Few places rival Costa Rica’s ecological diversity. Over a quarter of the country is protected lands, boasting 850 bird species and 200+ mammals. Costa Rica has remained at the top of our list for traveler satisfaction, with talented guides, superb nature lodges, and fabulous birds and mammals.

On this adventure, search La Selva Biological Station for Neotropical specialties. Traverse the Continental Divide, from lowland rainforest to cloud forest. Glide down a river looking for secretive birds such as Sunbittern and Green Ibis, several species of kingfisher, Green Iguana, and Mantled Howler Monkey. Relax at a mountain lodge and witness Northern Emerald-Toucanet and Collared Redstart in the wild Savegre Valley, a special place where Resplendent Quetzal nest and American Dipper feed in the rushing stream.

Opt for the terrific Pacific Coast extension to see another suite of birds and some rare primary Pacific dry forest habitat — along with Pacific rainforest, mangroves, swamps, swamp forests, fresh and saltwater marshes, and lagoons. VERY birdy, with some mammal opportunities as well!

  • "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

Tour Highlights

  • Discover the stunning Resplendent Quetzal in a cloud forest at a private reserve
  • Enjoy amazing views of Flame-throated Warbler, Flame-colored Tanager, and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher in the Rio Savegre Valley
  • Marvel at close-up hummingbird viewing from the verandah at Rancho Naturalista, perhaps even the one of a kind Snowcap
  • Explore and bird the fascinating archaeological site of Guayabo
  • Seek out lowland rainforest specialties at La Selva Biological Station, recognized internationally as one of the most productive tropical forest research stations in the world
  • Relax on a Sarapiqui River boat trip as you search for Sunbittern, Green Ibis, and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
  • Opt for a five-day Pacific Coast extension to see a mix of species east and west of the Continental Divide

Trip Itinerary

Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.

Tues., Feb. 4    Arrival in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica! Today you arrive in San José where you are met at the airport by a representative from Horizontes, our Costa Rican host company, for a private transfer to the Hotel Bougainvillea. We select this boutique hotel for its spacious rooms, friendly service, and spectacular birdy gardens, just outside the door. This is an environmentally-friendly hotel with a commitment to our planet and hospitality. Those arriving in time can enjoy a welcome dinner with fellow traveling companions and guide. Those that arrive later than dinner have a snack tray on arrival.
Accommodations at Hotel Bougainvillea (D)

Wed., Feb. 5      Mirador Quetzales

Those who wish are welcome to get out early and walk the gardens, looking for birds and enjoying the great diversity of tropical flowers. After breakfast we depart for Cerro de la Muerte (Mountain of Death), part of the Talamanca Mountains. These 11,000 foot peaks in view were named for early explorers who, traveling on foot or by mule, risked dying of hunger, exposure, or storms. *Today our road is modern, a part of the Pan-American Highway.

As we reach the often cloud-enshrouded summit, we stop at the family-run cloud-forest reserve, Paraíso de Quetzales. Here we walk lush forest trails in search of Costa Rica’s most famous and elegant bird, the Resplendent Quetzal. Walking the cloud forest trails, we often find a host of other species as well. We then descend into the stunning valley of the Savegre River, a true realm of the Resplendent Quetzal!

Our lodge is situated at a cool 7,000 feet above sea level in an isolated and idyllic valley near the town of San Gerardo de Dota. As we descend into the valley we find a mix of pristine forest, hillside farms, and fantastic views. We stop for photographs and to see what’s in bloom along the way.

Over forty years ago, Sr. Ephraim Chacon and his brother opened a road and began a dairy farm and apple orchard in this remote Talamanca Mountain valley. Today several lodges settle naturally into the landscape here, a prime destination for birders. After settling in to our accommodations, we walk one of the lodge’s nature trails, learning about the flora and fauna of the tropical cloud forest. With luck, we spot an American Dipper feeding in the rushing trout stream! Enjoy a lovely meal tonight at the lodge’s restaurant.
Accommodations at Savegre Hotel, Natural Reserve and Spa (B,L,D)

Thurs., Feb. 6     Rio Savegre Valley | Montane Cloud Forests

Today we walk the local road where we get an excellent view of these beautiful Talamanca Range forests and their fantastic residents, like Flame-throated Warbler, Flame-colored Tanager, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Black Guan, and Northern Emerald-Toucanet. Throughout the valley, various trails lead to waterfalls, secluded canyons, and mountain vistas; several options are available to us.

Resplendent Quetzal are found in this valley year-round, and we often spot them near a favorite fruiting tree where several males may congregate. On trails that wind past rivers and lakes, we look for Collared Trogon, Collared and Slate-throated Redstart, Large-footed Finch, and Sooty Robin.

Montane oak forest dominates the area, including magnificent oaks like Wild Brazilleto, Winter’s Bark Tree, and Cipresillo. We take a stab at identifying them and then simply admire the hundreds of species of bromeliads, lichens, mosses, ferns, and the multitude of orchids and colorful flowers. Locals raise fruit on the hillsides and farm trout in small ponds.

For those that wish, a loop hike can be made up and around a ridgeline above the lodge.
Accommodations at Savegre Hotel, Natural Reserve and Spa (B,L,D)

Fri., Feb. 7       Turrialba | Rancho Naturalista

After breakfast, we drive back through the mountains toward Turrialba, where our lodge, Rancho Naturalista, lays nestled in another scenic range.

We enjoy lunch at a restaurant along our travel route and, upon our late afternoon arrival at the lodge, we enjoy birding from the veranda. 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. Temperatures are cooler at a comfortable 3000 feet. At day’s end, we are likely to see Keel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucans, and Collared Aracari coming in to roost.
Accommodations at Rancho Naturalista (B,L,D)

Sat., Feb. 8      Birding Mid-Montane Forests | Rancho Naturalista Grounds

Wake up and bird on the balcony where, with luck, a mixed group of colorful tanagers works the bananas on the feeders. We can hope for Passerini’s, Speckled, Bay-headed, Silver-throated, and Summer. White-necked Jacobin are regulars, and a special treat is the tiny Black-crested Coquette. Blue-crowned Motmot and Golden-olive Woodpecker are “yard birds.” Indeed, over 200 species have been seen from this balcony! Linger as we may, trails and exploring call.

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 Green Honeycreeper, Squirrel Cuckoo, and Blue Dacnis. White-ruffed Manakin and Fasciated Antshrike call, 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 large Green Hermit.
Accommodations at Rancho Naturalista (B,L,D)

Sun., Feb. 9      Guayabo National Park | Sarapiqui | Selva Verde Lodge

Today we continue on to the Caribbean lowlands. En route, we visit Guayabo National Monument, a fascinating archaeological site where rocks are carved into figures in many stylized forms. Established in 1973, it is the largest and one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Costa Rica. While it does not rival the great Maya civilization sites, this complex settlement lies in a beautiful valley, perched on the side of a mountain. We find cobblestone paths, building foundations, and water canals that date from 1100 BC to 1400 AD. Forests surrounding the site vary from second growth to dense mature forest. Vegetation is lush and beautiful, and mixed flocks of colorful tanagers, grosbeaks, and orioles like the edge-effect of the excavated ruins.

We enjoy lunch along the way at a local restaurant and, once settled in at our hotel, we visit local birding hotspots around this lovely community. Many private gardens attract a rich array of hummingbirds, and having changed elevation, many species, particularly of colorful tanagers, are new.
Accommodations at Selva Verde (B,L,D)

Mon., Feb. 10      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)

Tues., Feb. 11      Departures or Extension

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before departing. We must tear ourselves away as our bus departs for San José and the airport — or, a better idea: If time permits, veer off towards the Pacific Ocean and Costa Rica’s west side by joining our Pacific Coast Extension. By choosing the extension, you get to experience the widest range of habitats and species available—the Pacific side of the divide hosts a grand array of different species. Taking the main tour and extension together gives you a great cross-section of the country.

Pacific Coast Post-Tour Extension

Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.

Pacific Coast Birding and ‘Top Ten’ Carara National Park

See rare habitat in a less-visited side of the country with this post-tour extension to Costa Rica’s beautiful Pacific Coast. We take a mangrove boat trip on the Tarcoles River, and enjoy the birds. butterflies. and mammals of highly biodiverse Carara National Park, which shows up on many ‘top ten’ lists for Central America birding destinations. Other habitats we visit on this extension include mangroves, swamps, swamp forests, both fresh and saltwater marshes, and lagoons. This is a terrific opportunity to see another suite of birds and another side of Costa Rica without booking another plane ticket!

Tues., Feb. 11: Pacific Coast Extension


After leaving friends at the airport, our group continues on its way to the Central Pacific area, where we stay in a lovely valley with a rushing river, close to the Pacific Ocean. We arrive in time for lunch. The hotel and dining room sit aside a small river, and there is a steady stream of species coming in, including toucans and aracaris.

This afternoon we take a mangrove boat trip on the Tarcoles River. This is a great complement to our boat trip on the Sarapiqui, showing you two sides of the country. If time permits, especially if we have not seen macaws on our boat trip, we stop on a high bridge with expansive views. Though busy with traffic, this is the best place in Costa Rica to watch for Scarlet Macaw returning to roost sites. Their calls alert us and, as we wait to see their dazzling colors, we find a host of other species such as Mealy Parrot and, close-at-hand, noisy Rufous-naped Wren.
Accommodations at Cerro Lodge (B,L,D)

Wed., Feb. 12: Carara National Park


This morning we have an early start to enjoy a full morning of birding at Carara National Park, a place many consider to be one of the top ten birding spots in Central America. Here we witness birds and wildlife of a transition forest, walking trails and searching for birds, butterflies, and mammals. This park can claim almost unparalleled diversity along the Central American Pacific Coast, as many species here are at the edge of their range. This is the northern reach of species at home in Pacific Rainforest, and the southern reach for those associated with Pacific Dry Forests.

Carara’s forests’ more open nature makes it easier for us to find birds. Carara is an excellent place to observe an army-ant swarm and its attendant feeding antbirds. We may find Scaly-breasted Hummingbird or Blue-throated Goldentail. Orange-collared Manakin, Black-hooded Antshrike, Dot-winged Antwren, Dusky Antbird, and Chestnut-backed Antbird are among the more secretive species we hope to find. Vegetation is impressive in this important ecological reserve.

After lunch, we drive to La Ensenada, a country lodge on a lake. This family-run lodge, where we stay the next two nights, features 20 simple, but comfortable, cabins, a swimming pool, and a delightful open-air restaurant that prepares local foods. The lodge is part of a working cattle ranch and fruit farm, and also part of a 100-acre wildlife reserve. All cabins have ceiling fans, wood paneling, high ceilings, and private terraces. This special property holds some of the last remaining primary (old growth) dry forest, as well as a mangrove ecosystem, and is on the beautiful Gulf of Nicoya.

As we settle in, watch the sky for Magnificent Frigatebird and Brown Pelican; we may also be able to enjoy the antics of colonies of Montezuma Oropendola, Piratic Flycatcher, Squirrel Cuckoo, and colorful Cherrie’s Tanager and Spot-breasted Oriole in the trees.
Accommodations at La Ensenada Lodge (B,L,D)

Thurs., Feb. 13: Boat & Tractor Tours


After breakfast at the hotel, we venture out to enjoy a great birding site near the Gulf of Nicoya at a private reserve.

The deltas of the Bebederas River, or Rio Abangeres, both have a tremendous array of wetland habitats: mangroves, swamps, swamp forests, both fresh and saltwater marshes, and lagoons. Herons and egrets congregate here, joined by the ancient-looking Wood Stork. A verdant oasis in the driest region of Costa Rica, the Gulf of Nicoya is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Because the Tempisque is a tidal river, salt-water loving Crocodiles venture upstream. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded here, and an estimated 250,000 wading birds and waterfowl winter here, giving us tremendous opportunities for spectacular sightings.

Large-scale seasonal flooding occurs here; as the dry season progresses, the wetland habitat shrinks, concentrating the bird population. Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling Ducks can be quite common in some years, and many North American ducks winter in the estuary. Touring by boat is the perfect way to explore its riches.

At cooler times of the day we walk trails in tropical dry forest. The limestone cliffs in this area pose quite a contrast to the volcanic region we previously visited. There are also pre-Hispanic archaeological sites in the region.

In the afternoon we tour the ranch by tractor, ending our day with wine and cheese at sunset?such a life! In dry forests we watch for White-throated Magpie-Jay, Streak-backed Oriole, Banded Wren, and Black-headed Trogon. We then return to the lodge for dinner and a relaxing evening to tally our wildlife sightings.
Accommodations at Ensenada Lodge (B,L,D)

Fri., Feb. 14: Hacienda Solimar Private Reserve | Return to San Jose


The reserve is an excellent place to look for mammals such as peccaries or coatimundis. We offer an early morning option for those that are keen.
In the afternoon, we return to San José. We stop in a small town at a park where children play, and where, in the past, we’ve had luck finding very tame Black-and-White Owl. We also stop at our favorite ice cream store, yum!

Tonight we enjoy a farewell dinner with friends as we prepare to depart in the morning.
Accommodations at the DoubleTree or Bougainvillea (B,L,D)

Sat., Feb. 15: Departures


After breakfast we offer a group transfer to San José’s Juan Santamaría International Airport to take your flights back home. Keep in mind that you should be at the airport almost three hours ahead of your flight, so watch those early morning departures! It’s very nice to have a leisurely morning at this lovely hotel and gardens. If you must leave early, we can arrange a private transfer for you (small additional cost), shared with others if they are also leaving early. Otherwise, we suggest you plan on flights out after 12:00 PM. (B)

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    Scarlet Macaw by Bryan Calk

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    Red-eyed Tree Frog by Bryan Calk

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    Montezuma Oropendola by Bryan Calk

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    Green Honeycreeper by Bryan Calk

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    Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher by Bryan Calk

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    Group Birding by Bryan Calk

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    Collared Aracari by Bryan Calk

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    White-collared Manakin by Bryan Calk

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    Flower by Bryan Calk

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    Scenic by Bryan Calk

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    Resplendent Quetzal by Bryan Calk

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    Red-legged Honeycreeper by Bryan Calk

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    Keel-billed Toucan by Bryan Calk

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    Flowing Stream by Bryan Calk

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    Snowcap by Bryan Calk

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    Crimson-collared Tanager by Bryan Calk

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  • Birding Costa Rica, Costa Rica Nature, Central America, Bird watching Costa Rica, Neotropical Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Birding Hotspot

    Scenic by Bryan Calk

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  • Birding Costa Rica, Costa Rica Nature, Central America, Bird watching Costa Rica, Neotropical Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Birding Hotspot
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    Blue-gray Tanager by Bryan Calk

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    Group Birding by Bryan Calk

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  • Birding Costa Rica, Costa Rica Nature, Central America, Bird watching Costa Rica, Neotropical Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Birding Hotspot

Cost of the Journey

Cost of the journey (Main Tour) is $3990 DBL / $4320 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. Cost of the Pacific Coast extension is $1850 DBL / $2145 SGL. 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.

Travel Details

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 February 4, no later than 5:00 PM if you wish to join the group for dinner

Departure Details: Plan flight departures on February 11, after 1:00 PM
If you would prefer to overnight in San Jose for a morning departure on February 12, there are some airport hotel recommendations below.

Extension Departure Details: Plan flight departures on February 15, after 12:00 PM

Travel Tips: If you arrive early to rest up from your travels, we can book extra nights for you with a transfer to our hotel, the Hotel Bougainvillea, which is in a residential area of the city. If you prefer to stay downtown and see the city, we have a few hotel recommendations below. If you choose to stay downtown, you’ll need to arrange a taxi or driver with the hotel to return to the airport for pickup or go out to the Bougainvillea to enjoy its gardens on the tour start date. There are many things to see in San Jose if you’re up for exploring! If you enjoy museums, you’re in luck because some of the best in Costa Rica are located right in San Jose. The Museo Nacional de Costa Rica has exhibits highlighting the archaeology and history of Costa Rica as well as a butterfly garden. The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum has one of the largest collections of gold artifacts in Latin America, some of which date back to 500 CE. If you’re looking to do some shopping or try some local food, head over to the Mercado Central (Central Market). You’ll find vendors selling fruits and vegetables, local food dishes, and a wide variety of souvenirs.

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.

Costa Rica

Monteverde

Northern

Southern

  • Kelly Vandenheuvel

    Kelly has worked with Naturalist Journeys since 2011. She assists our lead guides on trips to Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Death Valley, the Eastern Sierras, California’s Central Coast, Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, Utah’s National Parks, Belize and the Caribbean islands of Trinidad & Tobago. Kelly enjoys the outdoors, travel, nature, wildlife, and working with people. Kelly is a licensed wildlife rehabber and educator for Pacific Wildlife Care in San Luis Obispo county, and is a founding member of the organization. She is also the Owner/Broker of Central Coast Property Sales. She and her husband Art own a ranch in Cayucos on California’s Central Coast, where
    they live with their large menagerie of birds and mammals, both wild and domestic. When not traveling, Art and Kelly welcome guests to find peace and quiet on their ranch in their B and B guest house.

    Other trips with Kelly Vandenheuvel

Map for Costa Rica Birding & Nature

Essential Information +

This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have Read more

This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!

Ahead of Your Tour

  • Make sure your passport will be valid at least six months AFTER the date of your scheduled return to the U.S. No Visas are required for U.S. citizens for stays of this length. If you are from another country, please contact the Embassy of Costa Rica’s website for guidelines.
  • Please check current CDC recommendations for travel to Costa Rica and consult with your doctor about general travel vaccinations you should have as precaution for travel. See the “General Health and Inoculations” section below.
  • Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is strongly recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance.
  • Plan your international flight reservations to arrive into and depart from San José’s Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO). Please enter your flight details into your client portal.
  • Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.

Arrival into San José, Costa Rica (SJO)

Please note. If you are delayed in travel, please FIRST call the number of our Costa Rica operator. As a backup, contact our office (both numbers are on your emergency contact list).

Plan to arrive in San José before 5:00 PM if you wish to join the welcome dinner at the hotel. As you arrive at the airport, your Emergency Contact list, sent ahead of the tour, will be helpful when passing through immigration and they ask where you will be staying. You should pick your luggage up from the carousel, and then leave the baggage claim area where you will then go through customs (where all they'll do is a quick security scan of your bags).

Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.

Departures from San José, Costa Rica (SJO)

You have to be at the airport about three hours ahead of your scheduled flight on this return. Plan departures for after 1 PM.

We will provide transfers for all departures through noon of the departure day, according to your flight schedules. Whenever possible we will keep the group together for this transfer. The departure fee is now typically built into your airline fare.

Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.

Passports, Visas & Documents

You must have a passport that is in good condition and is valid for six months AFTER your scheduled return to the U.S. You should have at least one blank page per stamp. The blank pages need to say “Visas” at the top. Pages marked “Amendments and Endorsements” will not be accepted. If you are from another country, please contact the Costa Rican embassy website for guidelines. Information for U.S. citizens can be found at: travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/CostaRica.html

It is recommended to check for changes 60-90 days before your tour departs but at the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required of US citizens for stays of this length. You will need proof of a return ticket. The necessary documents will be distributed by your airline while in flight or provided for you upon arrival. We advise that you bring your eContact list of hotels for use at immigration as well.

As a precaution for lost or misplaced documents you carry on your person during travel, we highly recommend you keep electronic backup copies on your phone (either photo or PDF scan), as well as a copy left with your emergency contact at home. The recommended important documents to copy include, but are not limited to; your passport ID page, travel visa, the front and back of your credit card(s), the airline barcode on your luggage. This will greatly expedite getting new ones if necessary – we hope everyone will always keep travel documents close so that losing them will not be an issue.

General Health & Inoculations Information - Be Prepared!

We will share your health information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important as we want to be best prepared in case of medical emergency. 

Anti-malarial drugs are not required for any area that you visit. There are occasional reports of Dengue Fever in lower elevation areas, for which there is no vaccine. Dengue fever, Zika, and other diseases are contacted by mosquito bites so be sure to use mosquito repellant containing DEET or Picaridin. Travelers can reduce their risk of disease by protecting themselves from mosquito bites in lower elevation areas by using protective clothing.

Vaccinations: Bring copies of your current vaccination records with you. At the time of writing there are no required vaccinations to enter Costa Rica, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever infected area.  The CDC recommends that all travelers be up to date with routine vaccinations and basic travel vaccines (such as Hepatitis A and Typhoid) before traveling to any destination. Please check with your doctor for recommendations at least 4-6 weeks before departing on your trip. A helpful website for planning is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage for Costa Rica or by phone 1-800-CDC-INFO or (1-800-232-4636).

Prescriptions and Allergies: It is a good idea to pack any meds you take regularly in your carry-on luggage.  Bring an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses. Bring an adequate supply of any prescription medications you use, a copy of the prescription and a list of generic names of your medicines as “back-up” in case it is necessary to purchase drugs while abroad.  You’ll want to keep medications in their original, labeled containers.  It is also recommended to carry with you an up-to-date record of known allergies, chronic medical problems and Medic Alerts so that, if necessary, emergency treatment can be carried out without endangering your health.

Common Ailments: We recommend that you bring a travel-sized first aid kit and a supply of standard over-the-counter medications for common ailments (such as upset stomach, headache, motion sickness, diahhrea, minor scrapes, bug bites, etc.). 

Weather & Climate

Lush rainforests, and tropical dry forests occur here due to the hot, humid climate and it’s just a part of the experience. In lower elevation areas it will be hot. Mountain environments and areas around San José are cooler, and you will want a light fleece or jacket in the evenings and early mornings.

In general, the weather during your stay should be warm to hot (75-85 °F) in the lowlands, and cooler in the mountains' daytime (60’s-70’s °F), 40’s-50’s°F early morning and night. Weather can be unpredictable. 

Annoyances & Hazards

Mosquitoes can occur in the forests; therefore, a supply of insect repellent containing DEET is essential. At grassland or farm locations you may encounter chiggers, if so, spray your shoes with repellent, and tuck your pants into your socks, this helps a lot. When back, be sure to shower and air out your clothing. Chiggers are a part of lowland and mid-elevation habitats throughout Central and South America. Your guide should have a good read on if it has been wet enough that they are active. There can also be poisonous snakes and insects, though encountering them is rare. Do listen carefully to any advice given by your local guide. And remember the sun is strong and be prepared with proper protection.

Food & Drinks

Menus at lodges and restaurants are varied, sustainably based on the wonderful local ingredients available, and delightfully prepared in a sanitary environment. As with any case when traveling we urge you to consider what your body is used to before you eat something. Trust your common sense when consuming food and beverages. This is the best way to avoid any unwanted problems. Ask for referrals from your hotel or a guidebook such as Frommers. Meals reflect the contributions of American, European, Spanish, and local cuisines.

Bottled water will be available for field trips and drinking water is provided for you to refill a bottle. One of the many ways we strive to do our part for the environment is by trying to reduce our consumption of plastics; if convenient we appreciate if you can bring reusable water bottles. Your guide will let you know when bottled water is preferable.

Packing, Clothing & Laundry

Dress is very informal and laundry services are available for a fee at our lodges. While some people will change for dinner, it is usually just to a drier or cleaner version of what they wore during the day. Again, the climate is warm to hot, so you will be comfortable in lightweight clothing. Weather can be unpredictable, so raingear is on the suggested packing list - a light rain jacket or poncho is good and YES - do bring an umbrella. Your raincoat can double as a layer to combine with a light jacket possibly some evenings.

Please, pack light. We are serious about this – we move around a lot; you just do not need much to cope with tropical life! Please do not bring anything more than you must. Lay out your hopeful things to take and then do a serious paring down please! 

TRAVEL TIP: Imagine NOT getting your suitcase. Wear your most important shoes for the field and have one day’s clothing change (including a change of underwear!). And please do not pack any essential medications, or your vital optics, in your checked luggage!

Spending Money

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 (crisp and unsoiled with no rips or tears). 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.

Gratuities

 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.

Electricity

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

Time

Costa Rica is on the same time as our Central Zone in the US. Check www.timeanddate.com before leaving home for your conversion.

Questions?

Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at clientservices@naturalistjourneys.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 Read more

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

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.

Transportation

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.

Travel Insurance

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 RescueWorld 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.

Questions?

Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at clientservices@naturalistjourneys.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 Read more

Please pack light!

Soft luggage is much easier for us to pack than a more rigid hard sided piece, so if you have the choice, please use your soft luggage. Be sure to have your name and address on the inside of the bag, as well as on the luggage tag on the handle. It is our hope that you can pack in one checked suitcase that does not exceed 45 pounds. Be sure to pack your personal medication, airline tickets, passport, binoculars, camera, and other essential items in your carry-on bag. You will want a day pack for field trips, so this is an ideal carry-on. Please reconfirm your airline’s baggage weight and size restrictions about a week or so before departure.

In general, the weather during your stay should be warm to hot (75-85°F) in the lowlands and on the coast, and cool in the mountains, 60’s-70’s°F in the mountain’s daytime, 40’s-50’s°F early morning and night.

Dress is comfortable and informal throughout the trip. Dressing in layers is the best way to be comfortable. Lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants make ideal field clothing as they are more protective from sun and vegetation. But if you like to wear them, by all means bring some shorts. Also, choose clothing you don’t mind getting dirty or muddy and things that are comfortable and easy. A light jacket should be enough in the cooler evenings and on boat rides. Costa Rica’s rainy or “green season” is May to mid-November, so raingear and an umbrella are on the list.

Note on clothing colors and insect repellent: We recommend muted colors of tan, brown, khaki, grey or green, as they are spotted less easily than white or bright colors, though camouflage clothing is not recommended. It is possible to purchase field clothing permeated with insect repellent such as the Craghoppers Insect Shield collection. Another approach is to purchase Permethrin spray (online or from REI) to treat your field clothing and socks before your departure.

Clothing and Gear

  • Lightweight long pants, 2-3 pair
  • Lightweight long-sleeved shirts – 2 or 3
  • Shorts (optional, not generally recommended)
  • T-shirts or equivalent (1 per day or every other day recommended – Remember that you may be buying some there anyway!)
  • Long-sleeve shirt for layering or cooler days when at higher elevation
  • Personal underclothing
  • Socks – lightweight and easy to wash and dry
  • Comfortable but sturdy walking/hiking shoes such as tennis shoes and lightweight hiking boots. Please note that forest trails will be on uneven terrain and may be muddy – bring shoes with good support and firm grip tread
  • Walking stick – we find that many travelers appreciate a walking stick on trails, sporting goods stores carry collapsible models that pack easily in your suitcase (optional)
  • Sandals for evenings, travel days and for wearing on boats (optional, Teva style are great)
  • Lightweight raincoat or poncho
  • Lightweight jacket, fleece fabric is ideal, very important as it can be cool in the mountains
  • Light gloves, hat and scarf for mountains
  • Comfortable clothes for evening (a cleaner version of your field clothes or a skirt, sun dress, etc.)
  • Bathing suit (optional)
  • Hat with broad brim
  • Bandanna (optional, great for cooling off when you are hot and sweaty. They even make them with a gel inside for several hours of cooling)

Equipment and Miscellaneous

  • E-ticket verification
  • Passport, visa (if required), travel insurance info, money & credit cards.
  • A secure pouch to carry the items above on your person (such as a secure, under-clothing document pouch)
  • As a backup: copies of all the above (phone and/or paper) packed in a separate location than on your person, plus a set given to your emergency contact at home as a backup. For passport, copy of the  ID and entry stamp pages.
  • Binoculars
  • Umbrella, compact and not brightly colored (this is great when it rains, you can continue using your binoculars!)
  • Small day pack or fanny pack for carrying your field gear
  • Small flashlight with fresh batteries. Please note that if you like to read at night, lighting in other countries is often poor in the rooms, and you may want to bring a book light, headlamp, or flashlight for this purpose
  • Alarm clock, or use your cell phone
  • Sunscreen/lip balm with SPF
  • Sunglasses with neck strap
  • Insect repellent (something containing 20% or more DEET, and sulfur powder or other for chiggers – check garden section)
  • Toilet articles
  • Spotting scope and tripod (optional)
  • Camera and extra batteries, film, lens cleaning supplies and your instruction manual (optional)
  • Water bottle
  • Notebook or journal and pen (optional)
  • Spanish phrase dictionary (optional)
  • Field guides (optional)
  • Sink plug (often not available, a flat universal one is easiest to use)
  • Washcloth (again, available some places and not at others)
  • Laundry soap if you plan to do hand washing
  • Earplugs – in urban and even rural areas barking dogs and traffic noise can be annoying. In general Costa Rica is noisier than the US
  • Rechargeable power bank (optional)

 

WE DO NOT RECOMMEND TRAVELING WITH PRECIOUS OR VALUABLE JEWELRY – don’t tempt anyone and don’t bring things you’d regret losing - your mind will be at ease!

Medical and First Aid Supplies

  • Personal medication
  • Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed on bus, van, drives, etc.
  • Personal first aid kit and medications for general ailments (Imodium or Lomotil, antihistamine cream or tablets, eye drops, etc.)
  • Copy of eyeglass prescription, copy of medical prescriptions, and any medical alerts
  • Heath insurance and vaccination information (kept in personal pouch with other travel documents)
  • Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
  • Band-aids, moleskin to protect against blisters
  • Hand Sanitizer

 

Suggested Reading List +

There are many titles of interest for Costa Rica; the following are a few that Read more

There are many titles of interest for Costa Rica; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started.

Top Picks

The Birds of Costa Rica, A Field Guide

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.

General Reading

A Naturalist’s Guide to the Tropics

The New Neotropical Companion

Costa Rica: A Journey through Nature

Nature of the Rainforest: Costa Rica and Beyond

The New Key to Costa Rica

Costa Rica: The Complete Guide: Ecotourism in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s National Parks and Preserves, a Visitor’s Guide

Field Guides

A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica

Birds of Central America

The Wildlife of Costa Rica: A Field Guide

Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica

Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide

A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico

Collin’s Guide to Tropical Plants

Butterflies of Costa Rica

Butterflies of the Golfo Dulce Region, Costa Rica. Free PDF

Wildlife & Nature

Nature Travel Guide: Birds and Mammals of Costa Rica

Birds of Tropical America: A Watcher's Introduction to Behavior, Breeding, and Diversity

Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate: Exotica and Unseen Costa Rica

Traveler’s Wildlife Guide Costa Rica

Natural History

The Natural History of Costa Rican Mammals

Costa Rican Natural History

The High Frontier: Exploring the Tropical Rainforest Canopy

Life Above the Jungle Floor

History & Culture

Chilies to Chocolate: Foods the Americas Gave the World

The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica

Costa Rica: The Last Country Gods Made

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 +

Learn more about your destination at these external websites, carefully researched for you. Read more

General

General Overview of Costa Rica

San José, Costa Rica

Rancho Naturalista

Selva Verde Lodge – Our Story

Turrialba

Canton of Sarapiqui

Nature, Wildlife & Biology

Birds of Costa Rica

Bird checklist - eBird (You may also search lodge websites for lodge checklists)

“Birding in Costa Rica at Paraíso de Quetzales”– Nice blog entry

Resplendent Quetzal

Mammal checklist

Flora of Costa Rica

Animals and Plants Unique to Costa Rica

Savegre River

Talamancan Montane Forests

Cerro de la Muerte

Sarapiqui River

Conservation, Parks & Reserves

Conservation in Costa Rica

Guayabo National Monument

La Selva Research Station, Organization for Tropical Studies

Braulio Carrillo National Park

Macaw Recovery Network Organization

The World Bank Feature Article – “Costa Rica’s Forest Conservation Pays Off”

Geology & Geography

Geology of Costa Rica

Geographic Overview

History & Culture

History & Culture of Costa Rica

Cuisine of Costa Rica

Optional Pacific Coast Extension

Carara National Park

Tárcoles River

Gulf of Nicoya

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

ATM Locator

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: Photos by Bryan Calk

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