Costa Rica packs more biodiversity within its borders than seems possible. A central spine of mountains creates contrasting Pacific and Caribbean slopes as ocean currents and prevailing winds create a drier north and wetter south. While our popular March tour tries to cover most of those regions, this itinerary, which we offer only every two or three years, largely explores the super diverse Caribbean Slope by visiting four lodges not on our March tour: from the foothills in the south to Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast in the east and to two lodges in the far north. We’ll also have time in the Cerro de La Muerte highlands, rich in regional endemics and the fabled Resplendent Quetzal. Midsummer is a wonderful time in Costa Rica: Rain can be frequent but falls mostly later in the day or at night, and temperatures are quite a bit cooler than in the spring; it’s the post-breeding season for most birds, meaning our trip coincides with peak numbers; it’s right at the start of Green Sea Turtle nesting season; and finally the press of tourists is much reduced from the peak winter season. Finally we should note that Costa Rica’s small size and the well-developed tourism infrastructure make this (and all our Costa Rica tours) a logistical delight.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in San José. Night in San José.
Day 2: The next two days of high-elevation birding will offer refreshingly cool temperatures, luxuriant cloud forests, and flower-filled gardens—and some amazing birds. Resplendent Quetzal, far and away the most celebrated bird of the region, can be surprisingly easy to see, and we’ll be sure to spend time with this most amazing of trogons. Among the other highland specialties we’ll search for are Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Black-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-winged Vireo, Flame-throated Warbler, and Large-footed and Yellow-thighed Finches. Night at Savegre Lodge.
Day 3: We’ll spend the morning in the Talamanca Highlands looking for any species we might not have seen the day before and revisiting hummingbird feeders and fruiting trees frequented by Resplendent Quetzals. A visit to the highest elevations of Cerro de la Muerte in search of Peg-billed Finch and Volcano Junco is in store if the weather cooperates. By early afternoon we’ll arrive at our wonderful lodge at a unique mid-elevation location on the Caribbean slope. Night at Rancho Naturalista.
Day 4: We’ll begin the day on the deck at Rancho Naturalista listening to the dawn chorus and watching birds such as lanky Gray-headed Chachalacas and colorful Collared Aracaris visit the feeders below while the hummingbird feeders at eye level are abuzz with activity. Trails that begin just outside our rooms lead into the private forest reserve, where we may see a variety of antwrens, manakins, and tanagers, while a short drive away is a small river valley home to Fasciated Tiger-Herons, Torrent Tyrannulets, and, if we are lucky, the incomparable Sunbittern. A real highlight at Rancho Naturalista are the hummingbird bathing pools where one can watch Crowned Woodnymphs, Purple-crowned Fairies, and Snowcaps dipping into the creek below. Night at Rancho Naturalista.
Day 5: After another fabulous dawn chorus and burst of activity at the feeders from the balcony of our lodge, we’ll descend the Reventazon Valley to the Caribbean lowlands and towards the coast to the port of La Pavona where throngs of tourists make their transfers. From there we’ll embark on the scenic hour-long journey by boat downriver to our next lodge in Tortuguero National Park. Along the way we’ll have time to relax, but the vigilant could detect King Vulture, Plumbeous Kite, Great Curassow, or Limpkin. Night in Tortuguero.
Day 6: We’ll have a full day at our lodge and in Tortuguero National Park, one of Costa Rica’s most famous national parks but one that is seldom visited by birding tours. Our lodge, located right in the gorgeous tropical rainforest, is accessible only by water. The boat rides on the channels will be the highlight of our stay, though we’ll also do some birding on the trails and right around the lodge clearing. We’ll be a bit early for any numbers of nesting of Green Sea Turtles, but sightings this time of year are nearly nightly, and with luck we may get to see a female laying eggs during an optional nighttime visit to the nesting beach. Frogs, butterflies, and mammals, in addition to the birds, will make our stay here varied and delightful. Night in Tortuguero.
Day 7: Today is a travel day, but we’ll make good time with an early boat departure to meet our vehicle and a new highway to connect with the road north. In the open country along the way we might find Red-breasted Blackbird or Southern Lapwing, both of which are undergoing range expansions, and well make stops for the attractive Laughing Falcon, the huge pink-billed Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, Red-lored Parrot, and many other species that we might find. Once we arrive at our lodge we’ll be distracted by Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, and a flower-filled garden as we check into our rooms. Night near Boca Tapada.
Day 8: Tucked away near the Nicaraguan border, this relatively new family-run lodge gives us access to the lowland rainforest of the Caribbean slope, the most diverse forest anywhere in Costa Rica. Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Great Curassow, and Chestnut-backed Antbird walk the forest floor, while the mid-story is inhabited by Northern Schiffornis and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher. We might even get lucky and discover an army ant swarm. As the ants—harmless to humans—search the leaf litter for prey, while crickets, roaches, and spiders are forced out of their hiding places as they flee the advancing swarm. Many birds take advantage of the easy prey, and some, like Ocellated Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, and Ruddy Woodcreeper, are rarely found away from ant swarms. Sometimes ten or more species of birds can be in attendance, making this an exciting event. We’ll try to cover all the habitats near the lodge and to include some nightbirding in search of owls and other nocturnal creatures. Night near Boca Tapada.
Day 9: We’ll have one last early morning to bird near our lodge before departing by road for the foothills of the Cordillera de Guanacaste. These foothills, a series of isolated volcanoes of only moderate elevation, have a dramatic effect on the climate: the western slopes face the seasonally dry Pacific coast while the eastern slopes receive the prevailing winds from the Caribbean and support a lush forest with many streams. Our hotel for the next three nights is on the Caribbean slope of the dormant volcano of Tenorio. Night in Bijagua.
Days 10–11: We’ll have two full days to explore the birds and natural history of Volcán Tenorio National Park and the Celeste River region. The trails into primary forest and roads along the forest edge will be full of birds. We’ll make a special effort for Tody Motmot, here at the southern edge of its range. Mixed-species flocks here contain multiple tanagers, wrens, and tyrannulets, among many others. Nights in Bijagua.
Day 12: On our last morning in Costa Rica we’ll enjoy a final dawn chorus on our hotel grounds and then head for the Liberia airport and our flights home. The tour ends today around noon at the Liberia International Airport **.
Updated: 10 November 2014
- 2017 Tour Price : $4,100
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $430
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.
** It may be possible for participants to return to San Jose with our tour vehicle, arriving in the afternoon of day 12. Please contact the WINGS office for details.
This tour is limited to eight participants with one leader.