Tuesday 20 March 2018

Costa Rica - Logistics and Itinerary

In early March 2018 my fellow patch-worker Bob V and I spent an entire week in Costa Rica. This is by far and away the longest bird trip I have ever been on and I mean that entirely seriously. Most trips to this country however last a fortnight, time I am not able to take, and as such we reduced the number of distinct areas we went to and also reduced the typical amount of time that is spent in each of these areas. If we missed something there were limited opportunities to try again. Despite the compressed timetable it was utterly fantastic and by some margin the best place I have ever been birding. We missed very little and notched up 412 species in 6.5 days, not far off the totals expected on the longer itineraries, and what's more had a lot of fun doing it. The Tropics are simply incomparable.

  • We opted on a fully guided trip - rain forest birding in a country with the diversity of Costa Rica is incredibly difficult and we wanted to maximise what we saw.
  • We used 'Costa Rica Gateway' to create a bespoke itinerary for us, focusing on seeing as many of the near-endemics as possible in the allotted time. Kevin Easley runs CRG and proved to be excellent.
  • The cost was approximately £1550 per person and included a guide, a vehicle and all fuel, seven nights accommodation, most meals, and all reserve entrance fees. 
  • We spent barely anything else during the week- a few cheap lunches, some evening beer and a tip for our guide.
  • Travel was with BA was an easy choice as they have four direct flights to San José from Gatwick every week. Prior to this option flights were via Madrid or the USA. We left on Saturday morning, returning the following Saturday afternoon. 
  • No visas were required for UK citizens.
  • The local currency is Colones but US Dollars are widely accepted. 
  • Mosquito repellent is a must but the bugs were not as bad as you might think. 
  • It was hot in the lowlands and a bit cooler in the highlands - a mix of clothing is needed, as well as waterproof shoes and a raincoat for some areas.
  • We took the Birds of Costa Rica (Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean). This was wholly unnecessary as our guide was Leonardo Garrigues. The clue is in the name....he was unbelievable. 
  • Leo came with a scope so there was no need to bring one. I took my camera instead but birding always came first. Blink and you'll miss it.
Lesser Violetear

The itinerary was a tried and tested one - two days each in the Caribbean Lowlands, Highlands and Pacific Lowlands, with some time devoted to travelling between the areas. The reserves and areas visited appear on many if not all trips reports, as indeed did all of the hotels, and are chosen for good reason - they were all exceptional. Each birding location had a different mix of birds. 

Day 1 (3 hours):
Flight to SJO, arriving early afternoon. Met at the airport for hotel transfer, late afternoon chilling out at a nearby hotel. 
Day 2: Early pick up by Leo, transfer via La Paz Waterfall Garden to La Quinta de Sarapiqui in the Caribbean Lowlands. 
Day 3: Full day birding La Selva Biological Station. Overnight at La Quinta.
Day 4: Morning on the Caribbean Slope, afternoon drive back through San José to the Savegre Valley in the Highlands with various birding stops. Overnight at Savegre Mountain Lodge.
Day 5: Full day birding the Highlands. Overnight at Savegre Mountain Lodge.
Day 6: Morning birding the Highlands and Pacific Slope, afternoon drive to Tarcoles via San Isidro and Dominical. Overnight at the Hotel Villa Lapas.
Day 7: Morning birding Carara NP in the Central Pacific Lowlands, afternoon in the Mangroves and around the Tarcoles river. Overnight at Villa Lapas.
Day 8 (half day): Dry forest birding and further mangroves along the Guacalillo Road, lunchtime transfer to San José for a 3.30pm flight home, arriving home on Sunday morning.

1. Hotel Robledal
2. La Paz Waterfall Gardens
3. La Quinta di Sarapiqui
4. La Selva OTS
5. Cope's Place
6. Old Butterfly Garden
7. Savegre Valley
8. Bosque de Tolomuco
9. Carara NP
10. Guacalillo Road

Flame Tanager

A short word on pace - because we were travelling as a party of three and not restricted by the needs and limitations of a large group it is fair to say that we went at it quite hard. We wanted and were given intense birding - starting before breakfast and often continuing after dark for Owls and Nightjars. Nonetheless each day had a leisurely lunch stop, and those days where there was no travel had a decent block of time in the middle of the day for a siesta after lunch, or in my case a much-needed opportunity to concentrate on bird photography at the various feeding stations that two of the three hotels had. The third had a swimming pool and free beer....


  1. That Lesser Violetear pic. Wow. Just wow. Thank you for posting it and sharing it with us all.

    1. Cheers. I didn't even know they could do it. When I saw it I determined to get it!