Few places rival Costa Rica’s ecological diversity. Over a quarter of the country is a national park, wildlife refuge, biological reserve, or protected area. And for good reason: Costa Rica boasts 850 bird species, 208 mammal species, 50,000 insect species, and 2,000 orchids.
This trip combines time at two of our favorite lodges: La Quinta Sarapiqui Lodge and Savegre Lodge and Spa. Each is remote, offering you an immersion in nature. One is a lowland site surrounding a tropical lagoon, with boat trips and a huge array of species; the other a mountain setting with forest trails and feeders that attract White-throated Mountain-gem, Silver-throated Tanager, Flame-colored Tanager, and more! The valley is also home to a healthy population of Resplendent Quetzal, arguably the most beautiful bird in the Americas.
We know these two lodges well, enjoy their hospitality, and both provide wonderful photo opportunities as well as birding. This is a great, short getaway at the end of winter.
- Relax at the beautiful Hotel Bougainvillea upon your arrival; bird their 10-acre award winning botanical garden
- Seek out lowland rainforest specialties at La Selva Biological Station, recognized internationally as one of the most productive tropical forest research stations in the world
- Relax on a Sarapiqui River boat trip as you search for Amazon Kingfisher, Green Ibis, and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
- Travel through small picturesque towns on the day between lodges, enjoy seeing farms and rural areas
- Stay in cool, lush cloud forest of the mountains at Savegre Lodge and Spa where a dozen species of hummingbirds and many highland bird specialties await such as Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher and Resplendent Quetzal
Sun., Mar. 28: Arrival in San José | Hotel Bougainvillea
Bienvenido a Costa Rica! Plan to arrive today in San José by 5:00 PM so you can join our welcome dinner and orientation. You are met at the airport for a transfer to our hotel in the hills of the historic suburb of Heredia. The Bougainvillea hotel is a family-owned and operated hotel with a welcoming atmosphere; fresh-cut flowers from the 10-acre garden, and original paintings and sculptures by leading local artists adorn the interior. Massive beamed ceilings, wood paneling, and a fireplace all contribute to the warm feeling of a country inn. And, there are always great birds to greet you as you stroll trails through the garden.
Tonight, we gather to enjoy a welcome dinner and the chance to meet your guides and travel companions.
Accommodations at the Hotel Bougainvillea (D)
Mon., Mar. 29: San José | Waterfall, Hummingbirds, & Dart Frogs
We depart early this morning so we can make several birding stops along the way to our lodge on Costa Rica’s Caribbean side. Our drive is very scenic, with a stop at the stunning the Mirador La Cascada at Cinchona; close to the viewpoint, a local coffee shop has hummingbird feeders set up with star-attractions being possible sightings of Green Thorntail and White-bellied Mountain-gem. In 2009, an earthquake heavily damaged this area treasured by birders for so long. It has made a comeback with great close viewing of up to ten species of hummingbirds, possible Northern Emerald-Toucanet, and Prong-billed and Red-headed Barbets! Colorful tanagers include Scarlet-rumped, Silver-throated and Crimson-collared. Comical Montezuma Oropendola may greet us here, or farther along our route today.
After lunch, we reach our lodge in the afternoon. Settle into your cabanas, each with a private porch, and enjoy some birding on the grounds ahead of dinner. Birds on the grounds may include Yellow-throated and Keel-billed Toucan, White-crowned and Red-lored Parrot, and Golden-hooded and Red-throated Ant-Tanager. The food is excellent and varied.
Accommodations at La Quinta Sarapiqui Lodge (B,L,D)
Tues., Mar. 30: La Selva Biological Station
The La Selva Biological Station is one of the premier tropical research stations in the world. Trails wind between laboratories and researchers’ residences, 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 Sarapiqui. 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 Costa Rica’s 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 Sarapiqui 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 Curassow, Great Tinamou, Great Potoo, and possibly Snowy Cotinga. We should see Crimson-collared and Golden-hooded Tanager, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmot, Black-cheeked Woodpecker and Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, beautiful Black-throated Trogon, and high on thermals above, King Vulture. Pied Puffbird and Rufous-tailed Jacamar are sit-and-wait predators that dart from perches to capture large insects. Orange-billed Sparrow are crisply plumaged denizens of the forest floor.
Butterfly enthusiasts, prepare to be amazed at all the species, including several large electric-blue Morphos. Central American Agouti and White-nosed Coati are mammals we often find, and maybe even Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth.
In the late afternoon, we venture out to explore the area for some further birding – perhaps to a local orchid garden and a nearby site where it is possible to see Great Green Macaw flying to roost as the grand finale to a lovely day in Costa Rica.
Accommodations at La Quinta Sarapiqui Lodge (B,L,D)
Wed., Mar. 31: Sarapiqui River Boat Tour
With the company of our local guide and boat captain, we enjoy a water safari outing on the Sarapiqui River. Our waterfront view gives us a great chance to find Green Iguana and Mantled Howler-Monkey. Along the river we may find a good variety of herons and ibis, including Bare-throated Tiger-Heron Green Ibis. Osprey are here—their chirping sounds may remind you of home. On sandbars we search for Southern Lapwing, perhaps a Spotted Sandpiper, and various kingfishers. Wintering Northern Waterthrush bob as they feed under shaded vegetation.
We return for lunch at the lodge. After lunch, we enjoy a siesta, then join our guides for a drive over to a birding spot or two in the surrounding areas. Wet fields near Sarapiqui often hold a variety of open country birds that are very active in the late afternoon with species such as Roadside and Gray Hawk, Northern Jacana and Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat and Thick-billed Seed-Finch all possible.
We enjoy one last evening to sit out in the warm tropical air listening to night sounds and seeing stars so bright away from any populated areas. Tomorrow it’s off the mountains; our guide provides an overview of the days ahead.
Accommodations at La Quinta Sarapiqui Lodge (B,L,D)
Thurs., Apr. 1: Savegre Valley | Montane Cloud Forests
After breakfast we depart for Cerro de la Muerte (Mountain of Death), part of the Talamanca Mountains. These 11,000-foot peaks were named for the early explorers who, traveling on foot or by mule, risked dying of hunger, exposure, or storms.
As we reach the often cloud-enshrouded summit, we stop at the family-run cloud-forest reserve, Paralso de 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 the stunning valley of the Savegre River, a true realm of the Resplendent Quetzal.
Our lodge is situated at a cool 7000 feet above sea level in an isolated and 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 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 into 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 spot an American Dipper feeding in the rushing trout stream! Enjoy a lovely meal tonight at the lodge’s restaurant.
Accommodations at Savegre Lodge and Spa (B,L,D)
Fri., Apr. 2 & Sat., Apr. 3: Two Full Days at the Savegre Valley | Montane Cloud Forests
This remote valley is a delight and we have two full days to explore it. We walk the gentle mountain road where we get an excellent view of beautiful Talamanca Range cloud forests and their fantastic residents, like Flame-throated Warbler, Flame-colored Tanager, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Black Guan, and Northern Emerald-Toucanet. Throughout the valley, various trails lead to waterfalls, secluded canyons, and mountain vistas; several options are available to us. Neighboring properties have also set up wonderful hummingbird and tanager feeders and we’ll be sure to check these out as well.
Resplendent Quetzal are found in this valley year-round, and we often spot them near a favorite fruiting tree where several males may congregate in the early morning. With the assistance of a local guide, we search for cloud forest birds such as Spotted Wood-Quail, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Ruddy Treerunner, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Yellow-thighed Brushfinch, Collared Redstart, and Spangle-cheeked Tanager.
Montane oak forest dominates the area, including magnificent oaks like Wild Brazilleto, Winter’s Bark Tree, and Cipresillo. 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.
In the evening on Friday, we gather ahead of dinner to recount the day and tally up our species. Enjoy a beer or some wine, or the local hot chocolate—yum! On Saturday we drive back to San Jose to position you for flights out the next day and to enjoy a final evening together in a most comfortable place.
Accommodations at Savegre Lodge and Spa April 2 and Doubletree Cariari, San Jose April 3 (B,L,D)
Sun., Apr. 4: Departures
After a lovely Easter Sunday morning breakfast, we offer a group transfer by bus to San José’s Juan Santamaria International Airport to catch your flights back home from 1 PM onwards. Keep in mind that driving time from the lodge to the airport is nearly two and a half hours, and you should be at the airport almost three hours ahead of your flight. If you must leave early, we can arrange a private transfer for you (at an additional cost) or consider staying over at an airport hotel and going out early the following day. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey is $2890 DBL / $3395 SGL, from San José, Costa Rica. This cost includes all accommodations, meals as specified in the itinerary, professional guide services, other park and program entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses.
Tour cost does not include: round-trip transportation from your home city to San José, optional activities, or items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone charges, maid gratuities, or beverages from the bar.
Plan to arrive in San José on Sunday, March 28, ideally between 2:00 and 5:00 PM if you wish to join the welcome dinner. If you arrive later, we can arrange the airport pickup and a snack for you at the hotel, or you may eat on the plane. You may want to arrive a day or two early (at your own cost) to take in the sights of the city. We suggest you plan departures 12:00 PM onward on Sunday, April 4, though earlier or later flights can be accommodated.
Photo credits: Banner: Broad-winged Hawk by Peg Abbott; White-neckd Jacobins by Sandy Sorkin; Red-eyed Tree Frog by Greg Smith; Resplendent Quetzal by Greg Smith; Green Violetear, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Amazon Kingfisher by Sandy Sorkin; Laughing Falcon by Peg Abbott; Black-cheeked Woodpecker by Sandy Sorkin; Blue Jeans Frog by Sandy Sorkin; Three-toed Sloth by Howard Topoff; Great Potoo by Sandy Sorkin; Blue-crowned Motmot by Peg Abbott; Silver-throated Tanager by Peg Abbott; Mantled Howler Monkey by Carlos Sanchez; Black-throated Trogon by James Smith; Great Curassow by Sandy Sorkin; Crimson-colored Tanager by Peg Abbott; Three-toed Sloth by Carlos Sanchez; Scarlet-rumped Tanager by Andrew Steinmann; Silver-throated Tanager by Sandy Sorkin; Emerald Toucanet by Sandy Sorkin; Prong-billed Barbet by Carlos Sanchez; Collared Redstart by Sandy Sorkin; Anhinga by Andrew Steinmann; Bare-throated Tiger-Heron by Carlos Sanchez; Chestnut-headed Oropendola by Carlos Sanchez; Chestnut-sided Warbler by Sandy Sorkin; Collared Aracari by Greg Smith; Passion Flower by Willy Alfaro.