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 including 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 on this 'Classic Tour' we aim to visit a representative sample of Costa Rica's biologically rich areas 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. Should you wish to stay a little longer, and many of our clients tell us they didn't want to leave every one of our destinations on this holiday, please consider our 'Classic Tour - PLUS', and enjoy an extra night in three of these special places, plus a number of added experiences made possible by travelling in a different season. This 'Classic Tour - PLUS' lasts for 18 nights. Finally, we offer our 'Ultimate Birdwatching and Wildlife Tour' which lasts for 22 nights. Lots of choice in Costa Rica with Heatherlea!
Birding is generally very easy, and the pace is relaxed and laid-back. This is not an intensive birding holiday, rather a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience. Our local agents here are amongst the best we've found anywhere in the world, and their meticulous organisation and excellent guides ensure a really first class holiday. We tour the country to make the best of our time, staying in seven different hotels and lodges, all of which are experienced at hosting groups of birders.
Heatherlea are delighted once again to welcome exceptional local guide Paco Madrigal, widely regarded as one of the best birders in the country, and you can expect fabulous birding with around 400 species, and top wildlife watching.
Each day we get an early start to make the most of our time, and maximise our opportunities to see as many species as possible. As an option, owling excursions may be available in the evenings, although we often see these birds in daylight instead! Some nocturnal birds we might see include: 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 also be an optional meeting after dinner to go over the bird list.
Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office!
Day 1 Saturday 13 January
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we will fly direct from Gatwick to San José where your guide Paco will meet you and escort you to your hotel. San José 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 Sunday 14 January
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! We will have lunch and stay overnight at the Albergue de Montana Savegre, nestled in a quaint highland valley, deep in the realm of the Resplendent Quetzal. Overnight Albergue de Montana Savegre.
Day 3 Monday 15 January
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. In the evening after a delicious dinner, we will go over the birds, reptiles, mammals, and any other wildlife seen that day. Overnight Albergue de Montana Savegre.
Day 4 Tuesday 16 January
Travel to Hotel Villa Lapas, 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 Teal, Least Grebe, Northern Jacana, Anhinga, and Neo-tropical Cormorant. After lunch at the hotel, we will explore the bird-rich trails through the forest, and hope to see Scarlet Macaw and Tiger Heron among many others. We visit Playa Azul and the surrounding area. This is an amazing place for shore birds and water birds as well as Parrots, Orioles, Macaws and Owls. We expect an impressive variety of water birds and raptors, including the Roseate Spoonbill, several species of heron, Anhinga, Kingfishers, Crested Caracara, Mangrove Black Hawk and Mangrove Warbler to name a few. You will also experience excellent views of Giant Crocodiles as you travel through the mangroves. Overnight Hotel Villa Lapas.
Day 5 Wednesday 17 January
Spend the day in the Carara Biological Reserve, 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 Orange Collared Manakin dancing at their lek. This is a great location to spot antbirds, up to four different species of Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and even Royal Flycatcher. In the early morning, before entering the reserve, we will visit the nearby bridge overlooking the Tarcoles River, where Scarlet Macaws fly over daily. Here you will again be amazed by the gigantic crocodiles basking on the banks of the river. Overnight Hotel Villa Lapas.
Day 6 Thursday 18 January
Travel to Guanacaste to explore the tropical dry forests, marshlands, estuaries, and mangroves, characteristic to the northern Pacific region. This is an ideal place to see water birds, raptors, and other species found only in this zone. In the wetlands, we are likely to see Snail Kite, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Boat-billed Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Limpkin, and several species of Kingfisher. Walking through the semi-deciduous forest, we are likely to see Turquoise-browed Motmot, Long-tailed Manakin, and several species of Parrot, Oriole, Cuckoo, Trogon, Jay, and Owl. Overnight La Ensenada Lodge.
Day 7 and 8 Friday 19 & Saturday 20 January
Spend two nights at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which offers breath-taking views of the thundering Arenal Volcano. This is one of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes, where we are sure to enjoy some fireworks. Great photo opportunities! The extensive trails at the lodge allow for tremendous opportunities to view Crimson-collared Tanager, White Hawk, Brown-hooded Parrot, and Golden-olive Woodpecker, along with an array of colorful hummingbirds and three species of Toucan. One night we will go owling in search of Black-and-White Owl, Mottled Owl, and Striped Owl in the open fields below the lodge. Overnight Arenal Observatory Lodge.
Day 9 Sunday 21 January
Travel to Selva Verde Lodge in the tropical lowlands of Sarapiqui. Spend the afternoon exploring the wildlife-rich riparian zone along the banks of the Sarapiqui River. This rain forest region at the base of the Caribbean slope is well-known for hosting the greatest diversity of tropical flora and fauna. Here Sun Bittern, 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 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. Also lurking in the forest are two- and three-toed sloth, 3 different species of monkey, and peccaries. Overnight Sueno Azul.
Days 10 and 11 Monday 22 & Tuesday 23 January
We spend the next two days at La Selva Biological Station run by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), a highlight of the tour. The station is among the four most famous tropical research facilities in the world. We will see an outstanding abundance of wildlife. The station is home to more than 420 bird species, more than 500 species of butterflies, 55 species of snakes, and 120 species of mammals. This is a tremendous place for tinamous– three species inhabit La Selva. We will also be looking for Rufous Motmot, Trogons, Caciques, Purple-throated Fruit Crow, and Snowy Cotinga among many others. Animals here are not camera shy, and we might see peccaries (wild pig), agoutis, coatis, sloth, and monkeys. An unforgettable couple of days! Overnight Sueno Azul.
Day 12 and 13 Wednesday 24 & Thursday 25 January
Travel by road and boat to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean. Here we will explore the rich labyrinth of waterways which will afford us excellent wildlife viewing. This amazing and unforgettable area boasts 320 bird species, including Tiger Heron, Agami Heron, White-fronted Nunbird, and all six species of Kingfishers belonging to the Americas. Along with birds, we may also see Neotropical River Otter, sloths, caiman, iguanas, poison-dart frogs, fresh-water turtles, basilisk lizards, the Honduran White tent-making bats, and three species of monkey that frequent the banks. Overnight Laguna Lodge
Day 14 Friday 26 January
Return to San José, 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 Saturday 27 January
Breakfast before departing for the airport to return home. We arrive in London Gatwick on the morning of Day 16 (28 January).
Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).
More Holiday Information:
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, have en-suite facilities, and are very comfortable to a good standard.
Food is usually served as a buffet, with a wide choice. Vegetarian and other diets are welcome.
Walking is generally light/moderate. There may be some uphill track and road walking, though generally an average level of fitness is required.
Weather will be mixed. Mostly the temperature will be warm, with the possibility of rain. In some locations the weather is hot and humid, in others hot and dry, and at altitude can be cool and wet.
Insects There are biting insects, though not usually as a major problem.
Group size is restricted to 12 clients maximum.
Flights are direct from London Gatwick. We may be able to offer flight arrangements from another airport and/or or quote without flights so you can make your own arrangements. If you wish to add an extension either before or after your holiday, please contact us and we will be happy to arrange this for you.
Paco Madrigal is an exceptional local Leader. Paco will personally lead the holiday, and we are fortunate to secure his services. Paco was raised in the lowland rain forest of Sarapiqui, Costa Rica, and has over 20 years experience guiding both bird watching and natural history tours throughout Costa Rica. As a child, the rain forest was his backyard playground. He learned about the diverse local plants and animals from his father who had learned from his father. Paco became the first resident naturalist guide at the nearby Selva Verde Lodge tropical reserve, and in 1989 was selected to participate in the first 4 month intensive training course for naturalist guides, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund and the Organization for Tropical Studies.
Paco studied English and Ornithology at the University of Florida. Upon returning to Costa Rica, Paco worked for the renowned Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) at La Selva Biological Station in Sarapiqui where he began to lead guided tours, and his personal enthusiasm to share his knowledge with visitors has led to a devoted following. We can tell you from first-hand experience that Paco is extremely capable with wildlife, organisation and people. This is an extremely enjoyable and smoothly-organised holiday.
Paco remarks, "There is no greater satisfaction than to witness the joy experienced by clients when they see a Sunbittern, a Three-wattled Bellbird, Tinamous, a Quetzal, a sloth, orchids in bloom or any of the wildlife on their wish list for the first time!"
Dave Pullan: A popular leader with Heatherlea, both in Scotland and overseas, Dave is a top birder whose skills will be much appreciated in Costa Rica.
Dave Pullan Paco Madrigal
PACO SAYS: 'It was great to see The Heatherlea Team again at the recent Birdfair, and spend little bits of time here and there and of course share a little bit of time with guides from all over the world. The Heatherlea group photo, now a tradition at the Bird Fair, is always fun. We always seem to have a good laugh, of course the wine helps! We have developed over the years a wonderful relationship. I believe it will be a 10 year anniversary on 2017 Heatherlea and Cotinga working together making lots of happy clients. Thanks again!'
Heatherlea staff and guides at the Birdfair, August 2017
What's included in your holiday price:
* scheduled return flights between London Gatwick and San José, airport taxes,
* ground and boat transportation as outlined including all transportation in Costa Rica in a modern and spacious air-conditioned vehicle,
* accommodation and all meals, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Water is provided in the vehicle each day. Our guides also provide cold slices of mango and pineapple in very hot places!
* the services of your leaders.
* entrance fees to parks and reserves, and tips to hotels and restaurants.
* departure taxes, currently USD29.
* The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. Let Heatherlea take the strain! Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge included subject to terms and conditions.
What's not included in your holiday price:
* personal insurance, personal expenses including drinks ordered at the lodges, visa costs where necessary, optional tips to the driver and local guide, and any other costs not specified as 'included'.
WHY CHOOSE HEATHERLEA?
Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.
Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.
The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;
* We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 27 years, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
* Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
* Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
* All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
* Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.