Planning a birding trip to Costa Rica is very exciting. Whether it is your first time visiting Costa Rica, or maybe a return trip, the anticipation of seeing new bird species and enjoying the beauty of Costa Rica is exhilarating. One question that is often posed to us is, “Do I need a Private Guide?” There are quite a few details to consider in helping you answer that question for yourselves. We hope this article will help you decide.
Including a Private Naturalist Guide (one with a proven history of knowledge and skill) in your package is the best way to ensure that you see the species you want to see and learn the most about the natural history of Costa Rica. For smaller groups or couples, your guide will also act as your driver, with larger groups the guide will choose a vehicle and driver with experience driving for birding groups.
Having a private birding guide, exclusive to you, allows you the advantage of going to the unknown, off the beaten track birding sites, ones that are outside the realm of large noisy tourist groups. You will also be on your own schedule, you can stop anytime and any place you like (was that a Swallow Tail Kite soaring overhead? Let’s stop and check it out), you can stay as long or as short as you like at any given reserve or park, as it’s totally your trip, your time, with a trip tailor-made just for you. Your guide will find out what will make your birding vacation special for you and then make sure that everything you do aligns to your needs.
When you hire a private guide, you can send your target list in advance and your guide will consider the best places and best times to visit each area to give you the best chance to see the birds you want to see. Your guide will also be your driver. He will get you from point A to point B, he will take you to local restaurants, and to see any other sights you may want to see. There is an ease in knowing that all you need to do is arrive, and your guide is there to handle everything for you. If your interests expand beyond birds, to history, culture, plants, animals, etc., an experienced guide will be adept at answering your questions, telling tales of local lore, and pointing out the many interesting facts about the flora and fauna of Costa Rica.
Spotting birds and wildlife in the rainforest is tricky too. Camouflage in nature is incredible. We hear over and over in our guests’ comments, “We had no idea how Rudy spotted that bird!” “How in the world he could see that tiny bird in the thick trees!” Trying to find tricky species, in the rainforest is difficult. Having your expert guide with you, one who knows the habitats that birds like, the flowers or seeds they are attracted to, the elevation to find each species will allow you to spend more time in nature and less time looking through your guidebook trying to figure out what you just saw.
Some guests have asked us about protocol with guides too. Do we have to have every meal together? Is it rude to expect some time to ourselves? The answer to this is, it’s your vacation, you will not offend your guide if you let him know you would prefer a meal or all meals on your own or that you just want time to yourselves. Most guides will try to be stealthy, and gauge the vibes of their clients, but I think it’s important for guests to know that you can still have your own time, even if you hire a private tour guide.
It is important to know that there is a cost associated with hiring a private guide. Guides will charge a daily fee for their services and guests will need to cover the per diem for accommodations and meals for the guide. Most hotels in Costa Rica do offer highly reduced rates for guides and often include their meals as well, to help keep the cost to guests as low as possible. Visitors can expect to pay between $100-$150 per day for the services of an excellent guide. This would be for an educated guide, who speaks fluent English, and most likely has a degree in Biology, Ornithology, Natural History or another related field. This will be for a guide who can talk about birds, habitats, relationships of flora and fauna, culture, and history. Most highly sought-after guides will book up their schedules a year or more in advance during high season months (December – April), plan early if you think having a private birdwatching guide is the right choice for your birding vacation.
While we do recommend having a private guide for our avid birders, for visitors with a moderate or intermediate interest in birds and nature, we can suggest hotels that have decent local guides on staff. In most cases, guests will find local guides who are good at identifying the species of their areas and speak intermediate English. At most National Parks, guests will find free-lance guides for hire, waiting at the ranger station for visitors to arrive. Visitors can hire these guides by the day or hour. Costs range from about $10 per hour to about $75 per day. You can negotiate your own rate with the free-lance guides. Tours to popular birding spots (like Cano Negro, Hanging Bridges, Tarcoles River), will include a guide as well. Again, these guides will generally be good at the recognition of species and should be able to point out many different and interesting birds, mammals, reptiles, and plants.
Whichever type of birding vacation to Costa Rica you prefer, the important thing to know is that with a vacation in Costa Rica, you have choices. At Costa Rica Focus, we will talk with you about what you want out of your birding trip and we’ll help you make the best choices for you and your travel companions.