Costa Rica: Northern Highlights
This tour is an exciting and easy-going trip to the top destinations of northern Costa Rica.
From the high-elevation cloud-forest to the lush lowland rainforest, we will enjoy the immense biodiversity of the 'caribbean slope' of the country. Staying at great lodges set in the forest gives us the opportunity to experience the wildlife of Costa Rica right outside our rooms! That, plus 2 boat tours where expert local guides will help us spot specialty birds in the most bird-rich wetlands of the country!
February 22 - March 5, 2023
From: San José, Costa Rica
Tour limit: 8 participants
Activity Level: Light/Moderate
Price: $4,095 per person
Double occupancy with a single supplement of $415
Day 1: Arrival and Orientation
Airport pick-up and transfer from Juan Santamaría International (SJO) to our hotel, Villa San Ignacio, for dinner and orientation.
Day 2: Cabanis's Ground-Sparrow & El Copal
After breakfast, we will move across the Central Valley towards our destination for the next 2 nights, the wonderful birding lodge and local reserve, El Copal! Along the way there, we will stop for a few Central Valley specialties, focusing on the valley endemic Cabanis's Ground-Sparrow. A delightfully chunky sparrow that has made a home in the small coffee plantations all throughout the valley.
Day 3: El Copal
We will spend the day exploring the grounds of El Copal, marveling at the biodiversity found around the lodge. This “caribbean foothills” site gets a great mix of species, and we will get our first introductions into so quintessential neotropical bird families like Toucans, Trogons, Motmots, and Antbirds. Several specialty species can be found in the area, including Snowcap, Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, and Tawny-chested Flycatcher.
Other likely birds include: Crested Guan, White-collared Swift, Green Hermit, Collared Trogon, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Brown-hooded Parrot, Dull-mantled Antbird, Spotted Woodcreeper, White-ruffed Manakin, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Bay-headed and Emerald Tanagers, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis.
Day 4: El Copal to the Talamanca Highlands
After breakfast, we will head upslope to the high altitudes of the Talamanca mountains where we will stay for 2 nights! Along the way, we will stop for locally grown and brewed coffee and beer at the famous Casa Dowii (named for the Spangle-cheeked Tanager - Tangara dowii) which also holds the chance to see Buff-fronted Quail-Dove and Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge coming into the feeders, among other species.
We will spend the afternoon enjoying an amazing show at active hummingbird feeders and looking for some of the Talamanca’s most showy endemics. Some of the main hummingbirds include Talamanca and Volcano Hummingbirds, Lesser Violetear, White-throated Mountain-Gem, and the jaw-dropping Fiery-throated Hummingbird, my personal favorite hummingbird in Costa Rica!
Day 5: Resplendent Quetzal & Talamanca endemics
The Talamanca highlands hold nearly 60 endemic species, shared between Costa Rica and western Panama. On our full day in the mountains, we will focus on finding as many as we can while enjoying the crisp mountain air and gorgeous vistas.
Some targets include: Slaty Flowerpiercer, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Yellow-thighed Brushfinch, Collared Redstart, Flame-throated Warbler, Large-footed Finch, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, and Black-capped Flycatcher.
One of the classic targets up here is the Resplendent Quetzal, and while it itself isn’t a Talamanca endemic, it is one the world’s top birds and these mountains are one of the best places to see one!
We will most likely eat lunch at Miriam’s, a famous eatery that has active bird feeders on the back patio.
While in the highlands, we will also go owling for a shot at Bare-shanked Screech-Owl and Dusky Nightjar.
Day 6: Timberline birds & a drive to the Caribbean lowlands
We will start our morning of birding above treeline and above 10,000 feet! Up above the clouds lives 2 species only found here, Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren. We will brave the chilly temps in search of these birds, and then make our way down to a whole other world; the Caribbean Lowlands. Hot and steamy primary rainforest will be quite different from the cold páramo at the top of the country.
After making another stop or two, we finally arrive at the La Selva Biological Station.
Day 7: La Selva Biological Station
Staying for 2 nights at La Selva affords us the opportunity to soak in the glorious biodiversity of this world-famous birding site! With literally hundreds of species possible, this is the most biodiverse spot of the trip. And it’s not just birds! All kinds of amphibians, butterflies and other insects, and cool plants are waiting to be appreciated just a few steps from of our cabins!
A few target species for our time in La Selva include: Great Tinamou, Scaled Pigeon, Great Green Macaw, Laughing Falcon, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, White-necked Jacobin, Long-billed Hermit, Gray-headed Kite, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Middle American Screech-Owl, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Fasciated Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, White-collared Manakin, Snowy Cotinga, Royal Flycatcher, Black-capped Pygmy-tyrant, Black-throated Wren, Chestnut-headed Oropendula, Dusky-faced Tanager, and Green Honeycreeper.
Accommodations at La Selva lean towards rustic, but staying well within the rainforest is an experience well worth it. Well-made cabins are clean and comfortable, albeit without air conditioning. Falling asleep to owls and nightjars and waking up to Howler Monkeys is an experience hard to forget!
Day 8: Morning at La Selva & the Medio Queso wetlands
After a wonderful morning birding around La Selva, we will head north towards Caño Negro, with a stop at the Medio Queso wetlands just south of the Nicaraguan border. Here we will look for Pinnated Bittern, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, and a few other birds harder to find any further south.
After dinner we will search for night birds just outside of the tiny town of Caño Negro, with Great Potoo, Striped Owl, Black-and-White Owl, and Pacific Screech-owl as our targets.
Day 9: Birding by boat along the Río Frío.
An early morning as we meet our local guide and boat captain around 6am for a truly spectacular birding experience! Birding by boat along the Rio Frio, we will see a whole plethora of species, many of which are nearly impossible to see without slowly cruising the channels of this lowland river system. We will target a few key species, but will likely end up with a checklist over 100 species! Some main targets include: Jabiru, Green Ibis, Yellow-breasted Crake, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher, Black-collared Hawk, Nicaraguan Grackle, Pied Puffbird, Snowy Cotinga, Sungrebe, and if we are incredibly lucky, we may have a chance at the most sought-after heron in Central America, the Agami Heron!
After lunch, we move southwest a couple hours to the Arenal area, where will will stay for the next 2 nights. This lush mid-elevation area has a dynamic mix of species, accented by the beautiful Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal as backdrops most of the time.
Day 10: Arenal area & canopy towers
We will spend our day birding and enjoying all forms of nature as we check out a few great spots nearby. One of our destinations is Sky Adventures, an action/adventure tourism location that invites birders to enjoy their walking trails and canopy towers. From the towers, we can often spot Ornate Hawk-Eagles, as well as numerous canopy species as they move through in mixed flocks.
The other spot is bird-rich road that follows the edge of the lake down to the dam on Lake Arenal. This area is great for various Antbirds, Long-tailed Tyrants, Broad-billed Motmots, Thicket Antpittas, and so so much more!
Day 11: Final morning birding & Three-wattled Bellbirds
After another fantastic morning in the Arenal area, we will head to the higher elevations around San Ramon on our way back to the Central Valley. Taking small country roads along the foothills, we will arrive at a site where we will try our luck at spotting Three-wattled Bellbirds as they are staging before making their final ascent to the cloud-forest where they will set up territories and breed. These loud and cleanly colored birds are firmly on the Top 10 list of birds in Costa Rica, and with our search for them complete, we will return to the Central Valley for a celebratory dinner with a final bird list tally and story telling! Tour concludes this night.
Day 12: International Departures
Shuttle services to the airport for international departures. For participants that choose to stay a day or two more, private arrangements can be made.