This blog caters to passionate birdwatchers seeking the ultimate guide to Costa Rica’s diverse birding hotspots. From the cloud-kissed forests to coastal havens, we delve into the best information for crafting unparalleled birding experiences, navigating from misty highlands to sun-drenched lowlands. With over a decade spent traversing the landscapes and studying the vibrant avifauna of Costa Rica, Andrea brings forth a wealth of firsthand expertise. Her extensive years of field experience, meticulously testing and curating these locations, assure readers of insights grounded in real-world scenarios, offering unparalleled guidance for an unforgettable birding journey in this exotic paradise.
With more than 947 species of birds, Costa Rica is one of the best places for birdwatching in Central and South America.
“During my bird-watching expedition in Costa Rica, I witnessed the vibrant plumage of the Resplendent Quetzal, a sight that left me in awe.”
This guide supplies bird watchers with some beneficial details on how to plan your trip, such as the best time to visit, how to reach, guided tours, birds to view, and comparisons with the top 10 birding destinations in Costa Rica.
Top 10 Costa Rica Living and Birding Sites
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve- Best Bird Watching In Costa Rica
Home to one of the largest and most diverse cloud forests in the world, this protected reserve has more than 400 bird species, including some of the most sought-after birds.
“Exploring the cloud forests of Monteverde, I was lucky to spot the elusive Three-Wattled Bellbird, its unique call echoing through the mist.”
This vibrant-colored bird with its bright green back and wings, red chest, and unique long green tail feathers extending to more than 3 feet is truly remarkable and found deep in this tropical rain forest.
Getting this name from its unmistakable, loud, and melodic call that sounds like bells ringing in the forest, the Three-Wattled Bellbird has a red, orange, and yellow plumage, with three fleshy wattles on its forehead.
With its striking black mask and slate gray plumage, the Black-faced Solitaire can be sighted nesting high in the oak and maple trees of the forest. This elusive yet popular bird sings a melodic song, as it moves through the tree branches foraging for larvae, insects, and fruits.
Reach the reserve by car or by bus from San José or other nearby towns in Costa Rica. There are several options for guided tours, ranging from $35 to $100 per person.
If you were to compare bird-watching locations in Costa Rica, then the Costa Rica Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve has many rare species like the Black-Faced Solitaire, while you’ll find more migratory birds in the lowlands of Carara such as the Hummingbird and Sunbitten.
- Enjoy a cooler and mistier environment than the lowlands of Costa Rica, which can be more comfortable and refreshing for bird-watching enthusiasts.
- The cloud forest also creates a magical atmosphere with its lush vegetation, moss-covered trees, and frequent rainbows.
- Sometimes, it’s hard to identify birds when the weather conditions are unfavorable for birdwatching in Costa Rica. This cloud forest is usually covered in mist and fog, which can reduce visibility and make it harder to spot and identify birds. It’s best to refer to the best birding blogs before paying a visit to this wonderful birding spot.
Carara National Park – Spectacular Birding In Costa Rica
Rated among the best places for bird watching in Costa Rica, this park is located on the Pacific coast, about 90 km west of San José. The park is home to more than 400 different kinds of birds, including some of the most colorful and charismatic birds in Costa Rica.
“During my visit to Carara National Park, I marveled at the graceful flight of the Great Green Macaw, a majestic sight to behold.”
This is the most emblematic and spectacular bird of Costa Rica, with its bright red, yellow, and blue plumage and long tail. The park is a habitat where you can see large flocks of these magnificent yet endangered Costa Rica birds flying over the forest or feeding on fruits and seeds.
Small and colorful, the Fiery-Billed Aracari is a toucan with a black body and a yellow chest. It has a distinctive red and orange bill with a black tip. This native bird of Costa Rica is only found in the Pacific slope of the country and lives in small groups feeding on fruits and insects.
This is a medium-sized and elegant bird with a green body and a blue head. It has a long tail with two racket-shaped feathers at the end. It is also one of the most common and conspicuous birds you can see in Costa Rica, resting on branches or wires along roadsides or trails. It feeds on insects, lizards, and small fruits.
Reach the park by car or by bus from San José in Costa Rica. Guided tours range from $40 to $80 per person, and you have different kinds of tours to choose from. Following well-marked trails is another option for bird-watching in Costa Rica.
- Uncommon birds are found here, such as the Nicaraguan Grackle, the Agami Heron, the Jabiru, and the Roseate Spoonbill.
- The wetland ecosystem also creates a scenic landscape with its waterways, islands, and vegetation, and offers a tranquil and remote environment away from the crowds and noise of the more popular tourist destinations.
- High temperature and humidity, especially during the dry season (December to April).
Palo Verde National Park – Enjoy Several Birding Highlights
With over 15 different habitats for birds, this park is truly one of the top ten birding destinations in Costa Rica and home to more than 250 bird species, many of which are rare, migratory, or endangered. Popular birds in this Southern Costa Rica park site include the Jabiru, Roseate Spoonbill, and Black-crowned Night Heron.
“Jabiru at the Palo Verde National Park”
To reach this park, drive from San Jose or Liberia on paved roads until Bagaces, and then take a dirt road for about 30 km to the park entrance. Some Costa Ricans prefer to take a bus from San Jose or Liberia to Bagaces and then a taxi to the park. The park is only accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles during the wet season.
A guided boat tour along the Tempisque River or the Bebedero River lasts for about 1.5 hours and costs around $120 per person in 2023.
This park is quite different from the Savegre Hotel or Rancho Naturalista, which are surrounded by cloud forests. Spot water birds and migratory birds here, whereas Savegre and Rancho have a higher diversity of forest birds and hummingbirds.
- The park in Costa Rica is home to other wildlife as well such as crocodiles, turtles, monkeys, and otters that can add to your Costa Rica birding tour experience.
- There are a lot of insects, especially mosquitoes during the monsoon season. These insects can be annoying and harmful, so birders should be prepared with repellents, nets, and appropriate clothing.
Savegre Hotel – Bird-Watching Site to Spot Rare Birds
The Savegre Hotel is part of our ten birding locations in Costa Rica, as it’s in a valley in the Talamanca Mountains, one of the best bird-watching areas to see more birds like the Resplendent Quetzal.
“As I ventured into the Talamanca Mountains, the sight of a toucan perched on a tree branch greeted me, a moment I’ll cherish forever.”
Must-see birds like the Long-Tailed Silky-Flycatcher, collared Redstart, and Flame-Throated Warbler are found here.
Ideally, explore this area by taking a guided tour with an expert birder who can help you find and identify the birds. Also, hike along the trails and enjoy the scenery of waterfalls, rivers, and forests.
- The Savegre Hotel offers guided tours to find this elusive and beautiful bird.
- Enjoy a comfortable and relaxing stay in a natural reserve and spa that offers excellent services and facilities.
- Difficult to spot some of the cloud forest birds, especially the elusive and shy Resplendent Quetzal.
Rancho Naturalista – Find the Elusive Snowcap Here
Located near Turrialba, the lodge is ready to share the best bird-watching experiences with you in its private forest with over 450 bird species, including one of the smallest birds in the world – the Snowcap. You can also find tanagers, motmots, and antbirds like the Black-Crested Coquette, Tawny-Chested Flycatcher, White-Throated Flycatcher, Lovely Cotinga, and Thicket Antpitta.
“Snowcap in Rancho Naturalista”
To reach Rancho Naturalista, drive from San Jose or Liberia on paved roads until Bagaces, and then take a dirt road for about 30 km to the park entrance. Buses are available from San Jose or Liberia to Bagaces and then taxis to the park. The lodge offers a transfer service to the nearby airstrip.
Experienced and knowledgeable guides at this lodge can help you find the best bird-watching spots, as well as share their passion and knowledge about the natural history and culture of the area. A guided tour costs around $50 per person for a half-day tour and $100 per person for a full-day tour.
- Rancho Naturalista has bird feeding programs, verbena hedges, and pools that attract the Snowcap, Black-Crested Coquette, Violet-Headed Hummingbird, and Garden Emerald.
- Get ready for steep, muddy, and strenuous hikes to access some of the great birding spots at this location.
Tapanti National Park – Cool Elevated Bird-Spotting Site
One of the wettest places, the Tapantí National Park in Costa Rica protects a large area of transitional forest and marshland. It is part of the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve and a World Natural Heritage Site. According to The World Bird Database of Avibase (https://avibase.bsc-eoc.org/checklist.jsp?region=CRca03), there are more than 488 bird species as of October 2023.
“In the Orosi Valley, the colorful hummingbirds flitted from one flower to another, their iridescent feathers glistening in the sunlight.”
Some of the rare and beautiful birds that you can see in this park are the Scarlet Macaw, the Jabiru Stork, the Roseate Spoonbill, the Fiery-Billed Aracari, and the Turquoise-Browed Motmot.
Reach the park by car or by bus from San José or other nearby towns. Guided tours for groups of five cost around $50 for half a day, including the services of an expert birder or naturalist, transportation, and optic gear.
Birders need to consider the weather as well. Tapantí National Park is at an elevation of about 1,440 meters above sea level, while the Corcovado and Manuel Antonio National Parks are located at elevations of about 50 and 100 meters above sea level. This means that Tapantí is cooler, wetter, and cloudier than these other bird-watching sites, which are warmer, drier, and sunnier.
- The cloud forest also creates a magical atmosphere with its lush vegetation, moss-covered trees, and frequent rainbows.
- Sometimes, reduced visibility can make it harder to spot and identify birds in Costa Rica. This park is one of the rainiest areas in the country, receiving about 250-300 inches of rain annually. So, you can expect a lot of mist and fog that can hide the birds.
Corcovado National Park – Home to Rare and Beautiful Birds
Covering a third of the Osa Peninsula on the Pacific coast of the country, this national park has some rare and beautiful birds, such as the Scarlet Macaw and Three-Wattled Bell Bird.
“While bird-watching in Corcovado National Park, I was captivated by the playful antics of the Red-Capped Manakin, a true delight to observe.”
Plan your trip with a guide or tour operator in advance. Domestic flights by Sansa Airlines operate between San Jose and Puerto Jimenez or Drake Bay. Then, take a boat or a four-wheeler to one of the park’s ranger stations to begin your tour. The trip costs between $100 and $150 per person, including the park entrance fee, guided tour fee, car or boat transfer, and a lunch box.
- The 42,000 hectares of lagoons, marshes, rivers, tropical old-growth, primary rainforest, low-altitude cloud forest, beaches, and a small coral reef are home to over 450 types of birds.
- Need to avoid unpaved roads and use a boat or plane instead to reach the park. Planning is needed, especially during the green season.
Manuel Antonio National Park – Biodiverse Location to Spot Birds
It is one of the most beautiful and biodiverse national parks found in Costa Rica, located on the Pacific coast, just south of the city of Quepos. More than 400 different kinds of birds are found here including the Three-Wattled Bellbird.
“Exploring the Pacific coast, I spotted the magnificent frigatebirds soaring effortlessly above the waves, a display of aerial mastery.”
Guided full-day tours cost $60 to $150 including the services of certified guides, a lunch box, and transfers.
- Chance to spot many coastal and marine birds such as the Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, and Mangrove Hummingbird.
- If you’re looking for a secluded place to spot birds in Costa Rica, then this park has limited space and trails, which can make it hard to find a quiet spot.
La Selva Biological Station – Learn From Its Birding-Related Websites
This is a protected area in northeastern Costa, owned and operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), a consortium of universities and research institutions from the United States, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico12.
“University study and sighting of the Black-Faced Solitaire at the La Selva “
This tropical forest has more than 470 different types of birds, including rare and beautiful birds like the Three-Wattled Bellbird, Black-Faced Solitaire, Snowy Cotinga, Great Green Macaw, Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher, and White-Necked Jacobin.
Take guided tours with expert naturalists or birders who can help you spot and identify the wildlife.
Located about 140 km northeast of San José, you can reach it by car or by bus from San José or other nearby towns.
- Some birds you can spot here are the Snowy Cotinga, Great Green Parrot, Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher, and the White-Necked Jacobin.
- Accommodations are surrounded by the rainforest, offering opportunities for bird watching right outside your room.
- Amateur birders may not be able to walk the trails through the primary forest without a qualified guide.
Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge – Go Birding on a Boat Tour
Part of the Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area and a Ramsar Site of international importance for wetlands conservation, the refuge has more than 400 kinds of birds, including the endangered Jabiru Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Fiery-Billed Aracari, and Turquoise-Browed Motmot.
“Roseate Spoonbill at the Refuge”
The best way to explore this refuge is by taking a boat tour on the Río Frío (Cold River), which flows through the refuge. There are several options for boat tours, ranging from $40 to $80 per person.
To reach Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, drive or take a bus from San José or other nearby towns. It takes about 3 hours by car or 4 hours by bus. Shuttle service and private transfers from your hotel or airport are available.
- The ecosystem creates a scenic landscape with its waterways, islands, and vegetation.
- Insects, especially mosquitoes, can be annoying and harmful for bird-watching enthusiasts.
“In the forests of Tortuguero, I had the incredible opportunity to observe the vibrant Scarlet Macaws in their natural habitat.”
FAQs on Top Ten Costa Rican Birding Spots
When is the best time to visit these top Costa Rica birding destinations?
The best time to go birding at these places is from December to April when the weather is dry and sunny, and the birds are more active and vocal. This is also when the migratory birds arrive, and the wetlands are full of waterfowl and wading birds.
Are there other Costa Rica birdwatching sites that I can visit?
“At Arenal Volcano National Park, the melodious songs of the Montezuma Oropendola filled the air, creating a symphony of nature.”
Yes, there are fantastic birding trip sites like the Santa Rosa National Park, a national heritage site in northern Costa Rica; and La Fortuna and the Arenal Observatory Lodge, the best places for birding in Costa Rica around the majestic Arenal Volcano.
Are there private reserves for bird enthusiasts in Costa Rica, Central America?
Rancho Naturalista is a lodge in Central Costa Rica’s land in the mountains. This popular place in Costa Rica has over 450 types of birds spread across its private reserve.