kinkajou.
Day 12 We have some miles to cover, as we head west, towards the central Pacific coast. Our destination is the Tarcoles River, where we take a boat trip, exploring the muddy banks and mangrove swamps: more than ten species of heron can be seen here, including the shy Boat-billed Heron. We continue on to our hotel, from where we will hope for a good sunset over the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Nicoya, with frigatebirds, pelicans and macaws flying to their roosts.
Day 13 We visit the Carara Biological Reserve, described as a ‘must’ for anyone interested in tropical biology, with high species diversity and relatively easy access. The forest in this area is a wonderful contrast to the rainforests and cloud forests we have seen elsewhere, and has a very different set of species. Nearby, we stop at the famous ‘crocodile bridge’, where the large American Crocodiles lounge on the river bank, before we return to the capital of San Jose.
Day 14 We visit Poas Volcano enjoying the wonderful view of one of the most accessible volcanoes in the country: the crater is about 30 minutes slow walking from the main entrance, and we hope to find Volcano Hummingbird and Poas Squirrel along the way, while getting a good (sulphury) sense of nature’s power from the rim of the caldera. Heading for lower altitudes, we travel to San Fernando Waterfall, located in the cloud forest of the Caribbean slope, where we will see many hummingbirds and tanagers, Blue-throated Toucanet and Prong-billed Barbet coming to the feeders.
Day 15 One last morning excursion, as we explore an area of undeveloped remnant scrub and grassland not far from the airport, where some of the birds of the Central Valley’s dry woodlands can be found. And then, all too soon, it will be time to head back to the hotel to re-pack, ready for our afternoon 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.