Trip Report – November 2008
Day 1: Head from the airport to Hotel Bougainvillea which has stunning grounds where you can start your birding immediately. In the grounds there is a massive stand of bamboo where Tropical Screech Owls nest. There is also the possibility not just to see the common birds (Rufus Collared Sparrow, Blue Gray Tanager, Tropical Kingbird) but also of some that we didn’t see elsewhere such as Blue Crowned Motmot and White Eared Ground Sparrow. While the guide books tell you of possible sights to see in and around this area there really isn’t that much! So concentrate on the birds.
Day 2: We would recommend having a guide meet you at your hotel and bird the grounds again before taking you to PN Volcana Poas. When you leave the volcano, make sure your route takes you through the tiny town of Cinchona. Park as you pull into town – there is a house on the right that is open to the public. It has pictures of hummingbirds outside and when you go in you simply won’t believe it! You make donations for going in and you could be there a while. It is spectacular for the hummingbirds as well as many other species that come to the feeders. We had 9 species of hummingbird and 12 other tanagers, toucanets and barbets. Head on toward Puerto Viego de Sarapiqui to stay at the La Quintal Hotel.
Day 3: After birding the hotel grounds and having breakfast, bird the La Selva Biological Reserve today. You can spend the day here but if you do you will need to take food and drinks with you. Alternately, if lunch is included at your accommodation you could return to the hotel for lunch and a break during the hottest hours before going back to the reserve in the afternoon. On your return try driving straight passed the car park and bird the road ( more like a lane) a little further along. Late in the day, walk over the bridge inside the reserve to the buildings and you may get Great Tinamou. Check with the guides to see if there is Great Potou in the region. Second night at. La Quinta Hotel.
Day 4: Weather precluded us from doing this but I would recommend you bird Braulla Carillo (near the Quebrada Gonzales ranger Station) in the morning and then enjoy a river tour on the Rio Saraquipi in the afternoon. There is also a marsh area, Le Tigre Marsh on the left just passed the turn off to La Selva where you may see Nicaraguan Seed finch. Stay for a second night at La Quinta Hotel. You may get night hawks in the car park of the hotel.
Day 5: Leaving La Quinta visit Virgen del Socorro en route to Arenal Observatory Lodge. As you drive through La Fortuna, just before turning right to leave town, there is a great open air restaurant on right. Apart from good food and coffee served in traditional choreadors, they have feeders where you can get great views of Red-legged Honeycreeper. May also get House Sparrow that is uncommon on Costa Rica. Shortly after turning off the main road as you go towards the lodge, stop at the intersection where you turn left and check for White-Throated Magpie-Jay. At the lodge, if you go to the viewing deck (meant for viewing the volcano) there are feeders set up that bring in a stunning number of birds.
Day 6: After an early start at the viewing deck and a walk around the grounds have breakfast and then head for Arenal Hanging Bridges. Wonderful spot with lots to see. On the way back, just after you pass over the dam, turn right and take the back road to the hotel. Lots of spots to stop en route. After lunch, take more time around the grounds – it can be very rewarding. Arenal Observatory Lodge.
Day 7: Drive to Cano Negro – keep an eye out for Giant Cow bird en route. When you turn off the main road (just before Los Chilis) you can start birding and probably won’t stop until you get to the Cano Negro Lodge. Roseate Spoonbill, Dicksissel, Striped Cuckoo, Bare-throated Tiger Heron. Should be a rewarding experience. Listen for Crake. The accommodation here is very basic but clean.
Day 8: Book a boat trip to take you out into the lagoon before breakfast. Limpkin, Slaty Spinetail, Yellow-headed Caracara, Snail Kite. Very worthwhile but that’s all there is to do here so head out after breakfast. Quite a long drive (26km) over dirt tacks en route to Upala and then on to Bijagua where you turn left to go to Heliconas Lodge. This can be spectacular birding but it can also be quiet at this time of day. If you don’t mind basic accommodation you could chose to stay here. Otherwise stop for lunch and bird the trails and then continue on to Bagacea and the Hotel Laguna. This is a bit of a strange hotel (they don’t speak any English) but it is very convenient for Palo Verde – unless you are prepared to stay at the Biological Reserve which is VERY basic or you could stay at the Holiday Inn and Casino in Liberia but it is quite commercialized.
Day 9: Spend the day at Palo Verde – Yellow-naped Parrot, Mangrove Cuckoo, Great Currossow, Black-headed Trogon, Torquoise-crested Motmot – you will need to book one of their guides ahead of time and you will need to have money with you to pay the park entrance fee. They will give you lunch at the reserve and then take you out for the afternoon. If the guide hasn’t taken you to the salt pans then go yourself on the way out. When you pass the Guards Building ( where you paid) the road bears right and then there is a left turn – take this out to the salt pans and look for shorebirds and even the Jabaroo can be seen there. Hotel Laguna.
Day 10: Driving south today. You can try to find the shrimp farm at Chomes ( we couldn’t find it) or just go straight to Mata De Limon. Just before you get to Mata De Limon you cross a bridge over a lagoon. Stop on the left before the bridge at a restaurant called TABARIS. Nice place for lunch but you can also get some good shorebirds on the lagoon – Whimbrel, Willet and a number of herons.. Onward to Tarcoles. Choices for accommodation here, Villa Lapas (OK – definitely nothing special), Hotel Carara or, for an absolute treat (which we did), there is Villa Calletas where you can have your own private villa complete with private infinity pool. Even if you don’t stay here – go for a drink as the sun sets. Amazing!
Day 11; Hire a guide and spend the day at Carrera National Park this is your area for Scarlet Macaw, several manakin species, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Blue-throated Goldentail to name but a few. (Ask your guide if the Black & White Owls are still in the square in Orotina). Stay in the same hotel as last night.
Day 12: Take a boat trip with Mangrove Birding Tours in Tarcoles – Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-billed Cotinga, Mangrove Black Hawk, Rufus-browed Brushfinch, Mangrove Vireo – and then head to Steve & Lisa’s café for breakfast ( there are 2 of them – we went to the one on the beach) before driving south en route to Talari Mountain Lodge (via San Isidro de el General.)
NOTE: If we had had longer I would have kept heading south and spent a couple of days on Oro Peninsula and then worked our way back up to Talari Lodge.
Day 13: Bird the lodge grounds (with a guide that is provided by the lodge) before and after breakfast. Then drive north on the highway towards San Jose. Stop at Café Georgina (km 95 on the right). They have an amazing number of hummingbirds at their feeders. You are at 10,000 feet!. Once you take the Savegre Hotel turnoff from the main road you have 9km of great birding until you reach the hotel. Sooty-capped Bush tanager, Mountain Robin, Flame colored Tanager, Volcano Hummingbird. You can then bird the grounds.
Day 14: You have to use the local guides here and it will be well worth it. They will take you around for the day and almost guarantee you Resplendent Quetzal. Also a lovely walk to some falls with many species along the way. White-throated Mountain Gem, Black-cheeked Warbler, Ruddy-Capped Nightingale Thrush, Yellow-winged Vireo and too many more to mention. Savegre Hotel.
Day 15: Before breakfast you can drive up behind the hotel to some great trails – Black-faced solitaire, Red Tailed Kite, Philadelphia. Then after breakfast hit the road – stopping at Paramo & Jorge Serrano’s reserve – to Rancho Naturalista. (Watch out in Cartago – its easy to get lost). On the other side of Cartago I would recommend visiting a wonderful shade grown coffee plantation called Café Cristina (www.cafecristina.com). They are wonderful people and they offer very interesting tours. Stay at Rancho Naturalista.
Day 16: A day with a guide is included in your stay here and will ensure your final days are well used to add to your list. This is the spot for Snowcap – but there are many others including Violet-crowned Woodnymph, White Lined tanager, Ruddy Pigeon, Black-headed nightingale Thrush, Chestnut-capped Brush Finch, White-throated Flycatcher, Tawny-chested Flycatcher. Stay your last night at Rancho Naturalista.
NOTE: If we had had more time I would have headed to the Caribbean coast for a couple of days.
General comments: Renting a car and negotiating your way around CR is OK but beware of weather conditions that may have washed out roads. Cell phone service is sporadic and most of the local people don’t speak English so you won’t be able to ask for directions and we found the maps quite poor. Most of the accommodation includes all meals (including the possibility of packed lunch) – its worth taking this option as there are often few other restaurants near by.
We went at the end of November – peak time is February. We still had nearly 400 species in 2 weeks and without the crowds!
San Jose- Hotel Bouganvillea
La Viejo de Sarapiqui- La Quinta Inn
Arenal – Arenal Observatory Lodge
Cano Negro- Cano Negro Natural Lodge
Palo Verde- cannot find a website for Laguna Hotel
Taracoles- Villa Lapas or Villa Caletas
Talari – Talari Mountain Lodge
Savegre – Savegre Mountain Lodge
Guides & Resources
Costa Rica Gateway is where we got our guides – they were great but our main guide (Ernesto) told us not to worry about taking photos he would give us a copy of the photos he took and then he never sent them to us – despite several emails to him and his boss which was very disappointing!!
A guide to the Birds of Costa Rica – Garry Stiles and Alexander Skutch
The Birds of Costa Rica – Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean
Lonely Planet Guides for Costa Rica