Costa Rica Bird Watching Tour: Quetzals, Motmots and More

A 12 day trip to Costa Rica 
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Travel to where the scenery is as colorful and as diverse as the birdlife on this unparalleled Costa Rica vacation. Toucans call to one another in the Caribbean lowlands, and the iridescent plumage of resplendent quetzals shines against the jade backdrop of the cloud forest. Roseate spoonbills and white ibises forage in the marshy soil of a Pacific mangrove forest, and hummingbirds with lustrous wings and crowns swirl around your secluded lodges. Discover the intricate details of the vibrant avifauna around protected national parks, private reserves, and luxury hotels, each offering unique Costa Rica vacation experiences on this customizable birding adventure. 

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Most tours are customized for private travel.

General Information

Iguana in the trees of Tortuguero National Park.
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Bajos del Toro, Sarapiqui, Tortuguero, San Gerardo de Dota, Manuel Antonio National Park, Quetzales National Park, Savegre Waterfall

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Bajos del Toro – Arrive in San Jose and Travel to the Rain and Cloud Forest

Costa Rica’s natural brightness glows in the Mercado Central where vibrant life swirls around a 19th-century circular edifice. The stunning hues of mangoes, pineapple, and bananas emanate from the local produce vendors. The scent of passion fruit drifts away from the stalls before fading beneath the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Mussels, conch shells, and snapper cook in the natural citrus of sour lemon to create zesty, satisfying ceviche. The Old-World ambiance highlights the splendor of the country found in its natural beauty, from the colors of the blossoming flowers to the sensational plumage of the avifauna.

Your flight lands at Juan Santamaria International Airport where your private transfer will greet and escort you out of the capital city to the enchanting landscape of Bajos del Toro. The winding road takes you out of the Central Valley, climbing over the ridges of the volcanic peaks. You can see the natural demarcation where the coffee crops cease to grow in the higher altitudes in the hills around San Jose.

The air is cooler and crisper in the hills, and the trees are laden with dangling moss which helps absorb moisture from the morning mist along the Central Highlands. You hear a rumble and are not sure if it’s the volcanic activity or a distant thunderstorm. You reach the serene, eco-friendly ambiance of your resort nestled into the foothills north of the Poas Volcano. The nearby cascade of Catarata del Toro tumbles 300 feet over a cliff and into the waiting cobalt pool. You relax in the luxury of your accommodation, surrounded by the lush and unique bionetwork of the cloud forest. 

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What’s Included: airport transfer, accommodation

Day 2: Bajos del Toro – Scour a Private Nature Reserve and Visit an Orchid Garden

In the morning, the clouds pass through the forest of the Central Highlands, and the cold air and dense fog sweep past the moss and thick branches in the canopy before dissipating with the sunrise. The life in the forest returns with renewed vigor as hummingbirds zip around the gardens, poking their long, slender beaks into the opening buds. At breakfast, the scent of mango and pineapple accompanies the aroma of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee. You set out with your guide into the private reserve encompassing nearly 15 miles of trails and housing more than 330 different types of birds within its trees.

Thick forest gives way to winding monkey tail tree ferns soaring above the forest grounds. A white-throated crake lingers in the underbrush, hidden amongst the leaves with a tan coat, but with a gray head and red eyes that betray the bird’s careful camouflage. The silver-fronted tapaculo inhabits the dense lower branches surrounded by dangling moss. The bird resembles a small wren and has a short tail, white forehead, and black body. You listen for the sounds of the resplendent quetzal but hear instead the call of the emerald toucanet. The birds can grow to 14 inches long and feature a white band around the base of the bill, a blue ring around their eyes, and wings that nearly blend into the surrounding emerald leaves. Their distinctly loud calls twerps and gargles.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 3: Sarapiqui – Discover Avifauna and Fauna at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

In the morning, the aroma of coconut syrup overtakes the scent of cappuccino. You watch the hummingbirds swirling around the outside of the dining room as agouti forage beside the rushing river. Your guide greets you at the hotel after breakfast and escorts you to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, located between 4,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level. The grounds encompass 70 acres of cloud and rainforest, tall grass filled pastureland, and over two miles of hiking trails. You enter the aviary to get up-close with birds from all around Costa Rica. The wild birds are rehabilitated after having been illegally captured by hunters or traders.

Scarlet macaws squawk as you pass. The male yellow-throated euphonia often found at elevations nearly 6,000 feet above sea level, have blue and black plumage along their backs with bright yellow spreading from breast to tail. The black-headed nightingale-thrush boasts a black crown, pale grayish-brown breast, and an orange bill that contrasts its dark plumage. It sings amongst the serene landscape with a flute-like whistle. You could spend all day walking on the trail through the aviary but instead continue into the butterfly garden where over 25 species of butterflies flutter around the streaming waterfall and blossoming flowers. The bright yellow wings of the Phoebis Philea give way to the iridescent blue of the Morpho Blue butterfly, found only in the tropical regions of Mexico, Central, and South America.  

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, transfer, breakfast

Day 4: Sarapiqui – Explore La Selva Biological Station for Birds, Bats, and Cats

The morning light washes over the landscape glinting against the regional lakes, rolling mountains, emerald forests, and vast fruit farms. The scent of pineapple fades beneath the aroma of jasmine. Your guide greets you after breakfast and escorts you to La Selva Biological Station, located on the reserve spanning 3,700 acres. The park has documented 420 species of birds flying within its borders, visible from the more than 30 miles of maintained trails where the forest canopy shimmers with jade above the damp soil.

The research station was established in the 1950s and has become one of the world’s foremost tropical rainforest research centers. Your guide points to a male shining honeycreeper perched on a small twig. The bird can grow to nearly four inches tall with purple-blue and black wings. The sunlight pierces through the treetops to cast a beam of light over the stunning plumage, and the bird calls in the soft light with a high-pitched song repeated for minutes at a time. The tropical heat creates moisture for the underbrush and ferns grow thick and tall with large leaves resembling fans or umbrellas.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour breakfast

Day 5: Tortuguero – Relish a Scenic Land and Boat Tour en route to Tortuguero 

After breakfast, you travel past farms harvesting bananas, pineapple, and mangos to reach the town of Cano Blanco on the Caribbean Coast. The tropical heat spreads across the landscape and is noticeable in the breeze that rustles the palms and sporadic ferns. The waters of the Parismina River rush through town, turning the quiet banks into a popular transport hub that connects the upper-reaches of the water to the remote edges of the Caribbean shores. You board a quiet boat and being your journey into Tortuguero National Park, which is known for its protected nesting grounds for leatherback, hawksbill, and green sea turtles between March and October.

Mangrove forests lead to marshlands where spoonbills perch on fallen logs and you hear toucans calling in the distant trees. After spending time relaxing in the comforts or your private lodge, you venture into the village to feel the remote ambiance of the streets reached only by boat. A fruit vendor pushes his cart down the road promoting dangling bunches of bananas and plantains. The colorful homes shine like fresh flowers against the wild grasses. You can hear the Caribbean water lapping against the sandy shores as you take your time walking to the highest natural observation point on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coastline, located three miles upriver. The summit reaches a height of 525 feet above sea level and supports an observatory that researches the area’s frogs, reptiles, and toucans.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 6: Tortuguero – Traverse the Canals and Trails of Tortuguero National Park

The tropical heat returns with the morning light and the breeze rustles through the palm trees lining the coast and boats filled with coconuts and plantains glide through the canals. After breakfast, you board a traditional boat to traverse the canals of Tortuguero National Park, a mystical and exotic protected landscape encompassing more than 120 square miles. The cacophonous calls of howler monkeys echo through the trees, and iguanas and river turtles sunbathe on the cooler, damp banks. You keep your eyes on the trees in search of the eight species of parrots, three types of toucans, and 300 different species of birds that inhabit the scenery.

You feel as though you are traveling through the Amazon jungle, enjoying the adventurous spirit of this unique ecosystem. The trees begin to shake above you, and you discover a restless white-collared manakin. The robust yellow and white breast stands out from the surrounding greenery and the male calls to the female with a loud snap that sounds like a twig breaking. A Jesus Christ lizard springs up from a rock as you pass, running across the river’s surface to reach the safety of the banks. Your guide points into the distance at the purple-throated fruitcrow, which inhabits humid lowland forest. Their glossy plumage glistens, and the purple-red patch on its upper throat shines in the sun.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 7: San Gerardo de Dota – Search for Birds alongside the Savegre Waterfalls

At breakfast, you listen for the returning call of the various species of toucans in the region that sporadically burst from the trees. The perfume of jasmine fades beneath the enticing aroma of coconut. You will embark on a scenic flight over the jungle terrain and return to San Jose and the Central Valley. Your private transfer greets you upon arrival and escorts you to San Gerardo de Dota, set deep within a mountain valley. The crisp air creates a refreshingly cool afternoon. Orchards line the basin beneath the stunning cloud forest divided by the rushing waters of the Savegre River where sportsmen arrive been May and June for fly fishing season.

After taking the time to settle into the comforts of your hillside lodge, you will meet your guide and follow the trail along the Savegre River on a nearly three-mile hike. You dip your fingers into the passing water to feel the chillier temperatures that pass through the mountains. A grated bridge passes over the first waterfall where the whitewater falls over the rocks and into the narrow banks below.

For a truly unique viewing experience, you step inside a small cave to reach a hidden cascade. The trickling water echoes beneath the rocks and sprays mist around the cavernous space. Tropical roots reach out of the ground, helping to support the soil. The second waterfall is larger than the first and curves against the bordering boulders. An acorn woodpecker peeks out from a nest as you pass, and you notice its yellow and black plumage contrasting the faded colors of the bark. A few steps farther and you find a collared redstart, these encounters offering just a glimpse of the 110 birds identified in the park.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 8: San Gerardo de Dota – Hike to See the Quetzal and Enjoy a Night Tour

The mist spreads through the cloud forest and leaves lingering dew on the branches and moss that sprawls across the landscape. You rise early and head out with your guide in search of the resplendent quetzal, which likes to feed on the local aguacatillo trees. The berries from the trees resemble tiny avocados but feature a bit of sweetness that is attractive to the birds. The cool air bites at your cheeks and the mist rolls around the treetops before fading away beneath the rising sun.

You hear a deep, smooth note repeated in a simple pattern and quietly and carefully follow the melody to discover the rare bird known for its beauty. You spot the male quetzal perched on the branches above you. His wings shimmer with a lustrous green against the deep red patch on his chest. His elegant tail dangles up to 26 inches long and resembles a streamer rustling in the gentle breeze. You stare at the glistening plumage and stunning display of nature’s beauty without pause until the bird flies away with its tail fluttering in its wake.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 9: Manuel Antonio – Trek Quetzales National Park en route to Manuel Antonio

The majesty of Costa Rica’s newest national park speaks for itself, crossing 12,350 acres of protected landscape and embodying 14 distinct ecosystems. After breakfast, you make your way into the preserved highland forest, which highlights the unique environment along the Continental Divide separating North and South America. The mountains reach an altitude of nearly 9,850 feet above sea level. Sloths relax in the trees and cling to bark, blending into the canopy, while tapirs forage on the undergrowth. The endangered squirrel monkey travels across the branches, and pumas seek shelter in the treetops during the day’s heat.

The sporadic clouds drift through the sky, opening for a sensational view of Talamanca Cordillera and the volcanoes of the Central Volcanic Mountains, beyond which lies the Central Pacific coast. The red-fronted parrotlet has a crimson forehead and yellow edges on its tail and gathers in small groups within the cool forest. After an early exploration through the trails of the park, your private transfer escorts you over the western mountain chain to your luxurious hotel located inside the celebrated grounds of Manuel Antonio National Park.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 10: Manuel Antonio – Follow the Trails through Manuel Antonio National Park

The sea breeze sweeps through the open walls of the hotel dining room carrying the semi-sweet scent of the water. You watch the waves brush back and forth across the sand as a small flock of parakeets rush past. You take to the trails in Manuel Antonio National Park after breakfast, ready to traverse the pristine white-sand beaches and tropical rainforest terrain of the park’s three-square miles. Nearly 185 distinctive bird species inhabit the park, along with over 100 types of mammals that wander along the vine-strewn cotton trees and manzanillos growing along the shoreline. Beach almond and coconut palms rustle in the breeze and red, white, and buttonwood mangroves create a maze of saltwater canals.

Brown pelicans fish offshore and rest in the small wake on the water. You quickly find the Amazon kingfisher with a bronzed green coat and white collar. They perch on high branches while hunting fish and crustaceans, diving into the water at high-speeds before returning to their spot on the branch. Your guide quietly points to a red-capped manakin. The elusive bird inhabits subtropical and tropical lowland forest. They grow to a height of four inches, and the males shine a velvety black with a bright red head and nape. They feed exclusively on fruits and breed from March to June, when you can watch the males perform their “moonwalk” across the branches to attract the females. 

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 11: Manuel Antonio – Enjoy a Day in Manuel Antonio at your Leisure

The brilliant biodiversity of Manuel Antonio National Park returns before sunrise as howler monkeys groan with their distinctive guttural calls. Endangered spider monkeys perch in the trees using their prehensile tails for balance as they reach for nuts and berries and black spiny-tailed iguanas bask on boulders spread across the beaches to soak in the sunlight. After breakfast, you follow your guide onto a small boat to traverse the mangrove forest in search of a different view of the avifauna and wildlife of Costa Rica’s smallest national park.

The sunlight pierces through the canopy as you drift along the tranquil canals while gray fox forage in the underbrush and three-toed sloths sleep in the trees. A scarlet macaw watches you pass below. Seeing a macaw in the wild carries a special feeling of accomplishment and wonder. A groove-billed Ani resembles a crow with a parrot’s bill and a long, black tail that dangles off the branch. You can see the gentle parallel grooves swooping down its beak to its nose. A blue-capped motmot hides in the trees with its turquoise crown standing out from the leaves. The tassels on their tails waggle from side to side, letting predators know they’ve been seen. 

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 12: Manuel Antonio – Depart for Home

In the morning, you return to the dining room to enjoy the subtle aroma of the sea, fresh coffee, and sweet pineapple. You look at your photos from the previous day finding images of white ibis dipping their beaks into the shallow marshland and roseate spoonbills resting on thick tree stumps. Outside the dining room, a little blue heron flies past with its blue-gray wings glinting in the sunlight. After breakfast, your private transfer greets you at the hotel and escorts you to Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose. You check in for your flight and fly home, bringing an end to your ultimate Costa Rica birding vacation.

What’s Included: airport transfer, breakfast 


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.