Costa Rica

Land of the Quetzal - Northern Itinerary

More Info

Expert local Leader Yehudi Hernandez.
Group size 6 clients.
Departure from London Heathrow via Madrid on a morning flight.
Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge are FREE.

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 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.

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 hotels and lodges which are first rate destinations for birders, and often spectacular in terms of location and service.

Each day we make 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.

Outline Itinerary

Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office!

Days 1 and 2        Sat 14 and Sun 15 January
After relaxing in your complimentary airport lounge, fly from Heathrow to San Jose where your Guide will meet you and escort you to your 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 hotel grounds. Our flight may have an evening arrival in which case we will just relax and have dinner! On our first full day, we go birding in 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 Buena Vista.

Days 3 and 4        Mon 16 - Tues 17 January
A complete change of scenery as we travel by boat to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean. Here we 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 kingfisher belonging to the Americas. Along with birds, we may also see Giant River Otter, sloths, caiman, iguanas, poison-dart frogs, fresh-water turtles, basilisk lizards, the Honduran White tent-making bat, and three species of monkey frequent the banks. Our excellent hotel is located on the narrow strip of land between the brackish mangrove waters and the crashing breakers of the Caribbean Sea. This unforgettable location is simply packed with wonderful wildlife, and the fragility of the natural environment here is a thing of beauty and excitement. One of our favourite places in the world! Overnight Laguna Lodge for two nights.

Days 5, 6 and 7      Wed 18 - Fri 20 January
We travel to Selve Verde in the tropical lowlands of Sarapiqui, where we spend our first 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. We make several visits to La Selva Biological Station, run by the Organization for Tropical Studies. The station is one of the four most famous tropical research facilities in the world, and our time here is often a highlight of the tour, as we frequently find 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 few days! Three nights at Selve Verde Lodge.

Days 8 and 9       Sat 21 - Sun 22 January
Our next port of call is impressive Arenal Observatory Lodge, which offers breath-taking views of Arenal Volcano (check the hotel website on the link below)! The volcano is no longer considered active, so we can relax in close proximity to this spectacular natural wonder. Great photo opportunities! The extensive trails at the lodge contain tremendous birding, and Crimson-collared Tanager, White Hawk, Brown-hooded Parrot, Golden-olive Woodpecker, an array of colorful hummingbirds and both Costa Rican species of toucan can be found here. 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. The early morning birding experience next to the hotel feeders, with the sheer sides of the volcano immediately opposite, is unforgettable. Two nights at Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Day 10        Mon 23 January
We drive 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. 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. Overnight La Ensenada Lodge, where we must watch out for the occasional opportunistic magpie-jay in the open-plan restaurant!

Days 11 and 12      Tues 24 - Wed 25 January
We make the relstively short journey 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 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 among many others. Early mornings are as treat here, and we take optional pre-breakfast strolls around the grounds to find new birds as dawn breaks high above us in the forest canopy. We visit Playa Azul and the surrounding area, an amazing place for shore and water birds as well as parrots, orioles, macaws and owls. We take a memorable boat trip through the mangroves, and expect an impressive variety of water birds and raptors, including Roseate Spoonbill, several species of heron, Anhinga, kingfishers, Crested Caracara, Mangrove Black Hawk and Mangrove Warbler to name just a few. We spend a one 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 a great location to spot antbirds, up to four different species of trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and even Royal Flycatcher. One morning, before entering the reserve, we visit the nearby bridge overlooking the Tarcoles River, where Scarlet Macaws fly over daily, and here you will be amazed by the gigantic crocodiles basking on the banks of the river. Overnight for two nights at Hotel Villa Lapas.

Days 13 and 14      Thurs 26 and Fri 27 January
Travel to Cerro de la Muerte, and en-route we 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, Resplendent Quetzal is considered by many to be the most beautiful in tropical America. You have excellent chances of good views! We spend a full day exploring the bird rich habitat in the Savegre River Valley. Walking through the hotel 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 just a few. In the evening after a delicious dinner, we will go over the birds, reptiles, mammals, and any other wildlife seen each day. Two nights at Savegre Mountain Lodge, deep in the realm of the Resplendent Quetzal.

Day 15:       Sat 28 January
We make a morning visit to the Paraiso de Quetzal, including an early lunch, before transferring to the airport to return home. We arrive in London Heathrow early on Sun 29 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. Some hotels and their locations are spectacular - please see the links provided above.
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 from London Heathrow. 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.


Your Leader:

Heatherlea are delighted to welcome exceptional local guide Yehudi Hernandez, a very experienced and popular Leader. Yehudi has great experience as a birding and natural history field guide in Costa Rica. Yehudi has first class organizational skills and attention to detail, not to mention an excellent birder with an exceptional knowledge of CR’s flora & fauna.

  Yehudi Hernandez

What's included in your holiday price:

* scheduled return flights between London Heathrow and San José (via Madrid), 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 guide also provides cold slices of mango and pineapple in very hot places!
* the services of your leader/s.
* entrance fees to parks and reserves,  and tips to hotels and restaurants.
* departure taxes, currently USD28.
* 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. Read more....

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'.


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 22 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.

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).


Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: 01479 821248