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Costa Rica Birding Tour

'400+ Birding' in one of the best birding destinations in the World!

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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. Costa Rica has sunny, pristine coastline, wonderful tropical wetlands, lowland rainforest, high cloudforest festooned with orchids and bromeliads, and cool, misty mountain tops. The national park system 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. The people are welcoming and friendly, and very proud of their commitment to conservation. This is a birder’s paradise where more than 850 species have been recorded, nearly 10% of the world’s total, and you will see a vast range of birdlife on this tour.

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, some of which are hard to find.

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. Each evening there will be an optional meeting before or after dinner to go over the bird list.

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. 

We are also pleased to offer a very competitive price for this holiday!

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 holiday!

COSTA RICA and HEATHERLEA – which holiday should I choose?
We offer a choice of several holidays in Costa Rica, because although the country is small, there is so much to see; it is impossible to do everything in one visit! Birding is generally very easy, and the pace is relaxed and laid-back as we seek to give you a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience. Birding highlights are too numerous to mention – every few days we will dip into a new habitat with an almost completely different set of birds. Many of these might be hummingbirds, with other tropical families well represented including trogons, toucans, aracaris, motmots, doves, woodpeckers, woodcreepers, ant-shrikes, ant-thrushes, ant-vireos, tanagers, raptors, vultures, parrots, macaws, flycatchers, warblers, herons, waders and many other families. 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. Their team is led by Paco Madrigal, widely regarded as one of the best birders in the country, and whichever tour you choose, you can expect fabulous birding with well over 300 species, and top wildlife watching.

We tour the country to make the best of our time, staying in very good hotels and lodges, all of which are experienced at hosting groups of birders. Whenever you choose to visit, the birds and other wildlife will astound you, and our tours offer a wealth of opportunity designed to showcase the very best.

On our 'Classic Tour' we aim to visit a representative sample of Costa Rica's biologically rich areas to give you a thrilling experience – ideal for the first time visitor to Costa Rica or even for your first long-distance birding holiday. Should you wish to stay a little longer, and many of our clients tell us they wanted longer at every location on this holiday, please consider our 'Classic Tour - PLUS' which lasts for 18 nights (although we also offer a one-off 17 night Classic Tour - PLUS holiday later in 2023). This gives us more time in some special places, including a number of added experiences.

For those keen to experience birds and other wildlife, try our ‘Birding and Wildlife during Migration’ tour. We add Humpback Whales on migration, nesting Green Turtles, Tapirs and migrating birds in great numbers to our target experiences. Our 'Birding Tour' is aimed at those who really want to get to grips with a big birdlist, and we also offer ‘Easy Walking’, for those who prefer a really relaxed pace, with leisurely walking only, and more time spent at places with great birding very close to hand. 

A wealth of choice with Heatherlea in Costa Rica!

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). 

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).

What's included in your holiday price:

  • scheduled return flights between London 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
  • 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..

Free Field Guide! - 'The Birds of Costa Rica' by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean, is included in your holiday price. One copy per room booked.

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'.

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.
Food is usually served as a buffet, with a wide choice. Vegetarian and other diets are welcome. Food is generally excellent. We encourage you to try locally grown tropical fruits, including banana, pineapple, watermelon, mango and payaya, and we hope to offer you a selection of lesser known Costa Rican fruits, purchased directly from local sellers, washed and prepared for your delectation!
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. 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.
Telescopes & Optics: Binoculars are a must, and a telescope would be useful. Your Heatherlea guide and local guide will have telescopes available for your viewing but to make the most of the busy hotspots a scope would be advantageous. Please note, those clients that wish to Digi-scope must bring their own telescopes as the guide telescope is for standard viewing only. There can be excellent opportunities around the feeders at both locations, also on many of our field trips. If you are a serious photographer, please note this is predominately a birding holiday, and opportunities will be limited by bird watching considerations.

Your Leaders:

Esteban Biamonte

Esteban is a highly experienced Costa Rican guide who has led birding tours for Heatherlea for many years. A biologist with a Masters in bird conservation, Esteban has participated in various programs, such as the designation of Costa Rica’s Important Bird Areas (IBAs). He is an active member of Unión de Ornitologos de Costa Rica and of the World Wetland Network, representing them at events such as 2008 Wetland Convention or Ramsar meeting and the 2010 Convention on Biodiversity meeting. Esteban will be joined by another from the Heatherlea team with more than 8 clients.





Other birding and wildlife holidays in Costa Rica

Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday in the Americas?

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 30 seasons, 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.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).

About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248