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Southern Costa Rica has long been one of our most popular tours, the itinerary extending south from San José is great for a return to this delightful country or for a first adventure. Join us to explore the Talamanca Mountains, the El General Valley, pristine forest at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge near Golfito, and in the Central Valley on the edges of Carara National Park. Our expert guides help you get to know this region in detail. Enjoy a special getaway while you experience this gem of the Central American tropics.

Whether a first time trip or a new area of Costa Rica to explore, we know you’ll treasure time in this beautiful, easy to get to Central American country. Costa Rica sets high eco-tourism standards as an example for many aspiring nations, with lovely lodges, safe water and food, and highly-trained local guides.

Ask us how you can extend your time at a beautiful lodge in the Corcovado/Osa Peninsula area, ranked as one of the richest contributors to Costa Rica’s legendary global biodiversity. At your leisure, enjoy a few more days with a bit of pampering as you experience this very wild and beautiful region. Here, lush mountains reach the sea … it is simply a stunning destination.

Tour Highlights

  • Begin your stay at a boutique hotel at the start in downtown San José, a fun base to explore the city
  • Drive the Pan-American Highway south from San José
  • Search for the stunning Resplendent Quetzal and other cloudforest species in the Savegre Valley
  • Visit the farm of the late tropical nature author, Alexander Skutch
  • Immerse in the lovely Talari Mountain Lodge, lush with forests and rich in birdlife—bring your suit if you plan to use the pool
  • Explore lush forest trails at Esquinas where an endemic ant-tanager is found

Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Arrivals in San José


Welcome to Costa Rica! Today you arrive in San José where you are met at the airport by a representative from our Costa Rican host company for a private transfer to the Hotel Bougainvillea. We select this boutique hotel for its spacious rooms, friendly service, and spectacular birdy gardens just outside the door. This is an environmentally-friendly hotel with a commitment to our planet and hospitality. Those arriving in time can enjoy a welcome dinner with your fellow traveling companions and guide. Those that arrive later than dinner have a snack tray on arrival.
Accommodations at Hotel Bougainvillea (D)

Day 2: San José | Paraiso Quetzales


We could not drive right by it without spending time in Costa Rica’s finest realm of the Resplendent Quetzal! The Savegre Valley is home to quetzals year-round, with many wild avocado trees they love. Along with this cloudforest-loving species come many others, including the signature Black Guan and comical Northern Emerald-Toucanet.
Our lodge is situated at a cool 7,000 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 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 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)

Day 3: Full Day to Bird & Explore the Savegre Valley


Today we walk the local road where we get an excellent view of these beautiful Talamanca Range forests and their fantastic residents, like Volcano Hummingbird, Flame-throated Warbler, Flame-colored Tanager, and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher. Throughout the valley, various trails lead to waterfalls, secluded canyons, and mountain vistas; several options are available to us.

Resplendent Quetzal are found in this valley year-round, and we often spot them near a favorite fruiting tree where several males may congregate. On trails that wind past rivers and lakes, we look for Collared Trogon, Collared and Slate-throated Redstarts, Large-footed Finch, and Sooty Robin.

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.

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)

Day 4: Pan-American Highway | Talari Lodge Near San Isidro


After breakfast, we pack up to drive south on the Pan-American Highway towards the Talamanca Mountains, the backbone of southern Costa Rica.

En route, we pass back over the Cerro de la Muerte then make a well-known birding stop at some communication towers at Cerro Bella Vista (weather permitting) where we may find Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren, and again admire the blooming flora.

We then drop down into the expansive El General Valley, home to the Chirripó River that descends from the heights of Chirripó National Park. In 2019, we started staying at a lodge in this lovely place we always had to rush through on previous tours. Along the El General River is our simple but delightful lodge, which emits a rural ambiance with excellent birding—over 225 species have been recorded on these lushly-vegetated grounds. There is a pool and we enjoy our meals in a dining room with covered, open-air seating. This lodge was a favorite for our group in years past, with so much birding right on the grounds. Search among the fruiting trees for Blue Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, parrots and toucans; in Cecropia trees we find resident Three-toed Sloth while Slaty Spinetail, and Orange-billed Sparrow may be seen in edges of the undergrowth.
Accommodations at Talari Mountain Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 5: Los Cusingos—Alexander Skutch’s Farm | Talari Hotel Grounds & Trails


Our hotel has a rich section of river frontage and we explore it for our early morning birding option. We then drive to nearby Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary, a memorial preserve for a famous naturalist of the Americas: Alexander Skutch.

At Los Cusingos we can get lost in time and forget we are only a half hour from the bustling city and the agriculture of the El General Valley. The home site looks as if Alexander might return from one of his epic walks, full of stories and details of birds seen that day. This pioneer of natural history in Central America, most notably Costa Rica, chronicled the intimate life history of hundreds of species. He wrote numerous books, including the country’s first formative field guide.

Skutch first came to Central American in the 1930s, working at a botanist for the United Fruit company. In 1941, he settled in Costa Rica. Over the next 40 years, he would author some 200 scientific papers and 40 books—using a simple typewriter from his desk in a rustic cabin with shuttered windows. He was readily interrupted by birds. He made a life with his sweet wife, Pamela. Our early Naturalist Journeys trips visited them, and we always made sure to take her favorite cookies. Dr. Skutch left us just eight days before his 100th birthday. His later writings were deeply philosophical.

Today, the farm is managed by the Tropical Science Center. It is a fabulous place to find mixed flocks of tanagers, and some secretive species like Eye-ringed Flatbill and Royal Flycatcher. Long-billed Hermit feed in colorful heliconia flowers, and walking near the river we may find beautiful Fasciated Tiger-Heron. The property is named for a real beauty here on the Pacific side of the Continental Divide: the Fiery-billed Aracari. It sits at an elevation of 2700 ft.

We return to the lodge after our visit to relax, and for our avid ones, more birding!
Accommodations at Talari Mountain Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 6: Golfito | Esquinas Rainforest Lodge


This morning we travel to the lovely coastal town of Golfito, where the mountains reach the sea. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before heading to Las Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, our accommodations for the next two nights adjacent to Piedras Blancas National Park.

The idyllic lodge is an ecotourism project that supports the local community. Lush gardens surround our thatched-roof cabins and verandas, as well as a swimming pool fed by a natural stream. You may not want to stray from the spacious porch that surrounds the main building of the lodge?with the rainforest at arm’s length, it’s an excellent place to enjoy passive birdwatching! However, the calls of trogons and Scarlet Macaw do lure you onto one of the many trails into the rainforest.

The lowland Pacific Rainforest dominates here, offering diverse and exciting species. We hope to find the endemic Ant Tanager, several species of colorful trogons, Squirrel Cuckoo, secretive Antbird, and mixed flocks that include Golden-hooded Tanager and Green Honeycreeper. Mammals are always secretive, but this is a good spot for both Collared Peccary and the much larger Tapir. Several species of monkey live here, and wilderness-loving species like King Vulture and Black Hawk-Eagle survey you from above. Under huge heliconia leaves we sometimes find tent-making bats.
Accommodations at Las Esquinas Rainforest Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 7: Las Esquinas | Piedras Blancas National Park


The sounds of myriad birds awaken you at dawn. Enjoy a leisurely morning in your cabin, or opt for an early walk during the height of bird activity. We meet for a delicious breakfast in the open-air dining room. It’s hard to concentrate on food when hummingbirds are feeding young and tanagers come in to feed on fresh fruit at the feeders!

We then enjoy a full day on the lush grounds and adjacent parklands of lowland Pacific rainforest. After breakfast we venture out into the forest on trails that extend into Piedras Blancas National Park. The trail invites us to a scenic ridge above the lodge. After lunch, relax or enjoy a swim. Or, visit the neighboring research center to talk to some of the resident biologists. In a wetland pond we look for White-throated Crake and Pygmy Kingfisher.

In the afternoon we drive out into the farmlands of the valley. Framed by mountains, this beautiful setting offers a glimpse of how people live in the Costa Rican countryside. Both Crested and Yellow-headed Caracara fly overhead; three species (or more!) of kingfisher call from their perches. We also hope to find more southern species, such as Red-breasted Meadowlark and a variety of seedeaters. In the evening we listen to night sounds in the forest and get a well-deserved rest.
Accommodations at Las Esquinas Rainforest Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 8: Hotel Punta Leona


This morning we enjoy a leisurely breakfast and some light birding around the lodge’s grounds before we depart for Punta Leona. This lovely lodge is nestled right on the Pacific Ocean with access to two beaches, a pool, and lovely restaurant … and there is a steady stream of species coming in, including toucans and aracaris.

We settle in and then get to exploring the grounds, which include beautiful trails in a private forest reserve. Get your cameras ready!
Accommodations at Hotel Punta Leona (B,L,D)

Day 9: Carara National Park | Mangrove Boat Tour


This morning we have an early start to enjoy a full morning of birding at Carara National Park, a place many consider to be in the top ten birding spots of Central America. Here we witness birds and wildlife of a transition forest, 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 of a more open nature, making 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 Hummingbird or Blue-throated Goldentail. Orange-collared Manakin, Black-hooded Antshrike, Dot-winged Antwren, Dusky Antbird, and Chestnut-backed Antbird are among the more secretive species we hope to find. Vegetation is impressive in this important ecological reserve.

This afternoon we take a mangrove boat trip on the Tarcoles River. If time permits, especially if we have not seen macaws on our boat trip, we stop on a high bridge with expansive views. Though busy with traffic, this is the best place in Costa Rica to watch for Scarlet Macaw 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 Parrot and, close-at-hand, noisy Rufous-naped Wren.
Accommodations at Hotel Punta Leona (B,L,D)

Day 10: Travel to San José


This morning we have time to enjoy some leisurely morning birdwatching on the hotel’s grounds before we say goodbye and depart towards the Central Valley.

We enjoy lunch enroute back to San José where we make time to do a bit of sightseeing before settling into our rooms back at the Hotel Bougainvillea. Tonight dinner is casual, but we hope all will enjoy an evening to recount memories of a great trip!
Accommodations at the Bougainvillea (B,L,D)

Day 11: Departures


You can depart at your leisure today. (B)

  • Squirrel Monkey, Costa Rica, Costa Rica Birding Tour, Costa Rica Nature Tour, Winter Costa Rica Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Crested Caracara, Costa Rica, Costa Rica Birding Tour, Costa Rica Nature Tour, Winter Costa Rica Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Yellow-headed Caracara, Costa Rica, Costa Rica Birding Tour, Costa Rica Nature Tour, Winter Costa Rica Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Panama Flycatcher, Costa Rica, Costa Rica Birding Tour, Costa Rica Nature Tour, Winter Costa Rica Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Golden-hooded Tanager, Costa Rica, Costa Rica Birding Tour, Costa Rica Nature Tour, Winter Costa Rica Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Little Hermit, Costa Rica, Costa Rica Birding Tour, Costa Rica Nature Tour, Winter Costa Rica Tour, Naturalist Journeys

Cost of the Journey

Cost of the journey: $3990 DBL / $4560 SGL from San José, based on double occupancy and includes: airport transfers, accommodations for 10 nights, meals as specified in the itinerary, professional guide services, local guides, local park and reserve entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. With fewer than 4 clients on this tour, a small surcharge will apply.

It does not include roundtrip airfare to or from San José, or items of a personal nature like laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, or gratuities for porterage or personal services.

Travel Details

Arrive in San José on April 17, ideally by 2:00 PM if you wish to see the city, and by 5:00 PM to join the group dinner. If you arrive later, we can arrange an airport pickup and a snack on arrival. You may want to arrive a day or two early (at your own cost) to take in the sights of the city. Depart at your leisure on April 27.

Map for Southern Costa Rica

Photo credits: Banners: Skyway, courtesy villalapas.com; Black Howler Monkey by Peg Abbott; White-necked Jacobins by Sandy Sorkin; Collared Aracari by Greg Smith; Red-eyed Tree Frog by Greg Smith; Collared Redstart by Tom Dove; Ox Cart by Peg Abbott; Green Violetear, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Summer Tanager, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Blue-crowned Motmot by Peg Abbott; Three-toed Sloth by Peg Abbott; White-fronted Capuchin Monkeys by Peg Abbott; Collared Aracari by Willy Alfaro; Blue Dacnis by Sandy Sorkin; Red-legged Honeycreeper by Greg Smith; Buff-rumped Warbler by Sandy Sorkin; Fiery-billed Aracari by Henry Ralston; Silver-throated Tanager by Greg Smith; Scarlet Macaws by Robert Hill; King Vulture by Doug Greenberg; Orange-collared Manakin by Bud Ferguson; Beach at Tiskita, courtesy Tiskita.com; Boa by Robert Gallardo; Coati courtesy of Naturalist Journeys Stock; Horned Guan by Sandy Sorkin; Red-lored Parrot by Peg Abbott; Three-toed Sloth by Liam Moore; Squirrel Monkey by Greg Smith; Crested Caracara by

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