- Full Itinerary
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- Travel Details
- Trip Reports
- Know Before You Go
- Other Trips You May Like
Few places rival Costa Rica’s ecological diversity. Over a quarter of the country is a national park, wildlife refuge, biological reserve, or protected area. And for good reason: Costa Rica boasts 850 bird species, 208 mammal species, 50,000 insect species, and 2,000 orchids. Birding is excellent every month of the year.
October is a key migration time in Costa Rica. Scores of Broad-winged Hawk might pass over, while many North American songbirds are on the wing to South America, or settling into winter homes in Costa Rica’s mix of tropical to montane habitats. It is a great month for birding! And while raining to the west, it’s the best time to visit Costa Rica’s Caribbean side! This journey does just that, sampling rich biodiversity from the Nicaraguan to the Panama border with a final visit to the mountains at famed Rancho Naturalista.
We love this route, which starts at our favorite San José hotel, then moves to lodgings near the country’s northern border at Maquenque. Here we see both Scarlet and Great Green Macaws, Collared Aracari, and a host of other species. Photographers love the lodge feeders. We further explore the Caribbean lowlands moving south to lodgings at Selva Verde, adjacent to one the world’s best known research stations at La Selva. Glide along the Sarapiqui River and visit “Frog’s Heaven” where colorful poison dart frogs and other species find refuge in gardens on a local farm. Continuing south we witness the spectacle of raptor migration at one of the best spots in Central America based from a lovely beach resort. Several of these lodges are new to past Naturalist Journeys’ Costa Rica travelers—we invite you to return! Along with superlative natural history moments, we have fun tasting local foods and perhaps visiting a market or local coffee shop; we also enjoy our Costa Rican hosts’ exceptional hospitality.
- "Our guide was absolutely outstanding. Extremely knowledgeable - great spotter!, kind, generous, funny. He knows the birds, the country, the field trips, the locations. He had many surprise destinations for us with beautiful scenery and lots of birds." — 2023 Traveler
- "The trip met my expectations exactly. I wanted to see lots of interesting birds and take some pictures, both of which I was able to do...It was extremely well organized and there were no logistical problems at all." — Jim Majure, 2023 Traveler
- "Magical - trip of a lifetime! An amazing exploration of beautiful places that one doesn't often hear about in CR. An abundance and diversity of birds and wildlife." — 2023 Traveler
- "Amazing! If I’d seen a fraction of the birds we saw I would’ve been thrilled..." — 2023 Traveler
- “Experienced Costa Rica from coast to coast. Had amazing guides having incredible knowledge of the birds, wildlife and fauna in Costa Rica. These guys were the best guides I’ve ever had in knowledge of birds, butterflies, habitats and general knowledge of Costa Rica. Also, they were very personable and caring to the participants.” — Caroline DePalma, 2023 Traveler
- “Superb - Birds, Bugs, Blooms, Butterflies and Best Guides! Hard to list all the highlights…Where would I start? The Great Potoo? The American Pygmy Kingfisher? The Three-Wattled Bell Bird? The Hummingbirds? The boat trips. The Eyelash Viper. The Bark Scorpion in our bathroom? How in the name of heavens did Johan and Robert find all those birds? Incredible guides! They kindly adjusted to the varied speeds and limitations of the group members. We were blessed.” — Janet Barrett, 2023 Traveler.
- “A varied and very enjoyable look at several different habitats in a country I knew little about before going there. I had three "target birds" - tiger heron, sun bittern, and swallow-tailed kite - and saw all three of them well. We had two excellent boat trips, on the Cano Negro wetlands and the Tarcoles River estuary. Saw great birds and other wildlife close-up.” — Adrienne Lovelock, 2023 Traveler
- Enjoy beautiful birds like Lesson’s Motmot in the incredibly birdy gardens right at our hotel in San José
- Spend three nights at Maquenque Eco-lodge, where we enjoy a boat safari, walk on the local trails, and immerse ourselves in Neotropical nature—birds abound!
- Stand mesmerized as Coatimundi, Collared Aracari, colorful tanagers, and perhaps a wood-rail or gallinule take turns at Maquenque’s feeders
- Find Green Ibis or possible Sunbittern on a calm-water boat trip on the Sarapiqui River
- Learn about the latest in Neotropical research on a guided walk at La Selva Biological Station
- Enjoy the perfect combination of nature and comfort at Cariblue Resort where jungle and beach collide
- Scan the skies in Costa Rica’s Southeast corner on a narrow strip of land rimming the rugged Talamanca Mountains, topography made for migrating raptors—the sheer quantity of birds here can be incredible
- Wind your way into the hills to spend two nights at the mid-montane site of Rancho Naturalista, a naturalist’s haven where hummingbirds abound, including the dainty Snowcap
- Watch birds from the veranda, walk forest trails, enjoy shared meals with your companions, tally up your bird and wildlife sightings
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Thurs., Oct. 17 : Arrival in San José
Welcome to Costa Rica! Arrive today in San José where you are met at the airport by a representative from our Costa Rican host company, for private transfer to the Hotel Bougainvillea. We select this boutique hotel for its spacious rooms, friendly service, and sculpture-rich birdy gardens, just outside the door. This is an environmentally-friendly hotel with a commitment to our planet and hospitality.
Those arriving in time can enjoy a welcome dinner with fellow travelling companions and your Naturalist Journeys guide. Those that arrive later than dinner have a snack tray on arrival.
Accommodations at Hotel Bougainvillea (D)
Fri., Oct. 18 : Travel to Maquenque | Cinchona Waterfall & Hummingbirds
Our early birds can be out in the garden at sunrise. After breakfast, we pack up and head out on a very scenic drive to Maquenque. Our first stop is at Cinchona where we enjoy a coffee and snack, and look off to a canyon, one of Costa Rica’s most important elevational corridors for birds, flora, and fauna. Enjoy the patio of Café Colobri and views of Violet Sabrewing, Purple-throated Mountain Gem, and possibly Green Thorntail. There should be colorful tanagers and some wintering warblers as well.
We can hardly tear ourselves away but we keep moving north. We pass through some lush agricultural areas and have lunch along the route. Our lodge is only accessible by boat, a short trip across the Rio San Carlos to an island. It lies adjacent to Maquenque National Wildlife Refuge and close to 600 bird species have been reported on the property!
Settle into your casitas and return to watch birds and mammals by the lagoon and feeders. As late-afternoon activity picks up we stroll around the pond and watch parrots and macaws return to their roost. Black-bellied Whistling Duck often decorate the trees like ornaments. This is a special place and we have three nights here to enjoy.
Accommodations at Maquenque Lodge (B,L,D)
Sat., Oct. 19 & Sun., Oct. 20 : Maquenque Lodge
The next two days we follow nature’s rhythm. On morning walks we may be greeted by calling Keel-billed Toucan or even Broad-billed Motmot. Learn more about local fruiting trees and seasons of the tropics. After a walk and breakfast, we check out the grounds in search of Mantled Howler Monkey, Green Iguana, and Spectacled Caiman. Birds are plentiful, we might spend a full morning just in the gardens!
Over the next two days, from the lodge, we scan the skies for raptors on the wing, including Broad-winged, Swainson’s, and Short-tailed Hawks, and bird the grounds and surrounding forest. With the company of our local guide, we enjoy a boat safari on the San Carlos River.
In the afternoons, we walk on the lodge trails, where we might find Great Curassow, Great Green Macaw, Green Ibis, and Golden-hooded Tanager. It’s wonderful to have these full days to immerse ourselves in migration, the resident birds, and the tropical nature of Maquenque! Here we enjoy creature comforts, the beauty of nature in a remote location, and some fabulous birding and wildlife.
Accommodations at Maquenque Lodge (B,L,D)
Mon., Oct. 21 : Frog’s Heaven | Sarapiqui | Tropical Night Walk
Enjoy a final early morning with the dawn chorus from your casitas. We then pack up and head to another biological hotspot, the Sarapiqui Region, famous for its lush lowland tropical forest.
Today we stop at a little gem, a former farm restored for wildlife known as Frog’s Heaven. Beginning in 2009, the owners began a project to plant trees and create habitat where native frogs could find shelter and a place to go through their metamorphosis. The density of frogs is just plain FUN, and quite a marvel to experience. Photographers can enjoy some close-up moments with poison-dart and other frogs. And the property gives shelter to a number of birds, including a good array of woodpeckers and beautiful Red-legged Honeycreeper are often busy at feeders.
We continue on, enjoy lunch along the way, and then get settled in at our hotel, which lies adjacent to a famous tropical research station. Nature is all around us, and those that wish can venture out on a night walk in search of owls and other night creatures.
Accommodations at Selva Verde (B,L,D)
Tues., Oct. 22 : La Selva Biological Station | Sarapiqui River Boat Tour
The La Selva Biological Station is one of the premier tropical research stations in the world. Trails wind between laboratories and researchers’ residences, and then fan out to primary and secondary forests where nature abounds. Lowland rainforest is particularly diverse here, as the property is located near the confluence of two major rivers?the Rio Puerto Viejo and the Sarapiqui. The reserve is nearly 4,000 acres and connects to a forest corridor that ascends up through nearby Braulio Carrillo National Park, providing links to middle and higher elevations.
La Selva comprises 1,600 hectares (3,900 acres) of tropical wet forests and disturbed lands. Four major tropical life zones define the contiguous corridor now protecting a large portion of Costa Rica’s biodiversity. Recorded here are more than half of Costa Rica’s almost 900 species of birds, 1850 species of vascular plants, and a rich array of mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. Each year, La Selva’s Christmas Bird Count is among the highest in numbers.
On trails near the Sarapiqui River we hope to see the beautiful Agami Heron and perhaps an elusive Sungrebe. Some of the other elusive species we may find include Great Curassow, Great or Slaty-breasted Tinamous, Great Potoo, and possibly Bare-necked Umbrellabird. We should see Crimson-collared and Golden-hooded Tanagers, Rufous Motmot, endemic Black-cheeked Woodpecker, beautiful Snowy Cotinga, and, high on thermals above, King Vulture. Pied Puffbird and Great Jacamar are sit-and-wait predators that dart from perches to capture large insects. Orange-billed Sparrow are gaudy denizens of the forest floor.
Butterfly enthusiasts, prepare to be amazed at all the species, including several large electric-blue Morphos. Central American Agouti and White-nosed Coati are mammals we often find.
In the late afternoon, we venture out on the Sarapiqui River for a boat trip; late afternoon is a great time to find secretive birds like Sunbittern, Green Ibis, Fasciated Tiger-Heron, several kingfishers, herons, and egrets. Yellow-naped and White-crowned Parrots make raucous noise overhead, joined by the smaller Olive-throated Parakeet. It’s beautiful to be out on the water where the temperature is cool and views of the mountains are spectacular.
Accommodations at Selva Verde (B,L,D)
Wed., Oct. 23 & Thurs., Oct. 24 : Jungle & Ocean | Migrating Raptors | Puerto Viejo
Few venture down to Costa Rica’s southeast corner, where a narrow strip of land lies between the rugged Talamanca Mountain Range and the Caribbean Sea. After leaving the lush lowland rainforest, we turn south at Limon and follow the coast for the rest of our route today. Black-chested Jay and Sulphur-rumped Tanager are specialties for the country here, as is Whistling Wren. An hour south to the Panama border near Sixaola a few more specialties occur, such as Spot-crowned Antbird.
This is a rich area, with large tracts of a mix of primary and second-growth forests that are home to numerous species. Bay Wren, Montezuma Oropendola, Squirrel Cuckoo, Masked Tityra, and possibly Cinnamon Woodpecker are vocal and often steal the show. We also look for Rufous-winged Tanager, Tawny-crested Tanager, and both Green and Shining Honeycreepers. Our eyes roam to the sky, and for those fit to hike there is an excellent opportunity to reach a hawk-viewing site where kettles of migrating Broad-winged Hawk, possible Swainson’s Hawk, and Turkey Vulture can fill the sky. Resident White Hawk and Semiplumbeous Hawk occur here as well.
We make time for you to enjoy the beach, and catch the vibe of a different culture here—this part of Costa Rica is decidedly Caribbean. We enjoy that influence in our dining as well.
Accommodations at Cariblue Beach and Jungle Resort (B,L,D)
Fri., Oct. 25 : Coastal Scenic Drive | Turrialba | Rancho Naturalista
After breakfast, we retrace our route along the coast, stopping at a few birding spots along the way. The morning is spent largely in travel. Our stops are guide’s choice based on what at this point in our trip we still hope to see.
We enjoy lunch at a restaurant along our travel route and by late afternoon check into the lodge. We enjoy birding from the veranda after settling in. This is a delight?particularly for those that fancy close-up views of hummingbirds. A number of mid-elevation Caribbean-side specialties can be found here, including Black-crested Coquette, Snowcap, Green Thorntail, and Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. Temperatures are cooler at a comfortable 3000 feet. At day’s end, we are likely to see both Keel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucans coming in to roost. Enjoy dinner and time to tally up our sightings in the cozy lodge dining area.
Accommodations at Rancho Naturalista (B,L,D)
Sat., Oct. 26 : Birding Mid-Montane Forests | Rancho Naturalista Grounds
Wake up and bird from the balcony where, with luck, a mixed group of colorful tanagers may be at work on bananas at the feeders. We can hope for Scarlet-rumped, Speckled, Bay-headed, Silver-throated, and Emerald. White-necked Jacobin are regulars, and a special treat is the tiny Black-crested Coquette. Lesson’s Motmot and Golden-olive Woodpecker are yard birds—imagine! Indeed, over 200 species have been seen from this balcony. Linger as we may, trails and exploring calls.
Though small (125 acres), the reserve has a nice mix of habitats. Open crowns of Cecropia trees afford us good looks at colorful species like Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Squirrel Cuckoo, and Yellow-throated Euphonia. White-ruffed Manakin and Thicket Antpitta call frequently, alerting us to their presence along the trails. One of the trails leads us to hummingbird feeders set up in the forest. Here we often find the stunning Snowcap alongside colorful Crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and Green Hermit.
Another lovely home-cooked meal and then we share a gracious evening recounting our trip highlights and doing a final checklist of our species. The time passes so quickly!
Accommodations at Rancho Naturalista (B,L,D)
Sun., Oct. 27 : Departures
After breakfast, we offer a group transfer to San José’s Juan Santamaria International Airport to catch your flights back home. Keep in mind that driving time from the lodge to the airport is nearly two hours, and you should be at the airport almost three hours ahead of your flight, so you cannot make those early-morning departures! If you must leave early we can arrange a private transfer for you (additional cost). Otherwise, plan on flights out after 1:00 PM. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey is $4490 DBL / $4965 SGL, from San José, Costa Rica. This cost includes all accommodations, meals as specified in the itinerary, professional guide services, other park and program entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. Tour cost does not include: round-trip transportation from your home city to San José, optional activities, or items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone charges, maid gratuities, or beverages from the bar.
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
Arrival and Departure Airport: Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose Arrival Details: Plan to arrive October 17, no later than 5:00 PM if you wish to join the group for dinner Departure Details: Plan flight departures on October 27, after 1:00 PM If you would prefer to overnight in San Jose for a morning departure on October 28, there are some airport hotel recommendations below. Travel Tips: If you arrive early to rest up from your travels, we can book extra nights for you with a transfer to our hotel, the Hotel Bougainvillea, which is in a residential area of the city. If you prefer to stay downtown and see the city, we have a few hotel recommendations below. If you choose to stay downtown, you’ll need to arrange a taxi or driver with the hotel to return to the airport for pickup or go out to the Bougainvillea to enjoy its gardens on the tour start date. There are many things to see in San Jose if you’re up for exploring! If you enjoy museums, you’re in luck because some of the best in Costa Rica are located right in San Jose. The Museo Nacional de Costa Rica has exhibits highlighting the archaeology and history of Costa Rica as well as a butterfly garden. The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum has one of the largest collections of gold artifacts in Latin America, some of which date back to 500 CE. If you’re looking to do some shopping or try some local food, head over to the Mercado Central (Central Market). You’ll find vendors selling fruits and vegetables, local food dishes, and a wide variety of souvenirs. Downtown Hotel Recommendations: Hotel Presidente Hotel Grano de Oro Airport Hotel Recommendations: Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Cariari San Jose Hampton by Hilton San Jose Airport Visa Information: US nationals do not require an entry visa to Costa Rica for a tour of this length.
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
- January 2018
- October 2018
- January 2019
- March 2019
- January 2020
- March 2021
- December 2021 (Christmas in Costa Rica)
- February 2022
- March 2022
- December 2022
- January 2023
- February 2023
- July 2023
- October 2023
Essential Information +
This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!
Ahead of Your Tour
- Make sure your passport will be valid at least SIX months after the date of your scheduled return to the U.S. No Visas are required for U.S. citizens visiting in Costa Rica for the duration of this tour. 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, agent ID F028775.
- 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 San José, Costa Rica (SJO)
Please note. If you are delayed in travel, please FIRST call the number of our Costa Rica operator. As a backup, contact our office (both numbers are on your emergency contact list).
Plan to arrive in San José ideally by 5:00 PM if you wish to join the welcome dinner at the hotel. If your flight arrives after 6:00 PM plan on eating dinner on the plane, or we can hold a late meal for you at the hotel. You may want to arrive a day early (at your own cost) to take in sights of the city. We have blocked a limited number of early night rooms at the Hotel Bougainvillea for this; after they are taken it will be on an as available basis but we are happy to help. You can also arrive to an airport hotel with a shuttle if coming in late the night ahead.
As you arrive at the airport, your Emergency Contact list, sent ahead of the tour, will be helpful when passing through immigration and they ask where you will be staying. You should pick your luggage up from the carousel, and then leave the baggage claim area where you will then go through customs (where all they'll do is a quick security scan of your bags).
After that, you'll gather your bags and exit this area, and your driver will be waiting for you just outside with a sign. There will likely be multiple drivers out there waiting, so look carefully! But he or she will be there. Your name should be on the sign, or possibly it will say Naturalist Journeys. We will coordinate all this once we have your completed travel information. Please make sure we have both your arrival and departure information, so they can plan this. It is imperative that we have your correct travel information; we appreciate if you email us a copy of your flight reservation.
Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.
Departures from San José, Costa Rica (SJO)
Plan departures after 1:00 PM. We have an early start for the 3-hour drive back from our lodge to the airport.
Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.
Passports, Visas & Documents
You must have a passport that is in good condition and is valid for SIX months AFTER your scheduled return to the U.S. You should have at least one blank page per stamp. The blank pages need to say “Visas” at the top. Pages marked “Amendments and Endorsements” will not be accepted. If you are from another country, please contact the Costa Rican embassy website for guidelines. Information for U.S. citizens can be found at: travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/CostaRica.html
At the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required for the duration of this tour, however, it never hurts to check 60-90 days ahead of your tour departure for possible changes in visa requirements for the length of this tour. The necessary documents will be distributed by your airline while in flight or provided for you upon arrival. You WILL need to provide proof of a return ticket. We advise that you bring your eContact list of hotels for use at immigration as well.
As a precaution in the event of lost or stolen travel documents you are carrying, we highly recommend you keep electronic backup copies on your phone (either color photo or PDF scan), as well as a copy left with your emergency contact at home. The recommended important documents to copy include, but are not limited to; your passport ID page, travel visa, the front and back of your credit card(s), vaccination records, travel and health insurance cards, and even the airline barcode on your luggage. Having these copies kept in a separate location will greatly expedite getting new ones if necessary. We hope everyone will keep their primary travel documents close at all times (such as in an under-clothing document pouch) to reduce this risk.
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 a copy of your current vaccination records with you. Although 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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. The CDC's website (USA) is a helpful resource or you may contact them by phone at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).
Prescriptions and Allergies: It is a good idea to pack any meds you take regularly in your carry-on luggage as well as an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses. Bring an adequate supply of any prescription medications you use, a copy of the prescription and a list of generic names of your medicines as “back-up” in case it is necessary to purchase drugs while abroad. You’ll want to keep medications in their original, labeled containers. It is also recommended to carry with you an up-to-date record of known allergies, chronic medical problems and Medic Alerts so that, if necessary, emergency treatment can be carried out without endangering your health.
Common Ailments: We recommend that you bring a travel-sized first aid kit and a supply of standard over-the-counter medications for common ailments (such as upset stomach, headache, motion sickness, diahhrea, minor scrapes, bug bites, etc.). Altitude sickness can affect some and, if there is a concern, be prepared.
Weather & Climate
Lush rainforests, and tropical dry forests occur here due to the hot, humid climate and it’s just a part of the experience. In lower elevation areas it will be hot. Mountain environments and areas around San José are cooler, and you will want a light fleece or jacket in the evenings and early mornings.
In general, the weather during your stay should be warm to hot (75-85°F) in the lowlands and on the coast, and cool in the mountains (60’s-70’s°F daytime and 40’s-50’s°F early morning and night). Weather can be unpredictable; raingear is on the suggested packing list - a light rain jacket or poncho is good and YES - do bring an umbrella. Your raincoat can double as a layer to combine with a light jacket possibly some evenings.
Annoyances & Hazards
Mosquitoes can occur in the forests; therefore, a supply of insect repellent containing DEET is essential. At grassland or farm locations you may encounter chiggers, if so, spray your shoes with repellent, and tuck your pants into your socks, this helps a lot. When back, be sure to shower and air out your clothing. Chiggers are a part of lowland and mid-elevation habitats throughout Central and South America. Your guide should have a good read on if it has been wet enough that they are active. There can also be poisonous snakes and insects, though encountering them is rare. Do listen carefully to any advice given by your local guide. And remember the sun is strong and be prepared with proper protection.
Food & Drinks
Menus at lodges and restaurants are varied, sustainably based on the wonderful local ingredients available, and delightfully prepared in a sanitary environment. As with any case when traveling we urge you to consider what your body is used to before you eat something. Trust your common sense when consuming food and beverages. This is the best way to avoid any unwanted problems. Ask for recommendations from your hotel or refer to a guidebook such as Frommers. Meals reflect the contributions of American, European, Spanish, and local cuisines.
Bottled water will be available for field trips and drinking water is provided for you to refill a bottle. One of the many ways we strive to do our part for the environment is by trying to reduce our consumption of plastics. If convenient we appreciate if you can bring reusable water bottles. Your guide will let you know when bottled water is preferable.
Packing, Clothing & Laundry
Dress is very informal and laundry services are available for a fee at our lodges. While some people will change for dinner, it is usually just to a drier or cleaner version of what they wore during the day. Again, the climate is warm to hot, so you will be comfortable in lightweight clothing.
Please, pack light. We are serious about this – we move around a lot; you just do not need much to cope with tropical life! Please do not bring anything more than you must. Lay out your hopeful things to take and then do a serious paring down please! 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. More information can be found at www.power-plugs-sockets.com.
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 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!
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 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.
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 daytime and 40’s-50’s°F early morning and night). Dress is comfortable and informal throughout the trip. Dressing in layers is the best way to be comfortable. Lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants make ideal field clothing as they are more protective from sun and vegetation. But if you like to wear them, by all means bring some shorts. Also, choose clothing you don’t mind getting dirty or muddy and things that are comfortable and easy. A light jacket should be enough in the cooler evenings and on boat rides. Costa Rica’s rainy or “green season” is May to mid-November, so raingear and an umbrella are on the list.
Note on clothing colors and insect repellent: We recommend muted colors of tan, brown, khaki, grey or green, as they are spotted less easily than white or bright colors, though camouflage clothing is not recommended. It is possible to purchase field clothing permeated with insect repellent such as the Craghoppers Insect Shield collection. Another approach is to purchase Permethrin spray (online or from REI) to treat your field clothing and socks before your departure.
Clothing and Gear
- Lightweight long pants, 2-3 pair
- Lightweight long-sleeved shirts – 2 or 3
- Shorts (optional, not generally recommended)
- T-shirts or equivalent (1 per day or every other day recommended – Remember that you may be buying some there anyway!)
- Long-sleeve shirt for layering or cooler days when at higher elevation
- Personal underclothing
- Socks – lightweight and easy to wash and dry
- Comfortable but sturdy walking/hiking shoes such as tennis shoes and lightweight hiking boots. Please note that forest trails will be on uneven terrain and may be muddy – bring shoes with good support and firm grip tread
- Walking stick – we find that many travelers appreciate a walking stick on trails, sporting goods stores carry collapsible models that pack easily in your suitcase (optional)
- Sandals for evenings, travel days and for wearing on boats (optional, Teva style are great)
- Lightweight raincoat or poncho
- Lightweight jacket, fleece fabric is ideal, very important as it can be cool in the mountains
- Light gloves, hat and scarf for mountains
- Comfortable clothes for evening (a cleaner version of your field clothes or a skirt, sun dress, etc.)
- Bathing suit (optional)
- Hat with broad brim
- Bandanna (optional, great for cooling off when you are hot and sweaty. They even make them with a gel inside for several hours of cooling)
Equipment and Miscellaneous
- E-ticket verification
- Passport that will be valid at least 6 months after date of return to the U.S., 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/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
- Vaccination records
- Medical and travel insurance documents
- Prescription medications
- Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed on bus, van, drives, etc.
- Personal first aid kit and medications for general ailments (Imodium or Lomotil, antihistamine cream or tablets, eye drops, etc.)
- Copy of eyeglass prescription, copy of medical prescriptions, and any medical alerts
- Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
- Band-aids, moleskin to protect against blisters
- Hand Sanitizer
Suggested Reading List +
There are many titles of interest for Costa Rica; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started.
Merlin App – Costa Rica Pack. A phone-based birding app from Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. Before departing the U.S., download the app for free, then from within the app, download the “pack” for Costa Rica.
Wildlife & Nature
History & Culture
There is a good selection of books available for sale at visitors’ centers, and your guide will also have a selection of reference books and materials for participants to share. As an Amazon Associate, Naturalist Journeys earns from qualifying purchases, and may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page at no added cost to you.
Useful Links +
General Overview of Costa Rica
District of Puerto Viejo, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica
Selva Verde Lodge – Our Story
Canton of Sarapiqui
Nature, Wildlife & Biology
Birds of Costa Rica
Bird checklist - eBird (You may also search lodge websites for lodge checklists)
Mammals of Costa Rica
Animals and Plants Unique to Costa Rica
New York Times article on cloud forests, Costa Rica
Conservation, Parks & Reserves
Conservation in Costa Rica
La Selva Research Station, Organization for Tropical Studies
Maquenque National Wildlife Refuge
Braulio Carrillo National Park
Macaw Recovery Network Organization
The World Bank Feature Article – “Costa Rica’s Forest Conservation Pays Off”
Geology & Geography
Geology of Costa Rica
History & Culture
History & Culture of Costa Rica
Cuisine of Costa Rica
Helpful Travel Websites
Juan Santa María International Airport (SJO)
National Passport Information Center
Homeland Security Real ID Act
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Foreign Exchange Rates
U.S. Department of State International Travel Information – Costa Rica
Centers for Disease Control (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: Broad-winged Hawk by Peg Abbott; White-neckd Jacobins by Sandy Sorkin; Red-eyed Tree Frog by Greg Smith; Resplendent Quetzal by Greg Smith; Green Violetear, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Amazon Kingfisher by Sandy Sorkin; Laughing Falcon by Peg Abbott; Black-cheeked Woodpecker by Sandy Sorkin; Blue Jeans Frog by Sandy Sorkin; Three-toed Sloth by Howard Topoff; Great Potoo by Sandy Sorkin; Lesson's Motmot by Peg Abbott; Silver-throated Tanager by Peg Abbott; Black Howler Monkey by Peg Abbott; Silver-throated Tanager by Greg Smith; Keel-billed Toucan by Doug Greenberg; Maquenque Lodge, courtesy the lodge; Great Curassow Pair by Sandy Sorkin; Eyelash Pit Viper by Sandy Sorkin; Resplendent Quetzal by Greg Smith; Bay-headed Tanager by Peg Abbott; Aerial Tram by Peg Abbott; Agouti by Peg Abbott; American Crocodile by Peg Abbott; Bare-throated Tiger-Heron by Peg Abbott; Black Guan by Peg Abbott; Bromeliads by Peg Abbott; Coatimundi by Peg Abbott; Crimson-collared Tanager by Peg Abbott; Emerald Basilisk by Peg Abbott; Great Green Macaw by Peg Abbott; Group by Carlos Sanchez; Horse and Cart by Sandy Sorkin.