Costa Rica might be small in size but it’s big on biodiversity. Like jam-packed with life, actually. Leave the perimeter of the airport in the Central Valley and it doesn’t take more than an hour’s drive to reach cloud forest, or rainforest, or dry forest, or a combination of habitats with literally hundreds of bird species therein. The best junction of life-zones in this birdy country is directly south of San Jose, on the other side of the mountains, and offers everything from Great Tinamou to Roseate Spoonbill, five species of trogons, and more. Situated where rainforest meets dry forests that are divided by a river and adjacent seasonal wetlands, Carara National Park and vicinity is a goldmine for birds. Honestly one of the best sites for birding in Central America, this hotspot is a must for any birding or natural history visit to Costa Rica, a first time visitor will be in for some seriously mind-blowing birding (unless you don’t really care for a hundred of more lifers in a day), and there is no better place to base oneself than Cerro Lodge.
Scarlet Macaws frequently perch in trees at Cerro Lodge.
Located just west of the Tarcoles River and around seven kilometers from the national park entrance, Cerro is close enough to the park for quick access yet far enough to also offer a different suite of birds. Whereas much of the national park protects humid rainforest that provides a home for such key species as Black-hooded Antshrike, Baird’s Trogon, Red-capped Manakin, Riverside Wren, Scarlet Macaws, and much more, the lands around Cerro Lodge are a mix of tropical dry forest, pastures, second growth, and seasonal wetlands. Combine these two sites and the bird list grows to more than 400 species.
The view along the entrance road of the Tarcoles River and the rainforests of Carara National Park in the background. This is a good spot to see Scarlet Macaws and parrots in flight.
To give an idea of the major sort of birding involved around Cerro Lodge and Carara, during a typical day of guiding that starts at Cerro, follows with a a visit to the national park, and takes in a few other nearby sites, we often finish with 140 to 150 species. Sometimes more, and that includes a leisurely stop for lunch where we scan for a few seabirds!
Starting the birding at Cerro is a good way to enjoy breakfast while enjoying flybys of various parrots, parakeets, and Scarlet Macaws, occasional raptors that may include Crane Hawk and Gray-headed Kite, distant (sometimes closer) looks at the mega Yellow-billed Cotinga, Striped Cuckoo, Gartered and Black-headed Trogons, and many other birds. Bird your way up the entrance road and a good variety of edge and dry forest species make it onto the list. Once you reach the national park, dozens of humid forest species are in store for the rest of the morning, and the more you bird the patches of forest, second growth, mangroves, and wetlands around Tarcoles and nearby, the more birds make it into your field of view. Although there are too many to mention, some of the choice species can include Olivaceous Piculet, mangrove birds, King Vulture, White Hawk, Yellow-naped Parrot, Fiery-billed Aracari, and Charming Hummingbird. It’s one of those areas where the more you bird, the more you really see because such a large number of species are possible.
Even better, with reforestation efforts, the birding is also good enough right at Cerro Lodge to see a very good variety of species on the grounds and on the road in front of the lodge. Spend a day there and don’t be surprised to see Collared Forest-Falcon, White-necked Puffbird, Turquoise-browed Motmot, and Blue-throated Goldentail just outside your room.
White-throated Magpie-Jay at the feeder. Feeder action varies throughout the year but sometimes sees visits by this species and Fiery-billed Aracari.
In addition to fine birding and photo opportunities at the lodge, other benefits of staying at this excellent birding lodge include:
- Great service– Staff listens to guests and strives to meet their needs. Need breakfast early? Want to know when the owls are showing? ASk the staff.
- Great meals– More than plenty of good food.
- Air-conditioned rooms– Needed as Cerro Lodge is situated in one of the hotter parts of Costa Rica.
- Tour arrangements– The desk can arrange boat tours and other activities.
- Pool– Nice to have when visiting with non-birding family or partners. This also shows the birding view from the restaurant.
- Owls on site– Sometimes, Black-and-white Owls forage around the restaurant and near the cabins. They typically come out after eight p.m. Pacific Screech-Owl is also resident and Spectacled, Mottled, and Striped Owls also live nearby.
Having seen what Cerro has become since it opened, as with many a successful tourism venture, I can honestly say that the owner has taken the time to listen to the wants and needs of guests and has made substantial investments in changes accordingly. So far, the result has been a win for both the comfort of guests and the health of the ecosystem at the lodge.
Want to go birding at Cerro Lodge? Have any questions about target species and photo opportunities? Send me an email at [email protected], or leave a comment. I can answer your questions and set up your trip.