- Full Itinerary
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- Know Before You Go
- Other Trips You May Like
Few places rival Costa Rica’s ecological diversity. Over a quarter of the country is protected lands, boasting 850 bird species and 200+ mammals. Why July? Resident birds are just fledging their young, and rains bring life to so many life forms. Afternoon clouds cool down temperatures and we spend time in the mountains!
We visit a wonderful mix of habitats, giving you the chance to see numerous species. Explore the lush Monteverde cloudforest in search of the dazzling Resplendent Quetzal, lovely Long-tailed Manakin, and bizarre Three-wattled Bellbird. Immerse yourself in tropical wonder at Arenal Observatory with a volcano in view and Monteverde Mountain Lodge with birdy and accessible trails. Finally, spend time at Carara National Park near Tarcoles.
Explore both sides of the Continental Divide on this fun summer Costa Rica birding tour—what a great way to immerse yourself in Costa Rica’s stunning biodiversity and observe an exciting list of birds and other wildlife.
- "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
- Relax at the beautiful Hotel Bougainvillea upon your arrival; bird their 10-acre award winning botanical garden where birds and beautiful sculptures mingle
- Search for hummingbirds, trogons, and mammals too, from Monteverde Mountain Lodge, nestled in lush cloud forest
- View the Arenal Volcano right from your balcony!
- Admire lowland primary rainforest at La Selva Biological Station
- Stay cool up in the mountains—explore Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves in search of Resplendent Quetzal, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Collared Redstart, and Azure-hooded Jay
- Visit famous Carara National Park to see stunning Scarlet Macaw and secretive antbirds
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Wed., July 17 : 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., July 18 – Sat., July 20 : La Selva Biological Station | Arenal Observatory Lodge | La Fortuna
We leave early today to head to the lowlands of Sarapiqui, on our way to Arenal—well worth a stop. Enjoy a visit to one of the world’s premier biological stations as we seek out some extraordinary birds. We’ve even seen Great Tinamou nesting here!
We then travel west to La Fortuna. At an elevation of about one thousand feet, we settle in to awesome digs at Arenal Observatory Lodge and and enjoy visits to the nearby town of La Fortuna feature Caribbean foothill rainforest. Due to the perpetually mild and wet climate, this habitat is particularly rich in fruit-eating birds such as toucans, oropendolas, and tanagers. Ant swarms are also a big feature. Most of Costa Rica's obligate antbirds inhabit the understory of this rainforest.
Arenal Observatory Lodge is a particularly comfortable lodge from which to explore this habitat. There is a beautiful terrace that looks upon the currently dormant Arenal Volcano and an elaborate set of fruit feeders. Collared Aracari, Yellow-throated Toucan, Montezuma Oropendola, and Black-cheeked Woodpecker all squabble over the tasty morsels of papaya, banana, and other fruit on offer. Once the larger birds have had their fill, tanagers such as Crimson-collared, Emerald, and Bay-headed often make a pass at the fruit.
On the forest floor, there is often Gray-chested Dove, Black-striped Sparrow, and Great Curassow picking off the scraps from above. The lodge grounds also feature lovely flower gardens and thoughtfully placed fruiting trees (mostly Ficus), which attract many birds from the surrounding forest. Row upon row of flowering blue porterweed attract Black-crested Coquette, Brown Violetear, Green Thorntail, Violet-headed Hummingbird, and Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. Wide, carefully maintained, and gently sloping forest trails offer fantastic birding opportunities. Every day is different—even every hour is different! Some of the birds that regularly make an appearance include Dull-mantled Antbird, Thicket Antpitta, Broad-billed Motmot, Semiplumbeous Hawk, and Black-and-yellow Tanager. For those that happen upon an ant swarm, antbird species such as Bicolored, Spotted, and Ocellated Antbird are possible.
During our days here, we explore both in and around the lodge grounds and take local, off-site field trips too. Outside the grounds of Arenal Observatory Lodge, the entrance road and nearby national park offer great birding. White-faced Nunbird, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Rufous Mourner, and Long-tailed Tyrant are all regular along the 'peninsula road.' The more open pastures can have the spectacular White-throated Magpie-Jay, a species usually associated with the dry forests of the Guanacaste region. The small river that crosses underneath the road often has Black Phoebe and (for those who are lucky) Bare-throated Tiger-Heron.
Down at La Fortuna, Sendero Bogarin features secondary growth forest crisscrossed by streams. The birds here are similar but different from those found at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Uniform Crake, White-throated Crake, and Russet-naped Wood-Rail are all common here, although they are not always easy to see. The brushy thickets hold several territories of Black-throated Wren, Fasciated Antshrike, Keel-billed Motmot, and Rufous-tailed Jacamar. Among flocks of tanagers, one sometimes finds the tiny Olivaceous Piculet, the smallest woodpecker in North America. The owner of the property often has a staked out Black-and-white Owl roost, as well as multiple spots to look for both Brown-throated Three-toed and Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloths. After birding here, there is a nice chocolate shop in town with locally sourced chocolate, coffee, and fresh baked goods!
We also enjoy some prized feet-up on the balcony of your room time, looking off to the volcano ….
Accommodations at Arenal Observatory Lodge (B,L,D)
Sun., July 21: Higher into the Mountains | Monteverde | Children’s Eternal Rainforest
We leave Arenal this morning for another fabled Costa Rican destination. Traveling up a gradient of elevation allows us to bird in varied habitats—great fun!
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 at the veranda.
This afternoon, we enjoy birding the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, a special place. We may 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)
Mon., July 22 : Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve | Curicancha Reserve
This morning we visit the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of the best places to find Resplendent Quetzal. 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 search for fruit in the canopy. This place is also 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)
Tues., July 23 : 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. Both should have fledgling young at this time and are rewarding to find and watch.
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 check out the local butterfly gardens, or some may wish to see artisan shops in the town of Monteverde. We have a celebratory final dinner tonight is at the lodge.
Accommodations at the Monteverde Mountain Hotel (B,L,D)
Fri., July 26 : Departures
After breakfast this morning we say goodbye and transfer back to San José’s Juan Santamaría International Airport to take your flights back home. This is nearly a three hour drive, so in order not to rush this morning, please plan to make flights out after 2:00 PM. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey is $3990 DBL / $4590 SGL, based on double occupancy, from San José, Costa Rica. Cost includes seven nights’ accommodations, all meals as noted in the itinerary, airport transfers, ground transportation, professional guide services, park and other entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. Not included is round-trip airfare to and from San José, personal expenses such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, and gratuities for luggage handling or other services. Guide gratuities are at your discretion.
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: Please plan flights to arrive July 17, 2024 no later than 5:00 PM if you wish to join the group for dinner.
Departure Details: Please plan flight departures on July 24, 2024 after 2:00 PM. If you would prefer to overnight in San Jose for a morning departure on July 25, 2024, we have listed 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 listed 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 Requirements: 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
James P. Smith
James brings some twenty five years of guiding experience to Naturalist Journeys. Originally from Sheffield in the United Kingdom, he discovered a love for guiding in Israel in 1995 where he helped establish the Kibbutz Lotan Center for Birdwatching in the Southern Arava Valley. Since then, he’s led hundreds of tours throughout the Northern Hemisphere for a number of UK-based tour companies. His trips to Israel and North America are especially close to his heart but he’s also led or co-led tours to Mexico (Veracruz), The Gambia, Kenya, Iceland, Scottish Highlands, Spanish Pyrenees, Central/Southern France, Greece (Lesvos), and India (Goa). An accomplished illustrator, James placed runner-up in the British Birds “Bird Illustrator of the Year” competition in 1992 and went on to have his work published in numerous birding magazines and journals. He also co-authored the two volume set A Guide to the Birding Hotspots of Israel (Published in 2000 by the Israel Ornithological Center and the S.P.N.I.). He returns to Israel every year to lead trips and remains an active member of the Israel Rarities and Distribution Committee. When not leading tours he can be found at home in Western Massachusetts with his wife Susannah and their young son Matan.
Other trips with James P. Smith
South Texas Birding & NatureDecember 2 - 10, 2023
Trinidad & Tobago: Incredible Birds & Wildlife FULLJanuary 19 - 28, 2024
Belize: Three Great Lodges Full! Check out our Best of Belize tour in FebruaryFebruary 1 - 11, 2024
Belize: Three Great Lodges Full! Check out our Best of Belize tour in FebruaryMarch 6 - 16, 2024
Lesvos, Greece: Migration!April 20 - 27, 2024
Lesvos, Greece: Migration!April 28 - May 5, 2024
- South Texas Birding & Nature
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 is in good condition and at minimum is valid at the time of entry through your scheduled return to the U.S. We suggest at least 3 months validity beyond the end of the tour to allow for unexpected delays in return travel. No Visas are required for U.S. citizens for stays of this tour's duration in Costa Rica. If you are from another country, please contact the Embassy of Costa Rica’s website for guidelines.
- Please check current CDC recommendations for travel to Costa Rica and consult with your doctor about general travel vaccinations you should have as precaution for travel. See the “General Health and Inoculations” section below.
Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is strongly recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance.
- Plan your international flight reservations to arrive into and depart from San José’s Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO). Send a copy to the Naturalist Journeys office please.
- Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
Arrival into Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), 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 into Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) 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 Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), San José, Costa Rica
You have to be at the airport about three hours ahead of your scheduled flight on this return, so we do not advise booking early morning flights; late-morning is fine.
We will provide transfers for all departures through noon of the departure day, according to your flight schedules. Whenever possible we will keep the group together for this transfer. The departure fee is now typically built into your airline fare.
Passports, Visas & Documents
Please note: Guidelines and regulations can change. It is always advisable to double-check the country’s documentation requirements 60-90 days ahead of traveling. Information for U.S. citizens can be found at: travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/CostaRica.html. If you are from another country, please contact the Costa Rican embassy website for guidelines.
Passports: At the time of writing, U.S. citizens must have a passport that is in good condition and at minimum is valid at the time of entry through your scheduled return to the U.S. That said, we suggest at least 3 months validity beyond the end of the tour to allow for unexpected delays in return travel. 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.
Visas: At the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required for stays of this tour's duration in Costa Rica, 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.
As a precaution for lost or misplaced documents you carry on your person during travel, we highly recommend you keep hard and digital backup copies on your phone (either photo or PDF scan), as well as a hard copy left with your emergency contact at home. The recommended important documents to copy include, but are not limited to; your passport ID page, travel visa, the front and back of your credit card(s), the airline barcode on your luggage. This will greatly expedite getting new ones if necessary – we hope everyone will always keep travel documents close so that losing them will not be an issue.
General Health & Inoculations Information - Be Prepared!
We will share your health information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important as we want to be best prepared in case of medical emergency.
Anti-malarial drugs are not required for any area that you visit. There are occasional reports of Dengue Fever in lower elevation areas, for which there is no vaccine. Dengue fever, Zika, and other diseases are contacted by mosquito bites so be sure to use mosquito repellant containing DEET or Picaridin. Travelers can reduce their risk of disease by protecting themselves from mosquito bites in lower elevation areas by using protective clothing.
Vaccinations: Bring your up-to-date vaccination records with you. At the time of writing, there were no required vaccinations to enter Costa Rica, unless you are arriving from a Yellow Fever infected area (check the CDC's Yellow Book for those countries). 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. Check for updates to requirements at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage for Costa Rica or reach by phone at (800) CDC-INFO or (800) 232-4636.
Prescriptions: 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.
Allergies: To be prepared for environmental triggers to allergies or breathing difficulties, please bring your allergy and/or asthma medication(s). If you have severe allergies talk to your doctor about carrying an EPI pen and notify your guides. 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 prevention or treatment of common ailments (such as diarrhea, constipation, stomach upset, cough, congestion, head or body aches, insect bites and sunburn); as well as ointments, moisturizer, sunscreen, oral rehydration salts, band-aids, moleskin for blisters, cotton swabs, nail clippers, and tweezers, etc.
Altitude sickness: It can affect some and, if there is a concern, be prepared. The most general symptoms are headache and occasionally fatigue and dizziness. You’ll want to take it easy, particularly at first. These symptoms can be reduced by resting, drinking plenty of water and taking aspirin. If you have worries about the altitude, ask your physician about medications that may be right for you.
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-70’s °F), even cooler 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
Menus at lodges and restaurants are varied, sustainably based on the wonderful local ingredients available, and delightfully prepared in a sanitary environment. As with any case when traveling we urge you to consider what your body is used to before you eat something. Trust your common sense when consuming food and beverages. This is the best way to avoid any unwanted problems. Ask for recommendations from your hotel or refer to a guidebook such as Frommers. Meals reflect the contributions of American, European, Spanish, and local cuisines.
Bottled water will be available for field trips and drinking water is provided for you to refill a bottle. One of the many ways we strive to do our part for the environment is by trying to reduce our consumption of plastics; if convenient we appreciate if you can bring reusable water bottles. Your guide will let you know when bottled water is preferable.
Packing, Clothing & Laundry
Dress is very informal and laundry services are available for a fee at our lodges. While some people will change for dinner, it is usually just to a drier or cleaner version of what they wore during the day. Again, the climate is warm to hot, so you will be comfortable in lightweight clothing.
Please, pack light. We are serious about this – we move around a lot; you just do not need much to cope with tropical life! Please do not bring anything more than you must. Lay out your hopeful things to take and then do a serious paring down!
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 +
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 (60’s-70’s°F) in the mountain’s daytime, and cooler (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. 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 at all times (such as a secure, under-clothing document pouch)
- As a backup: copies of all the above (phone and/or paper) packed in a separate location than on your person, plus a set given to your emergency contact at home as a backup. For passport, copy of the ID and entry stamp pages.
- Small day pack or fanny pack for carrying your field gear
- Umbrella, compact and not brightly colored (this is great when it rains, you can continue using your binoculars!)
- Small 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
- Heath insurance and vaccination records (kept in personal pouch with other travel documents)
- Personal medication
- Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed on bus, van, drives, etc.
- Personal first aid kit and medications for general ailments (Imodium or Lomotil, antihistamine cream or tablets, eye drops, etc.)
- Copy of eyeglass prescription, copy of medical prescriptions, and any medical alerts
- Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
- Band-aids, moleskin to protect against blisters
- Hand Sanitizer
Suggested Reading List +
There are many titles of interest for Costa Rica; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started.
Merlin App – Costa Rica Pack. A phone-based birding app from Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. Before departing the U.S., download the app for free, then from within the app, download the “pack” for Costa Rica.
Wildlife & Nature
History & Culture
There is a good selection of books available for sale at visitors’ centers, and your guide will also have a selection of reference books and materials for participants to share. As an Amazon Associate, Naturalist Journeys earns from qualifying purchases, and may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page at no added cost to you.
Useful Links +
La Fortuna, San Carlos, Costa Rica
Nature, Wildlife & Biology
Birds of Costa Rica
Bird checklist - eBird (You may also search lodge websites for lodge checklists)
Flora of Costa Rica
Animals and Plants Unique to Costa Rica
Conservation, Parks & Reserves
Conservation in Costa Rica
La Selva Research Station - Organization for Tropical Studies
Children’s Eternal Rainforest
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
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: Banner: Black-cheeked Woodpecker by Greg Smith (GS); Lizard by Sandy Sorkin; Monteverde Suspension bridge; Squirrel Cuckoo by Sandy Sorkin; Keel-billed Toucan by Doug Greenberg (DG); Black Howler Monkey by Peg Abbott (PA); Gallery: Collared Aracari; Arenal Volcano; Black-and-white Owl; Giant Anteater, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Purple Gallinule, Tom Dove; Purple-throated Mountain Gem, GS; Savegre Bromeliads, GS; Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, SS. Primary Thumbnail: Birding, Karen Holmen; Montezuma Oropendola, Anindya Sen; Golden-hooded Tanager, White-faced Capuchin, John Trezise Secondary: Hoffman’s Two-toed Sloth, Emerald Toucanet, Scarlet Macaw, Rainforest 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;