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There are very few places in the world that rival Costa Rica’s ecological diversity. More than a quarter of the country is protected lands, boasting 850 bird species and 200+ mammals.
Explore within the verdant Monteverde cloudforest—in search of the dazzling Resplendent Quetzal, lovely Long-tailed Manakin, and bizarre Three-wattled Bellbird. Immerse in tropical wonder at Celeste Mountain Lodge in the shadow of the Tenorio and Miravalles Volcanoes. Discover the Caño Negro area, rich in colorful waders like Roseate Spoonbill and Purple Gallinule, and perhaps even Jabiru; here you can opt for an after dinner drive to search for night birds and mammals.
We also offer an optional extension to explore La Selva Biological Station’s Neotropical specialties and the Sarapiqui area’s Caribbean lowlands. A great way to further immerse yourself in Costa Rica’s beautiful biodiversity.
- A perfect way to start—the lovely Hotel Bougainvillea; bird their 10-acre botanical garden
- Watch for hummingbirds, trogons, and mammals, too, from Monteverde Mountain Lodge, nestled in lush cloudforest
- Experience the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve in search of Northern Emerald-Toucanet, and Purple-throated Mountain-gem and Magenta-throated Woodstar busy at feeders
- Unpack & relax at the Celeste Mountain Lodge in the heart of the Tenorio-Miravalles Biological Corridor
- Search for the elusive Tody Motmot and the outrageous Bare-necked Umbrellabird
- Wander Tenorino National Park in search of butterflies, trogons, hummingbirds, and perhaps antbirds following an army ant swarm
- Opt for a night drive to search for Black-and-white, Striped, and Tropical Screech-Owls, as well as Great and Northern Potoos
- Look for Sungrebe, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, and Yellow-breasted Crake at Lago Caño Negro
- Extend your stay with an extension to La Selva Biological Research Station and the Sarapiqui River area
Wed., Mar. 20 : Arrivals in San Jose | Hotel Bougainvillea
Bienvenido a Costa Rica! Please plan to arrive today in San José by 5:00 PM so you can join our welcome dinner and orientation. You are met at the airport for a transfer to our hotel in the hills of the historic suburb of Heredia. The Bougainvillea hotel is a family-owned and operated hotel with a welcoming atmosphere; fresh-cut flowers from the 10-acre garden, and original paintings and sculptures by leading local artists adorn the interior. Massive beamed ceilings, wood paneling, and a fireplace all contribute to the warm feeling of a country inn. And, there are always great birds to greet you as you stroll trails through the garden.
Tonight we gather to enjoy a welcome dinner and the chance to meet your guides and travel companions.
Accommodations at the Hotel Bougainvillea (D)
Thurs., Mar. 21 : Central Pacific Coast
After leaving friends at the airport, our group continues on its way to the Central Pacific area, where we stay in a lovely valley with a rushing river, close to the Pacific Ocean. We arrive in time for lunch. The hotel and dining room sit aside a small river, and there is a steady stream of species coming in, including toucans and aracaris.
This afternoon we take a mangrove boat trip on the Tarcoles River. This is a great complement to our boat trip on the Sarapiqui, showing you two sides of the country. If time permits, especially if we have not seen macaws on our boat trip, we stop on a high bridge with expansive views. Though busy with traffic, this is the best place in Costa Rica to watch for Scarlet Macaw returning to roost sites. Their calls alert us and, as we wait to see their dazzling colors, we find a host of other species such as Mealy Parrot and, close-at-hand, noisy Rufous-naped Wren.
Accommodations at Cerro Lodge or Macaw Lodge (B,L,D)
Fri., Mar. 22 : Carara National Park | Monteverde
We start early for a great morning of birding at Carara National Park, where we witness the diversity of birds and fauna in this transitional forest. Here we walk the trails and search for birds, butterflies, and mammals. This is the northern reach of species at home in Pacific Rainforest, and the southern reach for those associated with Pacific Dry Forests?this park’s diversity is some of the highest in the entire Central American region.
The open nature of Carara’s transitional forests lends itself well to finding birds that are normally difficult to observe elsewhere, such as Great Tinamou, Collared Forest-Falcon, and Streak-chested Antpitta. It’s also an excellent place to observe an army ant swarm and its attendant antbirds, including sometimes secretive Black-hooded Antshrike, Bicolored Antbird, Dusky Antbird, and Chestnut-backed Antbird. We may also find Scaly-breasted Hummingbird or Blue-throated Goldentail.
By mid-morning activity slows down, and we depart for higher elevations in the mountains, a couple of hours away. We enjoy lunch en route. Monteverde is a treasured location in Costa Rica where many birders get their first feel for birding lush montane forests. Remote, Monteverde has retained its charm despite its popularity and is still an excellent place for birding. We stay three nights to access several reserves. Plus, we have great birding right outside our door on the lodge grounds!
Our hotel, the Monteverde Mountain Hotel, sits amongst 15-acres of private forest at 4,500 feet above sea level. This mountain hotel has cozy rooms set in nicely kept grounds and features hummingbird feeders in the veranda.
Late in the afternoon, we enjoy birding at the Children’s Eternal Forest. This reserve was established with donated funds from children in 44 countries and is managed by a non-profit foundation. The property has a more open woodland than others in Monteverde due to a rain shadow effect. Long-tailed Manakin, often found in drier coastal forests, can be found here. We also hope to see Rufous-capped Warbler, Rufous-and-white Wren, and with some luck more elusive species like Northern Barred-Woodcreeper and Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush.
Watch for Swallow-tailed Kite on the move overhead in the late afternoon. Our dinner is well-prepared local Costa Rican food at the hotel.
Accommodations at the Monteverde Mountain Hotel (B,L,D)
Sat., Mar. 23 : Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve | Curicancha Reserve
This morning we visit the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of the best places to find Resplendent Quetzal. March is their breeding season, making our quest for this beauty a bit easier. Other lush highland forest species include Black Guan, Gray-breasted Wood Wren, Black-faced Solitaire, and with luck Silvery-fronted Tapaculo. Monteverde is a great place to spy a mixed flock, with Spotted Barbtail, Buffy Tuftedcheek, and Ruddy Treerunner probing bromeliads and mossy tree limbs while Spangle-cheeked Tanager searching for fruit in the canopy. This place is a wonderland for botany fans.
This afternoon we visit Curicancha Reserve, a small reserve (200 acres) but a true gem. Here, we get another chance to see Resplendent Quetzal, alongside Three-wattled Bellbird, Collared Trogon, Gray-throated Leaftosser, and other species. At hummingbird feeders, we may add Purple-throated Mountain Gem, Green-crowned Brilliant, Violet Sabrewing, and Magenta-throated Woodstar. With luck we could find mammals, too: Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth, Mantled Howler Monkey, White-faced Capuchin, or Kinkajou.
Accommodations at the Monteverde Mountain Hotel (B,L,D)
Sun., Mar. 24 : Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
This morning, we visit a reserve that is less well-known than Monteverde but has equally stunning and diverse forests. Encompassing approximately 730 acres, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve was established in 1992 through the combined initiatives of the Santa Elena Community High School and Canadian-based Youth Challenge International. During our time in this verdant reserve, we scan the moss-laden trees for regional endemics such as Collared Redstart, Black Guan, and Collared Trogon, while also paying close attention to the trail ahead of us for secretive ground-dwelling species such as Buff-fronted Quail-Dove and Black-breasted Wood-Quail. However, the true stars of this forest are the incomparably beautiful Resplendent Quetzal, a contender for most beautiful bird of the world, and the bizarre Three-wattled Bellbird, the source of a call that rings throughout the cloud forest during this time of the year.
Other species we hope to see include Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Prong-billed Barbet, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, Costa Rican Warbler, and Golden-browed Chlorophonia. Be sure to watch for Orange-kneed Tarantula!
Best of all, in addition to trails, there are feeders, where Green Hermit, Green-crowned Brilliant, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Violet Sabrewing, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, and Coppery-headed Emerald all put on a show.
Enjoy the afternoon to bird the hotel surroundings, or some may wish to see artisan shops in the town of Monteverde. Dinner tonight is at the lodge.
Accommodations at the Monteverde Mountain Hotel (B,L,D)
Mon., Mar. 25 : Celeste Mountain Lodge | Tenorio & Miravalles Volcanoes
We can spend the early morning hours birding at the lodge and vicinity before we descend to another delightful area of Costa Rica, based for two nights at Celeste Mountain Lodge. Located on the slopes of the Tenorio Volcano, the lodge is set within beautiful mid-elevation Caribbean rainforest reserves of Tenorio Volcano National Park; this welcoming mountain lodge is an ideal base for the next two nights. Both Tenorio and Miravalles Volcanoes can be seen from the grounds, and the habitat here is inviting for many species.
Ecologically, the area is a mixing ground of Caribbean and Pacific influences that meet along the ridgeline. The lodge is in the heart of the Tenorio-Miravalles Biological Corridor, which provides biological linkage between Lake Nicaragua and the delta of the Tempisque River, one of Costa Rica’s major waterways, in the south.
After we check in at our lodge and settle in, we enjoy some free time to relax and get familiar with the grounds. The architecture is modern, with lots of glass and a stunning view of the mountains. A parade of colorful tanagers, orioles, and woodpeckers visit the fruit feeders within view of the lodge restaurant! The lodge sits at 2400 feet, quite a bit lower than Monteverde so we have new species to find here, as well as a second chance at some more general mountain species. Of the specialties, some are elusive to find including Tody Motmot, White Hawk, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Great Curassow, Ocellated Antbird, Dull-mantled Antbird, Lattice-tailed Trogon—imagine!
They take their food very seriously here and dinner is a real treat, blending foods of the region into European cuisine.
Accommodations at Celeste Mountain Lodge (B,L,D)
Tues., Mar. 26 : Tenorio National Park | Celeste Mountain Lodge
Early birders can join our guides for birding in the garden, where Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Summer Tanager may join regional specialties like Snowcap and Violet-headed Hummingbird. While in the volcanos region, we explore primary rainforest where over 300 species of birds have been recorded. The closest village is Bijagua, which retains a rural charm and a tradition of cattle raising and agriculture.
Today we explore Tenorio National Park’s system of trails looking for specialties like the toy-like Tody Motmot, Stripe-throated Hermit, and various Heliconia butterflies. While we bird this prime tract of forest, the calls of antbirds in the understory may alert us to an army ant swarm, giving us our best chance to see some truly special obligate ant-followers such as Ocellated and Bicolored Antbird.
The park is adjacent to our lodge, and while visiting we are on the lookout for some of the area specialties, including Purplish-backed Quail Dove, Brown-hooded Parrot, White-ruffed Manakin, Broad-billed Motmot, Slaty-tailed Trogon, and Rufous-winged Tanager. We may, with some luck, find the often secretive Black-throated Trogon.
As the day ends, enjoy birding from the lodge’s balcony as sounds of night birds and darkness descend. Then, off to a delicious meal! There is also an optional night walk after dinner to look for the amazing Red-eyed Tree Frog and Masked Tree Frog.
Accommodations at Celeste Mountain Lodge (B,L,D)
Wed., Mar. 27 : 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. Farm fields invite new species and vistas of mountains and fertile fields invite a few photo stops. We have even seen Great Green Macaw on this route! We have our lunch en route.
We are bound for the Caño Negro area, where 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)
Thurs., Mar. 28 : Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge | Caño Negro
Our lodge is located in 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—the area is still wild enough to support populations of rare species such as Jabiru!
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)
Fri., Mar. 29 : Return from Caño Negro OR Join Our Extension to La Selva/Sarapiqui
This morning early, we enjoy some last birding around the lodge grounds, feeders, and gardens. Then our flock disperses. Those on the extension depart soon after breakfast, with great birding planned along the way to Sarapiqui.
For those not opting for the extension, departing from the main tour, it's time to head back to San Jose. En route we will enjoy a lovely waterfall garden with hummingbird feeders en route to San José and then time at the lovely DoubleTree by Hilton Cariari where you can pack for travels, relax, enjoy the gardens, and share a final dinner with travel companions.
Main tour accommodations at the DoubleTree by Hilton Cariari Hotel (B,L,D)
Sat., Mar. 30 : Departures
You may leave at any time convenient for you today. Please remember or an international flight it is recommended that you be at the airport 3 hours ahead, so the best departure time would be mid-to late morning and onward. (B)
La Selva/Sarapiqui Post-Tour Extension
Fri., Mar. 29 : Frog’s Heaven | Selva Verde
This morning early, we enjoy some last birding around the lodge grounds, feeders, and gardens. Then our flock disperses. Those on the extension depart soon after breakfast, with great birding planned along the way to Sarapiqui.
Add a blitz of biodiversity! We do encourage those with time to see more of the country by exploring the Caribbean side in the lush Sarapiqui area on our extension. It is a scenic drive, and we arrive late-afternoon. Along the way, we stop at Frog’s Heaven, a fascinating garden for seeing both birds at close range, and technicolor poison dart frogs. We then enjoy the Sarapiquis Rainforest Lodge grounds with our guide before dinner.
Extension Accommodations at Selva Verde(B,L,D)
Sat., Mar. 30 : La Selva Biological Station Sarapiqui River
Those who have joined the extension explore La Selva Biological Station this morning, 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; the property is located near the confluence of two major rivers: the Rio Puerto Viejo and the Sarapiqui. The reserve is nearly 4,000 acres and connects to a forest corridor that ascends up through nearby Braulio Carrillo National Park, providing links to middle and higher elevations.
La Selva comprises 1,600 hectares (3,900 acres) of tropical wet forests and disturbed lands. Four major tropical life zones define the contiguous corridor now protecting a large portion of Costa Rica’s biodiversity. Recorded here are more than half of Costa Rica’s almost 900 species of birds, 1850 species of vascular plants, and a rich array of mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. Each year, La Selva’s Christmas Bird Count is among the highest in numbers.
On trails near the Sarapiqui River we hope to see the beautiful Agami Heron and perhaps an elusive Sungrebe. Some of the other elusive species we may find include Great Curassow, Great Tinamou, Great Potoo, and Semiplumbeous Hawk. We should see Crimson-collared and Golden-hooded Tanager, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmot, Black-cheeked and Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, immaculate Snowy Cotinga, and, high on thermals above, King Vulture. Pied Puffbird and Rufous-tailed Jacamar are sit-and-wait predators that dart from perches to capture large insects. Orange-billed Sparrow are sharply patterned denizens of the forest floor.
Butterfly enthusiasts, prepare to be amazed at all the species, including several large electric-blue Morphos. Central American Agouti, Collared Peccary, 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, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, several kingfishers, herons, and egrets. Mealy 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 cooler and views of the wildlife bound to impress.
Accommodations at Sarapiqui Rainforest Lodge (B,L,D)
Sun., Mar. 31 : Cinchona Waterfalls & Hummingbirds | Bougainvillea Hotel, San José
This morning we enjoy another full morning in the lush Caribbean lowlands of Sarapiqui. Birding spots abound, and we may also find tropical frogs such as Glass Frog or Poison Dart Frog
There are two routes that connect San José to Sarapiqui, and today we return to San José on the slower, more winding Vara Blanca route that has some pretty incredible scenery, and a waterfall to be remembered. A new Café de Colibris is open, the original one was devastated by an earthquake in 2009. At this roadside location, you can find up to ten species of hummingbird, including the lovely Green Thorntail—wow! We hope to also find Northern Emerald-Toucanet, and both Prong-billed and Red-headed Barbet. Buff-fronted Quail-Dove can often be seen wandering in the area below the feeders. The waterfall is situated across a massive drainage, an important biological corridor linking high mountain terrain with the Caribbean lowlands.
We watch for Bat Falcon, Squirrel Cuckoo, and Brown Jay, plus we have one more day to listen to the songs of Clay-colored Thrush and Rufous-collared Sparrow. We make a full field day of it today, arriving late-afternoon to our delightful lodgings at the Hotel Bougainvillea for a final dinner, with transfers out the following day.
Accommodations at the Hotel Bougainvillea or Doubletree Cariari by Hilton (B,L,D)
Mon., April 1 : Departures
Enjoy birding on the grounds and depart today at your leisure. We arrange transfers for you to meet your International flights. Remember that you must be at the airport at least three hours ahead of your flight, so flights after 10:00 or 11:00 AM make for a more comfortable way to end your vacation! (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey (main tour) is $TBD DBL / $TBD SGL, from San José, Costa Rica. Tour cost includes all accommodations, meals as specified in the itinerary, professional guide services, other park and program entrance fees and miscellaneous program expenses. Cost of the La Selva/Sarapiqui extension is $TBD DBL / $TBD SGL. Tour cost does not include: round-trip transportation from your home city to San José, optional activities, or items of a personal nature like 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.
The airport for this tour is Juan Santamaría International (SJO) in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Arrival: By 5:00 PM* on March 20, 2024.
Departure (Main Tour): At leisure on March 30, 2024; we suggest after 10:00 AM.
Departure (Extension): At leisure on April 1, 2024; we suggest after 10:00 AM.
*Those arriving by 5:00 PM can join us for a welcome dinner at the hotel. If your flight arrives after 6:00 PM, plan to eat dinner on the plane, or we can hold a meal for you at the hotel.
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
- March 2022
- March 2012
- January 2013
- January 2017
- February 2007
- January 2017
- January 2018
- January 2019
- February 2023
Steve Shunk started birding in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, and he moved to central Oregon’s ‘Woodpecker Wonderland’ in 1997, where 11 woodpecker species breed annually. This phenomenon led to a 20-year obsession studying this charismatic family of birds. Steve founded the region’s woodpecker festival in 2008, and his Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America was published in 2016. He has fed leeches (his own blood) in Malaysian Borneo, and he has watched Spotless Starlings swarming around the Greek ruins of Sicily. Steve’s Alaska adventures have taken him from Ketchikan to Barrow and St. Paul Island. One of his favorite destinations takes him to see ‘eastern’ warblers breeding across the boreal forest of Alberta, but recent adventures have led him to favor the cushion plants and condors of the Peruvian high Andes. Steve speaks at bird festivals across North America, and he returns annually to speak and guide at the Vallarta Bird Festival in far-western Jalisco, Mexico. Steve joined Naturalist Journeys earlier this year, and we are excited to have him on the schedule for 2021 and beyond.
Steve’s work as a field biologist has taken him from the Coast Range of Oregon to California’s Sierra Nevada. Most recently, he conducted point-count and woodpecker surveys for a study in the Central Oregon Cascades. Steve co-founded the East Cascades Bird Conservancy (now East Cascades Audubon), and served as its first president. He also co-founded the Oregon Birding Trails Program and coordinated its flagship project, the Oregon Cascades Birding Trail. When Steve is not traveling the world for tours and lectures, he can be found writing, skiing, hiking, and watching woodpeckers at home in lovely Sisters, Oregon.
Other trips with Steve Shunk
Photography Seminar Oregon's Woodpecker WonderlandJune 7 - 12, 2023
Oregon’s Cascade Mountains Great Birds & LodgesJuly 9 - 18, 2023
Wild Borneo: Endemic Birding & NatureSeptember 9 - 23, 2023
Christmas in Costa Rica December 22 - 29, 2023
Caribbean Endemics of JamaicaJanuary 28 - February 4, 2024
South Texas Birding & NatureFebruary 14 - 22, 2024
Taiwan: Birding & Nature Okinawa & Amami ExtensionApril 10 - 27, 2024
Oregon's Malheur NWR & Woodpecker WonderlandMay 20 - 29, 2024
- Photography Seminar
General Information +
Ahead of your tour:
1. 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.
2. There are no required vaccinations to enter Costa Rica. We trust that you have talked with your doctor about general travel vaccinations you should have as precaution for travel. See the “General Health and Inoculations” section.
3. 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.
4. 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
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 ideally between 2:00 and 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.
Departures from San José
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. Those going on the extension may depart at a time convenient for you (suggested after 12:00 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.
Passport & 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 here.
At the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required for stays less than 90 days, but 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.
It’s wise to carry a color photocopy of your passport ID page in a separate location while traveling, and to leave a copy with your emergency contact person at home. You may want to take a photo with your phone and have a copy there, along with a photo of the BAR CODE on your luggage tag. If your passport is lost or stolen, or your bag is misplaced this will greatly expedite replacement.
General Health & Inoculations Information
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. Do bring any prescription medications with you and its best if you have a copy of the prescription in case of loss. A supply of standard over the counter medications for common ailments is recommended.
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.
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 Center for Disease Control (USA) or by phone (800) CDC-INFO.
We recommend that you bring a travel-sized first aid kit and medications for common ailments, as well as an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses. You should bring an adequate supply of any prescription drugs you use, and in addition, a list of generic names of your medicine as “back-up” in case it is necessary to purchase drugs while in Costa Rica. When traveling with medication, it is a good idea to pack any drugs you take regularly in your carry-on luggage. You’ll want to keep medications in their original, labeled containers. It is also a good idea to carry with you and up-to-date record of known allergies or chronic medical problems so that emergency treatment, if necessary, can be carried out without endangering your health.
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 a framework for each day and alert you to any changes in the schedule or to our hotels if these were 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, walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude to adjustments that 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 want to wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time for photo stops as well as educational stops to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as the birds, mammals being perhaps the biggest draw but plants and butterflies being close seconds in popularity. 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 (weather dependent) picnics in the field and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinners 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 occasions 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, in some locations 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 tour 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.
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, and cooler in the mountains (60’s-80’s °F), particularly in the early mornings and evenings. 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
Meals are safe at your lodges and in the restaurants, just use common sense and ask for referrals from your hotel or a guidebook such as Frommers. Menus at the hotels are varied and are sustainably based on the wonderful local ingredients available. 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! And please do not pack any essential medications, or your vital optics, in your checked luggage!
TRAVEL TIP: Imagine NOT getting your suitcase. Wear your most important shoes for the field, have one day’s clothing change, and a change of underwear!
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. Click here for more information.
Costa Rica is on the same time as our Central Zone in the US. Check www.timeanddate.com before leaving home for your conversion.
For this tour, your guides will drive travelers in either full-size or mini-vans or a combination of those two. We ask that all attendees please rotate vans, so you sit with different drivers and alternate in front and back seating.
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.
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.
Photo Release & Sharing
We take many group photos and share photos with the group. Please note that this is our policy, if you have an exception to it, we need to know ahead of your tour. And at the end of your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos.
By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representative’s permission to record on photography film and/or video, pictures of your 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.
Please feel free to contact our office at (520) 558-1146, toll-free (866) 900-1146, or email. 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; two options are Craghoppers Insect Shield and Exofficio’s Bugs Awaycollections. 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
______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
______Passport with 6 months remaining after date of departure from Costa Rica, and a photocopy of your passport ID page to be kept in a separate location
______Money pouch, or someplace to carry your money and passport with you at all times
______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/Chapstick or equivalent (at least 30 SPF recommended)
______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)
______Spotting scope and tripod (optional)
______Camera and extra batteries, film, lens cleaning supplies and your instruction manual (optional)
______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
______Copy of Covid-19 vaccination card
______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
Naturalist Journeys strongly recommends that you purchase travel insurance. You can link to Allianz Travel Insurance through our website.
Photo credits: Banner: Black-cheeked Woodpecker by Greg Smith (GS); Lizard by Sandy Sorkin; Squirrel Cuckoo by Sandy Sorkin; Keel-billed Toucan by Doug Greenberg (DG); Black Howler Monkey by Peg Abbott (PA); Blue Dacnis by Sandy Sorkin; Lesson's Motmot by Peg Abbott; Collared Aracari by Greg Smith; Eyelash Pit Viper by Sandy Sorkin; Great Curassow Pair by Sandy Sorkin (SS); Rural Life by Sandy Sorkin; Yellow-throated Toucan by Greg Smith; Orange-collared Manakin by Bud Ferguson; Northern Barred Woodcreeper Phil Yates, courtesy Operador Latino; Black Guan, DG; Lesson's Motmot, Mike Boyce; Central American Squirrel Monkey, PA; View from Celeste Mountain Lodge, celestemountainlodge.com; Collared Aracari, James Adams; Red-legged Honeycreeper, GS; Great Curassow, SS; White-collared Manakin, SS; Red-lored Parrots, SS; Boat-billed Herons, CS; Great Egret, Betty Andres; Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, PA; Eyelash Pit Viper, SS; King Vulture, DG; Golden-hooded Tanager, PA; Black-cheeked Woodpecker, GS; Sunbittern, SS; Silver-throated Tanager, GS; Pied Puffbird, PA; Great Potoo, SS; Squirrel Cuckoo, SS; Black-and-white Owl, Howard Topoff; Purple Gallinule, Tom Dove; Purple-throated Mountain Gem, GS; Savegre Bromeliads, GS; Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, SS.