Costa Rica: Macaws and More…(Safety Tours)

This is a relaxed birding tour. This tour has been designed, specifically, to be as safe as possible in this Post-Covid-19 era, by staying at only two, small hotels/lodges, using large vehicles, and only eating in very limited places throughout, with contact with others minimized throughout in doing so. There are also no domestic flights involved. If you are looking for a more traditional birding tour, where the goal is to see as many species as possible, then you may want to consider our Costa Rica: The Introtour.


This is designed as a Safety Tour, (for the post-Covid era) which means:

HOTEL and FOOD:

ONLY 2, SMALL HOTELS ARE USED. THE MEALS WILL ALL BE PROVIDED BY THESE TWO HOTELS ONLY, WITH NO EXTERNAL RESTAURANTS USED.

• The lodging selected on this tour is relatively small. The hotel near San Jose airport, at the start and end of the tour (2 nights), is a small, family run hotel, with an outdoor restaurant. Macaw Lodge is very accessible, being in the famed Carara area, but hidden away from the main tourist part within its own private reserve, making it easy to avoid contact with others there, while experiencing some of the best birding in the country.

• Both accommodations used also have on site restaurants; to ensure all of our meals will come out of the kitchens of just two places throughout.

• We have also opted to have boxed lunches, provided by the lodge, when needed, to avoid eating at external restaurants, and again minimize contact with other people.

• Only TWO hotels are used throughout, again to keep our contacts to as few people as we can. This also means that you only need to unpack twice.

GROUP VEHICLE: We have chosen a large bus for the group. There will be a constant supply of hand sanitizer on board, and the bus will be cleaned very regularly.

• There are no domestic flights on this tour, so no further air travel is required.

AIRPORT TRANSFERS: On day 1 at the start and day 7 at the end. These will be “private” vans provided by the hotel, and will not be shared with any other hotel guests (i.e. not a regular hotel shuttle). They may need to be shared between people within this group, but we will set a maximum number, so we are never crowded in the vehicle.

In summary, the use of only two, small hotels, with a large bus for the group, and only eating out of two restaurants (and using packed lunches from these, when not possible), will ensure as little contact with people outside of the Tropical Birding group as possible. This offers one of the safest Costa Rica tours possible under current conditions.

Scarlet Macaw is the prize bird of the area
Scarlet Macaw is the prize bird of the area (Alejandra-Delgado/Macaw Lodge)


The wonderful Macaw Lodge
The wonderful Macaw Lodge (Alejandra Delgado/Macaw Lodge)

When people return to traveling and birding, following the Covid-crisis, Costa Rica is a natural, first choice for overseas destinations. The country suffered with only low numbers of cases, and is well connected with many countries, meaning only one, direct flight may be needed. Costa Rica is rightly world famous for being one of the premier tropical birding destinations in the World. The country has a bounty of birding sites to choose from, and we have opted for Macaw Lodge, located in the region where Carara National Park is also located, in the lowlands of the South Pacific. While Carara itself, can get crowded, we will avoid that by using the lodge’s private reserve, and entrance roads for birding, along with taking two private boat trips in nearby Tarcoles to compliment the jungle birding. This is a great area of the country to find Scarlet Macaws, hence the lodge name, the stunning Turquoise-browed Motmot, and enjoy boat trips through mangrove, where Boat-billed and Bare-throated Tiger-Herons hang out. All of the areas covered are a mere 2 hour-drive from the capital, San Jose. Thus, this is a tour with minimal driving involved and plentiful down time between the birding sessions, at a peaceful, small, wonderfully-located lodge.

A trip to Orotina will be made for Lesser Ground-Cuckoo
A trip to Orotina will be made for Lesser Ground-Cuckoo (Sam Woods)

Day 1: Arrival in San Jose. After you arrival in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose you will be met at the airport and taken in a van by private transfer to our nearby hotel, a 15-minute drive from the airport. The van will be private for a limited number of our guests only, and not shared with other hotel guests. There is no birding on this day, so please take time to relax, and the group will meet with the guide for dinner at 6:30pm, for the first meal of the tour. This will be a welcome dinner in the outdoor section of the hotel restaurant.

Turquoise-browed Motmot is a spectacular target in Orotina
Turquoise-browed Motmot is a spectacular target in Orotina (Sam Woods)

Day 2: San Jose to Macaw Lodge. Our tour will begin with some light birding around the hotel, looking for regulars, like Spot-breasted Oriole, Great Kiskadee, Rufous-naped Wren, and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. We will take breakfast after that, and pack up the vehicle, for the drive to Macaw Lodge, about 2 hours from our hotel. We will arrive in time for lunch at Macaw Lodge, and spend the rest of the afternoon birding their attractive grounds, and nearby roadsides. Some of the stellar species, we will be on the lookout for, include Fiery-billed Aracari, Yellow-throated Toucan and several trogon species, to name just a few. The first of four nights will be spent in Macaw Lodge.

Spot-crowned Euphonia is a regular species at Macaw Lodge
Spot-crowned Euphonia is a regular species at Macaw Lodge (Sam Woods)

Day 3: Tarcoles Boat Trip and Macaw Lodge. We will depart the lodge to take an hour drive to a boat dock, where we will take the first of two private boat rides of the tour. These are on good, covered motor boats, which will not be shared with anyone else other than the boat driver/local river guide. The boat slowly drifts along the Tarcoles River, where birds gather to feed when mud is exposed, like Roseate Spoonbills, Purple Gallinules, shorebirds, and Bare-throated Tiger-Herons. Indeed on this trip, 11 species of heron can be recorded! It is also good for kingfishers, with 4 species possible, including Ringed, Amazon, and American Pygmy-Kingfisher. As the boat meanders its way, Mangrove Swallows are a constant companion, often evening using the boat roof as a perch. Overhead Magnificent Frigatebirds drift in every so often from the river mouth, while early in the morning, Scarlet Macaws may be seen leaving the mangroves, where they overnighted, for the forest to feed for the day. A wide channel into the mangroves can lead to other birds, such as Common Black-Hawks standing sentry above them, Boat-billed Herons roosting within them, and migrants like Prothonotary Warblers using them for the boreal winter. Mangrove Vireos, Panama Flycatchers, and Mangrove Yellow Warblers are also mangrove inhabitants. After 2-3 hours we shall return to dock. On our way back to the lodge for lunch, we will check in on a roost site for Black-and-white Owls, which can sometimes be found sleeping during the day.

Bare-throated Tiger-Herons  are often seen on the boat trips
Bare-throated Tiger-Herons are often seen on the boat trips (Sam Woods)

After returning to the lodge for lunch, we will take a middle of the day break, before doing some birding around the property and nearby roads. The local pond can host Northern Jacana and wild Muscovy Duck, and Gray-cowled Wood-Rail also occurs nearby. In terms of forest birds though the list is daunting, with 300 species recorded on their property making now two visit the same, except for being loaded with cool tropical birds of some sort. The lodge is based in an exciting biogeographical transition area where the dry North Pacific region meets the wetter, more humid South Pacific region, leading it to have bird species from both of these regions, and a higher bird list than sites only located in one or other of these.

The long list of regulars in the area include Gray-headed Chachalaca, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Gartered and Slaty-tailed Trogons, Lesson’s Motmot, Costa Rican Swift, Scaly-breasted and Charming Hummingbirds, Golden-naped Woodpecker, White-crowned Parrot, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Black-hooded Antshrike, Rose-throated Becard, Riverside Wren, Spot-crowned Euphonia, and a handful of honeycreeper species too.

Black-and-white Owls can sometimes be found at a regular roost site
Black-and-white Owls can sometimes be found at a regular roost site (Sam Woods)

Day 4: Orotina half day trip. On this morning we will visit a private area of much drier habitat (more typical of the North Pacific bioregion) near the town of Orotina, an hours drive from the lodge. Visiting this private area, with a tip top local guide, we will be seeking roosting owls; sometimes Barn, Spectacled and Pacific Screech-Owl can be found sleeping during the day, as can Lesser Nighthawk. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl also occurs too. Aside from these birds, the area also offers up Pearl Kite, Double-striped Thick-knee, Long-tailed Manakin, Streak-backed Oriole, Cinnamon Hummingbird, and Lesser Ground-Cuckoo. We will take a packed lunch at the end of the morning on site, in a garden where Turquoise-browed Momtots, Hoffman’s Woodpeckers and Striped Cuckoos feature among the list of residents. After lunch, we will head back to Macaw Lodge, arriving midafternoon, to relax for the remainder of the day.

Fiery-billed Aracari is found around Macaw Lodge
Fiery-billed Aracari is found around Macaw Lodge (Sam Woods)

Day 5: Macaw Lodge and Tarcoles Boat Trip.
As we will have only spent time birding the lodge largely in the afternoon, we will ensure for the final two mornings, we will focus on the best time of day right around the property. We will make the most of our morning here, walking the lodge grounds and driving and making stops along the extensively forested road below the lodge. In the afternoon, we will return to the Tarcoles River and take another trip there. The afternoon is a good time to see the evening fly in of Scarlet Macaws, as they return from the inland forest feeding areas to the mangroves to rest for the night. As this boat trip always feels rushed, when typically only one is taken, we will revel in a second trip out and a chance to pick up more birds, like Yellow-headed and Crested Caracaras, Yellow-naped Parrots, Plumbeous Kites, Rufous-browed Peppershrikes, plenty more waterbirds, and more.

Two boat trips will be taken in search of American Pygmy-Kingfisher and other waterbirds
Two boat trips will be taken in search of American Pygmy-Kingfisher and other waterbirds (Sam Woods)

Day 6: Macaw Lodge to San Jose. A final morning will be spent at Macaw Lodge, before taking lunch there, and driving back to San Jose, arriving back there by 5pm at the latest. A farewell dinner will be taken together as a group in the outdoor restaurant of this small, family run hotel, near the San Jose International Airport. Departures are planned for the next day, although if you would prefer to leave during this night, you can do so, as long as your flight leaves later than 9pm.

Day 7: Departure from San Jose. There is no birding on this day, so flight departures at any time are possible (or even late in the night before if preferable). Breakfast is the last meal of the tour on this day, if you do not leave before the hotel serves that. The airport transfer will be provided in a van by the hotel, and will only be shared with a limited number of other participants, if at all.

Orange-collared Manakin occurs at Macaw Lodge
Orange-collared Manakin occurs at Macaw Lodge (Sam Woods)

____________________

TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Relaxed. Early starts are required on most days with breakfast typically around 6:00am. Slightly earlier starts (i.e. 5:30am breakfast) will be made on days 3 and 4 (Tarcoles Boat Trip and Orotina), to ensure we arrive there before it gets too hot. On the day to Orotina we will also take a boxed lunch with us (to be taken at the end of our birding there), but will be back at Macaw Lodge during midafternoon. There is space for downtime around the lodge at lunchtime on days 2, 3 and 5, and on day 4 an early finish is planned following a half day out. Macaw Lodge lies at the end of a dirt road, although this is in good condition, so is not that taxing. Most of the other roads are paved and in good condition. There are no especially long drives on this tour, the longest being to and from Macaw Lodge and our airport hotel, which is around 2 hours. Drives on all the other days will be up to a maximum of 90 minutes (direct with no birding stops).

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. All of the birding on this trip is in lowland areas on the Pacific side of the country, so it is all at low elevation, except for a few hours one morning at our San Jose hotel, which is located in the Central Valley at 3840ft (1170m). The most difficult aspect of the tour will be the tropical heat. There will be some walking along quiet dirt roads and some forest trails, and some of the latter have a slight incline, although they are not considered difficult, and anyone of a reasonable fitness should be able to cope with this. The relaxed pace and choice of venues to go birding, make this a very accessible tour.

CLIMATE:Most of the tour, except for in the capital, is based in the Pacific lowlands, which are generally hot and humid. This tour has been timed for the coolest time of year, and driest time of year. However, the temperatures average between 73-86 Fahrenheit (23-30 Celsius). Usually, there is almost no rainfall in the month of January, unlike some other wetter parts of the country.

ACCOMMODATION and FOOD:We will be using two locations for the entire trip, a single small, family run hotel, near San Jose airport on the first and last nights, and then 4 nights in between at Macaw Lodge, in one of the most exciting birding parts of the country. This minimizes contact with other people, and also has the bonus that you only need to unpack twice on the tour. Our meals will be provided by only these two places, the hotel in San Jose and the lodge. These will be either sit down meals (for all dinners, all breakfasts, and all one boxed lunch, for the Orotina half day).

Both places are of a good standard, have full time electricity, full time hot water, Wi-Fi Internet, en-suite bathrooms and an on-site restaurant from where all the meals will be taken. The accommodation in San Jose is a 20-minute drive from the airport, and Macaw Lodge is around 2 hour drive from there.

VEHICLE: A large Toyota Coaster-style (or similar) bus will be used for this group of 8 participants, plus 1 Tropical Birding guide, and 1 driver.

AIRPORT TRANSFERS WILL BE PRIVATE (i.e. not public shuttles), and only shared with a limited number of other participants, if required.

PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, and trying to ensure as many people see each bird as possible will be the primary objective. However, cameras are welcome on this tour. There are no feeders on this tour, although photographing from the two boat trips can be quite productive.

WHEN TO GO: Costa Rica offers good year-round birding, and therefore birders frequently visit in all months of the year. December to April represent the driest months of the year for the country in general. This is also the coolest month of the year for this specific area.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and all Western European countries. Visas are currently only required of nationalities mainly in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change; if you are unsure, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 6; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 7 (if you do not leave earlier than it is ready); spare drinking water in the vehicle when required (the tap water is safe to drink in Costa Rica, and so bringing your own bottle(s) to refill is the best advice, and to avoid contact with as few other bottles as possible); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 6; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in a bus from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 6; 1 airport transfer on day 1 for each person and on day 7 (these transfers will not be by shuttle, but will be private, and only shared with limited others in this group, if needed); tips to driver (1), and lodge/restaurant staff; entrance fees to birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader; tips for any porters used (we advise against this if you want to limit contact with others); international flights; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.