Experience the best of birding in Costa Rica on this 13-day journey through tropical paradise. In Tortuguero, learn about turtle conservation and spot dozens of birds and other species. Then, venture to Turrialba Volcano to discover the native birdlife. Next, stroll the cloud forest of San Gerardo de Dota, where hummingbirds and quetzals thrive, followed by Corcovado National Park and Ballena National Marine Park. The finale includes scarlet macaws flying overhead at Carara National Park, before returning to San José for some sightseeing.

Highlights

  • Learn about native turtles and take a boat tour of Tortuguero National Park
  • Explore Turrialba Volcano and go on a plantation tour of CATIE
  • Spot the quetzal with a team of experts in San Gerardo de Dota
  • Tour Carara National Park and spot its famed scarlet macaws

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San José
Day 2 Transfer to Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 3 Guided Exploration of Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero
Day 4 Transfer to Turrialba Volcano Region Turrialba
Day 5 Tropical Plantation Tour of CATIE Turrialba
Day 6 Transfer to San Gerardo de Dota San Gerardo de Dota
Day 7 Quetzal Spotting & Birdwatching Tour of the Cloud Forest San Gerardo de Dota
Day 8 Transfer to Ballena National Marine Park in Uvita Uvita
Day 9 Free Day - Uvita, Ballena Marine National Park, & Whale Watching Uvita
Day 10 Transfer to Carara National Park Carara National Park
Day 11 Guided Tour of Carara National Park Carara National Park
Day 12 Transfer to San José San José
Day 13 Depart From Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José

Welcome to Costa Rica!
Welcome to Costa Rica!

Welcome to Costa Rica! Meet your travel representative at the airport to obtain your information packet that contains an in-depth travel itinerary, vouchers for services, and other important documentation. A driver will take you to your hotel, which is located in San José, just 30 minutes from the airport.

On the route, the travel representative will present a brief introduction to Costa Rica and some recommendations of additional things to do while traveling to ensure your trip is unforgettable. The guide will run through your itinerary with you once you're settled at the hotel.

At night, you can enjoy dinner at the hotel restaurant, or out on the town, before departing for your wildlife and birdwatching adventure early tomorrow.

Day 2: Transfer to Tortuguero National Park

Learn all about the turtle conservation history in Tortuguero
Learn all about the turtle conservation history in Tortuguero

Your expert guide will meet you early in the morning at the hotel, and the trip begins northeast, to the Caribbean lowlands. Stop for breakfast in Guapiles and enjoy the local cuisine. 

After breakfast, continue to the La Pavona dock, and from there, board the specially designed riverboat that will take you to the hotel located in the North Caribbean.

In the afternoon, head to the village of Tortuguero to visit the Turtle Museum and walk around town to learn about the relaxed way of life in this region of Costa Rica. Your guide will share the history of the village and its development and why/when the turtle conservation mentality transitioned. Return to the hotel after the tour for lunch. Enjoy some free time in the evening, and return to the hotel for dinner.

Day 3: Guided exploration of Tortuguero National Park

Spot howler, spider, and capuchin monkeys while touring Tortuguero National Park
Spot howler, spider, and capuchin monkeys while touring Tortuguero National Park

After breakfast, board a boat tour of Tortuguero National Park, along with a local nature guide. The small boats go deep into the canals of the park, further beyond the depths that other boats can reach, allowing you the opportunity to find the rarer species of wildlife. The extensive network of freshwater creeks and lagoons behind the beaches of Tortuguero are home to seven species of river turtles, spectacled caiman, southern river otters, a number of crustaceans, and more than 50 species of freshwater fish. On this expedition, you are also likely to see spider, howler, and capuchin monkeys, along with dozens of species of birds. You might even spot an endangered West Indian manatee.

After the boat tour, return to the hotel for lunch. In the afternoon, your guide will take you to a private nature trail to mingle with even more wildlife. The walk is relaxed and slow along the flat terrain.

The rest of the day is at your leisure; you can relax at the swimming pool, enjoy a cocktail while admiring the river lagoon, or spend the afternoon on the beach. Enjoy dinner at the hotel.

Day 4: Transfer to the Turrialba Volcano region

Spot birds, like the keel-billed toucan, in Turrialba
Spot birds, like the keel-billed toucan, in Turrialba

After breakfast, meet at the main dock of the hotel to return, by boat, to Pavona’s dock. From there, continue on by land to Guapiles for a delicious Caribbean lunch of special dishes packed with notable local flavors. 

Following lunch, it's time to head to your next destination—the Turrialba Volcano area. A private driver will take you to higher elevations, through a mountain road with amazing views of the Reventazon River Canyon and the Turrialba Volcano. This region is at the crossroads of the South Pacific, Central Valley, and Atlantic Coast. The enormous difference in altitude within such a small area, along with the high rainfall, makes it one of the richest regions of Costa Rica for growing plants and numerous species of birds.

Your lodge is right in the center of this fascinating area, on the slopes of the Turrialba Volcano, at 5,000 feet above sea level. The lodge is surrounded by a private reserve with miles of trails to explore, and is a true paradise for birdwatching and nature lovers.

Day 5: Tropical plantation tour of CATIE

Discover orchids and other plant life on a tour of CATIE
Discover orchids and other plant life on a tour of CATIE

After breakfast at the hotel, embark on a tour of the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza, or CATIE, for short. During the plantation tour, your guide will teach you about the extensive vegetation and significant contributions CATIE has made toward the research and education of tropical agriculture. Tour a portion of the grounds, where you can appreciate a variety of tropical plants from different parts of the world. The plantations of major relevance are coffee, cocoa, pejibayes, tropical fruit, and forest spices. Take a guided stroll through CATIE's special Botanical Garden, too, and locate the old kapok tree, towering stalks of bamboo, and orchids and bromeliads dripping from the trees, along with many other colorful and fruiting plants.

Following the tour, the afternoon is yours to enjoy the hotel's amenities or private reserve.

Day 6: Transfer to San Gerardo de Dota

Keep an eye out for hummingbirds around the lodge in San Gerardo de Dota
Keep an eye out for hummingbirds around the lodge in San Gerardo de Dota

Following breakfast at the hotel,  a private driver will pick you by mid-morning to start traveling toward the city of Cartago, the former capital of Costa Rica. Cartago is a historical city that has preserved some of its colonial churches and buildings. Downtown, spot the most important basilica and the ruins of the oldest church. Your driver can point out these sights and tell you about their history.

From Cartago, it is just 1 hour to the cloud forest of San Gerardo, which sits at an elevation of 7,200 feet on the Talamanca mountain range. The area is entirely different from landscapes previously visited; notice the change in temperature and type of forest, as well as the species of birds.

Your lodge is right in the middle of the cloud forest reserve. Here, spot hundreds of hummingbirds flying around the restaurant and other areas. Some of the most impressive birds you can find are bellbirds, mot-mots, and different types of trogons, including the resplendent quetzal.

Upon arrival, enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening around the lodge on your own time.

Day 7: Quetzal spotting and birdwatching tour of the cloud forest

A team of birding experts will help you locate the quetzal
A team of birding experts will help you locate the quetzal

Early in the morning, have breakfast and meet a local guide and a team of birding experts in the lobby of the lodge. Head out on the trails of the hotel’s private reserve, and along some dirt roads, with the objective of finding the quetzal, a very beautiful bird. The experts have been seeking out quetzals and other birds for years; therefore, they can easily find them. You may even spot a male courting a female mate. 

For the afternoon, you can take an optional tour and walk to the waterfalls of the Savegre River. On this 3-hour walk, explore the river shores and find two amazing waterfalls located deep within this cloud forest. The entrance fee to the private reserve is included. You can also reserve a horse if you prefer not to walk. 

Day 8: Transfer to Ballena National Marine Park in Uvita

Take in the beautiful sunset over the ocean in Uvita
Take in the beautiful sunset over the ocean in Uvita

After breakfast at the hotel, a driver will pick you up and transfer you south, to the surroundings of the rich Ballena National Marine Park. The change of scenery is notable as you descend down the mountains, toward the south Pacific Coast. The temperature rises, as well, and as a result, expect to spot new species of birds and animals. 

Your lodge is tucked away in a private reserve on 600 acres of land, and boasts spectacular Pacific Ocean views. Enjoy your stay near the sandy beaches and natural river pools, and the chance to experience the blooming forest and active wildlife of the country’s most famous ecosystem. Nearby is Corcovado National Park, which is known for its rich biodiversity. 

This afternoon, admire the breathtaking sunset from the hotel and enjoy the tranquil ocean breeze while you sip a cocktail or natural beverage prepared with fresh, local fruit.

Day 9: Free day - Uvita, Ballena Marine National Park, and whale watching

Explore Bellena Marine National Park
Explore Bellena Marine National Park

Following breakfast at the hotel, the day is free for you to enjoy at your leisure. Explore the hotel’s private reserve on your own or book an optional, off-property tour. You can also visit Ballena Marine National Park to stroll the white-sand beaches surrounded by the dense rainforest; here, you will also find trails where you can look for native wildlife.

One of the most interesting things to do in the area is to embark on the Humpback Whale Observation Tour by boat. This area is in the middle of the migration route of these mysterious animals, so it is easy to find them during the right months. Other species that are visible on these tours include dolphins, stingrays, and sea turtles; you can also enjoy snorkeling and see many species of coral reef and tropical fish. The whales are around from January-March and from July-September, so it is better to arrange the tour locally to ensure the best experience possible.

Day 10: Transfer to Carara National Park

Carara National Park is one of the best places to spot the scarlet macaw
Carara National Park is one of the best places to spot the scarlet macaw

Following breakfast at the hotel, travel northwest to the Central Pacific area on a shared shuttle. En route, keep an eye out for the timelessly beautiful beach towns. Though there is not much time to visit them, you'll gain a  good idea of how different life is the Pacific Coast, as opposed to life in the Caribbean.

Your final destination today is Carara National Park. Here, you can find one of the largest and most stunning birds in Costa Rica—the scarlet macaw. Birdwatchers from all over the world have confirmed that this is the best place to see these beautiful birds, as they nest on the huge almond trees and are easy to spot all year. Other species you will find include the yellow-billed cotinga and black-hooded antshrike, just to name a few.

Day 11: Guided tour of Carara National Park

Crocodiles are abundant in Carara National Park
Crocodiles are abundant in Carara National Park

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel, and then head into Carara National Park for some guided exploration. Once inside, choose between two trails, each of which is approximately 2 miles in length. As you walk, your guide will stop to point out plants and wildlife species and explain their ecological relationships. Carara National Park is home to approximately 48 percent of Costa Rica’s avian species. One of the highlights of this tour is watching the iconic scarlet macaws flying overhead or in trees.

Loaned from Huetar natives, the park’s name means "crocodile." Appropriately enough, there is a huge population of crocodiles that lives within the nearby Tárcoles River

Following the tour, the rest of the day and evening are at your leisure.

Day 12: Transfer to San José

Tour the museums and historical sites in San José
Tour the museums and historical sites in San José

Following breakfast at the hotel, take some more time to enjoy the surrounding rainforest, and all its beauty, before traveling back to San José for your last night in Costa Rica. 

Check into your hotel downtown in the afternoon and explore the city. Visit museums and historical buildings, and stroll Central Avenue, a place where you can interact with locals and learn a little more about Costa Rican culture. Several dining options are located near the hotel, so you can indulge in a nice farewell dinner.

Day 13: Depart from Costa Rica

Farewell, Costa Rica!
Farewell, Costa Rica!

After breakfast, it is time to say goodbye to beautiful Costa Rica. A driver will pick you up at the hotel and take you straight to the airport, which is located just 30 minutes from your hotel. Keep in mind that in Costa Rica, you must be at the airport 3 hours prior to your departure flight time.

Map

Map of Birding in Costa Rica:  Tortuguero, Corcovado, Carara National Park, & More - 13 Days
Map of Birding in Costa Rica: Tortuguero, Corcovado, Carara National Park, & More - 13 Days