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 create the Central Valley's biodiversity on the 10-acre site, with bromeliads, orchids and dozes
of exotic plants and flowers. The vegetation is a magnet for birds, with dozens of species on display. Among those seen most frequently are hummingbirds, blue-crowned motmot, palm tanager, tropical kingbird and boat-billed flycatcher.
Days 2 & 3: Tiskita Jungle Lodge
This morning, we board chartered planes to fly to Golfito, followed by a land transfer to Tiskita Jungle Lodge on Costa Rica’s remote southern Pacific coast. Secluded Tiskita, in 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, white-faced capuchins and
sloths swing through the trees, and 270 bird species thrive in the lush habitat, which we'll have a chance to look for on early-morning walks. Tiskita’s hand-built cabins, crafted from fallen hardwood trees, survey the sea from a high ridge.
We'll have lunch on arrival, and meals are prepared with fresh
local fare, utilizing 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, we arrive for a two-night stay at our hotel on a hillside 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 languid 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 mangrove swamp, protecting prolific birdlife and wild animals within the reserve's
67,000 acres. Floating down the opaque tropical river, we may see American crocodiles, rainbow boas, green iguanas, white-face
capuchin monkeys, 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 stop at Palmar Sur to visit the Finca 6 archaeological site. At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, we 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 spheres weighing 16 tons. Their purpose, and the means of creating them,
remains open to speculation, but one thing is certain: they are awe-inducing. Once we return to our hotel late this afternoon, there's an option to walk with our Expedition Leader to Uvita Beach, part of Ballena Marine National Park. The beach is famous for its unique whale’s tail shape, turquoise waters and serenity,
since few travelers venture here. If surf conditions permit, swim or dip your feet in the ocean.
Day 6: Talamanca Mountains—Savegre River
For those who rise early, join our Expedition Leader for birdwatching on the hotel's expansive grounds. After breakfast, leave the coast behind and ascend narrow, winding roads into the Talamanca Mountains, crossing 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'll stop for lunch at the home of a local family, enjoying traditional home-cooked fare and learning about rural life in Costa Rica. They live on a small farm where they grow mushrooms on oak logs and make delectable blackberry wine, both of which will be components in our meal.
Our destination is Savegre Mountain Hotel, where we spend the next two nights. The lodge enjoys an exquisite setting, tucked along a rushing river at the base of a narrow mountain valley at 7,200 feet in elevation. Within this private biological reserve, replete with flowering tropical plants, we find myriad colorful birds including the resplendent quetzal, 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 we are not likely to see them as they are extremely elusive. 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 including 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 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 see the emerald toucanet, golden-browed
chlorophonia and spangle-cheeked
tanager, among many others.
After breakfast, we depart for Los Quetzales National Park, encompassing more than 12,000 acres of pristine cloud forest and 14 different ecosystems. Previously the Los Santos Reserve, 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 photography opportunities. Then, from our own lodge 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