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!
This holiday is designed for the more serious birder, as we work harder than usual to find some special species which might otherwise be missed. There are many birds to added to our usual target list, giving a total for the holiday of perhaps up to 430 species. Everything on our target list is very possible, though some are hard to find, and some have never been seen on a Heatherlea trip in over a decade of bird-packed holidays. You can expect fabulous birding in the company of our great friend and regular leader Paco Madrigal, an exceptional local guide, widely regarded as one of the best birders in the country.
Just a few of our harder-than-usual targets; Bare-shanked Screech Owl, Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, Agami Heron, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, White-fronted Nunbird, Tiny Hawk, Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Little Tinamou, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Lanceolated Monklet, Pied Puffbird, Slaty Spinetail, Lovely Cotinga, Rufous-winged Tanager, Black & Yellow Tanager, Ocellated Antbird, Dull-mantled Antbird, Ornate-Hawk Eagle, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Brown-billed Scythebill, White-throated Crake, Uniform Crake, Black-crested Coquette, Striped-Owl, Thicket Tinamou, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, Surfbird, Long-tailed Manakin, Mangrove Vireo, Royal Flycatcher, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Streak-chested Antpitta, Black-faced Antthrush, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Fiery-billed Aracari, Crane Hawk, Red-capped Manakin, Slate-headed Tody Flycatcher, Rufous-necked Wood- Rail, Silver-throated Jay, Ochraceous Pewee, Zeledonia (Wrenthrush), Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, Costarican Pygmy Owl, Elegant Euphonia, Black & Yellow Silky-Flycatcher, Barred Parakeet, Timberline Wren and Silver-fronted Tapaculo.
We will also see a great range of species welcomed on all our Costa Rican safaris; much sought-after birds including Sunbittern, Green & Rufous Kingfisher, Great Green Macaw, Great Potoo, Sungrebe, Snowcap, Crested Owl, Snowy Cotinga, Jabiru, and of course the incomparable Resplendent Quetzal.
Other wildlife will as always 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 the itinerary of this holiday is similar to our very popular ‘Classic Tour’, the dynamic and pace is a little different, with more time in the field, very early starts and owling in the evenings. We will take early breakfasts, have more flexibility with meal times, take some packed lunches so we can remain in the field, and with National Parks and reserves, agree earlier access to make fuller use of the best time of the day, hopefully avoiding other people on the trails. All of this makes a big difference over the course of a 15-day holiday!
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 seven different hotels and lodges, all of which are experienced at hosting groups of birders. Each evening there will also be an optional meeting before or after dinner to go over the bird list.
Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office!
Day 1 - Saturday 6th April 2019: London Gatwick to San Jose
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we will fly direct from Gatwick to San José where our guide Paco 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 and some colourful hummingbirds - we have now seen over 60 species in this garden on our short morning and late-afternoon walks! 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 Screech Owl and Tropical Screech Owl. Overnight Hotel Bougainvillea, San José.
Day 2 - Sunday 7th April: Central Valley to Tortuguero NP
The next morning we start as we mean to go on, with an early start so we can go and look for the 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 - Monday 8th April: 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 & 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 - Tuesday 9th April: Tortuguero to the Sarapiqui region
This morning we will 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 and return to our bus, travelling via road to the Saripiqui regon of the Caribbean lowlands. We arrive at our lodge in term for lunch and then 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. 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. This is one of the emergent trees commonly found in Sarapiqui. Also lurking in the forest are two- and three-toed sloth, 3 different species of monkey, and peccaries. Overnight Sueno Azul or Selva Verde Lodge
Days 5 & 6 - Wednesday 10th & Thursday 11th April: 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 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, 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 (wild pig), agoutis, coatis, sloth, and monkeys. An unforgettable couple of days! Overnight Sueno Azul or Selva Verde Lodge
Days 7 & 8 - Friday 12th & Saturday 13th April: Arenal Observatory Lodge
Spend two nights at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which offers breath-taking views of the thundering Arenal Volcano. This is one of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes, where we are sure to enjoy some fireworks. Great photo opportunities! The extensive trails at the lodge allow for tremendous opportunities to view Crimson-collared Tanager, White Hawk, Lovely Cotinga, Rufous-winged Tanager, Black & Yellow Tanager, Ocellated Antbird, Dull-manttle 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 will 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 - Sunday 14th April: Guanacaste region
Today we travel along the 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 10,11 & 12 - Monday 15th - Wednesday 17th April: Carara NP and the Tarcoles River
Pre-breakfast we will take the 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 Orioles, as well as Pacific Screech-Owl and numerous Flycatchers and Becards. After breakfast we head south, stopping along the way to look for Blue-winged Teal, Least Grebe, Northern Jacana, Anhinga, and Neotropical Cormorant.
We arrive in time for lunch at our next hotel, where we will 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 will take a private birding boat trip on the Tarcoles 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 the 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 the 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 (16th) 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 Antthrush, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Crane Hawk, Red-capped Manakin and Slate-headed Tody Flycatcher. Overnight Hotel Villa Lapas
Days 13 & 14 - Thursday 18th & Friday 19th April: The Paramo and Savegre Cloudforest
We have time to explore the hotel trails before heading off after breakfast, back to the Central Valley. We return to San Jose and then 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 very few birds here, but what there is endemic or near-endemic, such as the 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 here include Magnificent Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker and Yellow-thighed Finch - great birding!
Overnight Hotel Savegre, San Gerardo de Dota
After lunch on the 19th we return to San José, birding on the way. Overnight Hotel Bougainvillea, San José
Day 15 - Saturday 20th April: Hotel Bougainvillea grounds and flight home
We have all morning 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 before departing for the airport to return home. We arrive in London Gatwick on the morning of Day 16 (21 April).
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).
See our other Costa Rica tours here:
CLASSIC TOUR PLUS!
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!
Dave Pullan: Dave is a top birder and very experienced leader overseas and in the UK. Dave is very much looking forward to your company in Costa Rica.
Paco Madrigal Dave Pullan
What's included in your holiday price:
* scheduled return flights between London Gatwick and San José, 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 guides also provide cold slices of mango and pineapple in very hot places!
* the services of your leaders.
* entrance fees to parks and reserves, and tips to hotels and restaurants.
* departure taxes, currently USD29.
* 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.
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'.