Costa Rica, places to visit and guides (1 Viewer)

Carol Rushton

Well-known member
hi everyone.

Please can you help my partner and I .

We are at the beginning of planning a trip to Costa Rica. I visited there many, many, years ago ( non birding trip ) . My partner has never visited. We are both keen birders. We also both like mammals, too, flora, fauna, butterflies and dragonflies.

We would like to visit Costa Rica, prior to April next year, 2018, when my partner's current holiday leave year expires. He has 15 days leave remaining to use.

We would not wish to self drive.

We both prefer to use guides on overseas trips, though might be prepared to do some self guiding, but not for the whole duration of any trip.

I have a ruptured cruciate ligament in my left knee. I wear strapping on the leg, in the field and can comfortably walk 3 miles, if pushed 5 , but find steep downward inclines hard and find very rocky terrain hard. I am 51 and my partner 62.

Which parts of Costa Rica would you recommend as a must see, please ?

Which month should we time our visit for ?

What guides would people recommend please.

We are keen bird and mammal watchers. My partner is also keen to ideally see poison arrow frogs, American crocodile and Manatee.

We would be grateful for any advice , tips or help.

Thanking you, in advance for your assistance,

best wishes, Carol

Andrew Whitehouse

Professor of Listening
Staff member
For bird finding, I'd recommend getting a copy of this book:
The author's blog is also very helpful:
He also works as a bird guide and sometimes posts on here, so it may be worth contacting him.

I think most birders go to Costa Rica in our winter or spring. It's probably good at any time of the year but winter is often drier (but not always totally dry). I really liked birding in Carara National Park (easy walking but hot - great for crocodiles) and the San Gerardo de Dota area (mountainous but pleasant weather and some easy birding).


Well-known member
Opus Editor
The winter half will allow you some options for migratory birds from elsewhere in the new world, while summer will be more limited to "just" the birds that breed locally. Several years ago I saw more than 300 species in 3 weeks, most of that period self guided. That was around Christmas. Costs will be a little less if you can avoid the 3 weeks nearest to Christmas/New Year, I believe.


Carol Rushton

Well-known member
Thank you Niels.

Which parts of Costa Rica would you recommend that we include in our itinerary please ?

Best wishes, Carol


Well-known member
Opus Editor
a few different answers: it has been a while since I went and I do not know if anything has changed. Here is a link to the vacation trip report section of BF: - at the right is a link to "search this forum", click there and put in Costa Rica to see what people have done. My report is also in there but there should be some newer ones.

Secondly, do not try to cover everything in 2 weeks. We probably drove too much on our visit.

Thirdly, Carara and the areas on the pacific NW coast should be flat enough that you would not have problems. I do not know which higher elevation sites would be problematic for you.

Fourth: we did self driving. You could hire a company to arrange to take you from place to place. You could also use public transportation. I really do not know enough about those options.


Dan Miller

Avicasual Birder
I second the recommendation for Patrick's book.

As others have mentioned, Carara NP is good, as it is the point of collision of northern and southern habitats, so many species can be seen. The trails there are fairly flat.

My wife and I very much like the Monteverde area - so much so that we will be there next winter for all of February and March. The Curi-Cancha Reserve has some hilly terrain, but nothing terribly steep, and the trails are well maintained. Santa Elena Reserve is also very nice, but trails are steeper, often with cement block stepping stones. I haven't been in Monteverde Reserve for several years, so don't rightly remember the trails (except that it was pouring rain when I was there). Curi-Cancha is good for resplendent quetzals, and on through the spring depending on the weather and more, for altitudinal migrants such as three-wattled bellbird and bare-necked umbrellabird. The Hummingbird Cafe, just outside of Monteverde Reserve, is a great place to spend some time watching hummers.

Arenal Observatory Lodge has great views of Volcan Arenal, lots of great birds, and relatively easy trails. Arenal is no longer active (though three others are at the moment!).

Palo Verde NP, Tortuguero, and Cano Negro also have good reputations, but I haven't been yet. Nor have I been south of Carrara or Tapanti NPs yet.

PS sorry for the lack of diacriticals - keyboard not cooperating tonight.


NVFC + Birds = Heaven
Hi Carol
My wife and I went in March this year, and used Partnership for Intl Birding (PI Birding), american based but they do have an agent over here , for all the arrangements, and we had a guide (Fito Downs) for the whole trip . Obviously it added to the expense, but it cut out all the hassle of driving, sorting out reserves/places to visit, booking accommodation directly etc, so for us well worth it.
We stayed Selva Verde Lodge, Savegre Lodge, Villa Lapas for Carara, La Ensenada Lodge and Arenal Lodge as we couldn't get in at the Observatory Lodge. 99% of the walking was easy going, just a few steps or slopes in places but nothing strenuous. ( We re both 57 and unfit ) and the birding was out of this world.
If you require any further information, just let me know


Well-known member
Hi Carol,
My wife and I spent 2 weeks in CR in Feb2017 and had a fabulous time. We self-drove which was really easy (apart from San Jose) so have no knowledge of alternatives however I'm sure that this information can be sought from reputable travel companies. We used Geodyssey (UK based and recently exhibiting at the BirdFair) who put together a good round trip and they used a CR company called Costa Rica Trails for internal logistics who were also excellent. It might be worth you contacting these to check out alternative transportation etc.
I endorse visiting Carara National Park and would also recommend a birding boat trip along the river Tarcoles (Boat-billed heron, Roseate Spoonbills etc)
We stayed at Cerro Lodge, a small but friendly lodge where we saw Scarlet Macaws, Capuchin Monkeys and much more whilst eating breakfast. You can contact Cerro who will arrange a guide for Carara and book the boat trip.
We were lucky in seeing a Quetzal in San Gerado de Dota but would not stay at Trogon Lodge again (too touristy).
One highlight of our trip included a stay at Saladero Lodge (Golfo Dulcito) where we experienced Howler Monkeys, Tarantulas, Scorpions ,Dolphins etc. The second being a stay at Danta Corcovado (Osa Peninsular) seeing Red-eyed tree frog and Sloth.
As this was our first visit to CR we did not necessarily want to limit ourselves purely to birding so probably missed other recommended birding areas, however if we returned we would fly from San Jose to Puerto Jiminez and explore more of the Osa Peninsular.
Wherever you choose to go I'm sure you will have a great experience and if you want any more info please let me know.


Well-known member
We would not wish to self drive.

We both prefer to use guides on overseas trips, though might be prepared to do some self guiding, but not for the whole duration of any trip.

I have a ruptured cruciate ligament in my left knee. I wear strapping on the leg, in the field and can comfortably walk 3 miles, if pushed 5 , but find steep downward inclines hard and find very rocky terrain hard. I am 51 and my partner 62.

Regrettably, I haven't been to Costa Rica in over two years, but I'd be hard pressed to schedule a trip that did not include Caribbean Slope lowlands. Manzanillo is hands-down my first preference, but don't expect a plethora of manicured accessible trails.

It's been even longer since I spent time at Tirimbina Rainforest Center, but I find the rooms with AC comfortable & refreshing after a day of tropical birding, the onsite meals delicious (breakfast included in the nightly rate, unless things have changed), and the trail system reasonably accessible (including considerable segments paved with paving stones).

They can connect you with guides, but personally I'd make every effort to spend time birding with either Patrick O'Donnell or Randall Ortega. With friends we've often scheduled a day or two with one or the other at the beginning of our stay at a particular destination, and are at least better educated for subsequent self-guided birding in the same area.

Oh, and the birding CAN be fantastic. Best example that immediately comes to mind is my lifer Agami Heron.

In addition, you're presumably supporting a non-profit devoted to the preservation of Caribbean Slope mid-elevation rainforest.

Gary H

Carol Rushton

Well-known member
Thank you, everyone , for your detailed replies and answers, which I will now assimilate and digest. I am sorry for the slightly delayed reply, as I have had a short break, plus am still recovering from a recent hospital operation, so have not been on here .

Best wishes , Carol


We visited Costa Rica in June of 2015 and had a fabulous trip. We hope to go back soon. While we only covered a small portion of the country, we were impressed with Tortuguero NP. If you find a quality guide/boat, you will see some incredible wildlife, from birds to mammals (monkeys, sloths, bats) to amphibians, reptiles and even unique insects (spiders that prey on fish). We went during the so-called Green (rainy) season but were fortunate to avoid prolonged showers. The nice thing about Tortuguero is that because you ride in a watercraft (smaller is better), you can save the wear and tear on your legs and joints.

I also had a nice hike in a NP near Arenal but I can't recall the name right now. I was led by a guide who actually brought his Swaro angle scope on and tripod and set it up to help me spot birds (he knew the terrain well as he was out all the time) and he could locate based on their calls. I was a novice birder then (still am) but I went there intrigued and left quite hooked.

I am from Costa Rica and I visit the Birdfair in Rutland almos every year. I am a field biologist and I have been birding Costa Rica and Panama for 25 years, I know my country well.

Please contact me at [email protected] for any question you may have abut places to go, best season, places to find target birds, etc.

Best regards,
Alfredo Scott

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