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Day 1: London to San José
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we will fly from London to San José where our guide will meet us and take us to our hotel. Depending on our arrival time we may be able to relax with a birding walk in the lovely gardens. A good place to see Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-capped Warbler, Hoffman's Woodpecker, Baltimore Oriole, Buff-throated Saltator as well as Costa Rica's national bird - Clay-coloured Thrush. A variety of kiskadees, parakeets, tanagers and hummingbirds are also likely - we have seen over 60 species in this garden alone over the years! Our flight may have a late afternoon or evening arrival in which case we will just relax and have dinner, though if the weather is suitable we may offer an owling excursion looking for both Bare-shanked and Tropical Screech Owl. We stay overnight at Hotel Bougainvillea, San José for one night.
Day 2: San José to Savegre
Our first morning will be spent 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. Our primary target for the day, we visit the cloud forests close to our hotel so have excellent chances. A number of other species are likely while we await a good view of this iconic bird including North American Wood Warblers. Several species winter in the cloud forests, of which Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Black-throated Green, Tennessee and Wilson's are often commonest. We stay at Hotel Savegre, San Gerardo de Dota for two nights.
Day 3: The Paramo and Savegre Cloudforest
We spend the day for exploring the bird rich habitats within the Savegre River Valley. Walking the trails through the gardens and beside the Savegre River, key targets include Flame-coloured Tanager, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Collared Trogon, Torrent Tyrannulet and Yellow-winged Vireo. A variety of hummingbirds are likely as we explore, including Volcano, Fiery-throated and Talamanca alongside Green Violetear and Gray-tailed Mountain Gem. If lucky we will catch a glimpse of Sulphur-winged Parakeet hurtling through the canopy or elusive Black Guan, while in Paramo habitats we have chances of Volcano Junco, Timberline Wren and plenty more besides.
Day 4: Carara NP and the Tárcoles River
Near the Pacific Coast, at the Carara Biological Reserve we take a private birding boat trip along the Tárcoles river to investigate the mudflats and mangroves. An truly amazing stretch of water for birds, endemic or near-endemic possibilities include Mangrove Hummingbird, Mangrove Cuckoo, Mangrove Warbler and Mangrove Vireo as well as Rufous-necked Woodrail, Panama Flycatcher and Northern Scrub Flycatcher. From our boat we may also see Roseate Spoonbill, several species of heron, Anhinga, kingfishers, Crested Caracara, Black Hawk and perhaps Giant Crocodile as we travel through the mangroves. Later, we visit Playa Azul and the surrounding area, an amazing place for wetland birds plus a variety of parrots, macaws and orioles, with owls and gatherings of Lesser Nighthawk possible as dusk falls. We stay overnight at Hotel Villa Lapas for two nights.
Day 5: Carara NP
With so much to see we enjoy a second 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 creating a rich meeting ground for species from both regions. On good quality trails we explore the area, and among the highlights may be Orange collared Manakin dancing at their lek. The reserve is also a great location to look for Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Blue-crowned Manakin, Baird's and Slaty-tailed Trogon, Green Honeycreeper, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Royal Flycatcher and up to five species of ant-bird.
Day 6: Guanacaste region
Travelling to Guanacaste, the tropical dry forests, marshlands, estuaries and mangroves typify the habitat of the northern Pacific region. It is an ideal place to see a number water birds, raptors and other species found only in this zone. Likely in wetland habitats are Crane Hawk, Snail Kite, Wood Stork, Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Boat-billed Heron, Limpkin and several species of kingfisher. Walking in the semi-deciduous forest we focus more on passerines again and key targets include Turquoise-browed Motmot, Long-tailed Manakin, Spot-breasted Oriole, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Groove-billed Ani along with several species of parrot, cuckoo, trogon, jay and owl ensuring a big birdlist by the end of the day. Overnight at La Ensenada Lodge for one night.
Days 7 & 8: Arenal Observatory Lodge
The Arenal area is a real wildlife hot-spot and by spending two nights here we maximise our chances to encounter its many specialities. The lodge itself offers breath-taking views of the jungle-covered Arenal Volcano, while the extensive trails allow for tremendous opportunities to view a wide variety of species. Hummingbirds can be plentiful, and new species may well include Black-crested Coquette, Blue-throated Goldentail and Green Thorntail. Also likely are Great Currasow, White-collared and Grey-rumped Swift, Crimson-collared, Emerald and Black and Yellow Tanager, Brown- hooded Parrot, Golden-olive Woodpecker and up to three species of Toucan. On one night we 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 for two nights.
Day 9: Arenal to the Sarapiquí region
After a final few hours in the Arenal area at first light to try and find any unseen specialities, we travel to the tropical lowlands of Sarapiqui. Birding within 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 some of the greatest diversity of tropical flora and fauna in Costa Rica. Sun Bittern is a key target, and we also hope to see Black-mandibiled and Keel-billed Toucan, Black-faced Grosbeak and Gray-necked Wood-Rail. Sarapiqui is also the most likely place on the tour to see Great Green Macaw, an endangered species that depends on the Dipteryx tree for feeding and nesting. Mammals may also feature, lurking in the forest are Two and Three-toed Sloth along with several species of monkey and peccaries. We stay at Selva Verde Lodge for three nights, perfectly placed to explore the area over the subsequent days.
Days 10 & 11: 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 tour. Founded in 1968, it offers 1,600 hectares of well-preserved old-growth and recovering wet lowland tropical forest and is among the four most famous tropical research facilities in the world! Home to more than 420 bird species, more than 500 species of butterflies, 55 species of snakes, and 120 species of mammals - we will certainly see an abundance of wildlife! Snowy Cotinga is a famous target, and we also spend our time looking for Rufous Motmot, Slaty-breasted Tinamou, White-necked Jacobin, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Purple-throated Fruit alongside a variety of trogons, caciques and tanagers. The other wildlife here are not camera shy either, and we might see peccaries (wild pig), agoutis, coatis, sloths, monkeys and a variety of frogs and reptiles during an unforgettable couple of days!
Days 12 & 13: Tortuguero NP
Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast is best birded from a boat, and once we arrive at the lodge we explore the rich labyrinth of waterways on a series of boat trips affording excellent wildlife viewing. This amazing and unforgettable area boasts 320 bird species, including Tiger and Agami Heron, White-fronted Nunbird and all six species of kingfisher belonging to the Americas. Lineated Woodpecker is another target amongst a vast array of birds, and we may also see Neotropical River Otter, sloths, caiman, iguanas, poison-dart frogs, fresh-water turtles, basilisk lizards, three species of monkey and the famous Honduran White tent-making bats. We stay at Laguna Lodge, Tortuguero for two nights.
Day 14: Hotel Bougainvillea gardens
Returning to San José, we make a few birding stops on the way specifically targeting locations and habitats where we may add new species. A farewell dinner and an overnight stay at Hotel Bougainvillea, San José will give us the chance to relax before our departing flights the next day.
Day 15: Hotel Bougainvillea grounds and flight home
After breakfast we transfer to the airport to return home, arriving in London on the morning of Day 16.