GENERAL INFO & SITE ACCOUNTS
Costa Rica was our first ever birding trip outside Europe since my acquaintance with birding in South Africa in 1999. Costa Rica is a small and safe country in Central America and has a birdlist of about 870 species. Despite my inexperience in birding and the fact that the trip was not a specialized birding tour I managed to see 222 species. We booked a general tourist trip with Baobab (www.baobab.nl) which is a dutch touroperator organizing small size grouptours. We stayed a minimum of two nights at every location which gave us some time to do some birding on our own. The trip was perfectly organized and we enjoyed it very much. Of our fellow travellers (we were in a group of 15 people) no one had a special interest in birds but most of them were very nature minded and a few of them even ended up as “semi-birders” at the end of the trip.
Costa Rica is a popular destination amongst birders and consequently there is lots of information available on the web. For preparation I read several reports available at www.birdtours.co.uk and www.bsc-eoc.org/links/links.jsp. As a fieldguide we used “A guide to the birds of Costa Rica” published by G.Stiles and A.Skutch which is the standard guide for Costa Rica. For general information we used the Lonely Planet travelguide.
The unit of currency in Costa Rica is the colon. During our stay the exchange rate was about 375 colonos for one US Dollar which is the preferred foreign currency. You can find banks and ATM’s in most cities and smaller towns. Vaccinations and malaria precautions are not advised. A visa is not required if you stay less than 90 days in the country.
We flew with Martinair from Amsterdam to San Jose with a stopover of about 1½ hours in Miami. Everything went well and we had no delays.
Since we had booked the whole trip beforehand all the transportation was pre-arranged. We had our own bus with driver during the entire trip except on the Osa Peninsula where we had a 4WD car. Road conditions vary in quality. Most of the main roads are paved and of reasonable quality. The side roads into the parks and reserves are mostly unpaved. The road to Monte Verde is in very bad condition.
We arrived in Costa Rica during the dry season which runs from December to April. The rest of the year tends to be wet. An exception on this are the Caribbean coast and the Osa peninsula in the south-west which are rainy year-round. We had fairly dry weather troughout the trip. The only rain of any significance we had in Tortuguero NP. Temperatures vary little from season to season and the main influencing factor is altitude. In the central valley and at other higher altitudes we had nice spring-like weather with temperatures from 18 to 24 degrees C during the day, but at some places evenings were quite chilly. At the humid caribbean coast we had temperatures of 25 to 30 degrees C and at the Pacific coast it was quite hot with temperatures above 30 degrees C.
ACCOMMODATIONS & FOOD
Because of it’s popularity as a eco-tourism destination Costa Rica has a wide choice in accomodations. We mostly stayed in good tourist-class hotels and lodges which were quite okay. Most of the times we had rooms with our own private shower. We stayed at the following places: Hotel El Sesteo in San José (www.sesteo.com), Caribe Lodge in Tortuguero, Hotel San Bosco in La Fortuna (www.arenal-volcano.com), Rincon de la Vieja Lodge (www.rincondelaviejalodge.net), Cabanas Los Pinos in Monte Verde (www.lospinos.net), Mirador de Quetzales (www.exploringcostarica.com/mirador/quetzales.html), Villas Rio Mar in Dominical (www.villasriomar.com), Corcovado Lodge (www.corcovadolodge.com) and at Cabinas Espadilla in Manuel Antonio (www.cabinasespadilla.com). We found that the food was okay but quite monotonous. Most meals consist of chicken, beef or fish with rice and beans.
Costa Rica has a large variety of habitats. Within a relativally short travelling distance one can find different ecosystems like high mountains, cloudforests, lowland forests, lakes, mangroves etc. A fairly high mountain range (+3000m) which runs from north to south divides the country into the Caribbean and Pacific slope. Along the pacific slope the northwest mainly consists of dry tropical forests while the southwest (Osa Peninsula) holds Costa Rica’s largest stands of humid lowland forests. The caribbean slope consists of plantations (mainly banana’s), forested areas and swamps (Tortuguero) and is much more humid than the pacific slope. Costa Rica has about 65 protected areas which comprise about 25% of it’s total land area.
Poas Volcano NP
This park lies about a 45 minutes drive north of San Jose. The centerpiece of the park is Volcan Poas (2704m). It is one of the few volcanos where one can drive all the way to the top. The road ends 300m. from the rim of the caldera and offers splendid views of one of the world’s largest active volcanos. From the rim a 3km long trail through dwarf cloudforest leads to Lake Botos which is actually an extinct crater.
Tortuguero is located in the lowlands along the carribean coast and can only be reached by boat from either Cano Blanco (1 hour), San Rafael (2 hours) or Moin (4 hours). In our case we took the boat from San Rafael which takes about a 31/2 hours drive from San Jose. The park consists of a narrow strip of remnant lowland rainforest crisscrossed by two wide waterways and several small canals. The beaches of Tortuguero are important breeding grounds for four species of Sea Turtles.
Arenal Volcano NP
An impressive and still very active cone shaped volcano gives this park its name. It is one of the world’s most active volcano and spews lava, which is readily seen on clear nights. It is located along Lake Arenal which is an easy 21/2 hours drive north from San Jose on paved roads. Good trails can be found around Arenal Observatory Lodge on the southern flank of the mountain.
Rincon de la Vieja NP
This is another park named after an active volcano located in the north-west near the town of Liberia. The park holds very good trails through forests and open grassy fields leading to beautiful waterfalls, boiling mudpools, steam vents and sulphur springs. Several streams and rivers have their source within the park, and it is therefore an important water catchment area. Elevations in the range from 600m to 1900m, and the changes in altitude result in the presence of four life zones.
Monte Verde & Santa Elena Cloudforest Reserve
These wonderful cloudforest reserves are located about a 31/2 hour’s drive north-west of San Jose. There are two roads from the Interamericana to the reserves which are both about 30km long and very bumpy. The reserve has an extensive network of excellent trails. This is the place to be if you are searching for amongst Resplended Quetzal and Three-wattled Bellbird. The somewhat higher elevated Santa Elena Reserve provides excellent views of Arenal Volcano and the surrounding forests.
Finca Eddie Serrano
Finca Eddie Serrano or Mirador de Quetzales is a farm and budget lodge about 70km south of San Jose. It is located at an altitude of 2650m and surrounded by farmland and cloudforests. From the main building the views over the surrounding mountains and forests are really wonderful. It is great place to see Quetzals and other high altitude birds.
This park is located on the Osa Peninsula in the far south-west and supports the greatest expanse of lowland rainforest remaining in Costa Rica. The park affords a look into the way this part of the world once was before deforestation took place. It is the only place where Scarlet Macaws and all 4 species of primates can be seen.
Manuel Antonio NP
This park is just south of Quepos on the Pacific Coast 132km from San Jose. It is very popular because of it’s extensive white beaches. The principal habitats consist of primary and secondary forests, mangrove swamps and lagoons. Good trails lead through the forests and along the coast with excellent views on several rocky headlands and islands. It is a very good spot to find the localized Baird’s Trogon.
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