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Few places rival Costa Rica’s ecological diversity. Over a quarter of the country is protected lands, boasting 850 bird species and 200+ mammals. Costa Rica has remained at the top of our list for traveler satisfaction, with talented guides, superb nature lodges, and fabulous birds and mammals.
On this journey, search La Selva Biological Station for Neotropical specialties. 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.
- "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
- Discover the gorgeous Resplendent Quetzal in a cloud forest at a private reserve
- Enjoy amazing views of Flame-throated Warbler, Flame-colored Tanager, and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher in the Rio Savegre Valley
- Marvel at close-up hummingbird viewing from the verandah at Rancho Naturalista, perhaps even the one of a kind Snowcap
- Explore and bird the fascinating archaeological site of Guayabo
- 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 Sunbittern, Green Ibis, and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Tues., Jan. 16 : Arrival in San José
Welcome to Costa Rica! Today you arrive in San José where you are met at the airport by a representative from Horizontes, 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 fellow traveling companions and guide. Those that arrive later than dinner have a snack tray on arrival.
Accommodations at Hotel Bougainvillea (D)
Wed., Jan. 17 : Cerro de la Muerte | Cartago | Mirador Quetzales
Those who wish are welcome to get out early and walk the gardens, looking for birds and enjoying the great diversity of tropical flowers.
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 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, Paraíso 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 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 Trogon Lodge (B,L,D)
Thurs., Jan. 18 : Rio Savegre Valley | Montane Cloud Forests
Today 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, 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.
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 Redstart, 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 Trogon Lodge (B,L,D)
Fri., Jan. 19 : Frog’s Heaven | Sarapiqui
We can hardly tear ourselves away but we pack up and head to another biological hotspot, the Sarapiqui Region, famous for its lush lowland tropical forest.
Today we stop at a little gem, a former farm restored for wildlife known as Frog’s Heaven. Beginning in 2009, the owners began a project to plant trees and create habitat where native frogs could find shelter and a place to go through their metamorphosis. The density of frogs is just plain FUN, and quite a marvel to experience. Photographers can enjoy some close-up moments with poison-dart and other frogs. And the property gives shelter to a number of birds, including a good array of woodpeckers and beautiful Red-legged Honeycreeper are often busy at feeders.
We continue on, then get settled in at our hotel, which lies just down the road from the famous La Selva Biological Research Station. Nature is all around us.
Accommodations at La Quinta de Sarapiqui (B,L,D)
Sat., Jan. 20 : 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 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.
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.
Accommodations at La Quinta de Sarapiqui (B,L,D)
Sun., Jan. 21 : Caño Negro | Optional Night Tour
Awaken to sounds of the forest. After breakfast, we pack up to have time to bird and explore as we drive to our next lodge. We arrive in time to have lunch at Caño Negro.
We settle into delightful lodgings at the lowest elevation of our tour. Our comfortable rooms have well-designed furniture, ceiling fans, and air conditioning. We arrive in time to watch colorful tanagers and parakeets at the feeders. Garden birds include Spot-breasted Wren, White-tipped Dove, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Orange-chinned Parakeet, and more. At dusk, watch the sky for Red-lored Parrot as they come in to roost.
Some may want to take a dip in the pool or just enjoy the grounds. Tonight, we enjoy international cuisine at the lodge’s Jabiru restaurant. Named after one of the tallest flying bird in the Americas, this restaurant offers a charming atmosphere and great views of the gardens.
After dinner, we offer an optional night tour, where we search for owls (Black-and-white, Striped, and Mottled), two species of potoo (Great and Northern), and perhaps even a large mammal or two!
Accommodations at Cano Negro Lodge (B,L,D)
Mon., Jan. 22 : Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge | Caño Negro
Our lodge is located near the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most important biological areas of the country and among the most important wetland areas in the world. It is an official Ramsar site, hosting a large area, almost 25,000 acres, replete with lagoons and extensive river habitat.
What might we find here? Several kingfishers hunt along the river—Ringed, Amazon, and Green are the species we’re most likely to see. Particularly beautiful are the Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and the elusive Sungrebe; with luck we may also find roosting Boat-billed Heron. On tree limbs hanging over the water we watch for Black-collared Hawk and Snail Kite. Many describe this area as similar to the Florida Everglades—especially as we approach Lago Caño Negro, where we may find American Pygmy Kingfisher, Snowy Cotinga (wow!), and Bare-crowned Antbird, as well as Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Purple Gallinule, and large numbers of Snowy and Great Egrets. With luck we could find Yellow-breasted and Gray-breasted Crake.
A few (by name) remind us we are on the border of Nicaragua: Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, Nicaraguan Grackle, and Nicaraguan Slider-Turtle. In the forest margins, watch for Lineated Woodpecker, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, and Pied Puffbird.
In addition to birds, we may find Green Basilisk, Green Iguana, river turtles, Spectacled Caiman, American Crocodile, and more. One never knows what might be spotted here!
Our hotel has a lovely bar if you want to gather for cocktails, and the dinner menu features international cuisine. After dinner we will do our final wildlife tally for the main tour, as tomorrow our group will split, some going on to the Caribbean Lowlands for our extension and others returning to Hotel Bougainvillea. Celebrate a great trip and all the sightings highlights!
Accommodations at Cano Negro Lodge (B,L,D)
Tues., Jan. 23 : Return to San Jose
After breakfast we work our way back to the Central Valley. We enjoy lunch en route and then settle in to our hotel. Take in the beautiful birdy grounds and enjoy some final time with newfound friends before a celebratory dinner tonight.
Accommodations at Hotel Bougainvillea (B,L,D)
Wed., Jan. 24 : Departures
You may depart at leisure today. Keep in mind that you should be at the airport almost three hours ahead of your flight, so watch those early morning departures! It’s very nice to have a leisurely morning at this lovely hotel and gardens. We suggest you plan on flights out after 1:00 PM. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey (Main Tour) is $3990 DBL / $4690 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.
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 January 16, no later than 5:00 PM if you wish to join the group for dinner
Departure Details: Plan flight departures on January 24, after 1:00 PM If you would prefer to overnight in San Jose for a morning departure on January 25, there are some airport hotel recommendations below.
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
Rick lives in Oakland, NJ with his wife Patricia and two teenage children, Jack and Annabel. Rick has led birding trips for a number of years as a volunteer associate naturalist for NJ Audubon and a preserve monitor for The Nature Conservancy. He just completed his 30th world series of birding event, raising dollars for endangered species recovery efforts. His passion for conservation started during his college years at Rutgers where he majored in Biology and he has been a trustee of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ since 2000. More recently his volunteer and fundraising efforts for The Raptor Trust, the largest wild bird rehabilitation center on the east coast, resulted in his recent addition to their board of trustees in 2018. In his spare time besides birding, Rick enjoys playing tennis, street hockey, and is also a youth hockey coach.
Other trips with Rick Weiman
Best of BelizeMarch 20 - 28, 2024
Western Panama: Tranquilo BayApril 7 - 14, 2024, w/Mt. Totumas extension
Cape May: Spring MigrationMay 14 - 20, 2024
Yellowstone: Birds, Bears & Wildlife Traveling CyclonesJune 12 - 19, 2024
Birding Canyon Country Zion, Bryce Canyon & Grand Canyon National ParksSeptember 17 - 25, 2024
Cape May: Fall MigrationOctober 8 - 14, 2024
Cape May: Fall MigrationOctober 15 - 21, 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 six months AFTER the date of your scheduled return to the U.S. No Visas are required for U.S. citizens for stays of this length. 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). Please enter your flight details into your client portal.
- 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 San José, Costa Rica (SJO)
Please note. If you are delayed in travel, please FIRST call the number of our Costa Rica operator. As a backup, contact our office (both numbers are on your emergency contact list).
Plan to arrive in San José before 5:00 PM if you wish to join the welcome dinner at the hotel. 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).
Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.
Departures from San José, Costa Rica (SJO)
You have to be at the airport about three hours ahead of your scheduled flight on this return. Plan departures for after 1 PM.
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 six 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 recommended to check for changes 60-90 days before your tour departs but at the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required of US citizens for stays of this length. 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 electronic backup copies on your phone (either photo or PDF scan), as well as a 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: Bring copies of your current vaccination records with you. At the time of writing there are 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. Please check with your doctor for recommendations at least 4-6 weeks before departing on your trip. A helpful website for planning is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage for Costa Rica or by phone 1-800-CDC-INFO or (1-800-232-4636).
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 (75-85 °F) in the lowlands, and cooler in the mountains' daytime (60’s-70’s °F), 40’s-50’s°F early morning and night. Weather can be unpredictable.
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 referrals from your hotel or 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. Weather can be unpredictable, so 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.
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 www.timeanddate.com 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 +
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 the 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 (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.
- 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 with SPF
- Sunglasses with neck strap
- Insect repellent (something containing 20% or more DEET, and sulfur powder or other for chiggers – check garden section)
- 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
- 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
- Heath insurance and vaccination information (kept in personal pouch with other travel documents)
- 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
Canton of Sarapiqui
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
Birding Caño Negro
Flora of Costa Rica
Animals and Plants Unique to Costa Rica
Talamancan Montane Forests
Cerro de la Muerte
Conservation, Parks & Reserves
Conservation in Costa Rica
Guayabo National Monument
La Selva Research Station, Organization for Tropical Studies
Braulio Carrillo National Park
Macaw Recovery Network Organization
The World Bank Feature Article – “Costa Rica’s Forest Conservation Pays Off”
Geology & Geography
Geology 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; Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Greg Smith; Passion Flower by Willy Alfaro; White-fronted Capuchins by Peg Abbott; Scarlet Macaw by Jim De Waal Malefyt; Long-winged Butterfly by Willy Alfaro; Savegre River by Willy Alfaro; Passion Flower by Willy Alfaro; Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher by Bud Ferguson; Large-footed Finch by Sandy Sorkin; American Dipper by Gary Stone; Bare-throated Tiger-Heron by Carlos Sanchez; Silver-throated Tanager, Greg Smith; Sungrebe by Carlos Sanchez; Keel-billed Toucan by Doug Greenberg; Spectacled Owl, Sandy Sorkin; Red-legged Honeycreeper, Carlos Sanchez; Group at La Selva by James P. Smith; Golden-headed Tanager by Peg Abbott; Black-cheeked Woodpecker by Greg Smith; Blue Dacnis by Sandy Sorkin; Orange-billed Sparrow by Greg Smith.