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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!