Delaware Nature Society offers several Eco Tours annually. For 2023, our Costa Rica Eco Tour, led by me, Judy Montgomery, Delaware Nature Society Teacher Naturalist, was our first trip of the year in January. Check out our upcoming Eco Tours!
Enjoy our trip diary for the January 2023 Costa Rica Eco Tour!
Jan 17: Bougainvillea – Our Costa Rica Eco Tour Begins!
Our trip begins officially at the lovely Hotel Bougainvillea. Arriving about two in the afternoon, we couldn’t wait to stretch our legs and explore the hotel’s colorful ten-acre garden. Swallows and swifts flew high overhead as folks wandered about in small, excited groups. For 16 of the 17 travelers, this was their first visit to Costa Rica! “Life birds” for everyone were spotted! Montezuma Oropendulas, two Lesson’s Motmots and a Crested Caracara greeted us, along with a variety of hummingbirds, flycatchers, orioles and doves. The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl was a fantastic sighting from the lookout tower. (Our first of four owl species!)
We gathered together for the first group dinner, learning each other’s names and meeting our guide, Jose Saenz and our driver Alvaro. We learned about tomorrow’s departure plan and peeked in the evening garden before heading to bed.
Jan 18: Bougainvillea – LaPaz
Early morning birders were in the garden at dawn, and got good looks and photos of a Lineated Woodpecker – similar to the Pileated Woodpecker back home. For a group of “non-birders” we sure acted like birders! We helped each other find, photograph and identify more than 25 species here!
Our group appreciated Alvaro’s experience as he handled the busy San Jose roadways. We were in constant amazement (horror) as moms and kids, runners, bikers and occasionally cows traveled the same roads (with no shoulders) along-side speeding cars, vans, and large trucks. Alvaro also skillfully maneuvered the very steep and winding roads as we approached the continental divide! With great relief, we finally jumped out of the van for our first excursion, the La Paz Waterfall Garden.
La Paz Waterfall Garden
Lush plantings lined the buildings and stairs, and it wasn’t long after getting our wristbands that a beautiful Blue Grosbeak and Red Legged Honeycreeper were spotted together in the foliage. A Prong-billed Barbet flew by when we stopped to view the gorgeous green valleys before us. Blue Gray and Scarlet-rumped Tanagers caught everyone’s attention before entering the wildlife enclosures. We delighted at seeing Yellow-throated and Keel-billed Toucans at eye level, as well as sloths, monkeys, big cats, butterflies, frogs, and snakes! The Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Chachalacas wandered freely through the enclosures, as did our group! Lots of photos were taken as we stood near the beautiful waterfalls, while they roared down the green mountainside.
The buffet lunch at LaPaz included friendly birds hopping around the tables and chairs, and giant Oropendula nests hanging above us as decorations. After lunch the open-air hummingbird feeders offered a colorful variety of hummingbirds: the large Violet Sabrewings, Green Hermits, Green Crowned Brilliants, the tiny Green Thorntails and Black-bellied Hummingbirds! They were zipping around, seeking food – one even landed on Ann’s head!
After La Paz , we stopped at a “Soda,” a rustic roadside cafe with fruit feeders and a viewing deck. Enjoying sips of a hot sugar cane drink, we joined the locals on the deck seeing what would land on the feeders. In no time at all, we had two Emerald Toucanettes, Black-headed Saltators, Warblers, Tanagers and several Hummingbirds.
Barely back in the van, we had another roadside stop as six Yellow-throated Toucans and a Gray Hawk were spotted and soon perched in nearby trees! Well-satisfied travelers (now seasoned “birders”) soon arrived at the Selva Verde Rainforest Reserve and Lodge. The rooms and dining area were connected by long covered walkways, and after receiving our carved Trogon room keys, the group wandered off exploring with Howler Monkeys calling in the distance.
Jan 19: Selva Verde
Early birders walked across the busy road to hike trails near the Montezuma Oropendola’s nesting tree. 20 or so Oropendolas were flying in and out of their numerous three feet long nests. We soon heard new birds calls, and eventually got “on” three Broad-billed Mot Mots conversing in the canopy. Green Ibis were walking in the small wetland, and Mealy Parrots were spotted feeding each other. Many noisy flocks of parrots/parakeets went by us, unidentified here, and on many days. We spotted a Cocoa Woodcreeper on a palm tree before heading back for breakfast and to our next excursion.
After breakfast we headed off on two different trips – we had chosen either the Sarapiqui River Whitewater Rafting or the Relaxing Boat Ride. Rafters did a bit of cliff jumping too! Lots of animals were seen by everyone! Crocodiles, Basilisks, Iguanas, Bare-throated Tiger Herons, Southern Lapwings, and a tri-fecta of Kingfishers!
Two additional programs were on the schedule and after drying off for lunch, we drove a short distance to the Tirimbina Rainforest Center. We hiked, had dinner and then the incredible Chocolate Tour! Cacao fruit was cracked open, tasted, beans were ground, and delicious warm molten chocolate was created and sipped. Ahhhhh! Our busy day’s finale was the bat program. We learned about the MEGA-chiroptera and the MICRO-chiroptera bat groups, the variety of foods eaten by bats, and that Costa Rica hosts an astonishing 116 (or possibly 117) species of bats! Four live bats were seen in-hand and released.
Jan 20: La Selva Biological Station
An early start to our day as we took the van to La Selva Biological Station for a 6-7am walk, breakfast and tour. As we hiked up the entrance road, we spotted a hard-working Scarlet-rumped Cacique, weaving her sock-like nest that was hanging from the wire. A Gray-headed Kite perched high was identified and a secretive Spectacled Owl was discovered in the bamboo thicket! These were all new birds for us!
After breakfast, we traveled the trails with our guide, Octavio. The sights within the rainforest continued to delight us, as we spotted a Two-toed Sloth, several Green Iguanas (including a dead one), Leafcutter Ants, a Black River Turtle, a troupe of Howler Monkeys, five Great Green Macaws, ending with the Three-Wattled Bellbird and… popsicles! Nap time back at the hotel was declared, but we did explore in the rain after dinner to discover Red-eyed Tree frogs and Cane Toads near Selva Verde’s ponds.
Jan 21: Danus Rainforest Eco Center
Traveling in the rain and fog, our Costa Rica Eco Tour group reached the Danaus Rainforest Eco Center, our next site to explore. Immediately after our arrival, the bird feeders were filled, and Wood Rails, Tanagers and Hummingbirds feasted. When we finally hit the trails, we discovered a pond with dueling Caimen and a dozen or more Boat-billed Herons with nests and young! A Rookery! Enchanting! A single Yellow–crowned Night Heron was found among the Boat-bills. Continuing along we found Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Jacamars and Agouti (large long-legged rodents). As we headed back to the van, the skies cleared, and we had our first views of the enormous Arenal Volcano, our destination!
We had lunch and adventures in La Fortuna’s Rana Roja Café, then traveled around Lake Arenal en route to the beautiful Arenal Observatory Lodge. We had incredible views of the massive volcano and lake from the patio and our rooms. The sturdy feeding station hosted turkey-sized Giant Currasow, Crested Guans, Montezuma Oropendula and more. A gorgeous crimson sunset, comfortable dining options (with Jose’s hot sauce) and a conveniently perched Black & White Owl capped off another fantastic day!
Jan 22: Arenal Volcano
We breakfasted with delicious coffee and spotted Emerald and Golden-hooded Tanagers, Coati (large and small), with glittering Violet-headed and Crowned Woodnymph Hummingbirds! Distracted by the wispy steam coming out of the immense Arenal Volcano, it was very hard to focus!
After snapping lots of pictures and having breakfast, we headed for our day at Sky Adventures, Arenal.
First, a trail walk, with our guide, Wilbur, who helped us spot the bird of the trip! An Ornate Hawk Eagle, perched in a tree, as he ate his breakfast – an incredible sighting! Standing mid-span on one of the hanging bridges, we had great looks at this gorgeous bird in a gorgeous gorge! Eventually we moved off the bridge, viewing the deep green valleys and a Tropical Parula on a sunny tree. Wilbur loaded us into the Sky Trams and we continued to scan the green hills and valleys as we rode gondolas up the mountain.
Five adventurers had then chosen to zipline from mountain to mountain! Going as fast as 43mph, we really zipped! With seven ziplines in total – this was quite an adrenaline experience! What a thrill! Jose led the remaining group safely past a (deadly) Eyelash Viper to the Hanging Bridges tour and spotted several new species – Olive-backed Quail-dove and a Collared Trogon! Later in the day, Howler Monkey families were spotted around the hotel! Afternoon and evening rain had everyone relaxing and our volcano view disappeared in the fog.
Jan 23: Hacienda El Viejo and Tempisque River
Farewell Arenal and onward! A gas-stop in Tilaran, some very long gravel roads and then we arrived at the Hacienda El Viejo in time for a hot buffet lunch – with a Laughing Falcon! Afterwards, our boat tour on the Tempisque River guaranteed there would be no swimmers here. At least 12 big American Crocodiles were spotted on the muddy banks, with Kingfishers, Tiger Herons, Wood Storks, and Egrets keeping them company.
A “new” secret wildlife viewing location was mentioned to Jose, who navigated us to an incredible gated wetland, currently protected by a cow herd! Thousands of ducks and wading birds were here, including another bird of the trip, the Pygmy Kingfisher! This tiny Kingfisher flitted around a stream until the whole group got to see him.
After finishing the wetlands loop, we soon found ourselves in an air-conditioned location with free coffee – the El Jardin gift shop! Our one-stop souvenir shoppers loaded up and we ended the day at our last hotel, the Papagayu Golden Palms Resort.
Jan 24: Free Day
Free Day. A choose-your-own-adventure day! Some spent the afternoon on an exciting boat tour with Humpback Whales (thanks to Joan’s great initiative), some spent relaxing by the pool, others exploring and discovering Puffbirds and Owls! Magpie Jays and husbands spent time hopping around the beautiful patio and bar.
Jan 25: Flamingo Beach
Our catamaran excursion departed from Flamingo Beach on a bright sunny morning where we anchored by a “Frigatebird” Island, snorkled, paddled and enjoyed the warm turquoise Pacific Ocean. After a beautiful lunch with drinks and party music we spotted our first set of Brown Boobies! (Seabirds floating near the boat) as well as leaping dolphins. Paradise indeed!
Tonight, for our farewell happy hour, we enjoyed mojitos and sangria by three blazing fire pits! Then our dinner was served al fresco on a long table lit with candles and twinkle lights. Not wanting this magic to end, we sat and chatted with our many new-found friends until the tables were cleared and the kind staff stopped circling.
Jan 26: Liberia
Final Hours. A bonanza of last minute sightings on our final sunny and beautiful day! Cameras and binoculars were very busy as the Magpie Jays, Puffbirds, Squirrel Cuckoos, Trogons, Parakeets, and Owls came to wish us Pura Vida and Farewell! Breakfast was served. Suitcases were loaded.
Our last excursion was to the Liberia airport as we head back home. Will anyone believe our stories about this incredible trip? Photos and our checklists will prove it’s all true!
Costa Rica Eco Tour Math
17 Intrepid Delaware Nature Society Travelers
+ Our Guide Jose & Driver Alvaro
+ 10 Gorgeous Days in Costa Rica
+ 170 species of birds spotted, 14+ species of mammals, 9+ species of reptiles & amphibians. Lots of interesting invertebrates with very few mosquitoes!
= Pura Vida!