Costa Rica is the ideal country for Bird watching. In Costa Rica you can spot over 50 hummingbird species, 6 different types of toucans and 17 types of parrots. Planning a Costa Rica bird watching trip includes beaches, volcanoes and jungles that are filled with over 900 different bird species.
Costa Rica is known as a Central American country with rugged trails, incredible coast lines and lush rainforests. Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on earth and is a spectacular place for spotting birds of all kinds.
Whether you are an avid birdwatcher or someone who is just getting started, Birding Costa Rica will be the trip of your lifetime. In this guide you will learn how to plan a birding vacation to Costa Rica, what to bring, and where to go.
Planning Your Costa Rica Birdwatching Trip
First off you will need to decide what types of birds interest you, if you plan to do any other activities besides birdwatching, and what region you would like to be in climate wise.
For that reason I would start looking at websites like The American Birding Association which is great way to learn about the types of birds that you can see in Costa Rica. Its good for both the beginner bird watcher as well as the experienced and can help give you a better idea on where in Costa Rica you want to g.
A second great website you can go to is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology which is a fantastic resource if your just starting out. You can start with the basics and work your way up from there as the site has a lot of information with bird cams, nest watch monitors etc.
Where to Land in Costa Rica
Most trips to Costa Rica start with flying into the capital of San Jose, (although Liberia is another option) from there you can make your way to almost any part of the country and reach a bird watching destination. Near Turrialba you have options through the mountains, foothills, and rivers.
In Monteverde there is bird watching on both the Atlantic and Pacific slopes of the Continental Divide. Even on the shores of Lake Arenal, the rainforest and the wetlands of Tortuguero. If there are specific species you hope to see, make sure to look through your field guide and plan your trip around these regions.
You will need to decide where you will be staying and how you will be arriving there. If you are traveling during the busy season say, January or around a holiday, especially Christmas or Easter, make sure to book at least 3-5 months in advance.
Also let your hotel, airbnb or hostel know when you plan to arrive if it is later in the night or very early in the morning. To reach regions away from the capital you will take either a domestic flight to a different airport, a bus, or rent a car to self-drive to your birding locations.
Some may think they can get away with a standard 2 wheel drive car, but on Costa Rican road this is not the case, definitely opt for a 4 wheel drive.
How To Plan a Costa Rica Birding Tour
Birdwatching in Costa Rica can be done year-round. It can be both surprising and challenging but one thing for sure, it will never be dull. If you have never gone on a bird watching trip, or at least not to Costa Rica there are a few points on things to expect when going:
Costa Rica is not as cheap country as some of the other countries surrounding it such as Nicaragua and so, if you are going on set tour, do not plan on paying an incredibly low rate for a top notch bird watching tour, and remember to tip fairly.
Costa Rica is a small country, but will take a while to get around to different areas to birdwatch. Have patience when traveling on the roads as many are not paved and very bumpy.
You can drink the tap water in the major tourist hotels but I would advise caution when in smaller or more rural areas. Try to keep a bottle or 2 of water with you!
The climate is not entirely warm all the time. Depending on what elevation you are at and what time of the year you visit the temperatures can range from 70-90 degrees fahrenheit or as low as 40-50 degrees in high elevation. For example, the weather in Monteverde will be much cooler then in the Osa Peninsula.
The currency most widely accepted in Costa Rica is the US dollar and its own currency the Costa Rica Colones.
Rainy season doesn’t mean it is bad to travel, it just means you may get a bit wet while birdwatching. The advantage however, is the prices will also be lower in the wet season, but during the dry season you may see slightly more flying activity.
Expect the worst in terms of rain and temperature. It is best to have no preconceived ideas when you go birdwatching, sit back and let nature entertain you.
Prepare to be awed. No matter what you see, you will be amazed by the incredible birds and wonderful biodiversity in Costa Rica.
When Is The Best Time For Birding in Costa Rica ?
It is inevitable that you will encounter rain on your trip to the rainforest, but are a few specific times of the year where you can deal with it a bit less. December-April are known as the dry months and the best months to visit. During these months you will see Quetzals soaring through the sky as well as snow birds escaping to the tropics for their winter.
Do be aware that you may need to make accommodation plans far in advance as this is the busy season. If you do plan to come during the wet season,which is May-November, try to make it in May or November when you get a great combination of low season prices and good weather.
If you must come during the rainy months do not be too upset, as the rainy season is known for sunny mornings and afternoon rain showers. This means you can wake up early to do your bird watching as normal, and only leave if the rain becomes unbearable in the afternoon.
How To Pack for a Costa Rica Birding Trip
The most successful and comfortable bird watching trips are those that you are prepared for. There are a few things you should definitely make sure you have in your suitcase before you take off.
Whatever season you plan to go on your bird watching trip there will be tropical sun, and you will definitely regret it if you do not bring a hat. Pretty much anything with a brim should do the trick.
The most ideal hat would be the type that pop into mind when you think of a safari hat, but baseball hats work well too. Not only will this block your face and shoulders from the sun, but it can be used to swat away any tropical bugs such as mosquitoes or horseflies.
If you are someone who gets overheated easily, your hat can also be saturated with water and placed back on your head to cool you down.
Zip Lock Bags
You may have purchased a backpack that states it has a rainguard or is water repellent, but that is as far as it will go in a tropical rainstorm. It may “repel” the water, but it will not keep your valuables from getting soaked.
For anything such as your cell phone, camera, field guide, medicine, or extra clothes, bring zip lock bags to keep things dry. For the eco-friendly traveler who doesn’t like the idea of using a plastic bag, here are two reusable options: Stasher 100% Silicone Reusable Food Bag & Kiva Reusable Silicone Food Storage Bag.
As an alternative you can purchase a dry bag, but in the event this fails for one reason or another, single bagging is always a good precaution.
You will need something to carry all of your things while you are birdwatching, so make sure to bring a good sturdy backpack. As stated before, you can bring a dry bag or a “water repellant” backpack just in case of mist and rain. The best backpack that I have found is from a company called Datusara. I have one and I don’t think I will another one for a longggg time.
Bug repellent and sunblock
Everyone does not have an issue with mosquitoes, and everyone does not get incredibly sunburnt but it is always good to be careful. The worst feeling in the world while you are in the jungle and waiting for birds to appear, is to be itchy from bites or sunburn. Bring both of these items and apply at least twice each day.
A Waterproof notebook
Your cell phone is great for taking notes in your day to day life, but while you are birdwatching in the tropical rainforests a real old-fashioned notebook will be a lot more handy. If possible get one that is waterproof like the Rite n Rain Notebook, in case you need to sketch a bird or write down a few notes during a torrential downpour.
Sunglasses, preferably UV blocking
The last thing you want while bird watching is for your eyes to become tired. Make sure that your sunglasses block UV rays so you can gaze into a bright blue sky or out at an ocean.
Costa del Mar sunglasses are well known for their quality and reliability for not breaking, which not something you want to have happen when you are in the middle of the no where looking at birds. I tend to recommend the blackfin version but whatever type or brand you prefer as long as they have UV protection and ideally polarized.
The importance of binoculars while birdwatching should be obvious, but having waterproof binoculars is also important so that they won’t fog up in humid conditions. Avoid small travel binoculars as they will not function how you would like them to in this type of setting
The Nikon Monarch 7 has quality glass with a waterproof and fog-proof construction that makes them perfect for the job. The basic construction is durable, but it also has the ability to change the magnification and viewing diameter. This allows you to enjoy your subject and keep it in view.
Local Birding Field Guide
You will need something to identify all the birds and animals that you will see in Costa Rica. When choosing your field guide make sure it is small enough to either put in your pocket or front pocket of your backpack. You want it to be easily accessible at all times.
The Audubon Birds Field Guide App is constantly updated and is filled with incredible bird images and descriptions on over 760 species with a bird song file containing over 2300+ songs. The language is clear and concise, which eases the identification process. Plus, you can set search features to enable one to quickly and easily identify birds by attributes such as location, patterns, songs, images, time of year and patterns.
If you prefer an actual book then look at the book Birds Of Costa Rica: A Field Guide. Its easy to carry with you and is perfect weather you are a beginner or experienced bird watcher.
This includes clothing for multiple climates as high as 90 fahrenheit and as low as 40 degrees depending on elevations. Lightweight options as well as layers are very helpful, but long pants are generally recommended due to bugs and the sun.
In case of rain, consider bringing a small umbrella or a light poncho. Lightweight sneakers and an extra pair of clothing go a long way in the rainforest.
Granola bars, cliff bars or snacks
Much of the food in Costa Rica will consist of rice, beans and some type of protein. To keep your energy in the field you will want to have some type of snack to keep your blood sugar elevated. Within the markets in Costa Rica there will be a few options but if you know what you enjoy, pack a few bars ahead of time.
If you have emergency snacks, you won’t be running to take a break when you could have been waiting those last extra moments for a bellbird to arrive.
Positive attitude and patience
Bird watching can be very rewarding, but also a very slow activity. You may go an entire day without seeing what you originally planned to see. Make sure not to be discouraged as you will see many exciting birds and other animals as well. Keep a positive attitude and a lot of patience.
Whether you visit in the wet or dry season, travel all over the country or to only a few places, see all 17 types of parrots or only 2, birdwatching in Costa Rica will amaze you.
As long as you pack accordingly and bring your positive attitude, your time in the jungles of Central America will be a once in a lifetime experience.