Best on site birding lodges in Costa Rica (1 Viewer)

Hi.
I am tentatively planning a 2-3 week trip to Costa Rica for next year, and was hoping someone with experience of Costa Rica could offer some tips.

1. When is the optimum time of year for birding there?
I don't mind a bit of rain and would prefer not to pay extortionate rates whilst walking trails crowded with people. Is the wet season worth it? I can find very few reports from July/ August/ September time.

2.Locations. I have decided Carara and Arenal are a must.
I will also go to 2 of the following 3.
Santa Elena / Cano Negro/ Sarapiqui

I have done some cloudforest birding in Ecuador before, so I might give Monteverde a miss and try to get to Cano Negro from Arenal, and go from there to Sarapiqui. I don't drive and have very limited Spanish so is this do able by bus? How much would a driver cost?

3.Lodges. What I really love to do is wander around on my own just enjoying nature at my own slow pace. I would appreciate any recommendations for lodges which have a relatively extensive trail system, where one could easily spend the whole day without a guide and not have to travel anywhere else. Places I have identified are
1. Arenal Observatory Lodge.
2. San Gerardo Field Station.
3 Chilamate Resort Sarapqui.
If anyone has stayed at these places I would love to ear your opinion of them.
I would welcome recommendations for places in Cano Negro and Carara.
Last question. How much would a guide with transport cost for a day in Costa Rica. As mentioned I generally bird alone but am thinking of hiring a guide for Carara NP and Tarcoles boat trip.
Thanks in advance to anyone who can provide any suggestions.
Mark
 

njlarsen

Well-known member
Opus Editor
Regarding timing: I think many people like to go during the winter half of the year because the resident birds then are supplemented by migrants from the north.

Niels
 

dwminnich

Well-known member
We've been twice in early July, and both the weather and the birding have been fabulous. Rain, of course, but not enough to dampen our enthusiasm, and generally later in the day. I think that the later in your travel window you go the rain will get worse, but the rates in July have been good, and quite a deal compared to the high season. One lodge to add to your self-guide list is Rancho Naturalista... Lots of options on-site, and they're happy to line up guides for times you might want one.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 

Andy Adcock

Fractious Member of ill repute
England
If you want to spend some money for onsite birding what about Bosque del Rio Tigre, I haven't been but it sounds great though expensive.

Savegre Hotel in San Gerardo de Dotta has to be an option too, you have the grounds plus the whole valley to explore here.

We are just back and had a LOT of rain during our trip especially at Arenal and Heliconias lodge, we lost 4-5 days to rain over a month.

Regarding Arenal, you cannot now access the Los Tuccanes Trail from the volcano side of the trail as opposed to the Observatory Lodge side and I'm not sure if they are connected at all now?


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Thanks to those who replied.
I'll check out Savegre Hotel and Bosque Del Rio Tigre.
I understand that to get to both I would have to return to San Jose from Arenal and make my way from there, is that correct?
Cheers, Mark
 

Andy Adcock

Fractious Member of ill repute
England
Thanks to those who replied.
I'll check out Savegre Hotel and Bosque Del Rio Tigre.
I understand that to get to both I would have to return to San Jose from Arenal and make my way from there, is that correct?
Cheers, Mark

You could do Savegre which is off the main Inter American Highway on the way South to Bosqu del Rio Tigre.

Regarding a guide / driver, that will really cost, the best guides charge $150-200 per day just for guiding and you may have to pay their entrance in to parks and daily expenses too though not all do this and don't forget that if you have a driver for a few days away from his home, you'll have to pay for his room too. In terms of the cost of living, it's one of the most expensive places I've personally birded.

To get to Arenal or Maybe Poas, you could do it in a taxi directly from the airport? I don't think that car hire companies provide drivers although it may be worth asking for a quote to see if they do, ask for a price to take you and then pick you up a few days later then organise a guide localy at e.g Carara.

I can highly recommend this company that we just used so just mail them and ask the question, they speak good English so that won't be an issue.


[email protected]


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Peter C.

...just zis guy, you know?
I agree that the Atlantic lowlands are a place you really must hit, the bird selection being different from elsewhere. I stayed at SVL in Chilamate on my first trip to CR, and the birds there are, indeed, fabulous; lots of Collared Aracaris and assorted tanagers at the fruit feeders, easily seen nunbirds, trogons, and antbirds in the forest patches.
However, it has been so long since I have been there, that any specific information I could give with respect to accommodation would be hopelessly obsolete.
 

Birdingcraft

Well-known member
Hi.
I am tentatively planning a 2-3 week trip to Costa Rica for next year, and was hoping someone with experience of Costa Rica could offer some tips.

1. When is the optimum time of year for birding there?
I don't mind a bit of rain and would prefer not to pay extortionate rates whilst walking trails crowded with people. Is the wet season worth it? I can find very few reports from July/ August/ September time.

2.Locations. I have decided Carara and Arenal are a must.
I will also go to 2 of the following 3.
Santa Elena / Cano Negro/ Sarapiqui

I have done some cloudforest birding in Ecuador before, so I might give Monteverde a miss and try to get to Cano Negro from Arenal, and go from there to Sarapiqui. I don't drive and have very limited Spanish so is this do able by bus? How much would a driver cost?

3.Lodges. What I really love to do is wander around on my own just enjoying nature at my own slow pace. I would appreciate any recommendations for lodges which have a relatively extensive trail system, where one could easily spend the whole day without a guide and not have to travel anywhere else. Places I have identified are
1. Arenal Observatory Lodge.
2. San Gerardo Field Station.
3 Chilamate Resort Sarapqui.
If anyone has stayed at these places I would love to ear your opinion of them.
I would welcome recommendations for places in Cano Negro and Carara.
Last question. How much would a guide with transport cost for a day in Costa Rica. As mentioned I generally bird alone but am thinking of hiring a guide for Carara NP and Tarcoles boat trip.
Thanks in advance to anyone who can provide any suggestions.
Mark

Regarding 3. Lodges
Arenal Obersvatory- yeah, good choice for just that and really good birding.
San Gerardo field station- likewise.
Chilamate- Nice little place and owners but few trails. Good sites for longer trails through forest in Carib lowlands might be:
La Selva- Great trails but only get extensive access by paying a fair bit to stay there. Birding is good but keep in mind that many understory birds have become very rare.
Tirimbina- Good trails, can't go on them before 7 though. Still good though and healthier populations of understory species than La Selva.
Laguna del Lagarto- A bit far off and forest affected by hurricane but still really good, extensive trails, chance at many uncommon species.

Cano Negro- No real trails there but usually done on boat tours. Kingfisher Lodge is good value, nice birding on grounds.
To save money, one could also stay in Los Chiles and drive in to Cano Negro for the day.
Note that lots of improved infrastructure happening at Cano Negro, might be some really good trails by the time you visit.

Carara- Villa Lapas has some trails and Cerro Lodge has good birding on grounds. Both are closest best places to stay near national park. Fair bit of trails in park as well.

Guides- Hard to say about cost but probably $140-$200 for a whole day plus expenses. At Carara, one can also hire a guide at the entrance for a few hours. Most are good enough with the birds.
Tarcoles boat trip- for the birding boat rides, the boat drivers seem to be up on at least finding and identifying some main targets.
 

lewis20126

Well-known member
I've been to a few of the lodges mentioned above but can highly recommend the following:

Arenal Observatory Lodge
La Selva
Esquinas Lodge, Osa
Rancho Naturalista (most expensive but give it one night)
San Gerardo Field Station
Saverge Lodge

all superb, with their own specialities.

cheers, alan
 

BryanP

Well-known member
Hi Mekong birder

I've found Costa Rica can be as reasonably priced as anywhere else. The trick is to dig around a bit. If you don't you will pay more. Clean sodas (restaurants) can be found everywhere and if they exhibit lots of traffic are usually wholesome and pretty cheap.

Same goes for the lodges and accommodations. There are always cheaper alternatives in the same areas as the famous lodges. The cheaper alternatives just don't have a website. Miriam's in Savegre Valley comes to mind. Very basic but very clean cabin accommodation. I'm not usually a big fan of what they call "Typical" food but she has tasty fresh dishes and she has to have the best bird feeders in the whole valley which are snugged right up against the restaurant windows. Wonderful people.

Savegre lodge is a great place but expensive and they don't mind "visitors" from other lodges wandering around their grounds or availing themselves of a meal or drink in the lounge. There is a nice trail that starts where the laundry building is located and which goes way up to the valley rim. I usually stay at Los Sueno de Bosque next door.
Every one in the Savegre valley are all related in some way to the Urena brothers who were the first to homestead the valley in the fifties.

With regards to drivers unless you are part of an organized group tour most drivers drop you off at the lodge then go home, wherever that is. Two or three days later they pick you up and take you to the next place. Thats been my experience after ten years knocking around here.
One trip we took we had a driver transport us between seven lodges all over the country and as I recall it was a lot cheaper than renting a mid sized 4x4 for the three weeks of the trip. He always went home after dropping us off.

The well developed bus system all over the country is organized, cheap and clean. I love the assigned seating and how the Ticos will still line up. Very un stressful. The bus drivers will often drop you wherever you want anywhere along his route.

I'm originally from North America so seeing migrants while always cool are further down my list of must sees. So the June to October months are fine.

I would agree with Dwminnich about the rainy season. Nice sunny days and bursts of rain later in the afternoon or evening. It is true it does rain a bit more further into the rainy season. What I like about that time of year is how much cooler it is and how much the humidity seems to drops after a downpour. The locals call those months their winter because of the cooler weather. The kids have their hot "summer vacation" in December to February depending on the school district.

Cano Negro Natural lodge is one place I haven't stayed at yet but have heard many good things about. Paraiso Tropical Tours, with Joel and Ernesto, and Rosa Iris are the panga/guide guys, great bunch.
I've birded along the road into the village in Can Negro and you can do that but to get the full meal deal of the wetlands you should hire a guide and panga.

Celeste mountain lodge near the Celeste river and Volcan Tenario park has great on site trails which is where I saw my first pair of Tody Motmots. The hotel has a pair of Barred Antshrikes hanging around inside the lounge.

Of course La Selva Biological reserve is a good place for Caribbean foothill and lowlands birds. You can self guide there but the reserve provides a guide for your first morning and whose services are included in your room/board fees. He can get you started on what to look for. The onsite guides are all very professional and very passionate about birds. I've also met a lot of interesting Ornithologists there who were always working on some fascinating research. Food which is included is university/typical cafeteria style.


One area that everyone gives a miss on for some reason is in the Perrez Zeledon region in the southern part of the country. The whole General Valley is stuffed with interesting birds from the Chirripo Trail head to right in downtown San Isidro el Generale which is where I see Turquoise Cotinga regularly. The Quebradas Biological reserve is on the rim of the valley as is Dr Skutch's old residence Los Cosingos, which is always worth a visit and a new bird.
Anywhere in the valley can be self guided. We just drive out to a likely looking country road and get out and bird. All the locals know what you're up to and delight in showing you a "special" bird somewhere on their farm and which will often involve coffee later in the farmhouse. Found some great birds that way.
The little hotels and lodges in the area can be as cheap or as expensive as you want.

Didn't answer all your questions but I hope this helps a bit. Anyway thats what I've dug out of the lumber room in the head so far.
Cheers,
Bryan
 
I'd like to thank all those who have given their time to respond to this thread.
You've all given me much food for thought and ideas for some places I'd never even considered.
Based on the advice given, I have the bare bones of an itinerary.

Two nights Cerro Lodge. First night looking for Scarlet Macaws on the grounds.
Next morning riverside trail at Carara. Pm Tarcoles Boat trip.
Next day am birding back at Carara then transfer to Santa Elena.

One night in a cheap pension in Santa Elena. Pm birding at the Reserva Ecologica just outside town ( if anyone's been there would love to hear feedback but it seems like just my cup of tea. Ignored by the crowds and with some decent birds / wildlife onsite).

Two nights at San Gerardo field station. This place looks perfect for me, but I was saddened to read a recent trip report on Cloudbirders, which suggested that this site may be past its best, and detailed a severe decline in diversity and numbers of birds seen. I've also read that climate change is having a noticeable effect on the birds and animals of the general Santa Elena / Monteverde area.
If anyone can confirm this I may give the Santa Elena area a miss and have a closer look at the suggestions offered about the Savegre Valley.
Oh, almost forgot, can anyone suggest a good location for singing Bellbird in the Monteverde area, and what time of year are they vocal?

Two nights in a cheap pension in La Fortuna. Guided trips with Giovanni to his private reserve, and day trip to Cano Negro.

Two nights at Arenal Oasis Eco lodge for chilling and birding from a hammock, with a beer in one hand an my binoculars in the other.

Three nights at Arenal Observatory Lodge, wandering around the grounds and trails seeing what I see.

Three nights at either La Selva or somewhere in the Savegre Valley for cloudforest birds.
If I get any recent feedback about San Gerardo still being worth it I'll got there and later go to La Selva.
If the feedback on San Gerardo is that it really is an area of former glory, I'll give that a miss and go to La Selva and then Savegre.

Thanks in advance for any feedback on this proposed itinerary, and any suggestions for tweaks or alterations would be most welcome.
Cheers, Mark
 

Andy Adcock

Fractious Member of ill repute
England
For the genral area of La Selva, we stayed at the modest but nice Gavilan Lodge which shares a number of birds with it famous neighbour. There is also Tirimbina which has trails as well as Patrick said and you can do a guided walk there.

We did stay at La Selva for a couple of days and enjoyed it but these ather places are worth looking at and are close close. We did two nights at Gavilan and a walk at Tirimbina to give us more time in the general area and control costs a bit.

A
 

BryanP

Well-known member
Hi andyadcock
Thanks for the tip on Gavilán Lodge, I hadn't heard of it before. I had a quick look at their website, looks like a nice alternative to La Selva. When were you there last and how is the restaurant?

Its my understanding that La Selva will only allow folks to wander around the grounds after they've taken the tour with the La Selva guide. If thats the case and I imagine it is then paying the "day/guide" rate at La Selva and staying at Gavilán might start creeping up to La Selva fee territory. Then again one might just do the La Selva guided visit for just the one day.

Have you birded along that little road to La Selva? I've slowed down a few times but never stopped. Looks promising but I'm always focused on getting to La Selva at that point so tend to miss bits along the way.
Bryan
 

Andy Adcock

Fractious Member of ill repute
England
Hi andyadcock
Thanks for the tip on Gavilán Lodge, I hadn't heard of it before. I had a quick look at their website, looks like a nice alternative to La Selva. When were you there last and how is the restaurant?

Its my understanding that La Selva will only allow folks to wander around the grounds after they've taken the tour with the La Selva guide. If thats the case and I imagine it is then paying the "day/guide" rate at La Selva and staying at Gavilán might start creeping up to La Selva fee territory. Then again one might just do the La Selva guided visit for just the one day.

Have you birded along that little road to La Selva? I've slowed down a few times but never stopped. Looks promising but I'm always focused on getting to La Selva at that point so tend to miss bits along the way.
Bryan

We were there in March, here's an excerpt from the report I'm currently writing regarding Gavilan. Didn't do roads near LS as this was our first time in Country.

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'This place was chosen in part for the Spectacled Owl that has in the past, been seen at it’s day roost here but we had no luck though more new birds were racked up. Black-cowled Oriole was first and was quickly followed by Red-collared Tanager, Red-throated Ant Tanager, Collared Aracari, Grey-crowned Flycatcher, Olive-backed Euphonia, Rufous-winged Woodpecker and last off, a Short-tailed Nighthawk over the Lodge as dusk fell.

Also found today was a Strawberry Poison Arrow Frog which was transporting two tadpoles on it’s back.

16th March
A whole day spent inside Gavilan hotel on the small trails. As it was a bit too dark inside the forest early on, especially for Anastasia’s photography, we started by walking around the open areas and were soon picking up new birds, Red-lored and White-crowned Parrots, Orange-chinned Parakeets, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Masked Tityara, Long-tailed Tyrant and Golden-hooded Tanager were seen before a short break for heavy rain.

We ventured out again on to a trail running adjacent to the river which can be accessed behind room number 15 and which Anastasia had stumbled upon as she followed up on Howler Monkey calls. This trail was very productive and we spent most time here finding Buff-rumped Warbler, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Bay Wren, Great and Barred Antshrikes, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-throated Ant Tanager, Dusky-faced Tanager, Ringed Kingfisher, Northern Waterthrush plus the Howler Monkeys. You can also get to the river from this trail and we had our first Mangrove Swallows here.

Also seen here was Emerald Basilisk Basiliscus plumifrons, a superb reptile.

Breakfast was interrupted when two Yellow-throated Toucans were first heard then seen and a post lunch stroll around the open areas produced Slaty-tailed Trogon, Great Crested Flycatcher, Orange-billed Sparrow, Black-headed Saltator and Black-faced Grosbeak.

Another great reptile, Brown Basilisk Basiliscus vittata was found and had us laughing with his upright sprint for cover, anyone who’s seen the so-called ‘Jesus Christ Lizard’ do his running on water, this was similar but on land.

As mentioned above, Anastasia had found a small group of Black-Mantled Howler Monkeys and we had prolonged views as they loafed in the same spot without moving for most of the day.

The only small gripe I’d have with this place is that the staff have zero knowledge of the trails or of any of the birds and considering the fact that birders are a target market, it’s a bit of a let down and all the small trails we found were slightly overgrown and simply chanced upon as we strolled around. The staff however were very friendly and we both managed to get minor repairs carried out to our trousers and food, whilst not spectacular, was plentiful and good value.

17th March
The early part of the day was spent in the grounds of the Gavilan hotel again and as before we started out by birding the open areas. A large bare tree had previously been extremely productive and today was no different with Lineated and Smoky Brown Woodpeckers added to the trip list. This morning we also found a new trail, well for us anyway. The trail is located on the left about 30m inside the entrance gate, about 10m before the first pole with a light on it. This trail turned out to be very good for White-collared Manakins and excellent views were had of several birds, the wing snapping of the males, produced a surprisingly loud ‘crack’. Also seen on this trail were Bay Wren, several Black-faced Grosbeaks and several flyover Great Green Macaws. I’m sure that given more time, this trail has more to offer but we found it too late.'
 
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Dan Miller

Avicasual Birder
Oh, almost forgot, can anyone suggest a good location for singing Bellbird in the Monteverde area, and what time of year are they vocal?

I just returned from spending most of April in the Monteverde area (a private reserve just below Reserva Santa Elena). Bellbirds were definitely present. Checking eBird, they are showing up at Curi-Cancha, Santa Elena, Bosque del Tigre and Monteverde Reserve. They can start arriving there late February (as last year) to beginning of April (this year). Literature suggests they may breed into June.
 

Andy Adcock

Fractious Member of ill repute
England
I just returned from spending most of April in the Monteverde area (a private reserve just below Reserva Santa Elena). Bellbirds were definitely present. Checking eBird, they are showing up at Curi-Cancha, Santa Elena, Bosque del Tigre and Monteverde Reserve. They can start arriving there late February (as last year) to beginning of April (this year). Literature suggests they may breed into June.

We were on site at Curi-Cancha when all the guides suddenly got excited and started running around as the first one of the season was heard and then found on 26th March.


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Les Shulman

Active member
In March, 2017 as in my first trip to CR I wanted to concentrate on lowland species, I spent 20 days exclusively in Sarapiqui-17 nights at Chilamate Rainforest Eco-Retreat and 3 nights at La Selva.

I found the birding at La Selva to be excellent as I was not so focused on under story and rare species.
Unlimited access to the trails was provided to all overnight guests.
The lodging (1.2 kilometers from reception) was very good as was the birding by the room.
For one person the cost was very reasonable at $65 with a choice of one meal per day with excellent support services at reception-however the buffet food quality and selection was poor.

The included tour that began around 8AM was a general nature tour and was just okay for this birder as the guide was not a birding specialist. It's my understanding that if one is not staying there and goes on the early AM two hour birding tour (if as a group $50 but if no other people sign-up $90), they do not have access to the property afterwards.

Potential downsides to staying at La Selva in July could be very muddy side trails and perhaps a large amount of groups of students on the property.

Regarding Chilamate, as Patrick said the trails there are limited (although I found them to be at most times quite birdy). Yet, I thought the birding by the river on and near their property, at the "hidden" laguna around 100 meters off the property (daily grey-necked wood-rail and kingfishers with occasional boat-billed heron and tropical gnatcatcher plus wonderful reptiles like canopy lizard and baselics along with alligator and caiman), and the birding opportunities for 4-5 kilometers on the "road to Linda Vista" which starts outside their gate was excellent.

That road is a combination of open fields/pasture land and forest edge and for the most part provides exceptional sight lines with occasional rare sightings of great curassow (as opposed to the "tame" ones at La Selva) and white hawk along with multiple sightings of (arguably?) less common birds like laughing falcon, long-tailed tyrant, green Ibis, black-crowned tityra, and smoky woodpecker. Overall, I saw upwards of 165 species on the road and at Chilamate. I did miss the snowy cotinga while I was there but others had seen it. However, by the bridge there was an almost daily occurrence of a fasciated tiger-heron with great looks afforded.

Both along the road and especially at Chilamate there were daily appearances of the three toucan species, Montezeuma oropendolas galore (along with a very active nesting colony I "discovered"), and frequent flybys and/or perchings of multiple species of parrots, including both scarlet and great green macaws.

At Chilamate the rooms were very good, the prices excellent, and the service was exemplary.
 
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Andy Adcock

Fractious Member of ill repute
England
I found the birding at La Selva to be excellent as I was not so focused on under story and rare species.
Unlimited access to the trails was provided to all overnight guests.
The lodging (1.2 kilometers from reception) was very good as was the birding by the room.
For one person the cost was very reasonable at $65 with a choice of one meal per day with excellent support services at reception-however the buffet food quality and selection was poor.

.

The problem with La Selva cost wise is that they charge everything on a per person basis.

We paid $90 per person per night although that is all meals included so $180 per day but considering the quality of meals and accomodation this is a lot we thought.

Scarlet Macaw at Chilamate, must be very rare or has the range expanded considerably since Garrigues wrote the book?


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Les Shulman

Active member
Hi Andyadcock,

The scarlet macaw at Chilamate and elsewhere in Sarapiqui are fairly common now.
At Chilamate I had almost daily sightings of them, particularly flybys over the river in the late afternoon.
The morning that I left there were a pair perched near the rooms. I had multiple sightings of them also at La Selva.

From what I gather they occur so often some people in the area view them as a threat to the endangered great green macaws as they are said to be invading and overtaking their habitats. One lead guide at a nearby station told me he was trapping the scarlet macaws on his property because of that purported problem.
 
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