Costa Rica
Birding in Southern Costa Rica: Motmots to Quetzals
Go where the birds are, not where the birders are, as you spot Scarlet Macaws at Carara, the Resplendent Quetzal in San Gerardo de Dota, Motmots in San Vito and much more.
Rating (5)
Program No. 20616RJ
11 days
Starts at
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5 Average

First of all this was my first trip with RS and it was special. I just loved it! Second our guide and leader Leo Garrigues was fantastic. He was a tenacious birder and I was driven by his passion and knowledge of his great country. He knew where to go and what we were going to see. I would do this trip again just because of him period. The Hotels and places we stayed were great I really loved the Villa Lapas and the Wilson Botanical Gardens. Both were wonderful places and the rooms were just perfect to relax and be in nature and get how wonderful the country of Costa Rica is. The talks were all informative and gave us a good understanding of each location and the passion of the local people who let us into their world. Leo's passion for his country and the birds made this trip a real pleasure. Seeing the a Motmot was a lifer for me and that made this trip something that i will never forget . To see a male Resplendent Quetzal flying across the valley was an amazing experience to see. I give this trip an A+10. Thanks RS for a Great Experience.


This was my first Road Scholar trip and I was not disappointed. The leader, driver, accommodations, food, lectures and field trips all exceeded my expectations. I am a novice birder but was made to feel welcome by the leader and by much more experienced birders on the trip. As a result of my experiences on this trip my interest in birding has increased ten-fold. I have a new interest and appreciation for the birds in my home geographic area but I would also like to go on more birding trips in the future. I went on the trip as much to see Costa Rica and to get a feel for the history, culture and ecology of the country as to see the birds and my goal was fulfilled. Thank you to everyone in the "background" and on the trip who made such a wonderful experience possible!

This reviewer did not give a star rating.

This birding trip was fantastic. We saw over 200 birds and visited great eco lodges. The food at Savegre Hotel was 5 star. All accommodations were as described. It rained but our trip time was between wettest and less wet time. Leader Erick Guzman knows his birds and used his scope to make every bird seen.


Birding in Southern Costa Rica: Motmots to Quetzals. We saw them all! With extra sightings of Cotinga, Ornate Hawk Eagle, King Vulture, almost 20 different species of Hummingbirds, and everything in between. The scenery was fantastic, the guide and the driver were awesome and expert, and the accommodations and food superb. Don't miss this trip to this amazing and welcoming country!


From the first day to day 10 this birding tour of the southwest of Costa Rica was professionally led by our guide Leo Garrigues. Leo is an authority on the more than 900 species of birds documented in the country. He is adept at finding species in all habitats that we visited from marine estuaries to cloud forest and subalpine. Leo knows the vocalizations of hundreds of species and adeptly imitates their songs and calls to attract them for a closer view. Importantly, Leo made certain that all observers had an opportunity to see each species encountered. Typically, Leo noted fundamental life history and/or behavioral traits of the 260 species we identified, which enhanced our understanding of the great diversity of Costa Rican avifauna. The logistics of the tour were deftly managed by Leo with assistance from our expert bus driver Roderico Mora. Every detail from placing lunch orders via phone while on the go to strict adherence to safety was handled smoothly and efficiently under Leo's guidance. The accommodations were comfortable and the meals were excellent. We have made many birding trips but have never had a guide who worked harder to make this a most memorable and rewarding experience. Dirk V. Derksen and Margaret R. Petersen


This was a fantastic opportunity to experience more of Costa Rica. This trip has more of the tropical environment and the high mountain area, and many wonderful birds and animals. The trip guide, Leonardo Garrigues, was excellent! He has an amazing ability to spot the birds (and other animals), and to help you see them using the spotting scope. He is very knowledgeable about the birds and other wildlife, and about Costa Rica history. Like the Northern Costa Rica, the food and accommodations were great. I paired this trip with the Northern Costa Rica trip, and was pleased by the diversity of the habitats, the numbers of birds, and seeing much more of this beautiful country.


Outstanding guided tour met and exceeded our expectations. Both the lodging and local food were wonderful. This trip is appropriate for both experienced and novice birders. It is essential to bring good quality binoculars for each person, spotting scopes are not essential as the guide will have one. You will be frustrated if you try and rely on a camera, even with good lenses or share binoculars with a partner. All activities are designed to find and observe birds, so most of the walking is done quietly and slowly. We brought trekking poles and never needed them. Flashlights are important, night falls quickly and you will need them to walk from dining and lectures to your rooms via garden or forrest pathways after dark at 6pm. Bring warm fleece, jackets and light gloves for the 2 days spent in the mountains - several in our group were cold with temps in the low 50s, the rest of the time it was hot and humid. US dollars were accepted everywhere, we did not need to exchange any funds. Our guide Leo was exceptional, birding by ear and expert at spotting birds and putting them in his scope quickly. Expect lots of long, slow walks and bus rides with frequent stops - climbing on and off to look for birds. When on the road, water is supplied to refill bottles and bathrooms breaks are made every couple of hours as required. We saw 318 total species, 239 new ones! A very nice bird list booklet is supplied, and the day's birds are reviewed with the guide every evening. Don't be afraid to try this if you are a beginner, but do understand that this is a birdwatching, not a general nature trip. There were plenty of opportunities to look at tropical plants and insects, but most of the time is spent looking up into the trees with binoculars .


Seeing over 280 species of spectacular birds (some saw over 300) with an outstanding bird guide, hearing and enjoying good lectures, staying at wonderful eco-lodges, eating great food with good friends can't be beat. Felt safe and well taken care of throughout.

This reviewer did not give a star rating.

Our birding expert, Leo, was top notch. He could spot or hear birds at great distances. The number of birds was amazing. I took my hiking boots and a trekking pole. The activity level shown in the catalog, Spirited, was not correct. This trip should have been rated EASY. Standing all day, not moving, looking up constantly, became painful. The urge to move-on was overwhelming. The amount of food served to us did not match the lack of activity. The bulky hiking boots and trekking pole was not needed. One of the participants was in her 80's. She could not walk normally. She could only shuffle her feet slowly while looking at the ground, couldn't spot birds. The Hotel Villa Lapas, the beds were rock hard. The food rated D. Cold reheated coffee for breakfast. Tough, bad tasting fish, and bread. A watery, flavorless lime drink for every meal. No unsweetened ICE TEA. We did see two Spectacled Owls sitting side by side, the only ones we saw during the trip! Enjoyed the swimming pool. I wish we could have put our feet in the Pacific Ocean during the boat ride. We saw a row of Brown Pelicans sitting far off near the beach. All other lodging and food choices were excellent. We especially liked the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge. Wonderful dining, the soup was the best I have ever tasted. Packing a washcloth is a must. Cool tip: Moistening a cotton T-shirt will keep you cool in hot weather or jump in the pool with your clothes on. How do we choose future trips with normal activity for active people? Last year hiking the Coast to Coast Trail with REI in England lived up to its active pace rating. Backpacking the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainer was as described before the trip. Backpacking Rocky Mt. National Park with Sierra Club last July was challenging, as described pre-trip. Road Scholar's Havasupai Waterfall Trip was pleasantly active.


Birding in south Costa Rica is an intense program. If you expect free time every day or shopping or beaches, this trip is not for you. The main purpose of the trip seems to be spotting as many different bird species as possible in each of the zones visited. Great for birders trying to add to their life list. I was sorry I didn’t bring more cotton shorts and T-shirts. Long pants were good to have but not needed every day. Sun screen worked very well for me without the need for long sleev shirts with sun protection. One days clothing is enough for the cold parts of the trip. Because you spend very little time in the rain forest, insects were not a problem. The paths are narrow and the forest is dense which does not make for good birding. The places you stay are quite comfortable, the food is good and plentiful and the walking does not require that you be in excellent condition. As you might expect on a birding tour, most of what is tiring is standing as you search for birds. The actual walking is not strenuous. I found some of the lectures to be focused on the ecology with a pitch for donations implied. You will see some wonderful birds like the quetzal and Pygmy owl. Many are very colorful and there are many species of hummingbirds. Everyone associated with Road Scholar was friendly, helpful and the Costa Rican spirit of “pure vida” is evident everywhere you go. If you want souvenirs the selection on the tour is very limited and prices at the airport are high. Don’t expect cheap prices for alcohol. A beer was around $4 but there are opportunities to shop at markets.


An outstanding trip for even a novice birder, aided by Jorge Monge’s patience and incredible knowledge and ability to find birds. Our driver Henry Rodriguez negotiated a few challenging roads and was a good spotter as well. Lodgings and itinerary excellent. 239 birds, including Striped and Squirrel Cuckoos, White-crested Coquette, and last but not least a Resplendent Quetzal. We went a day early to stay at Villa Ignacio. Highly recommend as there is good birding on lush grounds, and taking a cab into Alajuela is worthwhile as there is an excellent historical museum, a nice plaza central, etc. Hope to return for Northern trip!


My husband and I could not have been more pleased with our first Road Scholar experience. The program is exactly as described and our guide Luis was fantastic! His ability to find a bird quickly in a spotting scope was incredible. Each day we saw new bird species for our list. We went over the list each night as a group to insure everyone had the birds we had seen checked off. There were a variety of fitness levels in our group yet everyone was able to do and see everything. Be prepared to walk 3 miles and do a lot of standing as you search, identify and observe various bird species. We look forward to our next Road Scholar Birding Trip!!


I stepped out of my comfort level to take two birding tours in Costa Rica, back to back. I am not a "birder" but do appreciate all of the critters in nature and figured where there are birds, there will be all kinds of nature. I was right. It was a wonderful adventure. All of the places we stayed were amazing, very eco friendly, beautiful gardens, open air dining. Our guide, Luis, was the best! He was always there for us, shared meals with us, and was fun and informative. Overall, I would highly recommend this tour.


The trip was great and exactly as advertised. Our guide was friendly, knowledgeable and extremely helpful finding and identifying birds. Both my wife and I saw and we both verified 255 different species of birds on this trip. We enjoyed a lot of walking and standing as we searched for birds on the many beautiful hiking trails that we visited on this trip. We highly recommend this trip to anyone who wants to add a lot of birds to their life list. This was our first trip to Costa Rica and we added 196 birds to our life lists!


Be ready to be up and into the rainforest when the birds rise, to be dazzled by creatures so beautiful they don't seem real. Spectacular motmots, macaws, hummingbirds, flycatchers. In our case, we even saw the Resplendent Quetzal. And we learned our guide wasn't really joking when he said "every direction you walk in Costa Rica is uphill." We came home tired and absolutely delighted.


So you think you can't see a bird that flew into the tropical jungle? Roger can find that bird and help you see it.


This is a great trip for anyone into birding. You are taken to different ecological locations that vary greatly from hot and muggy to cold and low humidity at 10,000 feet providing the opportunity to see over 200 species of some of the earth's most spectacular birds. Roger our guide was exceptional. Accommodations were good as was the food. Our driver was a very talented and a safe driver. Some of the roads were one lane traversing steep mountain canyons and he was a real professional. The views were breathtaking.


We got to see over 250 bird species on this trip by visiting 5 regions with different species at each one. The guides were expert birders and adept at locating birds and pointing them out. All the accommodations were comfortable and the food was varied and delicious.


I would describe this program using all superlatives. Everything was great! Our guide Leo was fantastic. Chicho did a great job driving. The food was great. Accommodations met or exceeded my expectations. I reached my goal of 1000 life species while on this trip. In fact, I ended the trip at 1165. So many new sightings! In sum, Leo made the trip amazing. His knowledge, patience and abilities were incredible and exceeded my expectations. I was spoiled by everything. Thank you so much!


Fabulous trip. Great way to explore southern CR. I will put the northern CR bird trip on my wish list!


This trip had a phenomenally knowledgeable guide, who was sensitive to the needs of all. The hotels and their natural surroundings were breathtaking. I would turn around and begin the whole trip again today.


Wonderful experience. Saw a lot more birds than expected.


I learned to spot birds quickly and the leader got his scope on many of the more difficult birds. We all got "good looks" of many birds, including the Resplendent Quetzal, Motmot and Trogons.


This is a great program for birders, both amateur and experienced. It does require a lot of hiking, and even more standing in place for long periods (which I found more strenuous than hiking). But if your program calls for a stay at the Hotel Sierra, don't go! It's a dive, and Road Scholar should never substitute it for a decent hotel.


Of the two Road Scholar trips that my wife and I attended, both were well planned and executed and I will do another one in a heart beat!! Cheers to Road Scholar!


Good overall opportunity to see the birds of Southern Costa Rica. Good accommodations in beautiful settings. An adventure but very comfortable.


For both serious and beginner birders, this program will satisfy all. Physical pace is demanding but doable for most active people.


We explored interesting mangroves and tropical forests;we saw more than 260 bird species.


This is my first birding experience, but it has opened a whole new world for me. Leo is an absolute expert in birds, and his group leader ability deserves high praise. We saw almost 300 different birds, stayed in beautiful hotels and lodges, and ate fresh, healthy food the whole trip. We hiked on gravel trails to see forest-dwelling birds, so bring a pair of sturdy hiking shoes. I wore my boots on the plane because they're heavy, and packed my canvas shoes to wear around the lodge. The weather goes from comfortable in San Jose to muggy hot in the Rain Forest to almost cold in the Cloud Forest. Bring a bathing suit for the spring fed pool in Esquinas. Plan to dress in layers for mornings, evenings, and in San Gerardo. The best place to do laundry is at the Las Cruces Station. You can get a very large laundry bag of clothes washed for $10. We took the bag to the laundry when we arrived and everything was folded neatly on our bed before dinner. If you need an ATM machine, use the one at the airport (not the currency exchange) because that was our last opportunity to access an ATM machine. (This program stays in ecotourism locations in order to see the greatest number of different birds.) There were 12 people in our group: 3 couples and 6 singles. We all had different levels of experience, but we were all very compatible.


This program is the best way to see birds in southern Costa Rica! (Pacific side) Our guide, Roger Melendez, is excellent. We saw nearly 300 species including Resplendent Quetzal, Ornate Hawk-eagle, Scarlet Macaws, nesting Swallow-tailed Kites. The program starts at the hot humid coast and ends in the beautiful cool mountains. Perfect!

Laurie Ann

This is a wonderful trip for folks interested in Costa Rica and its birds. It is more active than some programs. Most outings could be skipped if one was too tired. We were birding for five or six hours a day on average with breaks between outings.


We must say this Road Scholar experience exceeded our expectations in delightful ways. Our leader, Leonardo Garrigues, was outstanding in his knowledge and understanding of birds and birders. Our accommodations and meals were as resplendent as the Quetzals we saw. All the lectures were delivered by riveting, informative speakers. Also, compliments to our diligent driver. We recommend this trip to birders everywhere.

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