Costa Rica Focus Birding Hot Spots

Why these locations?

We have chosen all our 10 ten birding sites based not only on experience of 30 years; we let the side the gimmicks and focus on what it really counts.

Our reasons:

  1. Quality of observations on the same bird species more than once
  2. Good birding despite the month of the year
  3. Access to different habitats from the hotel/lodge
  4. Birding for everyone, no physical skills need it even for handicapped birders
  5. Rare possibilities to find
  6. High numbers on bird species
  7. High numbers of endemics
  8. Diversity of ecosystems
  9. Food
  10. Comfort


We are selecting the following areas for the reasons mentioned above but also we decided to help you understand avian diversity. CRBJ prefers you to start at the highlands due to these situations.

Highlands birdwatching

1      The number of species per linear kilometre and/or per hectare is lower at high altitudes but the number of individuals per specie is higher. This would help you to catch up the pace and progressively learn about behaviour, habits, micro ecosystems and of course more fun learning slowly without any sort of hurry. 

2      Climate adaptation is really humid and hot. We have noticed several times when the people are so burned by our tropical birding climate that it is crucial to have visitors to adapt.

3      Resplendent Quetzal of course & all the highland endemics!! Birdwatching Costa Rica is definite. Perhaps the most astonishing bird of the new world tropics.

Mid elevations birdwatching

Ranging from 1000 to 1600 meters above sea level these places originally were deforested by our golden grain or Coffee. Yes, the wonderful coffee was our main export for more than a century and with the increasing demand for land and given for free by the government is pretty logical to understand how those magical ecosystems disappear decades before we could study them. Luckily, many of those regions were saved by the sole fact of its access difficulty. Today a handful of them still stand as they were thousands of years before humans.

Lowlands birdwatching

At both slopes heat and humidity are a common ground, ranging from 750 meters to the coastline this life zone is by far the richest on birdlife. As our main focus is to give a proper exposure to how, where and when to go birding, it’s highly important for us to teach you the basics.

Agami Heron

Agami Heron

Caribbean Lowlands versus Pacific Lowlands:

To start there is no competition; each particular area of this tropical paradise in anywhere you might go is really good, but without any doubts they differ on many technical aspects when we talk about biogeography of the species.

Caribbean Lowlands we like to divide into 4 groups.

Northern plains as Los Chiles, Upala, Caño Negro and Boca Tapada within each of them have their own differences as well. Comparing them and create a target bird list can be a beat tricky but instead we much rather prefer to name the species that would not be likely to be found or overlap for example:

Los Chiles bird targets: Pinnated Bittern, American Bittern.

Upala is a remarkable destination in the entire spectrum of birding, the lower elevations towards Cañas offers dry forest species and some of them even rare to Costa Rica. After passing the short stretch of the continental divide to the more wet Caribbean side both vegetation and species would differ enormously. Well over 400 species had been recorded on that short 20 km linearly narrow band of land.

Bijagua bird targets: Tody Motmot, Rufous vented ground Cuckoo, Green shrike Vireo, , Crested Eagle, Lovely Cotinga, Yellow eared Toucanet and Harpy Eagle’s most recent report was near here at a small town call Birmania

Caño Negro-Los Chiles species they share: Black collared Hawk, Yellow breasted Crake, Green and Rufous Kingfisher, Jabiru, Sungrebe, Nicaraguan Grackle, Nicaraguan Seedfinch, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Uniform Crake amongst others.

Boca Tapada has a large tract of primary rainforest along with any other major natural habitat, disturbed and not. Therefore, the combination of micro ecosystems makes it suitable for most rainforest birds.

Boca Tapada bird targets: Tawny faced Quail Dove and Grey bellied Hawk that are so unique to this destination that is worth going there just for them. On the other hand, the fact is so close to Nicaraguan’s rainforest which could lead to new species for the country is another major characteristic to visit this isolate part of the north eastern Caribbean slopes. It might well be the best place to find Agami Heron as well with Great Green Macaws, and perhaps even Harpy Eagle.

Central Caribbean Lowlands: Most refer has San Carlos and Sarapiqui’s valleys with a maximum elevation of 750 meters comprehend a vast list of birds on which many of them overlap at nearly every given point but with the largest representation of tropical birding at Puerto Viejo near La Selva Biological Station. It also includes Tortuguero National Park.

Sarapiqui & Braulio Carrillo’s birding targets: Black crowned Antpitta, Bare necked Umbrellabird, Pied billed Puffbird, Sharpbill, Blue and Gold Tanager.

South Caribbean Lowlands would be included after Pacuare’s Reserve since is far south enough from Sarapiqui & Guapiles area. The large tract of land included on this section of our choices has been very little explored by birders, some of the common names or sites can be EARTH’s university, Veraguan Rainforest and Gandoca Manzanillo Reserve but so many other sites are not even on the map of birdlife for our country. Such as Turrialba’s Volcano foothills, Barbilla National Park, Pacuare Forest Reserve, Fila Carbonera, Hitoy Cerere, Selva Bananito, Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve.

South Caribbean Lowlands birding targets: Black chested Jay, Whistling Heron, Greater Ani, Sulphur rumped Tanager, Blue headed Parrot, Spot crowned Antvireo.

Pacific Lowlands we also would like to divide on 3 major birding hotspots: North western Dry Tropical Forest, Central Dry Tropical Forest, Central Pacific Humid Forest & South Pacific.

North western Dry Tropical forest includes from the Bahia Salinas near Nicaraguan’s border to wet lands of Palo Verde and Lomas de Barbudal.

North western Dry Tropical forest birding targets: Rock Wren, White faced Whistling Duck, Comb Duck, Readhead, Greater Scaup, Maguari Stork, Pacific Golden Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Vermilion Flycatcher, Savannah Sparrow, Yellow headed Blackbird. Important to mention that all these species are rarities but that is the exact point of this page to open up the available knowledge.

Central Dry Tropical Forest starts at the lower elevations of Monteverde Cloud Forest known as San Luis Valley (A remnant of the last protected area of this unique ecosystem. Sadly; cattle ranching has taken over since nearly two centuries ago. Very little is known about San Luis birding) and it goes as far south as to La Ceiba, Orotina; also includes all coastline of Samara, Nosara, Diria’s National Park and nearly the entire Nicoya but except for Cabo Blanco. 

Central Dry Tropical Forest birding targets: There are hardly any “unique” birds to this area by a handful of species that have no recent reports until this past December 2020 of some of them.

Mangrove Rail, Lesser ground Cuckoo, Burrowing Owl, Grassland Yellowfinch, Aplomado Falcon, Elegant Trogon at San Lucas National Park.

Central Pacific Humid Forest that goes from Tarcoles River to Dominical River includes Carara National Park on the extreme north Tapir’s biological corridor near Uvita and Nicoya’s Peninsula Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve and surroundings (we understand that geographically is located in Central Dry Tropical forest but is vegetation similarities with Carara forces us to place it on this section)

The amazing reputation of birdlife at Carara’s is definitely a number one place to visit while you are in Costa Rica but also the access to many different micro ecosystems so easily. Although many species would be shared with the Osa Peninsula or South Pacific there are still many targets not to miss.

Central Pacific Humid Forest birding targets: American Pitpit, Herring’s Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull, Ivory billed Woodcreeper. As a worth mentioning situation this area shares more than 15 endemics with the south of Costa Rica and since the names are recently changing we would like to add a link of the Association of Ornithology in Costa Rica & Avibase sites to give the most recent endemic list and the variables.

South Pacific birding targets: We will not include the endemic species shared with Central Pacific; instead we will focus on those Costa Rica’s birds only found at the most southern corners.

Ruddy foliage-gleaner, Plain breasted Spinetail, Mouse colored Flycatcher, Crested Oropendola, Black cheek Ant-Tanager, Red throated Caracara, Sapphire throated Hummingbird, Brown throated Parakeet, Smooth billed Ani, Red rumped Woodpecker, Rusty margined Flycatcher, Lance tailed Manakin.

Mid elevations Birdwatching it might well be a blog on its own due the fact that Costa Rica has an incredible large number of extinct volcanoes, mountains and valleys among valleys. Some areas have not even been studied or have a decent road to get to as in the case of Turrubares Mountains, San Vito, Cacao Volcano, Juan Castro Blanco National Park, Platanar Volcano and many others. Costa Rica Birding Journeys goals is 2021 is to tap more into this unexplored forest and give a well- rounded bird list.

We will add our preferred sites at the time of this blog and those are Parque Nacional Guanacaste, Rincon de la Vieja, Miravalles National Park upper ridges, Bajos del Toro, Virgen del Socorro, Monteverde, Alberto Manuel Brenes, San Ramon Cloud Forests, Pebijaye’s Rainforest, Tapanti National Park, Golden River Forest Reserve, Cloud Bridge Private Preserve, La Amistad Lodge & San Vito. Target list for each and every one of these destinations would be on a future blog once we narrow down the last bird in the forest.

Streak Xenops

Streak Xenops

Please take a look at the following list 

  • Resplendent Quetzal
  • Collared Trogon
  • Slate-throated Redstart
  • Spangle-cheeked Tanager
  • White-winged Tanager
  • Golden-browed Chlorophonia
  • Northern Emerald-Toucanet
  • Azure-hooded Jay
  • Black Guan
  • Silvery-fronted Tapaculo
  • Streak-breasted Treehunter
  • White-throated Mountain-gem
  • Lesser Violetear
  • Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl
  • Chestnut-capped Brush finchp Species
  • Gray-breasted Wood-Wren
  • Buff-fronted Quail-Dove
  • Black-cheeked Warbler
  • Torrent Tyrannulet
  • American Dipper
  • Ruddy Treerunner
  • Strong billed Woodcreeper
  • Tufted Flycatcher
  • Black-capped Flycatcher
  • Sulphur-winged Parakeet
  • Bare-shanked Screech-Owl
  • White tailed Emerald
  • Black bellied Hummingbird
  • Elegant Euphonia
  • Spotted Barbtail
  • Brown-billed Scythebill
  • Black-breasted Wood-Quail
  • Streaked Xenops
  • Red-faced Spinetail
  • Lineated Foliage-gleaner
  • Tropical Parula
  • Common Chlorospingus
  • Costa Rican Warbler
  • Golden-bellied Flycatcher
  • White-naped Brush finch
  • Zeledon’s Antbird
  • Scaled Antpitta,
  • Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant
  • Rufous rumped Antwren
  • Highland Tinamou
  • Rufous breasted Antthrush


Highlands of Costa Rica: We consider to only include the High Talamanca or Cerro de la Muerte since the similar altitude in the country are nearly impossible to access except at one lodge near San Vito. This lodge consists of the only place in Central America on which you can stay no less than a week at 4 different altitudes. In fact, this place is so magical that it has the same type of forest that once existed in San Jose before the Europeans. Yet, this is a place only for real hard core tourists that wish to feel like early explorers from the 1800’s. What we will call Rainforest Last Frontier. CRBJ would focus on another blog to talk about this remote lodge.

Please take a look at the following list 

  • Barred Parakeet
  • Volcano Hummingbird
  • Black capped Flycatcher
  • Black and Yellow Phainoptila
  • Long tailed Silky Flycatcher
  • Spotted Woodquail
  • Wren Thrush
  • Ruddy capped Nightingale Thrush
  • Silvery throated Jay
  • Slaty Flowerpiercer
  • Peg billed Finch
  • Flame throated Warbler
  • Collared Redstar
  • Dusky Nightjar
  • Ochreaceous Wren
  • Dark Pewee
  • Ochreaceous Pewee
  • Buffy Tuftedcheek 
  • Buff fronted Foliage-gleaner