Land of the Quetzal - Southern Itinerary
Departures from London Heathrow or Manchester Airports
Costa Rica is very different from the usual European idea of Central American countries. For example there is no army - "teachers, not soldiers” is the watchword, and as a result the country has one of the highest rates of literacy in the world. The people are welcoming and friendly, and also very proud of their commitment to conservation. They have a national park system that covers around 12 percent of the land surface, in addition to numerous privately-run reserve areas, which in total protect over a quarter of the country. Costa Rica has sunny, pristine beaches, wonderful tropical wetlands, lowland rainforest, high cloudforest festooned with orchids and bromeliads, and cool, misty mountain tops.
This intensely beautiful tropical land is dominated by a chain of spectacular mountains and active volcanoes rising to over 3,500m. The mountains divide the country into quite separate ecological zones, each with its characteristic fauna and flora, with the result that Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, with more bird species to the square mile than any other country on earth. This is a birdwatcher’s paradise where more than 850 species have been recorded, nearly 10% of the world’s total - and all this in a country less than the size of England! You will see a vast range of birdlife, including representatives of many exotic and colourful bird families which to date have only been pictures in the guidebook – this holiday will bring them to life for you!
Other wildlife will include monkeys and sloths, lizards and crocodiles, harmless large rodents such as Agouti, bats, amphibians, turtles and snakes, a vast range of butterflies and a wealth of flora – there are more than 1200 orchids in Costa Rica!
Although Costa Rica is small, it is impossible to cover the country in a fortnight, so we aim to visit a representative sample of Costa Rica's biologically rich areas on this holiday to give you a thrilling experience – the ideal choice for the first time visitor to Costa Rica or for your first long-distance birding holiday. Our local agents here are amongst the best we've found anywhere in the world, and their meticulous organisation and excellent local guides ensure a really first class tour. We tour the country to make the most of our time, staying in seven different hotels and lodges, all of which offer high quality, comfortable accommodation, and which are experienced at hosting groups of British birders. A feature of this holiday is the high standard of food, with a wide selection at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meat dishes are varied and interesting, salads, fruit and juices are varied and tasty. Costa Ricans, (known as Tico’s), love their “rice and beans”, and traditional dishes will be plentiful, all washed down with a choice of beverages including fabulous local coffee.
You can expect fabulous birding with around 400 species, and top wildlife watching. This tour covers the major central and southern habitats including the tropical lowlands of Selva Verde, tropical rainforest on the Pacific coastline at Punta Leona, the unique ecosystem of Carara, where humid coastal forest meets the dry climate of the northern Pacific, and the misty highland cloud forest reserve at Finca Mirador de Quetzales, amongst other places - see itinerary below!
Day 1: Fly from London Heathrow or Manchester to San Jose, Costa Rica. We will meet our guide Yehudi Hernandez, and are escorted to our hotel. San Jose is situated in the central valley of Costa Rica, where at this time of year days are warm as an English summer, whilst nights can be pleasantly cool. Depending on our arrival time we may be able to relax with a birding walk in the lovely gardens. This is a good place to see White-eared ground-Sparrow, Blue-crowned Motmot, some colourful hummingbirds, and perhaps Prevost’s ground-Sparrow. Our flight may have an evening arrival in which case we will just relax and have dinner! Overnight Hotel Bougainvillea, San José.
Day 2: Travel to Cerro de la Muerte. We will spend the morning exploring the misty highland cloud forest reserve at the Finca Mirador de Quetzales. One of the most sought-after birds of any trip to Costa Rica must surely be Resplendent Quetzal, a bird that many consider the most beautiful in tropical America. You have excellent chances of good views of this bird today! Some of the other highland species we will be looking for include: Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher, Peg-billed Finch, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Sooty Robin, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, and Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager among others. We also will visit the Paramo habitat at approximately 3500m above sea level in search of the Volcano Junco.
After a delicious lunch spend the remainder of the afternoon exploring the bird rich habitat in the Savergre River Valley. Walking through the gardens and along the Savegre river, we can hope to see Flame-colored Tanager, Collared Trogon, Torrent Tyrannulet, Volcano Hummingbird, and Gray-tailed Mountain-gem, to name a few. In the evening after a delicious dinner, we will go over the birds, reptiles, mammals, and any other wildlife seen that day. (Overnight at Savegre Mountain Lodge)
Day 3: We spend the day exploring the bird rich habitat in the Savegre River Valley. Walking through the gardens and along the Savegre River, we can hope to see Flame-colored Tanager, Collared Trogon, Torrent Tyrannulet, Volcano Hummingbird, and Gray-tailed Mountain Gem, to name a few. Some of the other species we will be looking for include Black-faced Solitaire, Spotted Wood-Quail, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Golden-browed Chlorophonia (Blue-hooded Chlorophonia), Ochraceous Wren, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, and of course the Resplendent Quetzal. (Overnight at Savegre Mountain Lodge)
Day 4: Travel to Sarapiqui. This lowland rain forest region at the base of the Caribbean slope is one of the areas well-known for hosting the greatest diversity of tropical flora and fauna in the country. En route we will spend the morning at the Braulio Carrillo National Park. This dense Caribbean slope rainforest hosts a diversity of birdlife, including Lattice-tailed Trogon, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Blue and Gold Tanager, Brown-billed Scythebill, Black-headed Nightingale Thrush, White-ruffed Manakin, Black-faced Grosbeak, White-shouldered Tanager, and Olivaceous Woodcreeper to name a few.
Arrive for lunch and overnight at Selva Verde Lodge, near La Selva Biological Station run by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). Here the Sunbittern, Black-faced Grosbeak, and Gray-necked Wood-Rail are a few of the inhabitants of the area. This is the most likely spot on the trip to see the Great Green Macaw, an endangered species that depends on the Dipteryx tree for feeding and nesting. This is one of the emergent trees commonly found in Sarapiqui.
Day 5 & 6: We spend these two days at La Selva Biological Station, run by the Organisation for Tropical Studies, and this is a highlight of our holiday. The station is one of the most famous tropical research facilities in the world. We should see an abundance of wildlife; over 420 birds, 500 butterflies, 55 snakes and 120 mammals have been recorded here. A vast variety of trees can be seen in the arboretum. Three species of Tinamou are found here, and we should also see Rufous Motmot, trogons, caciques, Purple-throated Fruit Crow and Snowy Cotinga amongst many others. Animals are not camera-shy, and peccaries, agouti, coatimundi, sloths and monkeys are all found here. An unforgettable place!
Day 7: Travel to Hotel Villa Lapa, situated at the edge of the Carara Biological Reserve on the banks of the Tarcoles River near the Pacific coast. We will stop along the way to look for Blue-winged Teals, Least Grebes, Northern Jacanas, Anhingas, and Cormorants. After lunch at the hotel, we will explore the bird-rich trails through the forest, and hope to see Scarlet Macaws and Tiger Herons, among many others. After a delicious lunch at the hotel, we will enjoy a two hour mangrove tour by boat along the Tarcoles River with a local guide. During the tour we will not only be impressed by the giant crocodiles that inhabit the area but also the variety of shorebirds, water birds, and raptors.
Day 8: We spend the day exploring the amazing Carara National Park, a unique climatological zone where the ecosystem of the humid southern coastal region joins the dry climate of the northern Pacific area, becoming a rich meeting ground for species from both regions. This is truly one of the highlights of the tour, where we hope to find the Orange Collared Manakin dancing in their lek. This is a great location to spot antbirds, up to five different species of Trogons, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and even Royal Flycatchers. In the early mornings, before entering the reserve, we will visit the nearby bridge overlooking the Tarcoles River, where Scarlet Macaws fly over daily. Here you will also be amazed by the gigantic crocodiles basking on the banks of the river. (Overnight at Hotel Villa Lapas.)
Day 9 & 10: Travel to southern lowlands on the outskirts of Golfito where you will spend the next two days. The lodge is surrounded by dense lowland rainforest, bordering on the the Piedras Blancas National Park. This a great area to look for Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Red-breasted Blackbird, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager (endemic), Baird’s Trogon, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Blue-crowned Manakin, Brown-chested Martin, Scrub Greenlet, and Thick-billed Euphonia among many others. We might even spot Pearl Kite and Uniform Crake.
Day 11 & 12: We travel to Las Cruces Biological Station, home to the Robert and Katherine Wilson Botanical Garden, run by the Organization for Tropical Studies. The station boasts an impressive collection of tropical and subtropical plants from around the world, including rare and endangered species from Costa Rica. Among the 1000 genera and 212 plant families represented at the station there is an astounding compilation of ferns, aroids, bromeliads, gingers, heliconias, marantas, and palms. The gardens and surrounding rainforest attract a wide variety of birds, many of which are exclusively found in the southern zone of the country. Some of our target birds while at the station include: Turquoise Cotinga, Fiery-billed Aracari, Masked Yellowthroat, Marbled Wood-Quail, Garden Emerald, White-bellied Emerald, Charming Hummingbird, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Speckled Tanager, Thrushlike Schiffornis, Golden-naped Woodpecker, and Pale-breasted Spinetail. If we are lucky we may even see Crested Oropendola and Wattled Jacana.
Day 13: Travel north along the Pacific coast where we will spend the next day and a half in the Dominical area, just north of the unique Ballena Marine National Park. Ballena is the Spanish word for whale. The park gets its name because of its located on the north-south migration path of the humpback whales. If we are lucky we might have the opportunity to see one of these beautiful creatures on its migration path. The area is also known for its rich marine life and coastal terrestrial habitats. We will explore the nearby forests, home to howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, iguanas, basilisk lizards and other reptiles, as well as excellent birdlife including the Fiery-billed Araçari , Yellow-billed Cotinga (a species endemic to Costa Rica and Panama), King Vulture, Grey-necked Wood-Rail, American Oystercatcher, Elegant Tern, a variety of shorebirds, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Smooth-billed Ani, Scaled Pigeon, Striped Owl, Costa Rican Swift, Olivaceous Piculet, Panama Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, and Riverside Wren. (Overnight at La Cusinga Lodge.)
Day 14: Return to San Jose, birding on the way, for a farewell dinner and an overnight stay, to rest up for departing flights the next day. Overnight Hotel Bougainvillea, San José
Day 15: Breakfast before departing for the airport to return home. We arrive in London on Day 16, Monday 11 March.
Each morning we get an early start to make the best of our time, and maximize our opportunities to see the most species of birds possible. As an optional outing, owling excursions will be available some nights. we search for: Black and White Owl, Spectacled Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Pacific Screech-Owl, Central American Pygmy-Owl, Great Potoo, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Lesser Nighthawk, and Crested Owl. Each evening there will be a meeting to go over the bird list.
Accommodation is in hotels or lodges with all rooms en suite. Some of the lodges are remote, and have simple-style rooms, all are spacious and very comfortable. for tropical accommodation, our lodges are of a very good standard.
Leaders: Expert Local Guide Yehudi Hernandez, joined by Heatherlea favourite Ian Ford.
Numbers: Max. 12 clients
NB we may be able to offer alternative flight arrangements or quote you a price without flights so you can make your own arrangements – clients sometimes ask us to extend their tour by a few days or a week, so if you wish to stay in Costa Rica for a few days after the holiday, we can arrange this too.
Holiday price includes:
Scheduled return flights between London Heathrow (or Manchester) and San José, airport taxes, ground and boat transportation as outlined above including all transportation in Costa Rica in a modern and spacious air-conditioned vehicle, accommodation on a full-board basis, the services of a local full time private bi-lingual professional guide specializing in birds and natural history, the services of your Heatherlea Tour Leader, three chilled bottles of water per day per client, entrance fees to parks and reserves, departure taxes, and tips to hotels and restaurants.
Holiday price excludes:
insurance, drinks, optional tips to the driver and local guide, and other personal expenses.