Bird photography, birding tours, Travel

Our Costa Rica Birding Tour

Birding tour Costa Rica

Our guided birding tour in Costa Rica included stops in varying climates, from the dry savanna habitat of Santa Rosa National Park, to the rain forest of Santa Anita. In total, we saw over 100 species of birds in Costa Rica thanks to our skilled tour guide from Natural Discovery Costa Rica.

Planning an international birding trip can be daunting. You are not familiar with the location or any of the birding hot spots or local species, and you really want to make the most of your time at your destination.

It was no different for us when planning our trip to Costa Rica in February, and we used a similar experience when planning our birding trip to Mexico.

Costa Rica bird photography

We observed over 100 species of birds in Costa Rica in one day

Yes, this trip was technically our honeymoon, but we got married over a year ago and decided to wait until things settled down from our wedding to start planning.

When looking for birding locations, there are so many amazing options to choose from.

Ashley

Where to go?

We originally started looking at Alaska, and I was looking at 2-week birding tours with regimented schedules.

Trevor had to reel me back in and remind me that, although we did want to travel to a destination where we could go birding, we still needed to make room for some relaxation and spending some quality time together.

With that in mind, I turned to travel books to narrow down out options, searching for destinations that would support the opportunity to go birding. 

Costa Rica seemed like an obvious choice for us. A great combination of adventure and relaxation.

Costa Rica birding tour review

We did look at eco-lodges so we could fully experience the depths of the rain forest but ended up opting for the amenities offered by an all-inclusive resort to eliminate some of the added stress associated with extra planning staying off the resort.

We settled on Dreams Las Mareas in the province of Guanacaste in northwestern Costa Rica for the dry climate and great temperatures during the Canadian winter months.

Our resort was an hour and a half drive from the Liberia airport, and approximately one hour from Penas Blancas, where you would cross over the border into Nicaragua.

Guanacaste 

Guanacaste is located in the northwestern region of the country along the Pacific coast, and the country is bound to the east by a group of volcanoes.

Guanacaste

Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to 61 dormant volcanoes and 6 active volcanoes including Arenal, which is the country’s most active volcano. Guanacaste’s climate is unique among the other Costa Rican provinces, experiencing little rain and consistent heat from November to April, compared to San Jose which experiences daily shows and moderate temperatures.

Guanacaste was a great choice simply based on weather, and we experienced nothing but sunshine and hot temperatures during our stay.  

Costa Rica Birding Tour

We arrived at our resort (after 12 hours of travel) just in time to view the most beautiful sunset. The vibrancy of the colours was incredible and the view was breathtaking, foreshadowing the amazing weather yet to come.

We arrived on a Monday night and our birding tour was booked for Wednesday morning, so we had one full day to enjoy the resort. Looking back, I would recommend planning a large trip like this a few days into your trip so you have a chance to experience the resort and settle in.

Before booking international birding tours on our trips, we rely heavily on TripAdvisor and other reviews before committing to a deposit. This time was no different.

I started with one company who acted as a middle man, pairing you up with a birding tour depending on what you were looking for. The catch was that they would not tell you the name of the company until you had provided them with a deposit, which meant there was no way of reviewing the company beforehand.

This was a deal breaker for us. I need to be able to read other peoples experiences prior to booking, so I started looking for other tour companies that offered day tours and would provide transportation to our area of Costa Rica.

*Keep in mind when booking your resort that the further away from the airport and/or other resorts you are, the more it will cost you in transportation.

Since we were so far North, we had to pay extra for the tour company to pick us up for our hotel based on where the tour company is located.

Distance from our resort

The distance between our resort and the birding tour

I came across Natural Discovery Costa Rica and had a total of 22 reviews on Trip Advisor, all of which were ‘Excellent’. I sent them an email inquiring about available dates/pricing and booked us in.

We chose their Dry Forest + Rain Forest (full day) tour, which offered the perfect combination of northwestern Pacific side in the tropical dry forest of Santa Rosa National Park in the morning, with a rain forest experience in the foothills between Rincon de la Vieja and Cacao Volcanoes in the afternoon. 

As most birding days do, we started before sunrise with our transportation picking us up at the hotel lobby for 5 a.m.

We stopped at a local bakery for coffee and breakfast in the town of La Cruz. Once Trevor had his coffee, we loaded up for the journey to Santa Rosa National Park.

Santa Rosa National Park 

Santa Rosa National Park was the first national park in Costa Rica and protects ten unique natural habitats within the park including; savanna, deciduous forests, marshlands and mangrove woodlands, all home to approximately 250 bird species. 

Arriving at the park, the sun had cracked the horizon and we were dropped off on the side of the road with our guide.

Provided as part of the tour cost was a driver so we were able to leave the vehicle and have him pick us up either at the same location or further down the trail so we didn’t have to walk back. 

Even so early in the morning, it was starting to get hot and as we worked our way through the dry forest, we started seeing and hearing a variety of birds.

Birds of Costa Rica

Black-headed Trogon at Santa Rosa National Park.

Many were high in the tree canopy, but we were able to see them visually with our binoculars. Even though we tend to focus on photography, having the binoculars was essential for this trip.

Being able to see the species we had never seen before was really important, even if we weren’t presented with the best photographic opportunity. Our guide also had a spotting scope that was also beneficial for us to be able to see them.

We went to 3 different locations within the park, which took us down different paths and trails, seeing a total of 44 species of birds and even some Howler monkeys. We made our way to our next location which was roughly 50 minutes away, on the border of Guanacaste and Alajuela. 

Below is a list of the birds that we saw at the Santa Rosa location. The list was provided by our tour guide, after sharing it with us on eBird.

Banded WrenNorthern Barred-WoodcreeperStreaked-headed Woodcreeper
Barred AntshrikeOlivaceous WoodcreeperStreaked Flycatcher
Black VultureOrange-chinned ParakeetStripe-headed Sparrow
Black-and-white WarblerOvenbirdThicket Tinamou
Black-crowned AntshrikePhiladelphia VireoTurkey Vulture
Black-headed Trogon Red-biled PigeonWestern Tanager
Boat-billed FlycatcherRed-legged HoneycreeperWhite-lored Gnatcatcher
Brown-crested FlycatcherRoyal FlycatcherWhite-necked Puffbird
Crested CaracaraRufous-capped WarblerWhite-throated Magpie-Jay
Crested GuanRufous-naped WrenWhite-tipped Dove
Dusky-capped FlyctcherScrub EuphoniaYellow Warbler
Hoffmann's WoodpeckerSlate-headed Tody-FlycatcherYellow-naped Parrot
Inca DoveSquirrel CuckooYellow-olive Flycatcher
Lesser GreenletSteely-vented HummingbirdYellow-throated Vireo
Long-tailed ManakinStreak-back Oriole

Crested Cara Cara

Crested Caracara

Curubanda Lodge

After a long drive on a dirt road, we arrived at Finca Nueva Zelandia, a local restaurant for lunch. This place had such a great view of the volcanoes out the panoramic windows letting in the cool breeze which was welcomed after our morning in the desert.

The meal was delicious!

After lunch, we ventured across the street to an opening into the rain forest for some photos. This was the best location of the entire trip for photos simply because it offered the opportunity to have the sun at our back, with an opening into the forest.

It seemed our tour guide let us spend some extra time here since he was aware of our cameras and the fact that we wanted to get some photos. We were grateful for this. 

Green honeycreeper

Green Honeycreeper

Rufous-winged tanager

Rufous-winged Tanager

Yellow-throated euphonia

Yellow-throated Euphonia

Toucan

Yellow-throated Toucan.

We also spent quite a bit of time at this location because we were seeing a lot of great species, Green Honeycreeper, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, and Red-capped Manakin before making our way into the rain forest. A nice surprise before venturing into the rainforest was watching a family of White-faced monkeys make their way across the tree canopy. 

Once inside the rain forest, there were limited opportunities for photos due to heavy tree cover and dark lighting, so we relied on our binoculars during this part of the trip. 

Hiking at this location, we followed our guide up and around in search of a few species he was able to identify. One, in particular, was the Motmot he could hear but not see and we spent probably 20 minutes or so looking for this bird. He wanted so badly for us to see it and add it to the list.

As a result of his perseverance, he found the bird and we were able to get a look at him through the spotting scope. At this location, we saw a total of 72 species of birds, below is the list that was again shared from our guide. 

Black VultureGreen HoneycreeperRufous-winged Tanager
Black-and-white WarblerHoffmann's WoodpeckerScale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant
Black-cowled OrioleHouse WrenScarlet-rumped Tanager
Black-crowned AntshrikeInca DoveScarlet-thighed Dacnis
Blue-and-white SwallowLesser GreenletSocial Flycatcher
Blue-and-white SwallowLittle Blue HeronSolitary Sandpiper
Blue-gray TanagerLong-billed HermitSouthern Lapwing
Broad-billed MotmotMagnolia WarblerSpotted Sandpiper
Bronzed CowbirdMangrove SwallowSquirrel Cuckoo
Buff-rumped WarblerMistletoe TyrannuletSummer Tanager
Buff-throated SaltatorMontezuma OropendolaTennessee Warbler
Cattle EgretMorelet's SeedeaterTropical Kingbird
Cinnamon BecardMourning WarblerTropical Pewee
Clay-colored ThrushNorthern JacanaTurkey Vulture
Common PauraqueNorthern Rough-winged SwallowVariable Seedeater
Common Tody-FlycatcherNorthern WaterthrushViolet Sabrewing
Crested GuanOlive-backed EuphoniaWhite-tipped Dove
Dusky-capped FlycatcherPalm TanagerWhite-winged Dove
Gartered TrogonPhiladelphia VireoYellow Warbler
Golden-hooded TanagerPiratic FlycatcherYellow-bellied Elaenia
Gray-breasted MartinRed-billed PigeonYellow-crowned Euphonia
Gray-capped FlycatcherRed-capped ManakinYellow-faced Grassquit
Gray-crowned YellowthroatRed-legged HoneycreeperYellow-throated Euphonia
Great KiskadeeRufous-tailed HummingbirdYellow-throated Toucan
Great-tailed GrackleRufous-tailed Hummingbird

Grey-crowned yellowthroat

Grey-crowned yellowthroat

Impressions of Natural Discovery Costa Rica

By the time we finished at this location, hiking down from the top and shooting a little more at the great photography spot, it was time to head back to our hotel. We were so grateful for such an amazing day, and the wonderful hospitality of Natural Discovery Costa Rica.

During the entire trip, our guide Robert was amazing. He did everything possible to ensure that we saw as many species we could, and was extremely knowledgable of the bird species and bird calls in order to identify the birds we were seeing.

Tour Guide

Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and friendly

So much so that it is hard to imagine anyone who could know more than him. Our driver was courteous and never made us feel unsafe. All and all, I don’t think we could have booked with a better tour company and the positive reviews of TripAdvisor speak for themselves.  

We also enjoyed the type of tour that we chose. We really wanted to be able to go to some of the more famous tourist locations (Arenal or Monteverde) but we were quite far from these locations.

For those looking for a full day of birding to experience two completely different climates and landscapes, I would recommend this tour.

Locations

Be sure to bring your camera and binoculars, and drink lots of water! As Canadians, coming from negative degree weather and snow, we had a hard time adjusting to the heat and the long hours spent hiking with little water. In hindsight, a backpack with water would help! 

I can say with confidence that we will be back to Costa Rica one day! And as they say, Pura Vida. 

On another note…

While spending a week under the dark skies of Guanacaste, Costa Rica, Trevor took advantage of the new view of the night sky above. The following photo was captured from the resort using a small telescope and Canon EOS 7D Mark II DSLR camera.

Carina Nebula

The Carina Nebula photographed from our resort

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