Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office! Read more about our Pre-flight Service here!
Day 1: Saturday 25th November 2023 ARRIVAL & WELCOME
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP airport lounge, we fly from London to San Jose. On arrival we will be warmly welcomed by our guide and driver and escorted to our 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, Mottled 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. Overnight: Hotel Bougainvillea, two nights.
Days 2 & 3: Sunday 26th & Monday 27th November SAVEGRE CLOUD FOREST
Today we travel to Cerro de la Muerte and the Savegre river valley where we spend the next two days. This magnificent misty highland cloud forest region is 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. Overnight Savegre Hotel for two nights.
Days 4 & 5: Tuesday 28th & Wednesday 29th November 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. 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 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. 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 are the Lesser Nighthawks which emerge by the hundred to hunt at dusk. Overnight Hotel Villa Lapas, two nights.
Day 6: Thursday 30th November 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, so we enjoy the landscape and increase our birdlist in this unique part of Costa Rica.
In the wetlands, we may 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 one night).
Days 7 & 8: Friday 1st & Saturday 2nd December 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 colourful 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 9, 10 and 11: Sunday 3rd, Monday 4th & Tuesday 5th December LA SELVA BIOLOGICAL STATION, SARAPIQUI
We travel to Selva Verde Lodge in the tropical lowlands, 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, brightly coloured poison-dart frogs.
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! Three nights at Selva Verde Lodge.
Days 12, 13 and 14: Wednesday 6th, Thursday 7th & Friday 8th December 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 monkey. We make several 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 we can see the last few Turkey and Black Vulture circling before heading south. In the evenings we venture along the nearby beach to look for Green Turtle hatchlings, and although December is late in the season, we have outside 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 on previous trips we have seen shadow-like Bat Falcons swooping acrobatically over the mangrove lagoons, hawking for brilliant Blue Morpho butterflies. (Overnight: Laguna Lodge, three nights)
Days 15 and 16: Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th December SAN JOSE
After lunch we travel back to the Hotel Bougainvillea in the central valley making a few stops along the way. 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. Finally, we enjoy a farewell dinner where we will reminisce about the wonderful experiences we have shared.
Day 17: Monday 11th December DEPARTURE
The holiday ends with breakfast today, and hopefully there will be time for one last look around the bird-rich grounds of our hotel, following which we transfer to the airport for our afternoon flight home, arriving in London the next morning, Day 18 Tuesday 12th December.
LOCAL FRUIT IN COSTA RICA
Tropical fruits in Costa Rica are exotic, flavourful, delicious and plentiful. Virtually all are locally grown, which generally means fruit is ripe and ready to eat. At breakfast and other mealtimes, you might find bananas, pineapple, watermelon, mango and papaya on offer; please try them! Many Costa Rican fruits are not found in Europe, and subject to availability Heatherlea will treat you to some of these as we travel, purchased directly from local sellers, washed and prepared for your delectation. Here are some, with local names in italics.
AVOCADO – but not as you might know it! These very large fruits are grown in the lowlands and are wonderful when ripe and ready to eat. Often the outer skin just peels easily away, leaving soft and tender fruit.
MALAY APPLE/CUSTARD APPLE – ‘manzana de agua’. Two white, pulpy fruits which are a kind of mango, very sweet and tasty.
PERUVIAN GUAVA – 'guayaba'. Very small, red in colour.
STARFRUIT – ‘carambola’. Tart, though lovely in juice and also used in cooking and salads. Often fresh from the tree.
JAMAICAN PLUM – ‘jocote’. A very small kind of mango.
RAMBUTAN – 'mamon chino'. A large and refreshing lychee. Split in half to reveal the fruit, then suck from the stone inside.
MANGO/PASSION FRUIT - Nothing like at home, fresh and very tasty!
SOURSOP – ‘guanabana’. Large, green, and from the same family as ‘Custard Apple’.
CAS – Another local fruit from the guava family, sour to taste, though excellent when made into juices or jams.
DRAGON FRUIT – 'pitaya'. From an epiphyte cactus plant, bright pink outside and inside, juicy and mild in flavour, often used in ice cream.
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).