Costa Rica: Nature & Birding
January 23-30, 2015
A Special Journey with Patrick Dome and Karl Schmitt of Arizona’s award-winning Casa de San Pedro, with Pacific Coast extension Jan. 30–Feb. 3
“I have been meaning to drop you a line ever since we got back from Costa Rica. Penny and I had a wonderful time. Willy was everything you promised--we felt very lucky to have him as our guide. He was so good humored and well informed about everything, and clearly cares a great deal about--and is very proud of--his country. He worked very hard to ensure we saw all the "major" birds. For myself, I especially loved the toucans, the Sunbittern was spectacular, and the humming birds were a delight.”
- Angela Burnett
Few places in the world can rival Costa Rica’s tremendous ecological diversity, so easily accessible in a small geographic area. Over one-quarter of the country has been designated as a national park, wildlife refuge, biological reserve, or other type of protected area. And with good reason: the country boasts 850 species of birds, 208 types of mammals, 50,000 species of insects (including thousands of species of moths and butterflies) and 2,000 examples of orchids.
We have offered nearly-annual trips to Costa Rica since 1990 on a variety of itineraries; this one is designed to offer an outstanding variety of birds in varied settings on both sides of the Continental Divide. It combines elements of several of our all-time favorite trips! Our lead guide is an excellent Costa Rican naturalist, Willy Alfaro, who will accompany the entire trip as we traverse this intriguing country. Willy always gets rave reviews, and is a certified National Geographic photographer, happy to give pointers to those with cameras.
Hosts for this year’s tour will be Patrick Dome and Karl Schmitt of the Casa de San Pedro in Arizona. Whether at home or on tour, they share their generous hospitality and set a great tone for the group. The emphasis of our Costa Rica birding and natural history tour be on the full scope of natural history – including incredible birding -- and on enjoying ourselves. The itinerary includes a rich variety of landscapes – montane, mid-elevation, and lowland rainforest -- each with outstanding opportunities to see the local flora and fauna.
We will share with you the customs of the Costa Rican people and encourage you to sample local foods and experience the exceptional hospitality of our Costa Rican hosts. Enjoy a great winter get-away and experience the marvels of the Central American tropics.
Fri., Jan. 23 Arrival in San Jose
Arrive in San Jose where you will be met at the airport by a representative of Horizontes, our Costa Rican host company, for private transfer to the Hotel Bougainvillea. We select this boutique hotel for its spacious rooms, friendly service and spectacular gardens with birds – just out the door without delay! Like the Casa de San Pedro, this is an environmentally-friendly hotel with a commitment to our planet as well as to hospitality. Those arriving in time can enjoy a welcome dinner with fellow travelling companions and guide Willy Alfaro. Those needing to arrive later than dinner will have a snack tray on arrival.
Accommodations at Hotel Bougainvillea (D) www.hb.co.cr/en
Sat., Jan. 24 Cerro de la Muerte / Cartago / Mirador Questzeles
Those who wish to get out early can have the chance to walk the gardens, look for birds and enjoy the great diversity of tropical flowers at their leisure.
After breakfast we depart for Cerro de la Muerte (Mountain of Death), a part of the Talamanca Moutnains. These 11,000 foot peaks were named for early explorers who, traveling on foot, died of hunger, exposure or storms while crossing the mountain. En route, we stop in Cartago to visit the Cathedral. As we reach the often cloud-enshrouded summit, we stop at a family-run cloud-forest reserve Mirador Quetzales. Here we walk lush forest trails in search of Costa Rica’s most famous and elegant bird, the Resplendent Quetzal. Walking the cloud forest trails, we often find a host of other species as well. We then descend into a stunning valley of the Savegre River, a true realm of Resplendent Quetzals!
Our lodgings are situated at a cool 7,000 feet above sea level in an isolated and rather idyllic valley near the town of San Gerardo de Dota. As we descend into the valley we find a mix of pristine forest, hillside farms and fantastic views. We certainly stop for photographs and to see what’s in bloom along the way.
Over forty years ago, Sr. Ephraim Chacon and his brother opened a road and began a dairy farm and apple orchard in this remote Talamanca Mountain valley. Today several lodges settle naturally into the landscape here, a prime destination for birders. After settling in to our accommodations, we walk one of the lodge’s nature trails, learning about the flora and fauna of the tropical cloud forest. With luck, we’ll spot an American Dipper feeding in the rushing trout stream! Enjoy a lovely meal tonight at the lodge’s restaurant.
Accommodations at Savegre Hotel, Natural Reserve and Spa (B,L,D) www.savegre.com
Sun., Jan. 25 Rio Savegre Valley / Montane Cloud Forests
Today we walk the road where we get an excellent view of these beautiful forests of the Talamanca range and their fantastic residents such as Flame-throated Warblers, Flame-colored Tanagers Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers, and Emerald Toucanets. Throughout the valley, various trails lead to waterfalls, secluded canyons and mountain vistas, so several options are available to us. Resplendent Quetzals are found in this valley year round, and we often spot them near favorite fruiting tree where several males may congregate. On trails that wind past rivers and lakes, we look for Collared Trogons, Collared and Slate-throated Redstarts, Large-footed Finches, Long-tailed Silky Flycatchers, and Sooty Robins.
Montane oak forest dominates the area, including magnificent oaks such as Wild Brazilletos, Winter’s Bark Trees, and Cipresillos. We take a stab at identifying them and then simply admire the hundreds of species of bromeliads, lichens, mosses, ferns and the multitude of orchids and colorful flowers. Locals raise fruit on the hillsides and farm trout in small ponds. For those that wish, a loop hike can be made up and around a ridgeline above the lodge.
Accommodations at Savegre Hotel, Natural Reserve and Spa (B,L,D)
Mon., Jan. 26 Turrialba / Rancho Naturalista
After breakfast, we drive back through the mountains toward Turrialba, where Rancho Naturalista is located in another scenic range.
We have lunch at a restaurant along our travel route and, upon arrival at the lodge late-afternoon; we enjoy birding from the verandah of Rancho Naturalista. This activity is a delight – particularly for those that fancy close-up views of hummingbirds. A number of mid-elevation Caribbean-side specialties can be found here. Temperatures are cooler at a comfortable 3000 ft. elevation. At day’s end we are likely to see Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans, and perhaps with Collared Aracari’s coming in to roost. Accommodations at Rancho Naturalista (B,L,D) www.ranchonaturalista.net
Tues., Jan. 27 Full Day at Rancho Naturalista
Wake up to birding on the balcony where, with luck, a mixed group of colorful tanagers including Passerini’s, Speckled, Bay-headed, Silver-throated and Summer, as they come in to bananas of the feeders. White-necked Jacobins are regulars at the feeders and flowers, and a special treat here is the tiny Black-crested Coquette. Blue-crowned Motmots and Golden-olive Woodpeckers are ‘yard birds’. Indeed, over 200 species have been seen from this balcony! Linger as we may, trails and exploring call.
Though small (125 acres) the reserve has a nice mix of habitats. Open crowns of Cecropia trees afford us good looks of colorful species such as Green Honeycreepers, Squirrel Cuckoos and Blue Dacnis. White-ruffed Manakins and Fasciated Antshrikes may call, alerting us to their presence along the trails. One of the trails leads us to hummingbird feeders set up in the forest. There we often find one of the most beautiful hummingbird species – the Snowcap, alongside colorful Violet-crowned Woodnymphs, Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds and large Green Hermits.
Accommodations at Rancho Naturalista (B,L,D)
Wed., Jan. 28 Guayabo National Park / Heliconias Island
Once near the mountains we take a turn the other direction where the road forks to visit a fascinating archaeological site where rocks are carved into figures in many stylized forms. Fascinating Guayabo National Monument, established in 1973, is the largest and one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Costa Rica. While it does not rival the great Mayan civilization sites, this complex settlement lies in a beautiful mountain valley, perched on the side of a mountain at a most comfortable elevation. We find cobblestone paths, building foundations and water canals that date from 1100 BC to 1400 AD. Forests surrounding the site vary from second growth to dense mature forest. Vegetation is lush and beautiful and mixed flocks of colorful tanagers, grosbeaks and orioles like the edge-effect of the ruins that have been excavated.
Enjoy lunch along the way at a local restaurant and, once settled in at our hotel, we visit Heliconia Island, a private project owned and run by a couple from the Netherlands who specialize in heliconias. They grow more than 70 species of this tropical plant family as well as other native and non-native plants. Hummingbirds, particularly hermits, love this place!
Accommodations at Sarapiquis Rainforest Lodge (B,L,D) www.sarapiquis.com
Thurs., Jan. 29 La Selva Biological Station/ Sarapiqui River Boat Tour
The La Selva Biological Station is one of the premier tropical research stations in the world. Trails wind between laboratories and residences of researchers and then fan out to primary and secondary forests where nature abounds. Lowland rainforest is particularly diverse here as the property is located near the confluence of two major rivers – the Rio Puerto Viejo and the Sarapaqui. The reserve is nearly 4,000 acres and connects to a forest corridor that ascends up through nearby Braulio Carrillo National Park, providing links to middle and higher elevations. La Selva comprises 1,600 hectares (3,900 acres) of tropical wet forests and disturbed lands. Four major tropical life zones define the contiguous corridor now protecting a large portion of Costa Rica’s biodiversity. Recorded here are more than half of the almost 900 species of birds, 1850 species of vascular plants and a rich array of mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians. Each year, La Selva’s Christmas Bird Count is among the highest in numbers.
On trails near the Sarapaqui River we hope to see the beautiful Agami Heron and perhaps an elusive Sungrebe. Some of the other elusive species we may find include Great Currasows, Great or Slaty-breasted Tinamous, Great Potoos and possibly Bare-necked Umbrellabirds. We should see Crimson-collared and Golden-hooded Tanagers, Rufous Motmots, endemic Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, beautiful Snowy Cotingas and, high on thermals above, King Vultures. Pied Puffbirds and Great Jacamars are sit-and-wait predators that dart from perches to capture large insects. Orange-billed Sparrows are gaudy denizens of the forest floor.
Butterfly enthusiasts will be amazed at all the species, including several large electric-blue Morphos. Central American Agouti and White-nosed Coati are mammals we often find. We spend much of the day here, including a visit to La Selva, a research station run by the Organization for Tropical Studies.
In the late afternoon, we venture out on the Sarapaqui River for a boat trip, as late afternoon is great time to find secretive birds such as Sunbitterns, Green Ibises, Fasciated Tiger-Herons, several possible kingfishers, herons and egrets. Yellow-naped and White-crowned Parrots make raucous noise overhead, joined by the smaller Olive-throated Parakeets. It’s beautiful to be out on the water where it’s cool with views out to the mountains.
Accommodations at Sarapiquis Rainforest Lodge (B,L,D)
Fri., Jan. 30 Departures or extension
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel. Afterwards, we must tear ourselves away as our bus departs for San Jose and Juan Santamaria International Airport, or – a better idea: If time permits, veer off towards the Pacific Ocean and Costa Rica’s west side on our Pacific Coast Extension. With the extension, you have the widest range of habitats and species available – a great cross-section of the country.
PACIFIC COAST EXTENSION
Fri., Jan. 30 Central Pacific Coast
After leaving friends at the airport, our group continues on its way to the Central Pacific area, where we stay in a lovely valley with a rushing river, close to the Pacific Coast. We arrive in time for lunch.
In the afternoon the group will walk the Sky Way, a series of five suspended bridges that allows us to admire the biodiversity of the area from a different perspective. If that is not a comfortable experience for you, it’s also lovely to walk and bird from the hotel with your feet firmly planted on the ground!
We spend the late-afternoon into evening viewing the Tarcoles River and associated wetlands from a bridge. Those busy with traffic, this is the best place in Costa Rica to watch for Scarlet Macaws returning to roost sites. Their calls alert us and, as we wait to see their dazzling colors, we find a host of other species such as Mealy Parrots and, close-at-hand, noisy Rufous-naped Wrens.
Accommodations at Villa Lapas (B,L,D) www.villalapas.com
Sat., Jan. 31 Carara National Park
We have a great morning of birding at Carara National Park where we witness the diversity of birds and fauna at this transition forest. This morning we get an early start to visit nearby Carara National Park, spending a full morning here walking trails and searching for birds, butterflies and mammals. This park can claim almost unparalleled diversity along the Central American Pacific Coast as many species here are at the edge of their range. This is the northern reach of species at home in Pacific Rainforest, and the southern reach for those associated with Pacific Dry Forests.
Carara’s forests are described as Transition Forests and their more open nature makes it easier for us to find birds. Carara is an excellent place to observe an army-ant swarm and its attendant feeding antbirds. We may find Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds or Blue-throated Goldentails. Orange-collared Manakins, Black-hooded Antshrikes, Dot-winged Antwrens, Dusky Antbirds and Chestnut-backed Antbirds are among the more secretive species we hope to find.
After lunch, we drive to La Ensenada, a country lodge on a lake. This family-run lodge, where we stay the next two nights, features 20 simple but comfortable cabins, a swimming pool, and a delightful open-air restaurant that prepares local foods. The lodge is part of a working cattle ranch and fruit farm, and also part of a 100-acre wildlife reserve. All cabins have ceiling fans, wood paneling, high ceilings, and private terraces. This special property holds some of the last remaining primary (old growth) dry forest, as well as a mangrove ecosystem and is the beautiful Gulf of Nicoya.
As we settle in, watch the sky for Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans; we may also be able to enjoy the antics of colonies of Montezuma Oropendolas, Piratic Flycatchers, or colorful Cherrie’s Tanagers and Spot-breasted Orioles in the trees. Overnight and dinner La Ensenada Lodge (B,L,D)
Sun., Feb. 1 Boat Tour / Tractor Tour
The deltas of the Bebederas River or Rio Abangeres both have a tremendous array of wetland habitats: mangroves, swamps, swamp forests, both fresh and saltwater marshes, and lagoons. Herons and egrets congregate here, joined by the ancient looking Wood Stork. A verdant oasis in the driest region of Costa Rica, the Gulf of Nicoya is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Because the Tempisque is a tidal river, salt-water loving Crocodiles venture upstream. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded. An estimated 250,000 wading birds and waterfowl winter here, giving us tremendous opportunities for spectacular sightings.
Large scale seasonal flooding occurs here; as the dry season progresses, the wetland habitat shrinks, concentrating the bird population. Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling Ducks can be quite common in some years, and many North American ducks winter in the estuary. Touring by boat is the perfect way to explore its riches.
At cooler times of the day we also walk trails in tropical dry forest. The limestone cliffs in this area pose quite in contrast to the volcanic region we previously visited. There are also pre-Hispanic archaeological sites in the region.
In the afternoon we tour the ranch by tractor, ending our day with wine and cheese at sunset – such a life! In dry forests we watch for White-throated Magpie-Jays, Streak-backed Oriole, Banded Wren, and Black-headed Trogon. We then return to the lodge for dinner and a relaxing evening to tally our wildlife sightings.
Accommodations at Ensenada Lodge (B,L,D)
Mon., Feb. 2 Hacienda Solimar Private Reserve / Return to San Jose
After breakfast at the hotel, we venture out to enjoy another great birding site near the Gulf of Nicoya at a private reserve known at Hacienda Solimar. Scenery in the Guanacaste region is beautiful; a mix of ranching, agriculture and small rural villages. Rice fields, when seasonally flooded can produce some extraordinary birding. In recent years the rare and extraordinary Jabiru has nested here! We may also see wild Muscovy Ducks, and, with luck, in the forest – Lesser Ground Cuckoos. Here we experience Tropical Dry Forest, an environment completely in contrast to that experienced in lowland rainforest at La Selva. Blue Ground Doves, White-lored Gnatcatchers, Lesser Greenlets, Scrub Euphonias, and Pale-billed Woodpeckers are a few of the new species we may find.
In the afternoon, we return to San Jose. We stop in a small town at a park where children play, and where, in the past, we’ve had luck finding very tame Black-and-White Owls. We also stop at our favorite ice-cream store, yum!
Enjoy a farewell dinner with friends as we prepare to depart.
Accommodations at the Hotel Bougainvillea (B,L,D)
Tues., Feb. 3 Departures
After breakfast we offer a group transfer to San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport to take your flights back home. Keep in mind that you should be at the airport almost three hours ahead of your flight, so watch those early morning departures! If you must leave early we can arrange a private transfer (small additional cost) for you, shared with others if they are also leaving early. Otherwise, we suggest you plan on flights out after 10:00 am. (B)
Protect yourself with Allianz Travel Insurance (formerly Access America).
Offset your Carbon Footprint. Show us the receipt and we'll take 50% - up to $50.00 - of your carbon offset fee off your final payment!
COST OF THE JOURNEY
Cost of the journey (Main Tour) is $2590.00 from San Jose, Costa Rica based on double occupancy. This cost includes all accommodations, meals as specified in the itinerary, professional guide services, other park and program entrance fees and miscellaneous program expenses. Cost of the Pacific Coast extension is $1295.00 when booked with our Main Tour
($1495.00 when booked separately).
Tour cost does not include: round-trip transportation from your home city to San Jose, optional activities or, items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone charges, maid gratuities or beverages from the bar.
Single supplement, as available, is $455.00. Single supplement for the extension is 230.00.
Group Size: Maximum of 14, minimum of 4 persons. Tour and Extension prices are based on 8 persons for the main tour and 6 persons for the extension, with fewer than 8/6 a small group surcharge (typically $100-$300) may apply.
Your guide for this journey is Willy Alfaro of Costa Rica, and Patrick Dome and Karl Schmitt of Arizona’s award winning Casa de San Pedro will be your hosts.
Plan to arrive in San Jose on Jan. 23, ideally between 2 and 5 p.m. if you wish to join the welcome dinner. Those arriving at the airport by 5 p.m. can join us for a welcome dinner at the hotel. If your flight arrives after 6:00 p.m. plan on eating dinner on the plane, or we can hold a late meal for you at the hotel.
You may want to arrive a day or two early (at your own cost) to take in sights of the city. We suggest you plan departures for after 10:00 a.m. on Jan. 30, though earlier or later flights can be accommodated. Those going on the extension may depart at a time convenient for you on Feb. 3. Do remember you have to be at the airport about 2 1/2 hours ahead of your scheduled flight on this return so we do not advise booking early morning flights; mid-morning is fine.
Naturalist Journeys, LLC is an equal opportunity service provider and committed to the goal of ensuring equal opportunity for all in employment and program delivery.
Bud Ferguson (Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher, Resplendent Quetzal, Orange-collared Manakin, Great Kiskadee, and hummingbirds) Willy Alfaro (Black-capped Slaty Flycatcher, Long-winged Butterfly, Black-throated Trogon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Passionflowers, Golden-hooded Tanager, Group shots) and Peg Abbott (others).
Naturalist Journeys LLC, a top birding and nature tour company, offers specialty small group travel to many of the best nature destinations worldwide. Naturalist Journeys’ expert guides have decades of experience leading guided nature and birding tours as well as travel photography tours, all with a focus on responsible travel and eco-tourism. Naturalist Journeys also offer Utah hiking adventure tours and adventure travel in national parks and wildlife reserves ranging from in-depth Alaska wildlife tours to guided Texas and Florida birding tours. Costa Rica nature and birding tours are among our top-rated as are our Panama nature tours and African wildlife safari tours. Our many repeat clients enjoy dependable and diverse holidays on Galapagos nature tours, Arctic and Antarctica nature cruises, and birding and wildlife tours from Arizona to the Amazon and beyond.