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: 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. 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 Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-capped Warbler, Hoffman's Woodpecker, Baltimore Oriole, Buff-throated Saltator and our first kiskadees, parakeets, tanagers and hummingbirds; we have a list of sixty+ species seen in this garden 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. Overnight Hotel Bougainvillea, San José.
Day 2: Central Valley to Tortuguero NP
The next morning we start as we mean to go on, with an early start so we can look for Cabani's Ground Sparrow (now endemic to Costa Rica, previously a subspecies known as Prevost Ground Sparrow) as well as White-eared Ground Sparrow, Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge and Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush. After breakfast we leave the Central Valley and head down to the Caribbean Lowlands, travelling through the lush Braulio Carrillo NP. After a couple of hours, we reach our embarkation point, saying goodbye to cars and roads for the next few days. We then have an exhilarating boat ride to our lodge. We lunch at the lodge and then have our first venture into the Tortuguero NP by our own private boat. Overnight Laguna Lodge, Tortuguero
Day 3: Tortuguero NP
We have all day to explore the rich labyrinth of waterways which will afford us excellent wildlife viewing. This amazing and unforgettable area boasts 320 recorded bird species. 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. Difficult birds here include Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher, Great Green Macaw, Agami Heron, Great Potoo, Sungrebe, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Black-headed Tody Flycatcher, Collared Plover, Black-crowned Antshrike, Cinnamon Woodpecker, White-fronted Nunbird and Tiny Hawk. Overnight Laguna Lodge, Tortuguero
Day 4: Tortuguero to the Sarapiquí region
This morning we explore the grounds of Laguna Lodge, checking the beach for waders and seabirds and the hotel grounds for passerines. The gardens are very good for migrant American warblers, with Prothonotary, Hooded, Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped, Yellow and Tennessee Warblers recorded in previous trips. Numerous manakins, doves, raptors, woodpeckers & woodcreepers are found here too, with a range of hummingbirds on the flowers. After breakfast we return up the river to our bus, travelling via road to the Sarapiquí region of the Caribbean lowlands. We arrive at our lodge in time for lunch and spend the afternoon exploring the wildlife-rich riparian zone along the banks of the Sarapiquí 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. Also lurking in the forest are two- and three-toed sloth, three different species of monkey, and peccaries. Overnight Selva Verde Lodge
Days 5 & 6: 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. 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 butterflies, 55 snakes, and 120 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, Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Little Tinamou, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Lanceolated Monklet, Pied Puffbird, Sunbittern, Snowcap, Crested Owl, Snowy Cotinga, Slaty Spinetail and Snowy Cotinga among many others. Animals here are not camera shy, and we might see peccaries, agoutis, coatis, sloth, and monkeys. An unforgettable couple of days! Overnight Selva Verde Lodge
Days 7 & 8: Arenal Observatory Lodge
We spend two nights in the Arenal area, which offers breathtaking views of the jungle-covered Arenal Volcano, often providing great photo opportunities. This is a birding and wildlife hotspot, and the stunning natural beauty will astound you. The extensive trails at the lodge allow for tremendous opportunities to view Crimson-collared Tanager, White Hawk, Lovely Cotinga, Rufous-winged Tanager, Black and Yellow Tanager, Ocellated Antbird, Dull-mantled Antbird, Ornate-Hawk Eagle, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Brown-billed Scythebill, Great Antshrike, White-throated Crake, Uniform Crake, Black-crested Coquette, Striped-Owl, Brown-hooded Parrot, and Golden-olive Woodpecker, along with an array of colorful hummingbirds and three species of toucan. 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
Day 9: Guanacaste region
Today we travel along massive Lake Arenal to the Guanacaste region to explore the tropical dry forests, marshlands, estuaries and mangroves that are characteristic to the northern Pacific region. This is an ideal place to see waterbirds, 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 and jay. Regional specialities include Thicket Tinamou, Lesser Ground Cuckoo, Jabiru, Surfbird (among many species of waders), Long-tailed Manakin and Pacific Screech Owl. Overnight La Ensenada Lodge
Days 10 -12: Carara NP and the Tárcoles River
Pre-breakfast we take time to explore the grounds of La Ensenada properly. Situated on the shores of the Gulf of Nicoya, we can look out for seabirds, waders, gulls and terns, with raptors and hirundines overhead. We will also work the sparse cover, looking for Spot-breasted and Streak-backed Oriole, as well as Pacific Screech-Owl and numerous flycatchers and becards. After breakfast we head south, arriving in time for lunch at our next hotel, where we explore the bird-rich trails through the forest, and hope to see Scarlet Macaw and Bare-throated Tiger Heron among many others. In the afternoon we take a private birding boat trip on the Tárcoles river, looking at the mudflats and mangroves. 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 Roseate Spoonbill, several species of heron, Anhinga, kingfishers, Crested Caracara, Black Hawk and Lesser Nighthawk to name a few. Endemic or near-endemic birds here include Mangrove Hummingbird, Mangrove Cuckoo, Mangrove Warbler and Mangrove Vireo as well as Rufous-necked Woodrail, Panama Flycatcher and Northern Scrub Flycatcher. We will probably experience excellent views of Giant Crocodiles as we travel through the mangroves too.
The next day we bird the hotel grounds and hidden trails; we have seen many great birds just yards from our lodges, including Royal Flycatcher, White-whiskered Puffbird, Long-tailed Manakin and Fiery-billed Aracari. We then 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 also great location to spot antbirds, up to four different species of trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Streak-chested Antpitta, Ruddy Quail Dove, Black-faced Ant-thrush, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Crane Hawk, Red-capped Manakin and Slate-headed Tody Flycatcher. Overnight Hotel Villa Lapas
Days 13 & 14: The Paramo and Savegre Cloudforest
We have time to explore the hotel trails before heading back to the Central Valley. We return to San José and take the Pan American Highway south. If traffic has been kind we will probably stop off at a cafe on the way, where we can look for Highland specialities such as Large-footed Finch, Yellow-thighed Finch, Sooty-capped Chlorospingus, Fiery-throated Hummingbird and Black-and-Yellow Silky Flycatcher.
After lunch we continue south and head up to Cerro de la Muerte, high in the paramo, the scrubby and heathy habitat above the treeline. There are few birds here, but those found will be endemic or near-endemic, such as Volcano Junco, Peg-billed Finch and Volcano Hummingbird. In the afternoon we head down to our hotel, with its wonderful grounds that are full of restricted-range birds.
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. We have excellent chances of this bird today! We then spend the rest of 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-coloured Tanager, Collared Trogon, Torrent Tyrannulet, Volcano Hummingbird, and Scintillant Hummingbird. Rarities here include Silver-throated Jay, Ochraceous Pewee, Ochraceous Wren, Zeledonia (Wrenthrush), Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, Costa Rican Pygmy Owl, Bare-shanked Screech Owl, Elegant Euphonia, Mountain Thrush, Sooty Thrush, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Black & Yellow Silky-Flycatcher, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Barred Parakeet, Timberline Wren and Silver-fronted Tapaculo. Birds on the feeders include Magnificent Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker and Yellow-thighed Finch - great birding! Overnight Hotel Savegre, San Gerardo de Dota
Day 15: Hotel Bougainvillea grounds and flight home
After lunch on the 6th we return to San José, birding on the way. Overnight Hotel Bougainvillea, San José
The following morning we can to enjoy the bird-rich grounds, with breakfast at our leisure and a late check-out on our rooms. There will be plenty of time for birding the grounds, where we can look for some of the harder to find species such as Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Canivet's Emerald and Rufous-capped Warbler. Depending on flight times, we may possibly lunch at the hotel too (not included in your holiday price) before departing for the airport to return home. We arrive in London on the morning of Day 16 (Sun 8 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.