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5 Insider Tips for High Season Birding in Costa Rica, 2023

It’s been a long, rainy season. In Costa Rica, the wet season is never short and always presents some challenges to birding but this year was especially torrential. Taking into account the extent of global warming induced flooding that took place in various places across the globe, perhaps Costa Rica having an extra wet rainy season isn’t the least bit surprising.

Some places in Costa Rica have also experienced flooding and tragically, a fair number of people lost houses, businesses have been affected, and the flowing water made its mark on several roadways. The good news is that the wet season seems to be nearly over. Lately in Heredia, I’m seeing more sunny days and much less rain. Things are looking up and by the time the high season kicks off, I would expect most roads to be in good shape (although with occasional heavy traffic on routes 32 and 27 and the usual congestion in the Central Valley).

Speaking of the high season for birding in Costa Rica, it’s just around the corner! Before we know it, dozens of birders will be bringing their binos to Costa Rica and I’m psyched; I wish every birder could come birding here, at least once in their lives. If you are visiting Costa Rica for birding soon, planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, or thinking about visiting in 2023, these insider tips may be of help:

Umbrellabirds are Back at Centro Manu

Centro Manu is one of the newer hotspots for birding in Costa Rica. Last year, local guide Kenneth found that it was a reliable place to see one of the most wanted species in Costa Rica; the Bare-necked Umbrellabird. This year, the birds are back! Although we don’t know how many of the big-headed, crow-black cotingas are present at Manu, based on the frequency of sightings, this spot seems to be a very important area for this endangered species.

The elevation, quality, and location of the lowland-foothill rainforests at Manu are ideal for umbrellabirds from June to February (when they migrate to lower elevations after breeding). Visit this easily accessible site in December and January and you have a fair chance of finding umbrellabird (and other great birds!), especially if you contract Kenneth for guiding. However, it’s best to make reservations first. Contact them at the Centro Manu Facebook page.

Reservations Needed: Cope, Nectar and Pollen

It’s worth mentioning that two other excellent hotspots near Manu also require reservations. To visit Cope in the high season, you will likely need to make reservations in advance; the bird oasis and rainforest experience offered by this highly talented local artist and naturalist are popular and world class.

Nectar and Pollen is also a wonderful place to visit. Expect exciting foothill birding replete with hummingbirds, tanagers, raptors, and more. However, since Miguel, the local guide responsible for creating this special place, doesn’t live there, you need to contact him in advance.

eBird Won’t Have All the Answers

eBird has revolutionized birding, it’s wonderful in many ways and I love using the app and encourage people to do the same. However, you really shouldn’t use it as the only resource for planning a trip to Costa Rica. Definitely check it out and look at recent sightings in Costa Rica but when making decisions, keep these factors in mind:

-Unequal coverage. Since most tours visit the same set of places, these sites have higher bird lists than other places. Don’t get me wrong,these are good sites to go birding but they aren’t the only sites to see a lot of birds. Several places are visited more often because they are more accessible and suitable for group tours.

-Errors. Many lists for hotspots include birds that were obviously seen elsewhere. There’s also a fair amount of misidentification. Both of these factors result in inflated and incorrect lists for various sites.

-Lists that only show what is identified leave out lots of other birds. That’s not the case for every observer but when we take into account the high number of first time birders in Costa Rica, yes, a good deal of species go unrecorded. This means that just because certain shy or ID challenging bird species don’t show on site lists doesn’t mean they aren’t present.

This also all means that us local eBird reviewers got a lot of work to do. In the meantime, while it is worth using eBird and checking data for sites and bird sightings, just remember that it’s not the final word on where to go birding in Costa Rica; habitat is always the most important factor.

Less Visited Sites Could be Better

Birds are where the habitat is. While you will see lots of cool birds at the most popular sites (and places such as Rancho Naturalista and Laguna Lagarto and others are truly fantastic), there are plenty of additional places with excellent birding. A side benefit of birding at such lesser known sites is having them to yourself.

You might get lucky and have a young Ornate Hawk-Eagle check you out.

New Entrance Fees for Bogarin Trail and Arenal Observatory Lodge

The Bogarin Trail has come a long way from the days when it was a hotspot only known to local birders in the Fortuna area. The trails are well maintained, some of the forest has grown, interesting species like Tiny Hawk and Ornate Hawk-Eagle have made appearances and Keel-billed Motmot occurs.

The birding is wonderful and the place has become a popular destination for tours that look for sloths and other rainforest wildlife. In concordance with its popularity, the Bogarin Trail now charges a $15 entrance fee and is open 7-4. In addition, from what I understand, birding tour groups have to make reservations in advance with a time slot for entrance and prepayment.

The Observatory Lodge has also realized the value of day visits to their trails and facilities. The entrance fee for this site has also increased, now costs $15 per person, and is open 7-9.

As far as birding news goes, expect fantastic birding at classic sites, new places, and anywhere with good habitat. These days, with so much access to sites for more or less everything, it can hard to figure out where to spend your time! Rest assured, it’s gonna be good. I hope this information helps with your trip to Costa Rica. Learn more about where to go birding in Costa Rica including sample itineraries and lesser known sites with “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”-a 900 page ebook that covers everything from how to find tropical birds to identification tips, and a complete site guide to the places you’ve heard of lots more that you haven’t. As always, I hope to see you here in Costa Rica!

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First Night of a Birding Trip in Costa Rica! Where to Stay?

The plane descends through the cloud bank and the eyes take in a living mosaic of mountains, pastures, wind breaks, roads, urbanization, and wooded ravines. It’s surprising to see how close everything is; jade cloud forest on the volcanoes, city and towns in the valley, riparian zones making ribbons of green. You know its January but way down below, it looks like summer never ended. There are palm trees and a dozen shades of tropical green, the black circling specks are Black Vultures. Other, much more enticing birds await; congratulations on arriving in Costa Rica! You’ve made it to tropical latitudes where Tennesee Warblers share trees with Baltimore Orioles and Masked Tityras.

Not a Tennessee Warbler

It’s all birding gravy for the next several days, so many birds in Costa Rica, it hardly matters where you stay! It would be really nice if that was the case but no, as with everywhere, Planet Earth, lodging choices have a definite impact on birding success. They play a major role in seeing more birds, that also goes for the first night of a birding trip to Costa Rica.

Even if you are only staying at that first hotel for one night, even if you don’t plan on doing any birding there the following morning, it’s worth it to play it safe and sleep in the right place. No matter what you have planned, you might end up birding there anyways, there might be time to look for owls or other birds and since this may be your one and only trip to Costa Rica, there won’t be any time to waste.

The “right” place depends on your travel situation but whether you are a lone birder traveling on the cheap, birding with family, or arriving one day before a tour, the best place for the first night should be a place that has as much habitat as possible. That way, you might see an owl or two, you might connect with a surprising number of species, and, best of all, your first morning in Costa Rica will be accompanied by a wealth of birds. It will be the welcome you deserve, a proper greeting to one of the top birding destinations in the world.

You will probably see Crimson-fronted Parakeets.

Try the following suggestions to pick the right place for the first night of a birding trip to Costa Rica.

Arriving one Day Early for a Tour

A number of people arrive one or two days before the official start of their tours. Given the propensity for airlines to rechedule and rearrange and cancel flights, this is a really good idea. This will sound like a no brainer but…if taking a birding tour in Costa Rica, you might as well stay at the same hotel as the one where the tour starts.

It will make logistics much easier, the hotel will likely have good birding on the grounds, and even if your tour does plan on birding at the hotel, it will still be worth birding there on your own. You might see birds not found during the tour and getting in some personal birding time will also act as an easy-going introduction to the birds of Costa Rica.

If the hotel is full, please read on.

A Place with Habitat

I mentioned it above but its worth reiterating; habitat is everything. Pick a place with as much habitat as possible. Some good choices for birding hotels in Costa Rica include:

  • Villa San Ignacio- A lovely place where huge fruiting figs grow in the garden and a riparian zone has Long-tailed Manakin, wrens, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and other birds. The featured image at the top of this post shows this lovely birding hotel.
  • Hotel Bougainvillea- A classic, nice hotel with extensive manicured gardens that often have a roosting owl or two and various common species.
  • Hotel Robledal- Another small but nice hotel with pretty gardens and a good number of birds.
  • Xandari- A boutique hotel with lots of green space and woodlands. The birding is great.
  • Other lodging options in the upper parts of the Central Valley- This includes various places situated in green zones away from the main urban areas of the Great San Jose area. Several such places are covered in the recently released second version of my Costa Rica bird finding guide, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

Somewhere Close to the Airport

No matter where you travel, this is an important factor to take into consideration. After a long day of standing in line and waiting for a plane to land, its pretty nice to NOT have to drive through an hour or more of traffic. Fortunately, there are some good birding hotels in Costa Rica within easy striking distance of the airport.

A Place Familiar with Birders and Birding

Although this isn’t imperative, hotels that routinely work with birders will be more likely to know that they should tell you about roosting owls or other special birds. They may be able to give you an early breakfast and may have contacts with local guides.

When planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, don’t take that first night for granted. Every morning counts, stay at a place where your first bout of birding in Costa Rica will be replete with everything from ground-sparrows to Rufous-naped Wrens, and maybe a Fiery-billed Aracari or two. I hope to see you here!

To support this blog, learn more about where to watch birds in Costa Rica, and prepare for your birding trip or tour, get my Costa Rica bird finding guide, a 900 page ebook designed to enhance your birding time in Costa Rica.

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Birder Moving to Costa Rica?- Where to Live

The birding in Costa Rica isn’t just good, it’s downright fantastic. No matter where you go on this planet, there will be a bunch of cool birds to see. Even so, some places just have more birds than others.

Costa Rica is one of those places.

Despite being around the same size as Denmark or West Virginia, this beautiful, dynamic nation has a bird list of 930 species (and more species are expected!).

Yes, really that many. Literally hundreds of species on the Costa Rica bird list and most of them are possible in easily accessible sites. Not all of them are common and some are more difficult to see than others but when you go birding in Costa Rica, one thing’s for sure; you’re going to see a lot of birds.

Even birds like Red-headed Barbet.

A stable, friendly country in easy reach of the USA and Canada with literally hundreds of tropical birds awaiting- it’s no wonder so many people from North America move to Costa Rica, birders included. Most are retired (Costa Rica has a good retiree residency option) and some live here all year long but I also know a number of people who live in Costa Rica for a few months each year.

Many times, after witnessing the beauty and ease of Costa Rica, birders ask me what it’s like to live here, how feasible that is, and how much property costs. They also ask that if they were to buy property in Costa Rica, where would the best places be to live? The answer to that question depends on what sort of climate one prefers, breathing room, and other needs. From a birding perspective and having lived in Costa Rica since 2007, here’s some of what one could expect from the following regions:

The Central Valley

A good area for birders who like a warm climate that isn’t too hot, and who need to be near the many aspects of urban living.


  • Central location with easy access to more hospitals and a wider variety of healthcare options.
  • Close to the airport.
  • Greater variety of restaurants.
  • Warm climate, cooler in the mountains, beautiful dry season from Dec-April.
  • Species like Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Chestnut-capped Warbler, Long-tailed Manakin, and other common birds.


  • Bad traffic.
  • Crowded.
  • Not as many bird species as other regions.

This part of the country encompasses the busy greater metro. area of San Jose/Heredia/Alajuela, Cartago, and rural areas with small farms and tropical green space near Grecia, Atenas, and San Ramon. There are plenty of nice housing options in and near Escazu and other urban zones but birders in search of a place with ample green space would be happier in the Grecia area, Atenas, and the upper slopes of the Central Valley.

San Isidro del General

A good area for birders who like to be within striking distance of small town living but who also enjoy having a tropical garden and plenty of birding opportunities.


  • Tropical climate with a pronounced dry season.
  • Wonderful tropical birding. Fancy birds like Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Turquoise Cotinga could be on the yard list.
  • Not as crowded as the Central Valley.


  • If you need to visit the capital area, it’s a long drive over the mountains.

This part of the country is an intermontane valley and small city located on the other side of the mountains, southeast of San Jose. It’s a beautiful valley with a nice climate and I know more than one birder who moved to this area and absolutely loved it. There are lots of great birding opportunities (the godfather of Costa Rica birding, Alexander Skutch, lived there) including many lowland foothill tropical species in the valley and easy access to many cloud forest species in higher elevations.

There are also many properties available, I know of one, spacious two story house near lots of green space.


A good area for birders in search of a cooler climate, dynamic culture, tourism infrastructure, and access to trails in forest preserves.

Stella’s Bakery- center of baked yummy goodness in the Monteverde area. It’s also good for birds- we heard some bellbirds calling near there.


  • Cool climate with a pronounced dry season.
  • Tourism hotspot with a variety of restaurants, wildlife reserves, and activities.
  • Excellent birding with many dry and cloud forest species including Resplendent Quetzal, Northern Emerald Toucanet, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, and many hummingbirds.


  • Wind and rain at some times of the year.
  • Somewhat isolated.
  • Not as many healthcare options.
  • High demand for housing, expensive real estate.

One of the world’s first ecotourism hotspots, the Monteverde area continues to draw large numbers of visitors. This could be a drawback for some, a boon for others. Either way, housing can be found away from the main places frequented by tourists. One possible option for folks in search of extra elbow space is living at the edge of the Monteverde area.

Caribbean Foothills

A good area for birders who want their own piece of tropical rainforest paradise and an exciting yard list in quiet, rural surroundings. This is for birders who like to be somewhat self sufficient although a few areas are still pretty close to towns and cities.

Male Snowcap.


  • Warm and humid climate.
  • Living off the beaten track.
  • Excellent birding with possible yard birds like Speckled and Crimson-collared Tanagers, toucans, and many other species.
  • Might find cheaper real estate.


  • Lots of rain.
  • Somewhat isolated, may need to be somewhat self sufficient although many places are still within easy driving distance of towns and small cities.
  • Not as many healthcare options.

This region includes such places as the Arenal area, sites along the road between San Ramon and La Fortuna, sites near Cinchona (which is only a bit more than an hour’s drive from Sam Jose), and sites near Turrialba. The Caribbean foothills host some of the more exciting birding in Costa Rica and a yard planted for hummingbirds could attract everything from Snowcaps to Black-crested Coquettes and Brown Violetears.

Lowland Jungle Areas

These are good places for birders who love hot and humid weather, lots of tropical birds, and who are willing to live in places with fewer amenities. That said, the Jaco area offers a great variety of excellent restaurants and other services.


  • Hot and humid climate.
  • Chance to live off the beaten track.
  • Great tropical birding with possible yard birds like toucans, macaws, parrots, and much more.
  • Might find cheaper real estate in some areas.


  • Heavy rains in some areas that can result in flooding (DO NOT LIVE IN RIVER VALLEYS OR OTHER PLACES WHERE FLOODING HAS OCCURRED IN THE PAST).
  • Hot and humid weather.
  • Many places can be isolated and you may need to be somewhat self sufficient (although some places are still within easy driving distance of towns and small cities).
  • Some parts of the Caribbean lowlands have problems with crime (places near Guacima, Siquirres, the city of Limon, and perhaps Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui).
  • Not as many healthcare options.

This region includes any of the lowland areas on both slopes except for the region north of Tarcoles on the Pacific slope. Move to the humid lowlands and you will be moving to areas with rainforest or sites with bananas, pineapples, oil palms, and cattle pasture that used to be forested.

The birding is always fun and includes lots of species including toucans, parrots, and more. Reforest the garden and you could create your own little wildlife sanctuary.


A good region for birders in search of wide open spaces, a dry climate (for at least half the year), having a farm or a place with horses, and living in the country. You should be somewhat self sufficient although most areas are close enough to towns.

A Guanacaste view with Rincon de la Vieja in the background.


  • Hot, dry climate.
  • Living off the beaten track.
  • Dry forest species like White-throated Magpie-Jay and Orange-fronted Parakeet, and being serenaded by thick-knees in the evening.
  • Perhaps the chance to put up nest boxes for the critically endangered Yellow-naped Parrot.
  • Living near beaches.


  • Can be heavy rain during the wet season with some places prone to flooding.
  • Can be very isolated, may need to be somewhat self sufficient although many places are still within easy driving distance of towns.
  • Not as many healthcare options.
  • Water availability.

This region includes anywhere roughly north of Tarcoles on the Pacific slope. Many farms and properties are for sale, it pays to look around before buying. If you live near Liberia, various beautiful beaches are within easy striking distance as well as an international airport. Several famous actors, athletes, and musicians have properties in Guanacaste.

Cerro de la Muerte

A good region for birders in search of very cool weather in beautiful high mountain surroundings with rather few neighbors. This area can get lots of rain and nights can be cold but the birding is unique and you could have quetzal as a yard bird.



  • Very cool climate (some might call it cold).
  • Living away from urban centers.
  • High elevation species like quetzal, various hummingbirds, and Collared Redstart.
  • Good amount of forest habitat.


  • Heavy rains during the wet season can cause landslides and road closures.
  • Not as many healthcare options.
  • Somewhat cold weather.

This region includes Cerro de la Muerte, a high mountain southeast of San Jose. Living up there is somewhat isolated and nights can be cold but the main road is a fairly quick drive to more heavily populated and warmer urban centers. The birding is wonderful and includes a high number of endemics.

These are most of the main regions where a birder can move to in Costa Rica. Although some places are more isolated than others, most areas are still within fairly easy driving distance to urban centers with stores, clinics, and so on. Although some areas have more healthcare options than others, even remote places have access to state run clinics and regional hospitals. It’s also worth mentioning that tropical fruits and other many veggies can be grown in most gardens all year long, and owning property in Costa Rica is an excellent way to help local and migrant birds through reforestation.

I live in the Central Valley for various reasons but if I could move anywhere I wanted, I would probably have a place in every bioregion in Costa Rica. It’s a tough choice but for the best of reasons; each region has its own set of unique birding opportunities in beautiful places. That said, I would probably opt for the Caribbean foothills, maybe near Cinchona. That way, I could watch an incredible number of birds, maybe have Snowcap in the yard, reforest to help the endangered umbrellabird and Lovely Cotinga, and still have the option of easy visits to the lowlands, highlands, and everything the Central Valley has to offer.

I might even choose this place. A friend of mine is the owner and although he loves this place and has spent most every weekend there for many years, he wants to sell so he can spend more time with family. It would be perfect for reforestation, is quiet, and has fantastic birding within easy reach of all amenities. If you would like to have your own little piece of tropical birding paradise in Costa Rica, send me an email to learn more. The birds are waiting!