Visit your favourite destinations
Western Europe
North America
Eastern Europe
South America
Middle East
East Indies

A Report from

16 days in Costa Rica, 28th March -12th April,

Stuart, Anna & Julian White


On this trip we attempted to cover as many sites and habitats as possible in just over two weeks without having to drive at night, rush around too much or cover long distances during the day. Everything worked out OK except the break-in our 4WD suffered in Tarcoles. It is a good idea to avoid the car park at the start of the river trail as it is below the road and hidden from view which makes vehicles an easy target. It is much safer to park on the bridge near the police hut and walk to the start of the river trail. This made us fairly wary about leaving the 4WD vehicle anywhere for the rest of the trip, we did a morning trip to Braulio Carrillo from La Selva so we didn’t have to leave all our stuff in the vehicle, and asked someone at the HQ to keep an eye out for us. Apart from this minor hitch we had no other problems. The birding was very good with trip highlights of 2 Umbrellabirds, 4 Three Wattled Bellbirds, 33 species of hummingbird, 22 species of tanager and 2 Great Currasows. We used Costa Rica Gateway to help us plan and book parts of our holiday, they were very helpful but on the whole you don’t really need to do this unless you want to stay at Tarcoles Lodge or Rancho Naturalista, the two lodges they own.

Sites Visited

La Selva

It is worth staying at the research station as you then have access to the primary forest. If you stay elsewhere you have to take a guide every time you go in which can be quite expensive. You can book direct with La Selva via their website , if you book through Costa Rica gateway they take a hefty commission which is taking money away from a valuable research facility. When you stay here the accommodation is in dormitory type rooms but we had one to ourselves with 6 beds, you also receive a food ticket which entitles you to 3 good meals a day in the canteen.

The driveway and around the HQ buildings are very good for birding, this being fairly open habitat most birds are easy to see. The football pitch trail was also rewarding, one afternoon we saw a 35 species mixed flock. The grid is slow going as with most lowland primary forest but if you want to see the difficult and specialized birds then you have to spend some time on it. We successfully twitched the Sun bittern at Selva Verde; it didn’t seem to cause any problems walking around to the front of their restaurant and scanning the river edges.


One of our big mistakes was not to stay at the lodge, this is useful if you want to see some of the specialties of the area and for guiding in Carara NP. We missed quite a few species as a result.


We would definitely recommend taking Adrian as a guide , for the San Gerardo valley. You can see lots of good birds here and with a very good chance of seeing Bellbirds and Umbrellabird this is a must when visiting Costa Rica. Adrian is a very nice chap and was great company for two days.

Palo Verde

This is an excellent wetland site, with good birding on the access road between the site and the pan American highway. The grass lawn in front of the reserve entrance centre seemed to be a good site for double striped thick-knee. When we visited the water was quite low so all the birds were concentrated into a smaller area. The dry forest above the car park was very productive even in late morning, a few species were seen here and nowhere else, none better than 2 male great curassows seen crossing the path.

Braulio Carrillo / El Tapir Hummer bushes

Reserva Ecotouristica El Tapir is situated about 2km to the north of the lower ranger station of the National Park. We visited this site and Braulio in an early morning trip from La Selva. El Tapir flowering bushes were good for Coquette, thorntail and snowcap. We only walked the trail from the HQ of the national park for a few hours but it looked very good.

Rancho Naturalista

This site came highly recommended from friends who had visited in 2000, we were not that impressed though, it’s very expensive with a large emphasis on eating; the hummingbirds were brilliant though.

Tapanati NP

We only birded here for two & half hours over lunchtime, even from a short visit at the wrong time of day you can see the potential. I think a good early morning stint would be very rewarding. We also visited on a Saturday so there were hundreds of locals enjoying their weekend out, probably best visited during the week.

Quetzal Lodge

A cheaper option than staying at Savegre lodge costing only $30 per night including 3 meals, the lodge has a very nice setting with some good birding in the surrounding area. It is only a short drive to Savegre where you seem to be able to use their trails without too much trouble.

Daily account

27th March 04

After a long flight from London via Madrid and Miami we arrived in San Jose and took a taxi to Hotel Cacts where we were booked to stay for our first night.

28th March 04

Up early and birded around the hotel for an hour before breakfast. Collected hire car headed for Tarcoles region stopping several times en route. In the early afternoon we stopped at Tarcoles bridge for a while, then checked into Cabinas Carara and birded the rough road down to Tarcoles lodge and at the lodge itself.

Highlights: Hepatic Tanager, Scarlet Macaw, Mourning Warbler, Lineated Woodpecker

29th March 04

Early start from the HQ carpark at Carara NP walked the loop trail. Late morning went back to the lodge and did the trail from the road through swamp forest to the river. Late afternoon we parked at the start of the river trail in the Carara NP. This was a big mistake, we had the car broken into after only 20 minutes

Highlights: Dot winged Antwren, Riverside Wren

30th March 04

Early morning walk up tarcoles beach from Cabinas Carara then had to go to San Jose to get the hire car window replaced. Made it back to Tarcoles bridge at 5pm, parked on the bridge for safety walked the start of the river trail and then waited on the bridge until dusk for the nighthawks.

Highlights: Blue Grosbeak, Mangrove Warbler, Orange Billed Sparrow

31st March 04

Headed back to the Carara National Park HQ car park in the early morning and walked the loop trail. Mid morning we walked the river trail properly (parked the car on the bridge by the police hut for safety). Left Tarcoles around lunchtime, stopped in Orotina town square en route then headed north up the Pan American highway. Turned off at Rancho Grande, made several birding stops in the foothills and then on to Monteverde. Found our hotel – Hotel el Bosque- in the dark then spoke to Adrian our guide for the next two days.

Highlights: Kentucky Warbler, Pale Billed Woodpecker, Great Tinamou, Boat Billed Heron, Black & White Owl, Orange Collared Manakin

1st April

Met Adrian in Santa Elena at 6.30am, did some of the reserve’s open areas, cloud forest and the area around the tea rooms. Parked the jeep and headed off on foot down the San Gerardo valley. Made it to the lodge early afternoon, rested for a while then had afternoon walk in search of umbrellabirds. Stayed at the lodge overnight.

Highlights: Bare Necked Umbrellabird, Black Guan, Three Wattled Bellbird, Barred Becard, Bare Shanked Screech Owl, Golden Browed Chlorophonia,

2nd April

Up early had a 2 hour walk from the lodge then back for breakfast. Walked back up the valley to the Santa Elena reserve birding en route. Birded some private land just off main road near Santa Elena, then headed back to hotel for an early night, stayed at the Cabinas dos Pinos as the El Bosque was full, (we were told there was a scorpion infestation!) but I think they just double booked us.

Highlights: Long Tailed Manakin, Resplendant Quetzal, Spangle Cheeked Tanager, Blue Crowned Motmot, Yellow throated and Chestnut capped Brush finches

3rd April

Birded the Hotel el bosque gardens which had good hummer flowers outside cabin 23. After breakfast went to the ecological farm then in the late morning we spent an hour at the hummingbird gallery. Luckily there were not too many people there and lots of hummingbirds. Headed down and out of the mountains after lunch then north up the Pan American Highway, making it as far as Liberia where we stayed overnight in the Best Western Hotel on the edge of town.

Highlights: Coppery Headed Emerald, Stripe Tailed Hummingbird, White Eared Ground-sparrow, Rufous Browed Peppershrike, Orange Billed Nightingale-Thrush

4th April

Up early left hotel in Liberia and headed back down the Pan American Highway to Palo Verde, good birding on dirt road before reaching wetlands.  We looked at the water birds for a few hours then walked up into the dry forest around the rocky outcrop by HQ buildings.  Left at lunch time, drove up and around Lake Arenal arrived in La Fortuna late afternoon. Stayed in Cabinas La Rivera. 

Highlights: Grey Breasted Wood-rail, Great Curassow, Double Striped Thick-knee Laughing Falcon, Jabiru, Black Bellied Whistling Duck,

5th April

Early morning saw us heading up to Arenal observatory, birded minor road up to the observatory, this was fairly productive. Then onto the gardens which were very good for hummingbirds, especially around the observatory. We headed off to La Selva, around lunch time arriving there late afternoon. Birded the driveway and around the HQs and just across the suspension bridge.

Highlights: Amazon Kingfisher, Black Crested Coquette, Blue Throated Goldentail, Keel Billed Toucan, Chestnut Mandibled Toucan, Collared Aracari

6th April

Up early, walked the driveway and around the HQ buildings at La Selva. Had breakfast and afterwards joined a guided walk from 8am, across suspension bridge and onto the grid in primary forest, returning late morning.  After lunch birded the driveway again, then back onto the grid on the other side of suspension bridge.

Highlights: Black Faced Grosbeak, Snowy Cotinga, Rufous Winged Woodpecker, Stripe Breasted Wren, Chestnut Backed Antbird

7th April

Early morning was spent on the driveway again, then after breakfast headed onto the grid inside the primary forest. After lunch in the early afternoon did the trail past the soccer field. We twitched Selva Verde in the late afternoon for the Sun bittern.

Highlights: Sunbittern, Buff Rumped Warbler, Barred Woodcreeper, Fasciated Antshrike, King Vulture, White Collared Manakin,

8th April

Up early, drove towards Braulio Carrillo, Stopping off on the way at Reserva Eco Touristica El Tapir for the hummingbird flowering bushes. Spent most of the morning at Braulio, then headed back to La Salva, checked out at 12. After lunch we drove to Rancho Naturalista arriving at approximately 3.30pm, headed straight out for a walk.

Highlights: Snowcap, Green Thorntail, Black Crested Coquette, Green Shrike Vireo, Black & Yellow Tanager

9th April

Went on a 6am walk with guide, back for breakfast, then headed back into the forest afterwards. Came back to the lodge for lunch and watched the hummingbirds for a few hours in the middle of the day. Had an afternoon walk in the forest and finished off at the hummingbird pools for dusk. 

Highlights: Spotted Antbird, Mottled Owl, White Crowned Manakin, White Ruffed Manakin

10th April

Had a 6am walk up to the forest hummingbird feeders and a brief look at the hummingbird pools. Headed back for breakfast then had one more hour at the forest hummingbird feeder to mop up the last few species. Left around 9.30am to visit Tapanti NP, spent between 12.00-2.30 here, walking main road in forest. 24 species at the slowest time of day – not bad!  Headed up to Cerro DeLa Muerte, stopped at La Georgina, which is 3100 meters above sea level. Spent the night in Quetzal Lodge down in the valley below.

Highlights: Tawny Chested Flycatcher, Purple Crowned Fairy, Red Footed Plumleteer, Red Headed Barbet,

11th April

Had an early morning walk around Quetzal lodge, after breakfast headed to Savegre Lodge. Checked out their hummingbird feeders. Then drove up behind the lodge to the Los Robles Trail. Back to Quetzal lodge for a late lunch, then walked the lower trail past Savegre Lodge.

Highlights: Flame Tanager, Flame Throated Warbler, Silver Throated Jay, Acorn Woodpecker, Resplendant Quetzal, Black Thighed Grosbeak

12th April

Up early, had breakfast, drove up to La Georgina where we walked the trail below the restaurant. Afterwards we headed up to the summit of Cerro de la Muerte. Back to La Georgina Trails for one last attempt at Zeladonia!  Left about lunch time, drove to San Jose. Dumped hire car and stayed at Hotel Catcs.

Highlights: Timberline Wren, Black Billed Nightingale-Thrush, Swallow Tailed Kite

13th April

Up early and caught a return flight to London, got hotel transport to the airport.

Species List (Pdf 130Kb)


Why not send us a report, or an update to one of your current reports?