- Full Itinerary
- Photo Gallery
- Travel Details
- Trip Reports
- Know Before You Go
- Other Trips You May Like
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. Because of this rich diversity, Costa Rica has remained at the top of our list for traveler satisfaction, with talented guides, superb nature lodges, and fabulous birds and mammals.
This December, we invite you to celebrate the holiday season with us on an carefully-crafted weeklong tour. On this journey we traverse the Continental Divide, from lowland rainforest to cloud forest. Glide down a river looking for secretive birds such as Sunbittern and Green Ibis, several species of kingfisher, Green Iguana, and Mantled Howler Monkey. Relax at a mountain lodge and witness Northern Emerald-Toucanet and Collared Redstart in the wild Savegre Valley, a special place where Resplendent Quetzal nest and American Dipper feed in the rushing stream.
We spend several of our days on both the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the Continental Divide, with excellent field time in the highlands and lowlands. We feature two of our favorite lodges, and with three nights at each there’s no need to rush. We can search for fabulous birds and mammals, have fun, taste local foods, and have time for photography if you like. We enjoy sharing in Costa Rican customs while we experience our hosts’ exceptional hospitality.
- "Our guide was absolutely outstanding. Extremely knowledgeable - great spotter!, kind, generous, funny. He knows the birds, the country, the field trips, the locations. He had many surprise destinations for us with beautiful scenery and lots of birds." — 2023 Traveler
- "The trip met my expectations exactly. I wanted to see lots of interesting birds and take some pictures, both of which I was able to do...It was extremely well organized and there were no logistical problems at all." — Jim Majure, 2023 Traveler
- "Magical - trip of a lifetime! An amazing exploration of beautiful places that one doesn't often hear about in CR. An abundance and diversity of birds and wildlife." — 2023 Traveler
- "Amazing! If I’d seen a fraction of the birds we saw I would’ve been thrilled..." — 2023 Traveler
- “Experienced Costa Rica from coast to coast. Had amazing guides having incredible knowledge of the birds, wildlife and fauna in Costa Rica. These guys were the best guides I’ve ever had in knowledge of birds, butterflies, habitats and general knowledge of Costa Rica. Also, they were very personable and caring to the participants.” — Caroline DePalma, 2023 Traveler
- “Superb - Birds, Bugs, Blooms, Butterflies and Best Guides! Hard to list all the highlights…Where would I start? The Great Potoo? The American Pygmy Kingfisher? The Three-Wattled Bell Bird? The Hummingbirds? The boat trips. The Eyelash Viper. The Bark Scorpion in our bathroom? How in the name of heavens did Johan and Robert find all those birds? Incredible guides! They kindly adjusted to the varied speeds and limitations of the group members. We were blessed.” — Janet Barrett, 2023 Traveler.
- “A varied and very enjoyable look at several different habitats in a country I knew little about before going there. I had three "target birds" - tiger heron, sun bittern, and swallow-tailed kite - and saw all three of them well. We had two excellent boat trips, on the Cano Negro wetlands and the Tarcoles River estuary. Saw great birds and other wildlife close-up.” — Adrienne Lovelock, 2023 Traveler
- Enjoy bright, birdy gardens right from our San José hotel
- Immerse in the stunning Savegre Valley, realm of the Resplendent Quetzal
- Cruise on a boat safari down the Sarapiqui River looking for Agami Heron and elusive Sunbittern
- Discover the La Selva Biological Station, one of the premier tropical research stations in the world
- Watch for fast-moving feeding flocks on Quebrada Gonzalez Trail in Braulio Carrillo National Park
- Ride the aerial tram at Tapirus Lodge to get eye level with wildlife—bring your camera!
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Wed., Dec. 20: Arrival in San José
How about Christmas in Costa Rica! Get ready for a festive time as you land in San José where you are met at the airport 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 eco-friendly hotel with a commitment to our planet and hospitality. Those arriving in time can enjoy a welcome dinner with fellow traveling companions and your guide. Those that arrive later than dinner have a snack tray on arrival.
Accommodations at Hotel Bougainvillea (D)
Thurs., Dec. 21 – Sat., Dec. 23: Selva Verde Lodge
Our next three nights are at the beautiful Selva Verde Lodge, nestled on a private 500 acre reserve deep in the rainforest just two hours from San Jose. Over the next few days our birding locations may include:
Exploring the Lodge Grounds
Selva Verde’s reserve just beckons to be explored. Walk the lodge trails with your guide looking tiny frogs, stunning insects and a bird list that includes a rich variety of tanagers, comical Keel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucans, elusive Sunbittern, extravagant Great Green Macaw, and more. Fruit feeders attract stunning Collared Aracari and hummingbird feeders are abuzz with favorite species like Black-crested Coquette and Violet- crowned Woodnymph to name just a few!
Guayabo National Park
Guayabo National Monument is a fascinating archaeological site where rocks are carved into figures in many stylized forms. Established in 1973, it is the largest and one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Costa Rica. While it does not rival the great Maya civilization sites, this complex settlement lies in a beautiful valley, perched on the side of a mountain. 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 excavated ruins.
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 or Slaty-breasted Tinamous, Great Potoo, and possibly Bare-necked Umbrellabird. We should see Crimson-collared and Golden-hooded Tanagers, Rufous Motmot, endemic Black-cheeked Woodpecker, beautiful Snowy Cotinga, and, high on thermals above, King Vulture. Pied Puffbird and Great Jacamar are sit-and-wait predators that dart from perches to capture large insects. Orange-billed Sparrow are gaudy 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.
Sarapiqui River Boat Tour
In the late afternoon, we venture out on the Sarapiqui River for a boat trip; late afternoon is a great time to find secretive birds like Sunbittern, Green Ibis, Fasciated Tiger-Heron, several kingfishers, herons, and egrets. Yellow- naped and White-crowned Parrots make raucous noise overhead, joined by the smaller Olive-throated Parakeet. It’s beautiful to be out on the water where the temperature is cool and views of the mountains are spectacular.
Braulio Carrillo National Park
Views of the rain forest here are incredible. Although there are few trails in this massive park, the Quebrada Gonzalez Trail is a decidedly rich and productive one. Fast-moving feeding flocks, often led by Black-faced Grosbeak, can contain a host of striking and local species such as Streak-crowned Antvireo, Black-and-yellow Tanager, and Blue-and-gold Tanager. Away from such flocks, we also keep a sharp eye out for the animated White-ruffed Manakin and majestic Ornate Hawk-Eagle. Crowned Woodnymph, Silver-throated Tanager, and Golden-hooded Tanager may also make an appearance.
Accommodations at Selva Verde (B,L,D)
Sun., Dec. 24 – Tues., Dec. 26: Trogon Lodge
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. 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.
Enjoy delicious local coffee each morning while watching the feeding frenzy in action at the lodge’s hummingbird feeders, with such avian jewels as White-throated Mountain-gem, Lesser Violetear, and Talamanca Hummingbird.
Exploring the Lodge Grounds
Walk the lodge’s many nature trails, learning about the flora and fauna of the tropical cloud forest. We also learn about how these mountains, isolated over millennia, lead to the speciation of over forty bird species found nowhere else in the world. Some of these are delightfully common near the lodge, such as Black Guan, Long- tailed Silky-flycatcher, and Collared Redstart. We may also spot the normally shy Spotted Wood-Quail rooting around in the leaf litter behind the rooms.
Cerro de la Muerte
Travel up the Pan-American Highway to a scenic ridgeline known as the Cerro de la Muerte (Mountain of Death), part of the Talamanca Mountains. These 11,000 foot peaks were named for early explorers who, traveling on foot or by mule, risked dying of hunger, exposure, or storms. The summit is often cloud-enshrouded, but offers incredible views, history, and fascinating birds.
Paraíso de Quetzales
Stop at the family-run cloud-forest reserve, Paraíso de Quetzales. Here we walk lush forest trails in search of Costa Rica’s most famous and elegant bird, the Resplendent Quetzal, arguably the most beautiful bird in the Americas. Walking the cloud forest trails, we often find a host of other species as well.
Rio Savegre Valley’s Montane Cloud Forests
From our lodge, there are plentiful mountain trails that we can explore. We walk the local road where we get an excellent view of these beautiful Talamanca Range forests and their fantastic residents, like Flame-throated Warbler, Flame-colored Tanager, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Yellow-winged Vireo, Wrenthrush, and Golden-browed Chlorophonia. 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, Slate-throated Redstart, Large-footed Finch, and Sooty Thrush.
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. Take time to really observe this bromelidad-clad realm in detail.
For those that wish, a loop hike can be taken up and around a ridgeline above the lodge. The path is steep but you may be rewarded by an encounter with mixed flocks and some of the more elusive species. Or, choose to relax and let the birds come to you closer to our lovely hotel.
Share in local traditions today, a leisurely day around the lodge. The hummingbird feeders are a favorite of our photographers, but small trails wind among the garden, and a quiet road traverses the valley. Birds are usually numerous around the gardens, with Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, White-naped Brushfinch, Volcano Hummingbird, and Silver-throated Tanager among the usual visitors. With little to no driving we can be surrounded by beauty and birds on this special day.
Locals raise fruit on the hillsides and farm trout in small ponds. Walking the quiet road between our lodge and some neighboring ones, we may see several dozen species. Other locals have put out hummingbird and fruit feeders as well, one has a lovely patio and a commanding view of the valley. Enjoy coffee or have a piece of homemade bread while watching Acorn Woodpecker, Flame-colored Tanager, Mountain Thrush, and Fiery- throated Hummingbird attending the feeders.
Drinks are on us tonight as we toast the holiday and time spent at one of our favorite lodges.
Accommodations at Trogon Lodge (B,L,D)
Wed., Dec. 27 : Trogon Lodge to San Jose | Bougainvillea Hotel
Enjoy good coffee and breakfast and a gentle morning of birding the lodge grounds, then it’s time to pack up and work our way back to San Jose. It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Trogon Lodge to the Bougainvillea hotel and we enjoy lunch en route. Then, we settle in and enjoy a quiet afternoon of birding the hotel’s labyrinth of birdy gardens. We celebrate our trip with a final dinner tonight.
Accommodation at the Hotel Bougainvillea (B,L,D)
Thurs., Dec. 28: Departures
You may depart at leisure today. Remember, a mid-morning to early afternoon flight may be most comfortable for you and give you a gentle departure rather than a super early start. (B)
Savegre Mountain Lodge, courtesy savegre.com
Acorn Woodpecker. Photo Credit: Greg Smith
Agouti. Photo Credit: Greg Smith
Amazon Kingfisher. Photo Credit: Sandy Sorkin
Black-cheeked Woodpecker. Photo Credit: Sandy Sorkin
Blue Dacnis. Photo Credit: Sandy Sorkin
Blue Jeans Frog. Photo Credit: Sandy Sorkin
Lesson's Motmot. Photo Credit: Peg Abbott
Blue-gray Tanager. Photo Credit: Greg Smith
Butterfly. Photo Credit: Greg Smith
Collared Aracari. Photo Credit: Greg Smith
Orange-billed Sparrow. Photo Credit: Carlos Sanchez
Three-toed Sloth. Photo Credit: Carlos Sanchez
Resplendent Quetzal. Photo Credit: Carlos Sanchez
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey is $3690 DBL / $4250 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. With fewer than six participants, a small group surcharge (typically $100 – $300 per participant) may apply. 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.
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
Arrival and Departure Airport: Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose
Arrival Details: Plan to arrive December 20, no later than 5:00 PM if you wish to join the group for dinner
Departure Details: Plan flight departures on December 28, after 12:00 PM
Travel Tips: If you arrive early to rest up from your travels, we can book extra nights for you with a transfer to our hotel, the Hotel Bougainvillea, which is in a residential area of the city. If you prefer to stay downtown and see the city, we have a few hotel recommendations below. If you choose to stay downtown, you’ll need to arrange a taxi or driver with the hotel to return to the airport for pickup or go out to the Bougainvillea to enjoy its gardens on the tour start date. There are many things to see in San Jose if you’re up for exploring! If you enjoy museums, you’re in luck because some of the best in Costa Rica are located right in San Jose. The Museo Nacional de Costa Rica has exhibits highlighting the archaeology and history of Costa Rica as well as a butterfly garden. The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum has one of the largest collections of gold artifacts in Latin America, some of which date back to 500 CE. If you’re looking to do some shopping or try some local food, head over to the Mercado Central (Central Market). You’ll find vendors selling fruits and vegetables, local food dishes, and a wide variety of souvenirs.
Visa Information: US nationals do not require an entry visa to Costa Rica for a tour of this length.
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
- January 2018
- October 2018
- January 2019
- March 2019
- January 2020
- March 2021
- December 2021 (Christmas in Costa Rica)
- February 2022
- March 2022
- December 2022
- January 2023
- February 2023
- July 2023
- October 2023
Andrew has birded all the southern coastal states, from South Carolina to Texas, and more diverse states and habitats from the mossy rainforests and mountains of Washington to the conifers and bogs of Minnesota to the winter seabirds of New York's Long Island. The dry and desert states of the Southwest have been favorites of Andrew's, from the furthest southwest point in the US to the high mountains and plains of Northern Colorado. Further afield, numerous visits to Mexico, 25+ trips to Central America and 17+ trips to northern South America including Guyana has enabled Andrew to become familiar with the birds of those regions. Some 15 tours to Greater Antilles places him in the top 20 eBirded species in the Greater Antilles. Andrew’s also birded and led tours to several other Caribbean Islands. In addition to Dauphin Island he also leads Naturalist Journeys tours in the Southeast US and Central/Southe America. His many trips to Southeast Asia, and of course a lifetime of experience in Australia and New Zealand round out his wildlife experiences.
Photo credit: Peg Abbott
Other trips with Andrew Haffenden
Best of Belize Full! Check out our Best of Belize tour in FebruaryJanuary 13 - 21, 2024
Best of Guatemala: Birding & Culture FULL - Check out Best of Belize in March!March 12 - 22, 2024, w/Tikal extension
Alabama’s Dauphin Island FULL - Check out Shorebird School on Alabama’s Dauphin IslandApril 13 - 18, 2024
Shorebird School on Alabama’s Dauphin IslandApril 23 - 28, 2024
Belize: Green SeasonJuly 20 - 27, 2024
Georgia Coastal Birding Little St. Simons Island & SavannahSeptember 27 - October 4, 2024
Guyana: Unspoiled WildernessOctober 4 - 16, 2024
- Best of Belize
Essential Information +
This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!
Ahead of Your Tour
- Make sure your passport will be valid at least three months after the date of your scheduled return to the U.S. No Visas are required for U.S. citizens for stays less than 90 days in Costa Rica. If you are from another country, please contact the Embassy of Costa Rica’s website for guidelines.
- Please check current CDC recommendations for travel to Costa Rica and consult with your doctor about general travel vaccinations you should have as precaution for travel. See the “General Health and Inoculations” section below.
Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is strongly recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance.
- Plan your international flight reservations to arrive into and depart from San José’s Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO). Send a copy to the Naturalist Journeys office please.
- Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
Arrival into Juan Santa María International (SJO), San José, Costa Rica
Please note: If you are delayed in travel, please refer to your emergency contact list, and contact your ground operator, with a copy to our office. You may also phone or text your guide. Quite a few of your guides will set up a WhatsApp connection so you can also reach your guide by phone.
Plan to arrive in San José ideally before 5:00 PM if you wish to join the welcome dinner at the hotel. If your flight arrives after 6:00 PM 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 early (at your own cost) to take in sights of the city. We have blocked a limited number of early night rooms at the Hotel Bougainvillea for this; after they are taken it will be on an as available basis but we are happy to help. You can also arrive to an airport hotel with a shuttle if coming in late the night ahead.
As you arrive at the airport, your Emergency Contact list, sent ahead of the tour, will be helpful when passing through immigration and they ask where you will be staying. You should pick your luggage up from the carousel, and then leave the baggage claim area where you will then go through customs (where all they'll do is a quick security scan of your bags).
After that, you'll gather your bags and exit this area, and your driver will be waiting for you just outside with a sign. There will likely be multiple drivers out there waiting, so look carefully! But he or she will be there. Your name should be on the sign, or possibly it will say Naturalist Journeys. We will coordinate all this once we have your completed travel information. Please make sure we have both your ARRIVAL and DEPARTURE information, so they can plan this. It is imperative that we have your correct TRAVEL information; we appreciate if you email us a copy of your flight reservation.
Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.
Departures from Juan Santa María International (SJO), San José, Costa Rica
You have to be at the airport about three hours ahead of your scheduled flight on this return, so we do not advise booking early morning flights; late-morning is fine.
We will provide transfers for all departures through noon of the departure day, according to your flight schedules. Whenever possible we will keep the group together for this transfer. The departure fee is now typically built into your airline fare.
Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.
Passports, Visas & Documents
You must have a passport that is in good condition and is valid for three months AFTER your scheduled return to the U.S. You should have at least one blank page per stamp. The blank pages need to say “Visas” at the top. Pages marked “Amendments and Endorsements” will not be accepted. If you are from another country, please contact the Costa Rican embassy website for guidelines. Information for U.S. citizens can be found at: travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/CostaRica.html
It is always smart to check for changes 60-90 days before tour departs but at the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required for stays of this tour's duration. You will need proof of a return ticket. The necessary documents will be distributed by your airline while in flight or provided for you upon arrival. We advise that you bring your eContact list of hotels for use at immigration as well.
As a precaution for lost or misplaced documents you carry on your person during travel, we highly recommend you keep hard and digital backup copies on your phone (either photo or PDF scan), as well as a hard copy left with your emergency contact at home. The recommended important documents to copy include, but are not limited to; your passport ID page, travel visa, the front and back of your credit card(s), the airline barcode on your luggage. This will greatly expedite getting new ones if necessary – we hope everyone will always keep travel documents close so that losing them will not be an issue.
General Health & Inoculations Information – Be Prepared!
We will share your health information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important as we want to be best prepared in case of medical emergency.
Anti-malarial drugs are not required for any area that you visit. There are occasional reports of Dengue Fever in lower elevation areas, for which there is no vaccine. Dengue fever, Zika, and other diseases are contacted by mosquito bites so be sure to use mosquito repellant containing DEET or Picaridin. Travelers can reduce their risk of disease by protecting themselves from mosquito bites in lower elevation areas by using protective clothing.
Vaccinations: At the time of writing there were no required vaccinations to enter Costa Rica, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever infected area. The CDC recommends that all travelers be up to date with routine vaccinations and basic travel vaccines (such as Hepatitis A and Typhoid) before traveling to any destination. A helpful website for planning is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (USA) or by phone (800) CDC-INFO or (800) 232-4636.
Prescriptions and Allergies: It is a good idea to pack any meds you take regularly in your carry-on luggage. Bring an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses. Bring an adequate supply of any prescription medications you use, a copy of the prescription and a list of generic names of your medicines as “back-up” in case it is necessary to purchase drugs while abroad. You’ll want to keep medications in their original, labeled containers. It is also recommended to carry with you an up-to-date record of known allergies, chronic medical problems and Medic Alerts so that, if necessary, emergency treatment can be carried out without endangering your health.
Common Ailments: We recommend that you bring a travel-sized first aid kit and a supply of standard over-the-counter medications for common ailments (such as upset stomach, headache, motion sickness, diahhrea, minor scrapes, bug bites, etc.).
Weather & Climate
Lush rainforests, and tropical dry forests occur here due to the hot, humid climate and it’s just a part of the experience. In lower elevation areas it will be hot. Mountain environments and areas around San José are cooler, and you will want a light fleece or jacket in the evenings and early mornings.
In general, the weather during your stay should be warm to hot (77-90 °F) in the lowlands, cooler (60’s-70’s °F) in the mountains during the day, and chilly (40’s-50’s°F) early morning and night. Weather can be unpredictable; raingear is on the suggested packing list - a light rain jacket or poncho is good and YES - do bring an umbrella. Your raincoat can double as a layer to combine with a light jacket possibly some evenings.
Annoyances & Hazards
Mosquitoes can occur in the forests; therefore, a supply of insect repellent containing DEET is essential. At grassland or farm locations you may encounter chiggers, if so, spray your shoes with repellent, and tuck your pants into your socks, this helps a lot. When back, be sure to shower and air out your clothing. Chiggers are a part of lowland and mid-elevation habitats throughout Central and South America. Your guide should have a good read on if it has been wet enough that they are active. There can also be poisonous snakes and insects, though encountering them is rare. Do listen carefully to any advice given by your local guide. And remember the sun is strong and be prepared with proper protection.
Food & Drinks
Menus at lodges and restaurants are varied, sustainably based on the wonderful local ingredients available, and delightfully prepared in a sanitary environment. As with any case when traveling we urge you to consider what your body is used to before you eat something. Trust your common sense when consuming food and beverages. This is the best way to avoid any unwanted problems. Ask for recommendations from your hotel or refer to a guidebook such as Frommers. Meals reflect the contributions of American, European, Spanish, and local cuisines.
Bottled water will be available for field trips and drinking water is provided for you to refill a bottle. One of the many ways we strive to do our part for the environment is by trying to reduce our consumption of plastics; if convenient we appreciate if you can bring reusable water bottles. Your guide will let you know when bottled water is preferable.
Packing, Clothing & Laundry
Dress is very informal and laundry services are available for a fee at our lodges. While some people will change for dinner, it is usually just to a drier or cleaner version of what they wore during the day. Again, the climate is warm to hot, so you will be comfortable in lightweight clothing.
Please, pack light. We are serious about this – we move around a lot; you just do not need much to cope with tropical life! Please do not bring anything more than you must. Lay out your hopeful things to take and then do a serious paring down please!
TRAVEL TIP: Imagine NOT getting your suitcase. Wear your most important shoes for the field and have one day’s clothing change (including a change of underwear!). And please do not pack any essential medications, or your vital optics, in your checked luggage!
The official currency of Costa Rica is the colón (CRC). For the current exchange rate, please refer to an online converter tool like www.xe.com, or your bank. The U.S. dollar is also frequently accepted by businesses in Costa Rica. You’ll want to bring small denominations of U.S. dollars ($1, $5, $10, $20) in good condition. We advise you carry a mix of different types of payments, such as cash, an ATM card, and a credit card.
Since U.S. dollars are widely accepted, there is no need to exchange currency before your trip. You will want to exchange a small amount of money once you’re in Costa Rica to have local currency for situations that may require it. Local vendors, particularly for crafts, and smaller food establishments, only take local currency. You will be able to change money after your arrival at ATMs, banks, or hotels. ATM machines are available in San José, and in larger cities, but not as readily as they are in the US. The ATM will give you local money and your bank will convert that into U.S. Dollars. Many banks charge a fee of $1 - $5 each time you use a foreign ATM. Others may charge you a percentage of the amount you withdraw. Check with your bank before departure. You must become familiar with how to use your ATM card and PIN number ahead of the journey.
Many people ask how much money to plan to bring for spending money. Part of that depends on how much you want to shop. Typical items people purchase include: local souvenirs, handicrafts and T-shirts, drinks before or with dinner and natural history books. We recommend having at least $400 USD with you and the ability to get more through an ATM if needed. If you have no ATM access, we recommend $600 with some tucked away safely, just in case!
Credit cards are commonly accepted throughout Costa Rica. We suggest you have more than one card available, if possible. You may want to bring more than one brand of card (one Visa, and one MasterCard; American Express is less accepted). At some lodges you can keep a drink tab and pay with credit card upon checkout. Not every shop will accept every card. Some smaller shops and restaurants require cash, so it is always a good idea to ask before making a purchase. Also, we recommend that you advise your bank or credit card company that you will be traveling to Costa Rica to avoid questions, card freezes, or charges. If you have a choice of cards, bring one with no foreign exchange fees.
Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted. They can be difficult to exchange. We do not advise you use them.
Tipping is optional and completely at your discretion. If you would like to show our appreciation to your guides and hotel staff or anyone associated with this tour, it is entirely appropriate. Know that they appreciate anything you care to give and of course you can do more if you wish!
Here is a standard suggestion for tipping on birding trips:
- Birding tour guide: US $10.00 - $15.00 per day per guest
Note: If there is more than one guide, this can be split among them, so that is a total, per person, per day
- Tour driver if different from guide: US $5.00 - $7.00 per person/day
- Lodge staff: US $6.00 - $10.00 per day per guest
- Transfer (airport shuttle) driver: US $2.00 - $3.00 per person
- Hotel & international airport bellmen: US $1.00 per suitcase
You may wish to bring small gifts for local people that you meet and enjoy (this is totally optional!). T-shirts, school supplies like pens and small notebooks, inexpensive watches and baseball caps are always popular. Your guides can pass along school supplies to a local school if you bring them. They also love any nature books/coloring books.
Cell Phones & Internet Service
If you plan on using your cell phone on this trip, please check with your wireless provider to see if your
phone and service will work in your destination country. Ask for “international roaming” to be activated on your phone. Or you can buy a local SIM card at the airport and insert this in your mobile phone (just make certain your phone can accept one)
If your phone can connect to Wi-Fi, you may be able to make voice and video calls free of charge. Please contact your cell phone provider for further details. Another option if you have access to Wi-Fi, is to use smartphone apps like Skype, WhatsApp, or Viber to send text messages, and make voice calls, or video calls. Many smartphones, tablets, or laptops come with one of these apps pre-installed or you can download for free. If bringing a laptop or tablet, get a good dustcover to protect it at all times.
Make sure if you do NOT want to use your cell phone that you turn off your cellular data. You could incur huge charges if you are not on Wi-Fi. Putting your phone in airplane mode if you mainly use it for photos will save the battery as well.
Please refrain from taking or making cell phone calls in the vehicles when traveling with other passengers, unless it appears to be an emergency. This disrupts other guests, plan on cell phone call use on your own time.
Your hotels and most local restaurants provide Wi-Fi at least in their common areas. Although it is generally a reliable service, it can be affected by adverse weather conditions due to the remote location.
The standard in Costa Rica is the same as in the United States: 110-120 volts AC (60 cycles). Plugs are set up in the same style. However, three-pronged outlets can be scarce, so it's helpful to bring along an adapter for a two-prong outlet. If your appliances plug has a different shape, you may need a plug adapter. For more information: www.power-plugs-sockets.com/costa-rica
Costa Rica is on the same time as our Central Zone in the US. Check https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/costa-rica before leaving home for your conversion.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at email@example.com or telephone our office:(520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey!
Pace & Protocols +
Pace of the Tour & What to Expect
You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.
Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.
The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.
We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.
Naturalist Journeys International Trips: Guide Role
Naturalist Journeys supports ecotourism and the development of excellent local guides. Once we know our international partners and guides well, we can send out small groups working directly with these trusted partners, adding a Naturalist Journeys guide to assist the local expert when we have a group of 6-7 or more. This helps us keep your costs down while retaining tour quality. The local guide is your main guide. You can expect your Naturalist Journeys guide to be well-researched and often they are experienced in the destination, but their role is not to be primary, it is to help to organize logistics, help you find birds, mammals, and interesting other species in the field, keep reports, help facilitate group interactions, and to keep the trip within Naturalist Journeys' style. Local guides live in the countries we travel to, know the destinations intimately, and are often the strongest force for conservation in their countries. They open many doors for us to have a rich experience.
Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.
As a courtesy to each other, we ask that all travelers please rotate seating. On international trips we may all be in one small bus, on some trips we are in vans, particularly the roomy Sprinter Vans when available. Some areas require us to be in smaller 4-wheel drive or safari vehicles. Rotation allows you to sit with different drivers and alternate front and back seating.
Photo Release & Sharing
We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.
By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives’ permission to record on photography film and/or video, pictures of my participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochure, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.
You are traveling in remote areas. Naturalist Journeys strongly recommends you have full medical and evacuation insurance from a company such as Allianz, for all international travel. If you do not have medical coverage or evacuation coverage on your existing travel insurance policy or for some reason elected not to take that out, we advise getting an evacuation plan with Global Rescue, World Nomads, Medjet, Allianz (they can do evacuation only) or a similar company. These plans are typically $300-$400 for a year for multiple destinations. This coverage may be a part of a larger Travel Insurance policy but can also be purchased on its own.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.
Packing List +
Please Pack Light!
Soft luggage is much easier for us to pack than a more rigid hard sided piece, so if you have the choice, please use your soft luggage. Be sure to have your name and address on the inside of the bag, as well as on the luggage tag on the handle. It is our hope that you can pack in one checked suitcase that does not exceed 45 pounds. Be sure to pack your personal medication, airline tickets, passport, binoculars, camera, and other essential items in your carry-on bag. You will want a day pack for field trips, so this is an ideal carry-on. Please reconfirm your airline’s baggage weight and size restrictions about a week or so before departure.
In general, the weather during your stay should be warm to hot (75-85°F) in the lowlands and on the coast, and cool in the mountains, 60’s-70’s°F in the mountain’s daytime, 40’s-50’s°F early morning and night. Dress is comfortable and informal throughout the trip. Dressing in layers is the best way to be comfortable. Lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants make ideal field clothing as they are more protective from sun and vegetation. But if you like to wear them, by all means bring some shorts. Also, choose clothing you don’t mind getting dirty or muddy and things that are comfortable and easy. A light jacket should be enough in the cooler evenings and on boat rides. Costa Rica’s rainy or “green season” is May to mid-November, so raingear and an umbrella are on the list.
Note on clothing colors and insect repellent: We recommend muted colors of tan, brown, khaki, grey or green, as they are spotted less easily than white or bright colors, though camouflage clothing is not recommended. It is possible to purchase field clothing permeated with insect repellent such as Craghoppers Insect Shield collection. Another approach is to purchase Permethrin spray (online or from REI) to treat your field clothing and socks before your departure.
Clothing and Gear
- Lightweight long pants, 2-3 pair
- Lightweight long-sleeved shirts – 2 or 3
- Shorts (optional, not generally recommended)
- T-shirts or equivalent (1 per day or every other day recommended – Remember that you may be buying some there anyway!)
- Long-sleeve shirt for layering or cooler days when at higher elevation
- Personal underclothing
- Socks – lightweight and easy to wash and dry
- Comfortable but sturdy walking/hiking shoes such as tennis shoes and lightweight hiking boots. Please note that forest trails will be on uneven terrain and may be muddy – bring shoes with good support and firm grip tread
- Walking stick – we find that many travelers appreciate a walking stick on trails, sporting goods stores carry collapsible models that pack easily in your suitcase (optional)
- Sandals for evenings, travel days and for wearing on boats (optional, Teva style are great)
- Lightweight raincoat or poncho
- Lightweight jacket, fleece fabric is ideal, very important as it can be cool in the mountains
- Light gloves, hat and scarf for mountains
- Comfortable clothes for evening (a cleaner version of your field clothes or a skirt, sun dress, etc.)
- Bathing suit (optional)
- Hat with broad brim
- Bandanna (optional, great for cooling off when you are hot and sweaty. They even make them with a gel inside for several hours of cooling)
Equipment and Miscellaneous
- E-ticket verification
- Passport, visa (if required), travel insurance info, money & credit cards.
- A secure pouch to carry the items above on your person at all times (such as a secure, under-clothing document pouch)
- As a backup: copies of all the above (phone and/or paper) packed in a separate location than on your person, plus a set given to your emergency contact at home as a backup. For passport, copy of the ID and entry stamp pages.
- Small daypack or fanny pack for carrying your field gear
- Umbrella, compact and not brightly colored (this is great when it rains, you can continue using your binoculars!)
- Small day pack or fanny pack for carrying your field gear
- Small flashlight with fresh batteries. Please note that if you like to read at night, lighting in other countries is often poor in the rooms, and you may want to bring a book light, headlamp, or flashlight for this purpose
- Alarm clock, or use your cell phone
- Sunscreen/lip balm or equivalent with SPF
- Sunglasses with neck strap
- Insect repellent (something containing 20% or more DEET, and sulfur powder or other for chiggers if you can find it – typically available in the garden section of stores)
- Toilet articles
- Spotting scope and tripod (optional)
- Camera and extra batteries, film, lens cleaning supplies and your instruction manual (optional)
- Water bottle
- Notebook or journal and pen (optional)
- Spanish phrase dictionary (optional)
- Field guides (optional)
- Sink plug (often not available, a flat universal one is easiest to use)
- Washcloth (again, available some places and not at others)
- Laundry soap if you plan to do hand washing
- Earplugs – in urban and even rural areas barking dogs and traffic noise can be annoying. In general Costa Rica is noisier than the US
- Rechargeable power bank (optional)
WE DO NOT RECOMMEND TRAVELING WITH PRECIOUS OR VALUABLE JEWELRY – don’t tempt anyone and don’t bring things you’d regret losing - your mind will be at ease!
Medical and First Aid Supplies
- Heath insurance and vaccination information (kept in personal pouch with other travel documents)
- Personal medication
- Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed on bus, van, drives, etc.
- Personal first aid kit and medications for general ailments (Imodium or Lomotil, antihistamine cream or tablets, eye drops, etc.)
- Copy of eyeglass prescription, copy of medical prescriptions, and any medical alerts
- Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
- Band-aids, moleskin to protect against blisters
- Hand Sanitizer
Suggested Reading List +
There are many titles of interest for Costa Rica; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started.
Merlin App – Costa Rica Pack. A phone-based birding app from Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. Before departing the U.S., download the app for free, then from within the app, download the “pack” for Costa Rica.
Wildlife & Nature
History & Culture
There is a good selection of books available for sale at visitors’ centers, and your guide will also have a selection of reference books and materials for participants to share. As an Amazon Associate, Naturalist Journeys earns from qualifying purchases, and may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page at no added cost to you.
Useful Links +
General Overview of Costa Rica
San José, Costa Rica
Nature, Wildlife & Biology
Birds of Costa Rica
Bird checklist - eBird (You may also search lodge websites for lodge checklists)
“Birding in Costa Rica at Paraíso de Quetzales”– Nice blog entry
Endemic Species of Costa Rica
Flora of Costa Rica
Talamancan Montane Forests
Cerro de la Muerte
Conservation, Parks & Reserves
Conservation International on Costa Rica
Guayabo National Monument
La Selva Research Station, Organization for Tropical Studies
Braulio Carrillo National Park
Geology & Geography
Geology of Costa Rica
Geography of Costa Rica
History & Culture
History & Culture of Costa Rica
Cuisine of Costa Rica
Helpful Travel Websites
Juan Santa María International Airport (SJO)
National Passport Information Center
Homeland Security Real ID Act
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Foreign Exchange Rates
U.S. Department of State International Travel Information – Costa Rica
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Costa Rica
Canada Travel Advice and Advisories – Costa Rica
Travel Health Pro (UK) – Costa Rica
Electricity and Plugs – Costa Rica
Date, Time, and Holidays – Costa Rica
Photo credits: Banners: Green Thorntail by Willy Alfaro; Howler Monkey by Peg Abbott; Resplendent Quetzal by Greg Smith; Lizard by Sandy Sorkin; Red-eyed Tree Frog by Greg Smith; Green Violetear, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Golden-hooded Tanager, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Passion Flower by Willy Alfaro; White-fronted Capuchins by Peg Abbott; Long-winged Butterfly by Willy Alfaro; Savegre River by Willy Alfaro; Passion Flower by Willy Alfaro; Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher by Bud Ferguson; Orchid at Hotel Bougainvillea, Greg Smith; Snowcap, Sandy Sorking; Black-faced Grosbeak, Sandy Sorkin; Silver-throated Tanager, Greg Smith; Holden-hooded Tanager, Peg Abbott Maquenque Lodge, courtesy of the lodge; Resplendent Quetzal, Greg Smith; Bromeliads, Greg Smith; Flame-colored Tanager, Greg Smith; Eyelash Pit Viper, Sandy Sorkin; Savegre Mountain Lodge, courtesy savegre.com; Acorn Woodpecker, Greg Smith; Agouti, Greg Smith; Amazon Kingfisher, Sandy Sorkin; Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Greg Smith; Blue Dacnis, Sandy Sorkin; Blue Jean Frog, Sandy Sorkin; Lesson's Motmot, Peg Abbott; Blue-gray Tanager, Greg Smith; Butterfly, Greg Smith; Collared Aracari, Greg Smith; Orange-billed Sparrow, Carlos Sanchez; Three-toed Sloth, Carlos Sanchez. Resplendent Quetzal, Carlos Sanchez.