Costa Rica 16th April – 2nd May 2011

For list of birds seen on this trip click here

For list of mammals seen on this trip click here

This was a private trip for my wife and I. We used Geodyssey, the company we used for our Cuba trip last year, to organize our accommodation which we had decided on. We wanted to see as much of the country as possible and in order to do this we used a four wheel drive hire car, which was delivered to our San Jose hotel the morning after we arrived in Costa Rica. Driving was very easy, even in the city, and was helped by use of a satellite navigation system which we had pre booked (there were some issues with this machine not working at times not due to signal loss but a problem with the machine itself). However, we just typed in our destination accommodation and the system led us to the site faultlessly. Driving in Costa Rica was easy and, apart from the 35km each way off road drive from Ensenada to Monteverde, the roads were very good. There were no bad experiences of Costa Rica driving which we had read about. Everyone was courteous and patient.

We chose the lodges to give us as broad an experience of the country as possible and visited as many elevational sites as possible, since often it is altitude which dictates which bird or mammal species occurs where. I used the latest Costa Rica field guide, “Birds of Costa Rica” which is very good, and had with me calls of several hundred of the birds. Journeys between accommodation varied but were never longer than three hours and in most places we had pre hired guides which were also very good.

The lodges were great places to stay with birds all around. They had been chosen well. Food and rooms were of a high standard.

One of my prime objectives, on this return trip to Costa Rica (I had been there for  days in January 2007) was to try and obtain in flight shots of hummingbirds. Whilst I was successful in this, I did have some difficulty in persuading some lodge proprietors to allow me to do this. They were very concerned lest I move any of the feeders at which the birds can be photographed. I never had plans to move the feeders and I was partially successful at Rancho Naturalista and had more success at Savegre.

Although most birders visit in the first three months of the year, we were not disappointed in the numbers of birds to be seen, and it was actually quite pleasurable as most of the lodges were quiet when we were there (Villa Lapas was a notable exception and we would not choose to stay there again. This was also the poorest quality rooms in our trip.

Because we had several hours to wait in Panama on our return journey from Costa Rica, I pre arranged a day trip from Panama airport to the Canopy Tower – a place I also last visited in 2007. This was simple to organise but it was a bit tricky because it was a holiday on the day concerned.

Weather was good generally with only little rain. Not much wind even at the heights of Cerro de la Muerte.

Saturday 16th April 2011

Departure from Norwich airport 10:00 for the 30 minute flight to Amsterdam Schipol airport. A much more civilised way to leave the UK than from one of the London airports. A couple of hours wait then depart Amsterdam via KLM to Panama. Arrive Panama 17:20 local time. Two hour wait at Panama airport then one hour flight to San Jose. Night at Rodeo hotel.  Arrive approx. 21:30 local time.

Sunday 17th April 2011

San Jose to Villa Lapas. Four wheel drive Suzuki Gran Vitara automatic delivered to the hotel. We were expecting manual transmission but not a problem. Very good condition, nearly new. No hassle during our stay. Depart for Villa Lapas 10:15. Called briefly at Orotina for Black and White Owl – unsuccessful. Arrive Villa Lapas approx. 14:00. Then brief trip to nearby Tarcoles river.

Monday 18th April 2011

07:00 Carara National Park, with guide Freddie. Started at coast, Tarcoles, to see the majestic Scarlet Macaws. Then into the National Park where highlights included an adult and juvenile Spectacled Owl and Orange-collared Manikin. Return Villa Lapas 12:00. Afternoon around Villa Lapas.

Tuesday 19th April 2011

Villa Lapas, boat trip with Mangrove Birding Tours – just my wife and I, the boat driver and a guide, Luis. Highlight included Mangrove Hummingbird (brief views), Bare-throated Tiger Heron and Turquoise-browed Motmot. Later, afternoon walk along the river at Villa Lapas.

Wednesday 20th April 2011

Villa Lapas to Ensenada. 2 hour drive. Ensenada certainly feels remote, and is in a very dry part of the country. The lodge is wonderfully situated on a peninsula of the north west coast. A lovely swimming pool in the grounds was very useful. Afternoon was around the grounds with a brief trip to the nearby saltpans at dusk.

Thursday 21st April 2011

Ensenada to Monteverde and back. We drove to Monteverde for the day, and this was the worst road we encountered all trip, however it wasn’t really impassable, just bumpy. We had a walk around the reserve, in the company of one of the local guides. We managed to find some Resplendent Quetzals, and also a Green Toucanet. The hummingbird feeders were also a delight to see.

Friday 22nd April 2011

Ensenada to La Selva lodge. This was our longest day’s driving. We drove past the Arenal volcano and arrived at La Selva mid afternoon, having left Ensenada at 09:00. We settled in and had a wander around the grounds and a cooling swim in the hotel pool.

Saturday 23rd April 2011

OTS. We drove the short journey to the international research centre which is OTS. We met our guide, Octavio, and he led us through some secondary growth then into stunning primary rainforest. We saw a great deal here, and also nearly trod on a couple of venomous snakes. Highlight included Great Tinamou and two sloth species.

Sunday 24th April 2011

Morning boat trip on Sarapiqui river. Octavio our guide and a boat driver. It certainly felt like a personalized trip. We were able to stop the boat whenever we wanted to and highlight has to be the Sungrebe spotted by our driver.

Later a stroll in the grounds of the OTS.

Monday 25th April 2011

La Selva to Rancho Naturalista. Just under three hours driving. An afternoon guided walk with Herman, then later on the balcony at the hummingbird feeders.  Violet Sabrewing was hard to beat!

Tuesday 26th April 2011

Rancho Naturalista. A day in and around this beautiful place with our guide Herman. An afternoon trip to CATIE was also special to witness the egret and heron colony.

Wednesday 27th April 2011

Rancho Naturalist and around. Highlight undoubtedly was three Sunbitterns including one bird on the nest.

Thursday 28th April 2011

Rancho Naturalista to Savegre Mountain Lodge. This was the highest lodge we stayed at, and its setting is truly beautiful. We called in briefly at the Mirador Quetzales where I had spent New Years Eve in 2006.

Friday 29th April 2011

Savegre, visiting Cerro de la Muerte. Guide Mario, return at lunchtime. Views were stunning from the top, and it paid to get there early before the cloud rolled in. Afternoon was spent searching for birds at Savegre.

Sunday 30th April 2011

Savegre to San Jose. We started our journey back to the city in the morning arriving at the beautiful Hotel Bougainvillea at 14:00. After checking in, we had a walk in the grounds and managed to find one of the Ground Sparrows, our last new bird in Costa Rica.

Monday 1st May 2011

Very early start to the airport, one hour flight to Panama then met at airport for the 30 min drive to Canopy Tower. Walk in the rainforest in the morning then bonus trip to the Miraflores lock on the nearby Panama Canal.

Return to Panama airport late afternoon then late evening departure for Amsterdam on KLM. Arrive Amsterdam next morning then onward flight to Norwich.