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ULTIMATE COSTA RICA

Birdquest's Ultimate Costa Rica birding tour is the definitive way to explore this classic Central American birdwatching destination. Our Ultimate Costa Rica tour offers the most comprehensive itinerary available and records more of the specialities of this small but bird-rich country than any other. From Resplendent Quetzals and Three-wattled Bellbirds to Tody and Keel-billed Motmots, and Bare-necked Umbrellabirds, our trip has it all.

Monday 9th April — Wednesday 2nd May 2018
(24 days)


Leader: Pete Morris

Group Size Limit: 8

Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and mostly comfortable accommodations

The amazing Three-wattled Bellbird, one of Costa Rica's most distinctive and charismatic species (Pete Morris)

The amazing Three-wattled Bellbird, one of Costa Rica's most distinctive and charismatic species (Pete Morris)

Had Christopher Columbus been a birdwatcher, he could not have christened his new found land on his last voyage in 1502 more aptly – Costa Rica or ‘Rich Coast’. Over 870 species of birds have been recorded from this small Central American country, the highest species diversity in an area of this size anywhere on earth. Not only is its avifauna exceedingly rich, but Costa Rica (together with neighbouring western Panama) is one of the greatest centres of avian endemism in the world, with nearly 70 species found nowhere else!

Costa Rica is now well-known as one of the best areas for birding on earth, for a series of stunning wildlife films and the many glowing reports from visitors have made people realize what a treasure house of nature this gem of a country really is. Costa Rica is utterly unlike the preconceived view of Central America. There is no recent history of revolutions, medal-bespattered dictators, political prisoners and masses of half-starved, landless peasants. Instead Costa Rica is one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America with the highest literacy level in the region, no army (it was abolished as unnecessary in 1949!), stable democratic government, excellent standards of public health and the highest percentage of land area devoted to national parks and reserves of any country in the world.

This beautiful land is an ornithological melting pot where the avifaunas of Central and South America merge. Here we will see Central American species at the southern limits of their range, South American species at their northern limits and numerous species that are endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama.

For the birdwatcher the factor that makes Costa Rica so attractive is not simply its astonishingly rich avifauna, but the fact that it is packed into such a small area. In Costa Rica one could, if one wanted, drive from the Pacific lowlands up over the central highlands and down to the Caribbean lowlands in a matter of five or six hours, passing through every major habitat zone found in Central America!

This carefully crafted itinerary represents the most comprehensive bird tour of Costa Rica available, producing more of the regional specialities than any other. Superb, relatively easy birding, mostly good accommodations and quite good roads make birding this small but incredibly rich country a real pleasure.

During our travels we shall first explore the central valley around the capital, San Jose, as we look for montane and foothill specialities at Irazú Volcano, and the hospitable Rancho Naturalista in the Caribbean slope foothills. Amongst the numerous specialities at these great locations are Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, Timberline Wren, Volcano Junco, the lovely Snowcap, Tawny-chested Flycatcher, and the endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow.

From here we will make our way into the central highlands, reaching the subalpine zone at over 3000m at Cerro de la Muerte. Here we will find many montane specialities, including the incomparable Resplendent Quetzal, Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Ochraceous Pewee, Black-capped Flycatcher, Sooty and Mountain Robins, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Black-and-yellow Phainoptila, Yellow-winged Vireo, Collared Whitestart, Flame-throated and Black-cheeked Warblers, the curious Wrenthrush (or Zeledonia), which was formerly often placed in a family of its own, Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager, Black-thighed Grosbeak, Slaty Flowerpiercer, and Large-footed and Yellow-thighed Finches.

Next we will visit Las Cruces and the Golfito region in the far southwest, where specialities include White-tailed Emerald, Chiriqui Yellowthroat, White-crested Coquette, the endangered Yellow-billed Cotinga and the endemic Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, stopping en route at Dr Alexander Skutch’s famous ‘garden reserve’ at San Isidro.

Moving northwards, we come to the famous Carara Reserve where we will explore beautiful white sand beaches, mangrove swamps and some of the best remaining areas of lowland rainforest along the Pacific coast. Here, the magnificent Scarlet Macaw is still quite common and we will enjoy the host of other birds, including such stars as Boat-billed Heron at one end of the size spectrum and the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird at the other.

We then return to the mountains for the magnificent cloud forest and lush pastures of the northwestern highlands, staying at both the renowned Monteverde and at remote San Gerardo. Amongst the many special birds here are Highland Tinamou, Black Guan, Buff-fronted and Chiriqui Quail-Doves, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Black-headed and Rufous-breasted Antthrushes, the spectacular Bare-necked Umbrellabird, the strange Three-wattled Bellbird, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, Blue-and-gold Tanager and White-eared Ground-Sparrow.

Next we will visit the dry forests and wetlands of Guanacaste’s Nicoya Peninsula for such species as Jabiru, Thicket Tinamou and Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, and the Cordillera de Guanacaste where both Tody and Keel-billed Motmots occur.

We will then enjoy the Nicaraguan border region and the marshy wetlands of Lago Caño Negro where we can find the restricted-range Nicaraguan Grackle and Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, as well as the strange Sungrebe. Moving to the Arenal Volcano we will seek additional Caribbean specialties including Black-crested Coquette, Streak-crowned Antvireo and Thicket Antpitta.

Our ultimate port of call on this speciality-rich tour will be the unforgettable, bird-rich rainforests of the Caribbean lowlands at the Organization of Tropical Studies’ reserve at La Selva. Great Curassow and Snowy Cotinga are relatively easy to see here and we even have a good chance of observing the Great Green Macaw.

Birdquest has operated tours to Costa Rica since 1987.

Important: The Birdquest group size limit is lower than for most other Costa Rica tours, significantly so in some cases. Given the high proportion of forest birding during Costa Rica tours, this is a real advantage for our participants.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are mostly of good standard, but at San Gerardo we shall stay at a comfortable but fairly simple research station serving tasty food with warm hospitality, while at the biological research station of La Selva we will be accommodated in quite comfortable cabins with private bathrooms (some are shared between two rooms). Road transport is by small coach and roads are mostly good.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are a few moderate walks. It is a fairly long and moderately hard hike on the way back uphill from San Gerardo, and participants can pre-arrange to be transported by ‘quad bike’ (but please request this when booking).

Climate: At low altitudes it is generally hot, but at higher altitudes conditions range from warm to cool (even cold at the highest levels). Periods of sunny weather alternate with overcast spells. There is regular rainfall on the Caribbean slope, but elsewhere rainfall is less frequent and more irregular. It will be rather humid at times.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.

Tour Price: £5690, €6480, $7450 San Jose/San Jose. Single Room Supplement: £621, €708, $814. Deposit: £700, €840, $910.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

The number of rooms at the research station at San Gerardo is limited. Anyone having to share a room there will be given an appropriate refund.

Base prices for this tour are in US Dollars. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.150.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

Ours is the only tour to experience the incredible Bare-necked Umbrellabird at its display ground in the Caribbean foothills of the Children's Eternal Rainforest (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

Ours is the only tour to experience the incredible Bare-necked Umbrellabird at its display ground in the Caribbean foothills of the Children's Eternal Rainforest (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

Another special cotinga we should see is the gorgeous Turquoise Cotinga (Pete Morris)

Another special cotinga we should see is the gorgeous Turquoise Cotinga (Pete Morris)

Fiery-throated Hummingbird is a sometimes abundant regional endemic in the Cerro de la Muerte highlands. It is one of the 16 regional endemic hummingbirds seen on the tour (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

Fiery-throated Hummingbird is a sometimes abundant regional endemic in the Cerro de la Muerte highlands. It is one of the 16 regional endemic hummingbirds seen on the tour (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

Great Curassows add to the often abundant wildlife spectacle on display, this is the male (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

Great Curassows add to the often abundant wildlife spectacle on display, this is the male (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

... and the female Great Curassow (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

... and the female Great Curassow (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

The lack of hunting here allows some species such as this Great Tinamou to be incredibly confiding (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

The lack of hunting here allows some species such as this Great Tinamou to be incredibly confiding (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

The remarkable Keel-billed Toucan is always popular (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

The remarkable Keel-billed Toucan is always popular (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

The remarkable Resplendent Quetzal, should be Costa Rica's national bird rather than the rather dull (though sweet-singing) Clay-coloured Thrush! (Pete Morris)

The remarkable Resplendent Quetzal, should be Costa Rica's national bird rather than the rather dull (though sweet-singing) Clay-coloured Thrush! (Pete Morris)

The wonderful Snowcap is just one of a long series of exciting hummingbirds that we'll see in Costa Rica (Pete Morris)

The wonderful Snowcap is just one of a long series of exciting hummingbirds that we'll see in Costa Rica (Pete Morris)

Green-fronted Lancebill is often found catching insects over montane forest streams, and Costa Rica is one of the best tours for seeing this species perched (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

Green-fronted Lancebill is often found catching insects over montane forest streams, and Costa Rica is one of the best tours for seeing this species perched (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

Costa Rica is a great country for seeing owls. The Cerro de la Muerte highlands are home to the Bare-shanked Screech-Owl, one of the many highland endemics seen (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

Costa Rica is a great country for seeing owls. The Cerro de la Muerte highlands are home to the Bare-shanked Screech-Owl, one of the many highland endemics seen (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

Pacific Screech-Owl is an uncommon inhabitant of the northwestern dry forests (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

Pacific Screech-Owl is an uncommon inhabitant of the northwestern dry forests (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

... and this is probably the best tour in the world to see the handsome Striped Owl (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

... and this is probably the best tour in the world to see the handsome Striped Owl (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

The diminutive Costa Rican Pygmy Owl, a cloudforest specialist can be found in the daytime (Pete Morris)

The diminutive Costa Rican Pygmy Owl, a cloudforest specialist can be found in the daytime (Pete Morris)

... and Costa Rica is a wonderful country for finding day-roosting owls, including this Spectacled Owl (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

... and Costa Rica is a wonderful country for finding day-roosting owls, including this Spectacled Owl (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

... and this stunning Black-and-white Owl (Pete Morris)

... and this stunning Black-and-white Owl (Pete Morris)

The gorgeous Long-tailed Manakin (Pete Morris)

The gorgeous Long-tailed Manakin (Pete Morris)

...the extraordinary  Orange-collared Manakin (Pete Morris)

...the extraordinary Orange-collared Manakin (Pete Morris)

... and Turquoise-browed Motmot will provide plenty of colour (Pete Morris)

... and Turquoise-browed Motmot will provide plenty of colour (Pete Morris)

At La Selva we will hope to find an ant-swarm attended by the amazing Ocellated Antbird (Pete Morris)

At La Selva we will hope to find an ant-swarm attended by the amazing Ocellated Antbird (Pete Morris)

We will also hope to find the inconspicuous Double-striped Thick-knee (Pete Morris)

We will also hope to find the inconspicuous Double-striped Thick-knee (Pete Morris)

In the Caño Negro region we will see the Nicaraguan Seed-Finch (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

In the Caño Negro region we will see the Nicaraguan Seed-Finch (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

...the restricted-range Nicaraguan Grackle (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

...the restricted-range Nicaraguan Grackle (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

...and we should encounter the delightful Sungrebe during our Caño Negro boat tour (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

...and we should encounter the delightful Sungrebe during our Caño Negro boat tour (tour participant Rainer Ertel)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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