Heatherlea are very experienced in Costa Rica, and our 15-night Classic Tour is a tremendous holiday which has been very popular for many years. This Classic Tour - PLUS is an enhanced version, as we stay a little longer (total 18 nights) in some of the very special places we visit. With more time, we can devote attention to some desireable extras, including baby Green Turtles hatching on the beach, additional Hummingbird sites and the chance of some rare birds otherwise not available, a fascinating forest night walk (optional) for all kinds of wonderful wildlife, a visit (again optional) to a chocolate plantation, where you will watch and participate in the organic process, and above all an enhanced birdlist in places we always seem to have to leave too soon. This itinerary has been carefully developed with our excellent agents in Costa Rica, and is exclusive to Heatherlea.
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 very difficult to cover the country in one holiday, though this itinerary gives you a wide and representative taste of Costa Rica's biologically rich areas. A thrilling experience which is suitable for either the first time or returning visitor. We tour the country staying in seven different hotels and lodges, all of which are experienced at hosting groups of birders.
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. 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.
Most days we offer an optional early start to make the most of our time, and maximise our opportunities to see as much 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.
Classic Tour - PLUS!
Extra elements to our Classic Tour;
- An extra day and night at the beginning of the holiday, at our comfortable hotel in San Jose. Not only does this allow a little more time to recover from a long journey, but gives us a day to visit the lovely Waterfall Gardens on the edge of the Braulio Carrillo National Park, where we will collect birds not otherwise seen, including hummingbirds on the local feeders, and the serene river valley of Virgen del Socorro, where we may be lucky enough to see rare Lanceolated Monklet.
- An extra day and night at Tortuguero. We always have to leave this place too soon, so let’s stay longer, enjoying the birdlife around the hotel grounds. Our unique location between the tranquil brackish mangrove swamp and the crashing breakers of the western Caribbean makes this a place to savour at length. We will also have lots of time to look for baby Green Turtles, observing their headlong dash towards the safety of the ocean surf.
- At La Selva, our optional night walk will almost certainly produce new wildlife. On a recent holiday, highlights included a Great Tinamou sitting ten metres above the ground (this skulking bird is an elusive ground-dweller in daylight), many new frogs, slender Northern Cat-eyed Snake, with very large eyes set in a prominent head, rarely seen Alston's Mouse Opossum, a nocturnal marsupial with large eyes and slim shape, large Rhinocerous Beetles, Katydids, and a Common Pauraque sitting alongside the road. This two-hour trip is an exciting experience for everyone (including our Costa Rican Guides), as the noises and sights of the soaking, humid rainforest at night leave us deeply impressed - magical!
- In the afternoons at La Selva we often take a break in the heat. During one of these we offer an optional visit to a local chocolate plantation, where you will see the product grown, harvested, roasted, blended and manufactured, all in traditional ways, resulting in a fresh chocolate to die for!
- An extra day and night at Ensenada again gives us a bigger bird list in a place we can easily enjoy for longer than usual. Western Pacific migration should be in full swing, and this achingly beautiful place is well worth more of our time.
- With three more days we can devote more attention to a wide mix of wildlife. All our tours to Costa Rica see a myriad of animal, bird, insect and plant life, but this one allows us to add more. Watch out for ice-cream, cold, fresh mango and pineapple in a humid spot, and lots of other little things which make a great trip even more special.
Finally, should you wish an even longer holiday in this beautiful country, please see our 'Ultimate Birdwatching and Wildlife Tour', which takes 22 nights to explore this wonderful country.
Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office!
Days 1 - 2: Sat 3 – Sun 4 Nov ARRIVAL and WELCOME
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP airpirt lounge, we fly from Gatwick direct to San Jose. On arrival you will be warmly welcomed by your guide and driver, and escorted back to your comfortable hotel. Depending on arrival time, you may be able to walk in the lovely gardens to relax after a long day of travel. The gardens are home to many spectacular tropical birds, including Blue-crowned Motmot, Hoffman’s Woodpecker, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. We have a long list of ‘garden ticks’ at our regular hotel, let’s see how many we can find on this tour! You will be impressed by the extensive orchid and bromeliad gardens here as well. Anyone interested in geology? Our hotel has an amazing rock and mineral collection, with nearly every piece found right here in Costa Rica. In the evening you can venture out to look for frogs at the pond. The following day we go birding to the Virgen del Socorro area, stopping along the way for lunch at the lovely Waterfall Gardens on the edge of the Braulio Carrillo National Park, where we will enjoy the extensive butterfly and hummingbird gardens. Up to 12 different species of jewelled hummingbirds visit the garden as well as a variety of colourful butterflies, including the giant blue Morpho. We will have the option to walk along the river, experiencing close-up views of two spectacular waterfalls. After lunch we walk through the serene river valley of Virgen del Socorro, where we may be lucky enough to see rare Lanceolated Monklet. (Overnight: Hotel Bougainvillea, two nights)
Days 3 - 5: Mon 5 – Wed 7 Nov TORTUGUERO
In the morning we enjoy more light birding at the hotel before our exciting journey by land and then boat to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast, known as the Amazon of Costa Rica. Here we explore the rich labyrinth of waterways, which afford excellent wildlife viewing. The area boasts 320 bird species, including Tiger Herons, Agami Heron, White-fronted Nunbird, and all six species of Kingfishers belonging to the Americas. We may also see sloth, caiman, iguanas, poison-dart frogs, fresh-water turtles, basilisk lizards, Tamandua (a tree-dwelling anteater), Honduran White Tent-making Bats, and three species of monkeys. All these creatures frequent the mangrove forest which frequents the banks. We make four leisurely boat safaris on still waters to enjoy wildlife at very close quarters. Here we are close to the southern migration pathway, and in favourable conditions during October we can see many thousand Turkey and Black Vulture circling before heading south. In the evenings we venture along the nearby beach to look for Green Turtles, which hatch during October. With three nights here we have plenty of chances to see this thrilling event, as new-born baby turtles scuttle rapidly across the beach and into the ocean waters. This is also a great place to look for Red-eyed Tree Frogs, which come out to sing in the evenings. Such is the diversity of life here that Tortuguero always surprises us, and those here at this time last year will remember shadow-like Bat Falcons swooping acrobatically over the mangrove lagoons, hawking for brilliant blue Morpho butterflies. (Overnight: Laguna Lodge, three nights)
Day 6: Thurs 8 Nov TORTUGUERO - SARAPIQUI
We travel to Selva Verde Lodge in the tropical lowlands of Sarapiqui, where we 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 in the country. Here Sunbittern, Black-faced Grosbeak, and Gray-necked Wood-Rail are a few of the spectacular inhabitants, and 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, monkeys, agoutis and peccaries. We will also seek several species of tiny poison-dart frogs. Their bright colours will astound you. (Overnight: Selva Verde Lodge, three nights)
Days 7 - 8: Fri 9 – Sat 10 Nov LA SELVA BIOLOGICAL STATION
We spend the next two days at La Selva Biological Station run by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), a highlight of the trip. The station is among the most famous tropical research facilities in the world, and there is no better place to experience the rainforest with its 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. A vast variety of trees can be seen in the arboretum. You will enjoy the unique opportunity to explore the rich forests in the place where much of the world’s discoveries about Tropical Rainforests take place. Animals here are not camera shy, so there will be ample photo opportunities. Peccaries, agoutis, coatis, sloths, and monkeys frequent the area, all of which makes for an unforgettable experience. We will also venture out one night for a taste of the rainforest after dark where a whole host of new creatures can be seen and heard, including kinkajous, frogs & toads, potoos, owls, bats, maybe a snake or two, opossums, and insects that come in all different shapes and colors such as stick insects, cicadas, many moths, katydids, spiders and peanut-headed bug. There is also a chance we may find bioluminescent fungi. As an extra delight, we take a break during the heat of one afternoon, to visit a neighbouring plantation where chocolate is made, to see this fascinating process, and to taste some of the freshest, most delicious chocolate you will ever encounter!
Days 9 - 10: Sun 11 – Mon 12 Nov ARENAL VOLCANO
We spend two nights at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which offers breath-taking views of the jungle-covered Arenal Volcano. This is a birding and wildlife hotspot, where the stunning natural beauty will astound you. There are fabulous feeders at the Lodge, and we recommend an early-morning session here with a cup of Costa Rican coffee as you watch perhaps a dozen brightly-coloured bird species including tanagers, jays, oropendolas and more. The feeders are framed against mighty Arenal Volcano immediately opposite, an unforgettable spectacle. The volcano may be cloudy or clear, dormant or active, though the spectacle of this great rainforest stretching away to Lake Arenal, and the many new birds which live here are equally impressive. Inquisitive Coatimundi are common animals here. The extensive trails at the lodge allow further tremendous opportunities for birding, and we may see Crimson-collared Tanager, White Hawk, Brown-hooded Parrot, and Golden-olive Woodpecker, along with an array of colorful hummingbirds and three species of Toucan. This is also a wonderful spot to view a variety of butterflies in the gardens. Sloth are common inhabitants of the area as are Anteater and three monkey species. One night, we will go owling in search of Black-and-White Owl, Mottled Owl, and Striped Owl in open fields below the lodge. (Overnight: Arenal Observatory Lodge, two nights)
Days 11 – 12: Tues 13 – Wed 14 Nov ENSENADA
We drive down from upland forests by the volcano to the Pacific coast in the area of Guanacaste, to explore the tropical dry forests, marshlands, estuaries, and mangroves characteristic of the northern Pacific region. This hot, dry environment, with its endlessly rolling plains is reminiscent of central Africa, and is an ideal place to see water birds, raptors, and other species found only in this zone. A complete contrast with all other places we visit, and so on this itinerary we spend two nights here to enjoy the landscape and increase our birdlist in this unique part of Costa Rica.
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 may see Turquoise-browed Motmot, Long-tailed Manakin, and several species of Parrot, Oriole, Cuckoo, Trogon, Jay, and Owl. At table we must watch out for the occasional opportunistic magpie-jay in the open-plan restaurant! (Overnight at La Ensenada Lodge for two nights)
Days 13 - 14: Thurs 15 – Fri 16 Nov CARARA NATIONAL PARK
We make the short journey south along the coast to Hotel Villa Lapas, situated at the edge of the Carara National Park on the banks of the Tarcoles River near the Pacific coast. Along the way we stop to look for Blue-winged Teal, Least Grebe, Northern Jacana, Anhinga and other dryforest specialties. When we arrive, there may be time to explore the wildlife-rich trails through the forest, where we hope to see Scarlet Macaw and Tiger Herons, leaf-cutter ants, Spiny-tailed Black Iguana, Brown Basilisk Lizard and Long-tailed Manakin among many others. This is also a great location for frogs. With plenty of water in the nearby ponds, we are sure to enjoy a concert of several species at night, including Hourglass Frog (genus Hyla), Leopard Frog and a new species of Red-eyed Tree Frog (different from the one in Tortuguero), as well as Masked Frog. We spend the next 48 hours in the Carara National Park, a unique 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 a great location to find army ants which bring a whole host of wildlife following behind, scooping up the escaping insects. While looking out for army ant swarms, we also hope to spot antbirds, up to five different species of Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Royal Flycatcher and beautiful Orange Collared Manakin. One afternoon, we will enjoy a two hour mangrove tour by boat along the Tarcoles River with a local guide. According to the tides, we might see migrant terns, waders and more at the river mouth on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, or get exceptional views 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. We will also take time to visit Playa Azul at dusk where some of the species we look for are Green Iguana, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Roseate Spoonbill, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Melodious Blackbird, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Pacific Screech-Owl, Spectacled Owl, and many species of shorebirds. One of the highlights here is the spectacle of Lesser Nighthawks which emerge by the hundred to hunt at dusk. (Overnight Hotel Villa Lapas, two nights).
Days 15 - 16: Sat 17 – Sun 18 Nov SAVEGRE CLOUD FOREST
Today we travel to Cerro de la Muerte and the Savegre river valley where we spend the next two days. You will be astounded by this magnificent misty highland cloud forest region, home to the Resplendent Quetzal, as well as Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher, and Large-footed Finch, to name just a few. This highland region is one of Costa Rica’s largest protected areas, and the northernmost point of the Paramo habitat – a highland shrub and tussock grass habitat most common in the Andes. Here we look for regional endemic birds Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren, as well as Green Spiny Lizard. The area also boasts vast expanses of pristine cloud forest, dominated by several species of towering oaks laden with a variety of epiphytes including a variety of micro-orchids. Mammals of the area include Mexican Porcupine, Red-tailed Squirrel, Tayra (in the same family as the River Otter), and we may also hear the distant howling of coyotes in the evenings. The crystalline water of the Savegre River cascading through the highland valleys adds to the enchanting appeal of this very special place.
Day 17: Mon 19 Nov SAVEGRE – SAN JOSE
After lunch we travel back to the Hotel Bougainvillea in the central valley making a few stops along the way. We arrive for a farewell dinner where we will reminisce about the wonderful experiences we have shared.
Day 18: Tues 20 Nov
We transfer to the airport for our flights home, arriving Wed 21 Nov. If flights are in the afternoon, a final lunch will be provided at the hotel, yet one more taste of Pura Vida, as the Costa Ricans say!
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!"
Ian Ford is a very experienced and highly popular Heatherlea Leader, both at home in Scotland and overseas, who has led many holidays with Paco in Costa Rica.
Ian Ford Paco Madrigal
Feedback from a recent Costa Rica holiday
I wanted to thank you so much for organising such a brilliant trip to Costa Rica. I really cannot emphasise enough how much I enjoyed it. Each day seemed to get be better than the one before, but at the end, I couldn't really say which place I had enjoyed the most. They were all so different and each one was brilliant in its own unique way. It was so hard choosing only 3 highlights, and since I have been home, I have changed my mind several times!
The transport was wonderful, and of course Carlos was the best driver ever. How he manoevered that bus up and down so many steep, windy roads, I have no idea! Naturally, words cannot convey how impressed I was with Paco's knowledge. He is a great find for your tours! Please pass on my best wishes to him and his family, and reiterate how much I enjoyed learning from him. Toby was great company and good fun too. Again, his knowledge was impressive, considering he had not been there before, but he clearly has a gift when it comes to birds.
I have been raving about this trip to my friends and family, and bearing in mind how much travelling I have done in Africa, I have surprised myself in rating this one of the best ever. You and your company did a wonderful job with the organisation, so THANK YOU very much indeed. I shall always remember these last 2 weeks, and the trout will have a special place in my memory!!!
Thank you so much for the trip report. I spent a happy 20 minutes reading it yesterday and it brought back wonderful memories. It was interesting, enjoyable and very well written. We did have a super time didn't we? The photos are great and added to the whole report. It must have taken ages to write, and a depressingly short time to read!!!! I will make sure I read it regularly so I can relive the whole holiday, and will also pass it on to my birding friend in South Africa, and make her even more jealous!
I hope to join you again some day - it was such fun.
Please pass on my thanks to Toby for his good humour, knowledge and patience.
With all good wishes for Christmas and the New Year
Just to say a big thank you for a truly excellent and very well planned trip to Costa Rica. The wildlife was stunning, and non stop – the guides made such an effort to make sure everyone saw everything. The accommodation was brilliant, and the standard of care and attention exceeded all expectations; no little detail was overlooked and it was a delight to be relieved of all the usual airport stress. Its the best £4,500 I have ever spent.
Thanks again to all concerned,
I'm still reeling from the mind blowing Costa Rica trip and I'd like to thank you, Toby, Paco and all the other local guides for your endless patience and good humour. Your attention to detail was second to none and I will recommend your company whenever I get the chance.
For the attention of Kevin Shaw,
Mrs F and I would like to thank you and all the Heatherlea team for a most enjoyable holiday. The guiding was first class, the accommodation was excellent, and the organisation was flawless. We found Costa Rica a fascinating country and will be recommending it (and Heatherlea), to all our friends.
Mr and Mrs HF
Dear BBC Wildlife,
We have just returned from the holiday of a life-time in Costa Rica having seen the advertisement in your magazine, BBC Wildlife, last year.
The organisation by Heatherlea was first class and the knowledge of wildlife by the Costa Rican guide, Paco Madrigal, was outstanding. Every aspect of the environment was observed and discussed from dawn til dusk and ended with a bird list of 327 different species (including Resplendant Quetzals).
I nearly booked up again when I saw the advertisement in this month’s magazine!