Go on an amazing wildlife holiday to Costa Rica

Discover the astonishing richness of Costa Rica’s wildlife on this amazing 16-day holiday with exclusive extras for BBC Wildlife readers.

Tortuguero River
22nd November 2015 - 7th December 2015


Costa Rica is home to some astonishing wildlife and this trip promises colourful birds, exotic monkeys and sloths, lizards and crocodiles, bats, amphibians, turtles and snakes, a host of butterflies and a wealth of flora.

Over 16 days you’ll visit unique range of habitats, from pristine beaches and tropical wetlands to high cloud forest festooned with orchids and cool, misty mountain tops.

Your guide for this holiday is Paco Madrigal, who is widely regarded as one of Costa Rica’s very finest wildlife leaders. He was raised in the lowland rainforest of Sarapiqui, where his father taught him to identify the local wildlife and he has 15 years of experiencing as a guide.

With him, you will discover Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast, where you’ll go in search of all six kingfishers of the Americas and Neotropical river otter on a gentle boat ride through brackish mangroves. And as the first of our exclusive reader offerings, you will also go looking for green turtle hatchlings heading for the sea, and red-eyed tree-frogs.

Another highlight is the misty highland cloud forest, the northernmost extent of the Paramo habitat, home to magnificent resplendent quetzal. Arenal Observatory Lodge is a birding and wildlife hotspot, with breath-taking views of adjacent Arenal Volcano, and the stunning natural beauty here will astound you.

The visit to La Selva Biological Station, has another exclusive offering for BBC Wildlife readers – a night walk to experience the rainforest. It’s here that many of the world’s discoveries about tropical rainforests have taken place. Peccaries, agoutis, coatis, sloths, and monkeys frequent the area, and the night walk will take you to see kinkajous, potoos, owls, bats, and invertebrates such as stick insects, cicadas, moths, katydids, spiders and peanut-headed bug. You may even come across bioluminescent fungi at night, while the days will be full of Costa Rica’s famously rich birdlife.

Expect fabulous wildlife, comfortable accommodation in six excellent hotels and lodges, excellent food, and a relaxed pace, all in the company of Kevin Shaw, principal of Heatherlea, the well-known UK tour operators who will organise the holiday.

In association with Heatherlea


Paco Madrigal

is one of Costa Rica’s best wildlife guides with 15 years experience, Paco was raised in the rainforest of Sarapiqui where his father taught him to identify wildlife. 

Kevin Shaw

is the principal of Heatherlea, the UK-based tour operator, established in 1991. Kevin will organise and accompany you on this trip.


Day 1: Sunday 22 November ARRIVAL and WELCOME

We arrive in San Jose where you will be warmly welcomed by your guide and driver,  and escorted back to your comfortable hotel. Depending on arrival time, you may be able to walk in the lovely gardens to relax after a long day of travel. The gardens are home to many spectacular tropical birds, including Blue-crowned Motmot, Hoffman’s Woodpecker, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. You will be impressed by the extensive orchid and bromeliad gardens here as well. Anyone interested in geology? This hotel has an amazing rock and mineral collection with nearly every piece found right here in Costa Rica. In the evening you can venture out to look for frogs at the frog pond. (Overnight: Hotel Bougainvillea)

Day 2, 3: Mon 23 Nov, Tues 24 Nov TORTUGUERO

In the morning we enjoy a little light birding at the hotel before our exciting journey by land and then boat to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast, known as the Amazon of Costa Rica. Here we explore the rich labyrinth of waterways which will afford us excellent wildlife viewing. The area boasts 320 bird species, including Tiger Herons, Agami Heron, White-fronted Nunbird, and all six species of Kingfishers belonging to the Americas. Along with birds, we may also see sloth, caiman, iguanas, poison-dart frogs, fresh-water turtles, basilisk lizards, Honduran White tent-making bats, and three different species of monkeys that frequent the banks. In the evening we venture out along the nearby beach to look for Green Turtles, which nest here between June-October. In November we may see baby turtles hatching and making their way to the ocean waters. This is also a great place to look for Red-eyed Tree Frogs that come out to sing in the evenings. (Overnight: Laguna Lodge)


Travel to Selva Verde Lodge in the tropical lowlands of Sarapiqui, where we spend the afternoon exploring the wildlife-rich riparian zone along the banks of the Sarapiqui River. This rain forest region at the base of the Caribbean slope is well-known for hosting the greatest diversity of tropical flora and fauna in the country. Here Sunbittern, Black-faced Grosbeak, and Gray-necked Wood-Rail are a few of the spectacular inhabitants, and this is the most likely spot on the trip to see Great Green Macaw, an endangered species that depends on the Dipteryx tree for feeding and nesting. This is one of the emergent trees commonly found in Sarapiqui. Also lurking in the forest are two- and three-toed sloth, monkeys, agoutis and peccaries. We will also seek tiny poison-dart frogs. Their bright colors will astound you. (Overnight: Selva Verde Lodge)  

Day 5 & 6: Thurs 26 Nov, Fri 27 Nov LA SELVA BIOLOGICAL STATION

We spend the next two days at La Selva Biological Station run by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), a highlight of the trip. The station is among the most famous tropical research facilities in the world, and there is no better place to experience the rainforest with its outstanding abundance of wildlife. The station is home to more than 420 bird species, more than 500 species of butterflies, 55 species of snakes, and 120 species of mammals. A vast variety of trees can be seen in the arboretum. You will enjoy the unique opportunity to explore the rich forests in the place where much of the world’s discoveries about Tropical Rainforests take place. Animals here are not camera shy, so there will be ample photo opportunities. Peccaries, agoutis, coatis, sloths, and monkeys frequent the area, all of which makes for an unforgettable experience. We will also venture out one night for a taste of the rainforest after dark where a whole host of new creatures can be seen and heard, including kinkajous, frogs & toads, potoos, owls, bats, maybe a snake or two, and insects that come in all different shapes and colors such as stick insects, cicadas, many moths, katydids, spiders and peanut-headed bug. There is also a chance we may find bioluminescent fungi. (Overnight: Selva Verde Lodge)

Day 7, 8: Sat 28 Nov, Sun 29 Nov ARENAL VOLCANO

We spend two nights at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which offers breath-taking views of the jungle-covered Arenal Volcano. This is a birding and wildlife hotspot, where the stunning natural beauty will astound you. The extensive trails at the lodge allow tremendous opportunities for birding, and we should see Crimson-collared Tanagers, White Hawk, Brown-hooded Parrot, and Golden-olive Woodpecker, along with an array of colorful hummingbirds, and three species of Toucans. This is also a wonderful spot to view a variety of butterflies in the gardens. Sloth are common inhabitants of the area as are Coatimundi, Anteater and monkeys. One night, we will go owling in search of the Black-and-White Owl, Mottled Owl, and Striped Owl in open fields below the lodge. (Overnight: Arenal Observatory Lodge)

Day 9: Mon 30 Nov ARENAL - CARARA

Travel to Hotel Villa Lapas, situated at the edge of the Carara National Park on the banks of the Tarcoles River near the Pacific coast. We stop along the way to look for Blue-winged Teal, Least Grebe, Northern Jacana, Anhinga and other dryforest specialties. When we arrive at the hotel, there will be time to explore the wildlife-rich trails through the forest, where we hope to see Scarlet Macaw and Tiger Herons, leaf-cutter ants, Spiny-tailed Black Iguana, Brown Basilisk Lizard and Long-tailed Manakin among many others. This is also a great location to look for frogs. With plenty of water in the nearby ponds, we are sure to enjoy a concert of several species of frogs at night, including the Hourglass Frog (genus Hyla), Leopard Frog and a new species of Red-eyed Tree Frog (different from the one in Tortuguero), as well as Masked Frog. (Overnight Hotel Villa Lapas)

Day 10, 11: Tues 1 Dec, Wed 2 Dec CARARA NATIONAL PARK

We spend the next two days in the Carara National Park, a unique zone where the ecosystem of the humid southern coastal region joins the dry climate of the northern Pacific area, becoming a rich meeting ground for species from both regions. This is a great location to find army ants which bring a whole host of wildlife following behind, scooping up the escaping insects. While looking out for army ant swarms, we also hope to spot antbirds, up to five different species of Trogons, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Royal Flycatcher and the beautiful Orange Collared Manakin. One afternoon, we will enjoy a two hour mangrove tour by boat along the Tarcoles River with a local guide. During the tour we will not only be impressed by the giant crocodiles that inhabit the area but also the variety of shorebirds, water birds, and raptors. We will also take time to visit Playa Azul at dusk where some of the species we will look for are Green Iguana, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Roseate Spoonbill, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Melodious Blackbird, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Pacific Screech-Owl, Spectacled Owl, and many species of shorebirds. One of the highlights here is the spectacle of Lesser Nighthawks which emerge by the hundred to hunt at dusk. (Overnight at Hotel Villa Lapas)

Day 12 & 13: Thurs 3 Dec, Fri 4 Dec SAVEGRE CLOUD FOREST

Today we travel to Cerro de la Muerte and the Savegre river valley where we will spend the next two days. You will be astounded by this magnificent misty highland cloud forest region, home to the Resplendent Quetzal, as well as Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher, and Large-footed Finch, to name just a few. This highland region is one of Costa Rica’s largest protected areas, and the northernmost extent of the Paramo habitat – a highland shrub and tussock grass habitat most common in the Andes. Here we look for regional endemic birds Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren, as well as Green Spiny Lizard. The area also boasts vast expanses of pristine cloud forest, dominated by several species of towering oaks laden with a variety of epiphytes including a variety of micro-orchids. Mammals of the area include Mexican Porcupine, Red-tailed Squirrel, Tayra (in the same family as the River Otter), and we may also hear the distant howling of coyotes in the evenings. The crystalline water of the Savegre River cascading through the highland valleys adds to the enchanting appeal of this very special place.

Day 14: Sat 5 Dec SAVEGRE – SAN JOSE

After lunch travel back to the Hotel Bougainvillea in the central valley making a few stops along the way. We will arrive for a farewell dinner where we will reminisce about the wonderful experiences we have shared. The following morning (Sun 6 Dec) we transfer to the airport for our flights home, arriving (Mon 7 Dec).


Where: Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

When: 22 November 2015 - 7 December 2015

Cost: £4395pp (Single supplement: £395 Deposit: £800)

Flight Departs from London Heathrow. We may be able to offer flight arrangements from another airport and/or or quote without flights so you can make your own arrangements.

Maximum group size 12 people

Accommodation is in hotels or lodges with all rooms en suite. Some of the lodges are remote, and have simple style rooms. All are spacious, have en suite facilities, and are very comfortable to a good standard. Some hotels and their locations are spectacular - please see the links provided above.

Food is usually served as a buffet, with a wide choice. Vegetarian and other diets are welcome.

Walking is generally light/moderate. There may be some uphill track and road walking, though generally an average level of fitness is required.

Weather will be mixed. Mostly the temperature will be warm, with the possibility of rain. In some locations the weather is hot and humid, in others hot and dry, and at altitude can be cool and wet.

Insects There are biting insects, though not usually as a major problem.

What is included in your holiday cost: 

  • Scheduled return flights between London Heathrow and San José, airport taxes
  • Ground and boat transportation as outlined including all transportation in Costa Rica in a modern and spacious air-conditioned vehicle
  • Accommodation and all meals, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Water is provided in the vehicle each day. Our guides also provide cold slices of mango and pineapple in very hot places!
  • The services of your leaders
  • Entrance fees to parks and reserves, and tips to hotels and restaurants
  • Departure taxes, currently USD28

What's not included in your holiday price:

  • Pre-flight service
  • Personal insurance
  • Personal expenses including drinks ordered at the lodges
  • Visa costs where necessary, optional tips to the driver and local guide, and any other costs not specified as included.
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