From Quetzals to Capuchins, Discover a Wilder Side of Costa Rica
Day 1: San Jose, Costa Rica
Arrive in San Jose, the country's capital, where our Costa Rica ecotour begins with a welcome dinner. If you arrive early, enjoy wandering the lavish botanical gardens around our hotel. The owners have attempted to recreate the Central Valley's biodiversity on the 10-acre site, with bromeliads, orchids and a lush tapestry of native plants and flowers. The vegetation is a magnet for birds, with dozens of species on display. Among those we see most frequently are hummingbirds, blue-crowned motmot, palm tanager, tropical kingbird and boat-billed flycatcher.
Days 2 & 3: Tiskita Jungle Lodge
This morning, we transfer to the local airport to board chartered planes for Golfito, followed by a road transfer to Tiskita Jungle Lodge on Costa Rica’s remote southern Pacific coast. Tiskita, at the heart of a 800-acre
private rain forest
reserve, is the only accommodation in this undeveloped area just a few miles from the Panama border. Squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys and
white-faced capuchins swing through the trees, while sloths cling to high branches. Some 270 bird species thrive in this lush habitat, and we have a chance to look for them on early-morning walks. Tiskita’s hand-built cabins, crafted from fallen hardwood trees, survey the sea from a high ridge.
Lunch is served on arrival, and meals are prepared with fresh local fare, utilizing some of the more than 125 types of organic tropical fruit grown on the estate. On a hike through the grounds, we’ll examine a wide array of exotic fruit trees, and, if certain fruits are in season, we may get to taste some unfamiliar varieties. This is also an excellent chance to see birds and monkeys that are attracted to the orchards and open areas. An in-depth rain forest
hike reveals more wild creatures and luxuriant vegetation, while a night walk offers a chance to look for red-eyed tree frogs and other intriguing amphibians. During our stay, we'll walk to the beachside village of Punta Banco where we learn about the community's involvement with a local sea turtle conservation project.
Day 4: Tiskita / Bahia Ballena
A final morning at Tiskita offers one more opportunity for a guided walk in the rain forest
, looking for the abundant jungle wildlife at home in this secluded reserve. After lunch, we depart by road, winding our way north. Along the way, we stop to look for toucans and other wildlife that we often see along the roadside. Late this afternoon, arrive for a two-night stay at our hillside hotel high above Ballena Marine National Park, a system of coral reefs and islands that harbors some of the richest undersea life in Costa Rica. Hiking paths leave from the hotel grounds, offering a chance to look for wildlife including howler monkeys and green iguanas. Take advantage of the outstanding sunset photo opportunities before dinner at our hotel, served on the terrace with a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean.
Day 5: Sierpe River Cruise / Finca 6 Stone Spheres
Traveling along the central coast, we reach the Sierpe River, where we board a private boat to explore its vast mangrove ecosystem. The Terraba and Sierpe rivers flow from their headwaters on the southern slopes of the Talamanca Mountains to the Pacific where they form a river delta comprising the Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands. A network of channels weaves through Costa Rica's largest untouched mangrove estuary, protecting prolific birdlife and wild animals within the reserve's
67,000 acres. Floating down the languid tropical river, we may see American crocodiles, rainbow boas, green iguanas, white-face
capuchins, long-nosed bats, roseate spoonbills, ospreys, kingfishers, frigatebirds and a variety of egrets. If we're lucky, we might even spy some scarlet macaws in the trees.
After lunch in Sierpe Town, we visit the Finca 6 archaeological site at Palmar Sur. At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, observe the mysterious pre-Columbian stone spheres discovered here in the 1930s when the United Fruit Company was clearing land for banana plantations. These perfectly carved orbs range in size from a bowling ball to massive globes weighing 16 tons. Their purpose and how they were created remains open to speculation, but one thing is certain: they are impressive! Once we return to our hotel late this afternoon, join our Expedition Leader for a walk to Uvita Beach, part of Ballena Marine National Park. The little-visited stretch of sandy coast is famous for its whale’s tail shape, surrounded by the turquoise sea. If surf conditions permit, swim or dip your feet in the ocean.
Day 6: Talamanca Mountains—Savegre River
For those who choose to rise early, our Expedition Leader offers guided birdwatching on the hotel's expansive grounds. After breakfast, leave the coast behind to ascend narrow, winding roads into the Talamanca Mountains. Along
our route, cross Cerro de la Muerte, the highest point along the Costa Rican section of the Pan-American Highway. The views are thrilling, when the frequent mists clear enough to reveal waterfalls on steep slopes and green valleys far below. Along the way, we stop for lunch at the home of a local family, savoring traditional home-cooked fare and learning about rural life in Costa Rica. Our hosts live on a small farm where they grow mushrooms on oak logs and make delectable blackberry wine, both of which are featured in our meal.
Our destination is Savegre Mountain Hotel, where we spend the next two nights. The lodge enjoys an exquisite setting along a rushing river at the base of a narrow, high mountain valley at 7,200 feet. Within this private biological reserve, replete with flowering tropical plants, we find myriad colorful birds—the resplendent quetzal is the biggest prize among the more than 600 different bird species found here. On a guided hike through the cloud forest, pass vivid bromeliads and orchids while we scout for wildlife. This region is home to Baird’s tapir, wild boar, monkeys and coati. The rich habitat is also the territory of six species of neotropical cats including jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay, oncilla and
jaguarundi, though they are very elusive and rarely seen. Ferns and mosses flourish in the constant drip of the mists, while birds add dashes of color to the canopy.
Day 7: Los Quetzales National Park
This high-altitude ecosystem will thrill bird lovers, as it is home to a multitude of vibrant species and many endemics. We set out early this morning with the goal of spotting the resplendent quetzal, a revered and endangered creature of striking beauty. Listen for their deep, melodious calls as we quietly track these elusive birds. Photographers come from all over the world in hopes of capturing a shot of the quetzal's splendid plumage, with its electric green head, scarlet breast and
long, iridescent turquoise tail. Our dawn nature walk reveals a wide array of birds, and we may also spy the emerald toucanet, golden-browed
chlorophonia and spangle-cheeked
tanager, among many others.
Return to the lodge for breakfast, then depart for Los Quetzales National Park, encompassing more than 12,000 acres of pristine cloud forest and 14 different ecosystems. The park protects wild sections of the Savegre River, which originates high up on the Cerro de la Muerte. A highlight is lunch
at Paraiso Quetzal—"Quetzal Paradise"—an ecolodge perched on a steep mountainside. From the outdoor deck
we're sure to see dozens of hummingbirds buzzing around several feeders, offering superb close-up photo opportunities. Later this afternoon, a guided walk along a flowing stream reveals a cascading waterfall fed by the Savegre River. We also visit Batsu Gardens, where every detail has been intentionally designed to enhance outstanding bird photography opportunities in a lush natural space. This evening, our nature adventure comes to a close over a farewell dinner served at the home of a local family.
Day 8: San Jose / Depart
After breakfast, a group transfer is provided to the San Jose airport to connect with departing flights or an onward journey to Arenal Volcano for travelers who have booked that extension.
Physical Rating: Moderate