Costa Rica Birding & Photography at its Best
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Costa Rica has been a favored destination of bird and wildlife photographers for many years. National Geographic and the Discovery Channel have many fine specials showcasing the wonders of Costa Rica. Now we’re giving you the opportunity to get into the field, binoculars and cameras in hand, searching for and photographing the top bird (and animal) species of Costa Rica.
This amazing journey will take you from the Caribbean Foothills of Arenal, to the Caribbean Lowlands near the border of Nicaragua, through the lush valleys of Turrialba, the misty highlands of the Talamanca Mountains and the warm jungles of the Central Pacific.
From hummingbirds to herons, toucans to tanagers, and parrots to puffbirds, we’ll be tracking down the top species of each area to give you the chance to get your top shots.
This trip will give you opportunities to shoot in natural forest settings, from observation decks and towers, behind secret blinds, and at a variety of hanging and platform feeders. If you love photography, and you love birds, this tour will give you an experience you’ll never forget.
Day 1: Arrive San Jose, Costa Rica | Hotel Bougainvillea
Day 2-3: Caribbean Foothills| Arenal Observatory Lodge
Day 4-5: Caribbean Lowlands | Laguna del Lagarto Lodge
Day 6-7: Pre-Montane Forest | Rancho Naturalista
Day 8-9: Talamanca Highlands| Suenos del Bosque
Day 10-11: Central Pacific | Hotel Villa Lapas
Day 12: San Jose | Depart for home
Map of the Costa Rica Bird Photography Group Tour
Costa Rica Bird Photography Group TourOn a tour with a private guide, the guide is with you from your arrival to your departure. You not only bird at the hotels, Parks, and Reserves on your itinerary, you also have the flexibility to stop with the guide at local spots, off the beaten track locations, and places that only the guides know. You have an expert with you every step of the way. Guests with a Private Guide can expect to see at least 50% more species than guests using local guides.
- Meet and Greet at the San Jose Airport from your Naturalist Guide.
- Services of your private guide for the duration of your journey.
- Transportation in a comfortable coaster with an English speaking driver.
- 1 night at Hotel Bougainvillea outside San Jose.
- 2 nights at Arenal Observatory Lodge in Arenal
- 2 nights at Laguna del Lagarto Lodge in Boca Tapada
- 2 nights at Hotel Rancho Naturalista in Turrialba
- 2 nights at Suenos del Bosque in San Gerardo de Dota
- 2 nights at Hotel Villa Lapas in Carara
- All meals beginning with dinner on arrival day and ending with breakfast on departure day.
- Admission to all Reserves, Parks, Gardens, Activities and Photography setups detailed in the itinerary.
- Impromptu stops and bird watching and photography while enroute between different destinations.
- Welcome Packet
- Daily review of species list with your guide
- Species identification both during and after your trip, from your photographs
- 24/7 in country customer service
‘Costa Rica Bird Photography at Its Best’ Itinerary
Day 1: Arrive San Jose | Welcome to Costa Rica
Welcome to Costa Rica! Your guide will meet you at the San Jose International Airport and together you’ll transfer to your hotel for your first night in Costa Rica. The Hotel Bougainvillea is the perfect start to your journey as the lush 10-acre private gardens is a haven for birds and a wonderland for anyone who enjoys tropical plants. Your guide will stroll through the gardens with you helping you find the top bird species and talking about the spectacular flora. The group will meet in the evening for a Welcome Dinner.
Day 2: Caribbean Foothills| La Tigre Hummingbird Gardens & Arenal Volcano
This morning, after an early breakfast, you’ll depart the Central Valley for the Caribbean Foothills. You’ll drive out of the city, through rolling green hills, lush cloud forest and local farms.
En-route, you’ll stop at the La Tigre Hummingbird Gardens. Here you’ll have great opportunities to photograph the White Bellied Mountain Gem, Violet Sabrewing, Green Hermit, Purple throated Mountain Gem, Green-crowned Brilliant, and the Violet Crowned Woodnymph.
From la Tigre it’s on to the Arenal Observatory Lodge for check in and lunch. After, meet your guide on the observation deck. Late afternoon is prime time to enjoy the birds looking for a snack of papaya or banana. You’ll be amazed at the variety of species that arrive.
Keep your eyes peeled for Montezuma Oropendolas, Brown Jays, Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Blue-gray, Palm, Golden-hooded and Passerini’s Tanagers, Silver-throated Tanager, Green and Red-legged Honeycreepers. Even Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans are known to arrive.
Under the feeders other bird species can be seen attracted by the small pieces of bananas and papayas that have fallen to the ground from the feeder. Look for the White-tipped Dove and Grey-chested Dove, Black-striped Sparrow, Orange-billed Sparrow and even the spectacular Great Curassow. Dinner tonight is at the Observatory Lodge.
Hotel: Arenal Observatory Lodge
Day 3: Caribbean Foothills | Arenal Volcano Area
Today we’ll enjoy a chance to really explore the trails of the private reserve of the Observatory Lodge. Arenal Observatory Lodge is located in the unique Caribbean foothill belt, Costa Rica’s most diverse life zone in avifauna. More than 370 species have already been reported in the lodge and its surroundings. This makes Arenal Observatory Lodge an absolute top-location for birdwatchers and bird photographers alike.
We’ll first walk along the garden trails, looking for fruiting fig trees and where we will be able to see many birds.
Some interesting species on our target list are; the Song Wren, White-breasted Wood-wren, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Golden-crowned Warbler, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Black-headed Nightingale-thrush, Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant, Spotted and Wedge-billed Woodcreeper and Russet Antshrike. Also the Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots.
Fruiting trees and especially fruiting fig trees in the forest are a magnet for Bay-headed tanager and other frugivores with possibilities also for the Yellow-eared Toucanet. If we find an army-ant swarm expect a birdfest with possible Bicolored and Spotted Antbirds, Immaculate Antbirds and even Ocellated Antbirds. Another “wanted” bird in the area is the Thicket Antpitta.This is a very shy ground-bird however it is quite possible in the area.
We’ll be on the lookout for some of the raptors too. The Black Hawk-eagle, White Hawk and Barred Hawk and many other species can be seen. At night Black-and-white Owl sometimes hangs out around the big lights along the access road hunting for big moths. We’ll visit the lights in the evening to see which species might arrive.
Next we’ll journey into the forest trails. With luck we’ll bump into a mixed species flock or a swarm of army ants
Keep an eye out for White-throated Thrush and the colourful Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Bay-headed, Rufous-winged and Emerald Tanagers; even Orange-bellied and Violaceous Trogon might hang out here. Pay special attention for the Lovely Cotinga, one of the most precious and most sought after birds of Costa Rica.
Along with birds, we’ll keep an eye out for the many mammals of the area. Mantled Howler Monkeys, White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys and Central American Spider Monkeys are quite common around the lodge as are the White-nosed Coatis. Also watch for Tamanduas, Agoutis, armadillos, various bat species, and Opossum species. All of our meals today will be at the lodge.
Hotel: Arenal Observatory Lodge
Day 4: Caribbean Lowlands | Bogarin Gardens & King Vulture Blind
After breakfast you’ll depart the lodge, heading towards the Nicaraguan border. You’ll stop along the way at the Bogarin Gardens for a wonderful photography experience. These private gardens offer a smooth flat path that covers about 1.5 miles of garden and ponds. Some very hard-to-see-and-photograph birds are found here, like Rails and Crakes. You’ll have time to set up your photo equipment, and see what comes to the marshy area. Along with many species of birds, the gardens are excellent for the Red-Eyed Tree frog and the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog, too.
From Bogarin you’ll arrive at your lodge in time for lunch and check in. This afternoon we’ll have the first session at the King Vulture Blind. The blind comfortably seats 4 photographers, so in order for everyone to get their top shots, we’ll visit the blind in small groups each day.
While not at the blind, you’ll be with your guide enjoying the gardens and the observation deck. This area is rich with wildlife and especially birds. Dinner tonight will be at the lodge.
Some of the birds on our target list include: Tawny-faced Quail, Uniform Crake, Green Ibis, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Sungrebe, Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Great Green Macaw, Middle American Screech-Owl, Central American Pygmy-Owl, Common Potoo, Pied Puffbird, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Checker-throated Antwren, White-flanked Antwren, Bare-crowned Antbird, Gray-headed Piprites, Speckled Mourner, Snowy Cotinga, Tawny-faced Gnatwren and Nicaraguan Seed-Finch.
Hotel: Laguna del Lagarto Lodge
Day 5: Caribbean Lowlands | Adolfo’s Garden, Photography Platform, King Vulture Blind
It has often been reported that remote, undisturbed, dense forests are not always the best places to photograph birds. Agricultural areas, gardens with fruits, edge-habitats often attract many more species, and the situation is no different in Costa Rica. To take advantage of the incredible array of bird species in the Caribbean lowlands, we will visit the hide in the backyard of a local inhabitant of Santa Rita, a nearby village. This hide very quickly has become one of our most popular hides for bird photographers.
Along with the gardens, we’ll spend time on the photography platform at the lodge. This special platform puts photographers level with the canopy for an opportunity to snap fantastic shots of Toucans, Orioles, parrots, Honeycreepers, Tanagers, and Woodpeckers at just about 12 feet away. Everyone in the group will have an opportunity to utilize all the different photography set ups at the lodge. All meals today will be on site.
Hotel: Laguna del Lagarto Lodge
Day 6: Pre-Montane Forest | Rancho Naturalista Gardens & Terrace
Today is one of our longer travel days. We’ll depart the lodge after an early breakfast and begin our journey south to the beautiful area of Turrialba. Your guide will stop along the way, for some birding and taking pictures and you’ll arrive at Rancho Naturalista for lunch, check in, and some time to relax on the terrace and enjoy the feeders.
You’ll have the opportunity to get great brid photos of the Passerini’s Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanagers, Blue-gray Tanagers, White-lined Tanagers, Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Orange-billed Sparrows, Gray-headed Chachalacas, Montezuma Oropendolas and Collared Aracaris, Crimson-collared Tanagers and Scarlet-rumped Caciques. In the surrounding trees, keep your eyes peeled for the Keel-billed Toucans, White-Crowned and Brown Hooded Parrots.
The Hummingbird feeders are also alive with activity with visits from Green Thorntails, White-necked Jacobins, Green-breasted Mangos, Green-crowned Brilliants and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.
We’ll enjoy the terrace and gardens all afternoon and prepare for an early start tomorrow. Dinner tonight is at the lodge.
Hotel: Rancho Naturalista
Day 7: Pre-Montane Forest | Rio Tuis Valley & La Mina
The birding activity starts early in the morning at sunrise when the birds become active. Meet your guide on the balcony for a quick cup of coffee or tea at dawn. Then it’s birding on the balcony to see who comes to the feeders. Next it’s off to the insect light to see some of the insect feeding species like the Red-throated Ant Tanager.
Enjoy birding around the lodge and gardens and then come back for a full breakfast at 7:00 am. After breakfast head out on the trails in the private forest reserve to look for mixed species flocks. Several different species can be seen foraging together in the canopy and understory of the forest. You’ll next visit La Mina for the opportunity to see the marvelous Sunbittern and a chance to photograph the TorrentTyrannulet and the American Dipper.
During the afternoon you’ll break for lunch and have time for a relaxing “siesta” and later meet your guide and head into the forest just a short walk to the Hummingbird Pools. Every afternoon the hummingbirds arrive to dip in the fresh spring water of the stream. It’s a unique photo opportunity and a pleasure to watch. We’ll be watching for the Snowcap, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, and Green Crowned Brilliant. Benches provide a comfortable spot to sit and enjoy the show. We’ll continue to the Verbena gardens to get another look at the Snowcap Hummingbird and maybe the Black-Crested Coquette.
Besides hummingbirds, we’ll be looking for many other great species including Dull-mantled Antbird, White-throated Spadebill, Black-headed Nightingale-thrush, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Rufous Motmot, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Spotted Barbtails, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Spotted Woodcreeper, Russet Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, White-breasted Wood-wren, Olive Tanager and Red-throated Ant-tanager, White-Crowned Manakin, Purplish-Backed Quail Dove, White-Throated Flycatcher, Black Throated Wren, Northern Schiffornis, Grey-headed Pipriites and the Thicket Antpitta.
After dark, guests have good chances of seeing nocturnal birds like Mottled and Crested Owls. Dinner tonight will be at the lodge.
Hotel: Rancho Naturalista
Day 8: Talamanca Highlands | Quetzal Country
This morning enjoy your coffee & tea on the terrace, have a hearty breakfast and prepare to depart for the highlands of San Gerardo de Dota. You’ll drive south, stopping along the way for any interesting birds and photo opportunities. You’ll arrive at Suenos del Bosque for lunch and then check in.
This afternoon you’ll begin your highland exploration looking for the Resplendent Quetzal as well as the endemic flame-throated warbler, long-tailed silky flycatcher, and the Yellow thighed finch.
Enjoy a stroll along the river, with cameras at the ready, looking for dippers, and phoebes and relax in the gardens surrounded by hummingbirds, tanagers, and warblers. Dinner tonight is at the lodge.
Hotel: Suenos del Bosque
Day 9: Talamanca Highlands | Quetzal Country & Batsu Gardens
San Gerardo de Dota is known as the most reliable place in the country to observe the Resplendent Quetzal, probably the most famous bird of Costa Rica and maybe of all of Central America It is often found feeding in a fruiting wild avocado trees, the Quetzal’s favorite food.
Besides Quetzals other large frugivores like Black Guans and Emerald Toucanets favor the area. Many of the birds that can be seen in San Gerardo de Dota are endemic to the mountains of Costa Rica and Panama and can not be found anywhere else in the world. At Savegre, great birding starts right in the flowery gardens in front of your room.
Especially early in the morning, around 5:30 am, watch birds gather around the light posts to feast on moths and other insects. Often seen are the Yellow-thighed Finch, Collared Redstart, Yellow-winged Vireo, Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Flame-colored Tanager and Slaty Flower piercers.
Acorn Woodpeckers are very common in the trees surrounding the restaurant and in the gardens, you can enjoy intense hummingbird activity with Green Violet ears, Magnificent Hummingbird, White-throated Mountain-gem, and the tiny Scintillant and Volcano Hummingbirds. Stripe-tailed Hummingbird can be seen often foraging around bright flowers in the hotel garden.
Large groups of Sulfur-winged Parakeets are seen frequently flying through the valley; Red-tailed Hawks and Swallow-tailed Kites often soar above the hotel grounds. A walk along the picturesque Savegre River can produce American Dippers, Torrent Tyrannulet and Louisiana Waterthrush (during northern winter). The forest trails of the private reserve allows you to explore the beautiful white oak cloud forest as well.
Over 300 species of birds have been observed on the river, including native, migratory and coastal birds. Some of the favorite birds to spot are the:
American Pygmy-Kingfisher, Double-striped Thick-knee, Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Common Black Hawk, and endemic Mangrove Hummingbird. The intricate Guacalillo mangrove estuary system positioned where the river empties into the Pacific Ocean also contributes to exclusive mangrove species of birds spotted, such as the Panama Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cotinga, Mangrove Vireo and Yellow Warbler among others.
Scarlet Macaws’ Nesting Site
This mangrove is also the nesting site of the brilliant Scarlet Macaw which can often be seen (and heard) flying overhead. In addition to birds, the Tarcoles River is an important habitat to one of the world’s largest populations of American Crocodiles, as well as habitat to Basilisk lizards, iguanas, monkeys, anteaters, and much more. You’ll travel with your guide and your boat captain through the gorgeous mangrove, moving slowly and quietly looking for the most wanted species of the area. Dinner this evening is at the lodge.
Some of the top species of the area include: Spot-crowned Woodcreepers, Ruddy Treerunners, Tufted Flycatcher, Mountain Elaenia, Brown-capped and Yellow-winged Vireo, Ochraceous Wren, Gray-breasted Wood-wren, Yellow-thighed Finch, Collared Redstarts, Flame-throated Warbler, Black-cheeked Warbler, Sooty-capped Bush-tanager, Black-faced Solitaires and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-thrush, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Buffy Tufted cheek, Hairy Woodpecker, Spotted Barbtail, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Olive-striped Flycatcher and the Chestnut-capped Brush-finches.
Highly recommended is a visit to the “los robles” trail where one can walk in an impressive white oak forest with giant oaks, some of which are more than 60 meters tall. The golden-moss, draped through the trees creates an other-worldly affect. The scenery is already a great attraction here, but this forest is also known to hold some more local specialty species like the tiny Costa Rican Pygmy-owl, the rare Silvery-throated Jays, and the Spotted Wood quails.
You’ll also have time to visit Batsu Gardens, a private garden designed for photographers. The covered viewing platform offers a comfortable place to sit while getting great photos of hummingbirds, barbets, woodpeckers, and more.
Together with your guide, you’ll spend the entire day exploring the area, looking for the top species to photograph. You’ll break for lunch at the lodge and after a full day of getting your best shots enjoy dinner at the lodge as well.
Hotel: Suenos del Bosque
Day 10: Central Pacific | Paramo & Scarlet Macaws
Today after breakfast, it’s time to leave the cool mountains behind on your Costa Rica bird photography group tour, and head to the warm, sunny Pacific coast . You’ll stop with your guide to explore the Paramo and hunt for some of the mountain species you can’t see at the higher elevations. As you descend from the mountains, you’ll feel temperatures rise and soon palm trees will dot your view. You’ll pass along the shore where you’ll stop to look for shorebirds, herons, and egrets. You’ll arrive at your hotel in time for check in and lunch, have some time to relax then meet your guide in the afternoon to explore the gardens and trails of the lodge. This area is the best place to see the Scarlet Macaw. Their call is unmistakable, and always an announcement of their arrival. Dinner tonight will be at the hotel.
Hotel: Villa lapas
Day 11: Central Pacific | Carara National Park & Tarcoles River
Carara National Park has the distinction of being the largest transitional forest in Costa Rica and one of the most important wildlife corridors in all of Central and South America. This forest joins the dry tropical forest of the Northern Zone with the lush tropical rainforest of the Southern Zone of Costa Rica.
The result is an amazing variety of birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, trees, and plants. Carara is the home of the most successful Scarlet Macaw rehabilitation program in Costa Rica. Visitors can expect to see the colorful pairs of macaws in the trees and flying above the forest. Taking the trails will yield the opportunity to see antbirds, raptors, trogons, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, wood creepers, and so much more. Keep your eyes open for cats too, as Carara is home to margays and ocelots as well as the very elusive jaguar.
You’ll arrive early with your private guide and enjoy a full morning of birding at one of the most prolific parks in the country. You’ll return to the lodge for lunch, and a break during the heat of the day, then your adventure continues as you head to the Tarcoles river for the afternoon. The unique location of the Tarcoles River and its easy and productive birding makes it one of the top birdwatching sites in all of Central America.
Over 300 species of birds have been observed on the river, including native, migratory and coastal birds. Some of the favorite birds to spot are the American Pygmy-Kingfisher, Double-striped Thick-knee, Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Common Black Hawk, and endemic Mangrove Hummingbird.
Tarcoles River & Guacallilo Mangrove Estuary System
The intricate Guacalillo mangrove estuary system positioned where the river empties into the Pacific Ocean also contributes to exclusive mangrove species of birds spotted, such as the Panama Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cotinga, Mangrove Vireo and Yellow Warbler among others. This mangrove is also the nesting site of the brilliant Scarlet Macaw which can often be seen (and heard) flying overhead.
In addition to birds, the Tarcoles River is an important habitat to one of the world’s largest populations of American Crocodiles, as well as habitat to Basilisk lizards, iguanas, monkeys, anteaters, and much more. You’ll travel with your guide and your boat captain through the gorgeous mangrove, moving slowly and quietly looking for the most wanted species of the area. Dinner this evening is at the lodge.
Top species at Carara:
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Ruddy Quail-dove, Rufous-and-white Wren, Northern Bentbill, Black-hooded Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, Brown-hooded Parrot, Scarlet Macaw, Plain Xenops, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Masked Tityra, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Dot-winged Antwren, Orange-collared Manakin, Baird’s Trogon, Common and Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher, Purple-crowned Fairy, Long-tailed and Little or Stripe-throated(same species)Hermit, Turkey, Black and King Vulture, Streaked Flycatcher, Cocoa or Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Rufous-breasted Wren, Black-bellied Wren, Black-throated Trogon, Violaceous Trogon, Black-headed Trogon, Lineated Woodpecker, Riverside Wren, Cherrie’s Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Golden-hooded, Summer and Gray-headed Tanager, White-collared Swift, Boat-billed Flycatcher. For those of you who are especially looking for the Orange-collared Manakin, Blue-black Grosbeak, Variable Seedeater, Barred Antshrike and Rose-throated Becard, Great Tinamou, White-winged Becard, Golden-crowned Euphonia, Black-faced Antthrush, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Plain-capped Starthroat, Ochraceous Flycatcher, Fiery-billed Aracari, Laughing Falcon and finally Chestnut-mandibled Toucan,Ruddy Quail-dove, White-winged Becard, Plain-capped Starthroat and Brown-hooded Parrot, Crested Guan, Bright-rumped Attila, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Chestnut-collared Swift, Buff-throated Saltator, Orange-billed Sparrow, Blue-crowned Manakin, Amazon Kingfisher, Gray-necked Wood-rail, Olive Sparrow, Worm-eating Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Ovenbird, Blue-throated Goldentail, White-shouldered Tanager, Rufous Piha, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Painted Bunting, Long-billed Gnatwren, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Muscovy Duck, Buff-rumped Warbler, Gray Hawk, Rufous-tailed Jacamar and Bay-headed Tanager.
Hotel: Villa Lapas
Day 12: San Jose International Airport | Time to return home
Costa Rica bird photography group tour with Costa Rica Focus has come to an end. Enjoy breakfast at your hotel and then prepare to depart for San Jose. Your guide will take you back to the San Jose International Airport for your International flight.
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About Costa Rica Focus
Costa Rica Focus is a birding tour company that offers customized Costa Rica birdwatching tours for individuals or groups of people and guided by a knowledgeable birding expert who will help you spot and learn about the beauty of the birds of Costa Rica. Let’s talk about your Costa Rica birding vacation!