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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica Pandemic

Costa Rica Opens to All Countries on November 1st

Tourism isn’t exactly the biggest thing happening during the pandemic. In Costa Rica and elsewhere, this important slice of the economic pie has been reduced to crumbs. Actually, even crumbs would be nice. I know birding guides who have been trying to eke out a living by detailing vehicles and picking coffee, and at least one airline pilot, and more than one driver have been hawking food items.

I haven’t been exempt from the near complete shutdown of tourism but at least the lack of visiting birders has been inspiration to work on a variety of writing-related projects. Within the next two months, there will be a major, free update to the apps I work on, I aim to help more businesses with marketing (I am available for your content needs), and if all goes well, there will be books.

In the meantime, all of us in Costa Rica are hoping that tourism can get back into gear sooner rather than later. The country is opening its borders to all states and nations on November 1st and although we can’t expect a torrent of visitors, we can at least have hope that tourism may pick up a bit. There still won’t be any getting back to a normal for a while but Costa Rica will be open and the birds will be waiting.

Birds like this Violet Sabrewing.

But will it be worth visiting Costa Rica during the following months? Here’s my take on some of the main concerns:

The Perils of Plane Travel

For many, one of the biggest barriers to travel is the fact that most of us can’t travel alone, at least not when heading to distant destinations such as Costa Rica. These days, sharing space with a bunch of other people is one of the last things that any of us want to do. Airports? No thanks! Plane rides? Are you nuts?! But how perilous are those situations? Is air travel dangerous during the pandemic?

According to recent studies, maybe not as much as we feared. Although it may be too early to fully assess the risk of contracting a novel virus during air travel, it does seem that the chances of catching it during flights are minimal as long as you and other passengers are wearing masks. Not to mention, modern jet planes have excellent air filtration systems that have a high percentage of removing the virus from the air.

As for airports, the enclosed spaces and lack of similar air filtration systems probably make those parts of the journey more risky than the plane itself. However, once again, even there, as long as one is careful about wearing a mask, washing hands, not touching your face, and social distancing, the chance of catching the virus should be pretty low.

Entering the Country

As of November 1st, Costa Rica will no longer be closed to passengers from certain countries or states because of COVID-19. BUT they do have to provide proof of health insurance approved by Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health, and need to fill out an official health form.

Proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test is no longer required!

The web site for the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington D.C. has this to say about the health insurance policy:

“For international insurance policies, tourists must request a certification from their insurance company, issued in English or Spanish, verifying at least the following three conditions:

  • Effectiveness of the policy during the visit to Costa Rica
  • Guaranteed coverage of medical expenses in the event of becoming ill with the pandemic COVID-19 virus while in Costa Rica, for at least USD $50,000 (fifty thousand United States Dollars)
  • Includes minimum coverage of USD $2,000 for lodging expenses issued as a result of the pandemic.”

Once inside Costa Rica, a birder can go wherever they please. At the moment, rental vehicles seem to be exempt from driving restrictions. I’m not entirely sure if that also goes for driving between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. (probably still exempt) but it’s not so fun to drive at that time in any case.

What’s Open?

Just about everything is open including most national parks, hotels, and restaurants. Since all of these follow strict health protocols, expect to do a lot of hand washing or using sanitizer before entering places, being socially distanced while dining, and needing to wear a mask in enclosed public places.

The COVID-19 Situation in Costa Rica

That brings us up to the next concern; what exactly is the COVID-19 situation in Costa Rica? Although the virus was pretty much under control for a few months, this is no longer the case. Even so, I think that exposure is still minimized to tourists because hotels, restaurants, car rental agencies, and other points of contact are following protocols that include temperature checks, wearing masks, hand washing, etc. of both clients and employees.

Restrictions?

Some beaches might only be open during certain times of the day but other than that, a birder can visit and bird just about anywhere in Costa Rica., and see birds like this Northern Emerald Toucanet.

The Birding

As for the birding, it’s just as fantastic as it was before the pandemic. An array of glittering hummingbirds,

mixed flocks decorated with tanagers,

quetzals and other trogons, motmots, toucans, macaws, and all those other spectacular Neotropical delights!

The local guide scene is also better than ever with some of us knowing where to find everything from Lanceolated Monklets to Lovely Cotingas and more. These days, the folks at the wonderful Hotel Quelitales even have a nesting Scaled Antpitta! Whether you decide to go soon or later, now is also still the best time to start planning and preparing for your trip by learning about where to visit with a bird finding book for Costa Rica, and marking your target species with a digital field guide for Costa Rica.

I hope to see you soon!

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Birding Costa Rica Pandemic

Costa Rica Cracks Open the Door

It’s August and on the birding calendar, that translates to shorebirds and other “early” migrants. In Costa Rica, 2020, it also means that the country is open! Well, sort of because it depends on where you are coming from and following a few requirements, one of which may be a substantial expense.

The land borders are still shut to tourists but the Juan Santamaria airport is ready to accept flights from several countries in the European Union, the U.K. and Canada. For the time being, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and many other places have been left off the green light list. BUT, if you happen to come from Austria, France, or other nation for which travel to Costa Rica is permitted, before you hop on that plane, there are some other things that will need to be done. They include:

  1. Travel Insurance purchased from Costa Rica’s national insurance agency (known here as INS). The cost varies by age and ranges from $260 to more than $900 and is meant to cover $20,000 in medical expenses associated with COVID-19 and housing costs of at least $4000. Click here for the INS travel insurance plan. Keep in mind that this requirement may change as it has been under review since July 31st.
  2. A negative COVID-19 test. This must be taken at less than 48 hours before departure for Costa Rica.
  3. You will need to complete an official digital epidemiological form (Pase de Salud) available at ccss.now.sh or possibly salud.go.cr . 

EDIT, AUGUST 6– Due to a lot of blowback from the tourism industry and others, the insurance requirement has been changed. Costa Rica now also accepts international insurance policies but with these caveats:

  1. The policy must cover their scheduled visit to Costa Rica.
  2.  Coverage of medical expenses in Costa Rica related to COVID-19 for a minimum of $50,000.
  3. Minimum coverage of $2,000 for accommodation related to COVID-19.

But that’s not all, the insurance policy must also be verified by Costa Rica’s tourism institute/board. At the moment, there hasn’t been any clear means of stating how this will be done but there should be an update or at least link for this at the ICT site. From what I could gather from their statement, tourists will need to:

  1. Notify the Costa Rica Tourism Board with a request to approve their insurance policy that includes:
    1. A signed, notarized declaration in PDF format that indicates that the policy meets the coverage requirements mentioned above.
    2. A statement from the insurance company that the policy covers the tourist and other family members traveling with them and that it includes the required coverage.
    3. These statements must also be sent with the Pase de Salud mentioned above.
  2. The ICT will send a response to this request within 24 hours on workdays, 48 hours on weekends/holidays. This response will indicate whether the request has been accepted or denied. If denied, the tourists has 24 hours to correct the issue. At that time, they can also opt for purchasing one of the plans pre-approved by the Costa Rican government (about which information is still lacking but will hopefully be available soon).
  3. In the case of policies that are approved, the ICT will send a QR code that must be shown upon arrival in Costa Rica, to immigration authorities.

So what if you happen to live in the USA or other country not on the list?

If you aren’t on the list….

Seriously though, if you aren’t on the current list of accepted countries, there are a couple other options. They are:

  • Waiting until your country makes it onto the list of approved “guests”. When that happens, you’ve got the green light to travel to tropical latitudes and relax in the glow of stunners like Bay-headed Tanager.Not an immediate solution, but definitely the easiest and most cost-effective one.
  • Travel to a permitted country and then on to Costa Rica. Sounds like an easy fix! BUT, the authorities did notice this loophole and plugged it by requiring a two week stay without symptoms in the “transfer” country. This means that all travelers from places like the USA that travel to Costa Rica by way of Canada or France will need to spend two weeks in Canada or France (without symptoms) before coming to Costa Rica.
  • What if you are Canadian and have a lay-over in the USA on the way to Costa Rica? Nope, can’t do this but for the time being, it’s impossible in any case because the only flights from the USA with passengers are for repatriation purposes.

The Tico Times has some information about the current situation and requirements for visiting Costa Rica. In the meantime, I suggest using the Costa Rica Birds app to mark target species and study for your eventual trip to this very birdy country. Local birding guides and hundreds of birds will be waiting!