Are you looking to see lots of birds in Costa Rica?

birdwatching in Costa Rica

With around 28% of Costa Rica’s land protected by national parks and wildlife reserves, there is plenty of space to explore. And with over 800 bird species, this country is truly a birder’s paradise.

To help you find the best places for bird watching in Costa Rica, I have compiled a list of diverse destinations, plus other interesting things to do in those areas.


#1. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

birdwatching in Costa Rica - resplendent quetzal

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a must-see for everyone. The natural beauty of this area is protected by Ticos (Native Costa Ricans), along with Quakers who moved from the United States to protest the Korean War. Together, these unlikely allies preserve the Cloud Forest and monitor eco-tourism to make sure it’s sustainable.

Cloud Forests are rare because of the unique circumstances needed to create them. A forest is only considered a cloud forest when its altitude is between 1,000-2,500 m (3280-8200 ft). This altitude creates a cool climate and allows for constant cloud coverage at the canopy level.

This unique Cloud Forest is split down the middle, with the eastern (Monteverde) benefiting from trade winds from the Caribbean that cool the area. The eastern (Santa Elena) side, still covered in clouds, is a few degrees warmer without those trade winds. Although both sides offer some of the best birdwatching in Costa Rica, most tourist lodging is on the Monteverde side. 

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve at a Glance:

  • Must-see birds: Resplendent Quetzal, Black and Yellow Silky Flycatcher, Chiriqui Quail Dove, Three-Wattled Bell Bird, and Violet Sabrewing
  • Other Animals: Olingo, Two-Toed Sloth, Kinkajou, Tayra, Coati, Central American Agouti, Mexican Hairy Dwarf Porcupine, Mantled Howler Monkey, White-Faced Capuchin Monkey, Vipers, and Frogs.
  • Where to stay
    • Hidden Canopy Treehouses will give you the feeling of living in the rainforest with all the amenities of a fancy hotel.
    • Sedna Monteverde Hotel offers mountain bungalows that are perfect for couples or families and are only a short walk to anything you need.
  • Other Attractions:
    • A night tour- Even if you decide to go on your own during the day, you must hire a guide to do a night tour through the forest.
    • Explore the hanging bridges: whether you choose to take a tour, ride a train, or hike, the hanging bridges are a must.
    • Canopy Zip Line Tour
    • Sample the local coffee, as this area is famous for its flavorful beans.

#2. Tapantí National Park

birdwatching in Costa Rica - Tapanti National Park

Tapantí National Park is considered the wettest national park in the country! It receives over 6.4 meters (21 ft) of rain per year. Located in a valley near the town of Orosi and the mountains of Talamaca, this park is also home to the Rio Grande de Orosi River, which provides San Jose with drinking water and hydroelectric power.

The enormous amount of precipitation makes Tapantí a great place for botanists to visit. Scientists have discovered thousands of plants within the park, as well as over 100 types of mushrooms and lichens.

The vegetation can make it difficult to spot birds and other elusive wildlife, but this park is home to the rare Resplendent Quetzal and Fiery-throated Hummingbird, along with the endangered Baird’s Tapir. Your best chance to spot these species will be to hire a guide to hike with you.

Tapantí National Park at a Glance:

  • Must See Birds: Resplendent Quetzal, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Collard Trogon, and Golden-bellied Flycatcher
  • Other Animals: Baird’s Tapir, White-faced Capuchin, Agouti, Ocelot, and Jaugaurduni
  • Where to Stay
    • La Casona del Cafetal is located between the valleys of Cachi and Orosi.
    • Orosi Lodge is one of the closest hotels to Tapantí Park
    • San Jose is 1.5-2 hours away if you prefer to plan a day trip.
  • Other Attractions:
    • Tour the Colonial Church of Orosi, the oldest church in Costa Rica, and visit the attached museum
    • Take a dip in Hacienda Orosi Hot Springs
    • Hike to Irazu Volcano, an active volcano near Tapanti

#3. Palo Verde National Park

birdwatching in Costa Rica

Located in one of the last tropical dry forests in the world, Palo Verde Park is a paradise for birds and other wildlife. You’ll find diverse habitats, including mangrove swamps, marshes, grassy savannas, and evergreen forests. There are also a number of limestone hills that provide amazing lookouts for spotting wildlife. Of course, during the dry season (December- May), only the permanent lagoons survive to sustain the wildlife.

This park is the place to go if you’re looking for waterfowl and shorebirds, as Palo Verde has the greatest concentration of them in Central America. Additionally, there are over 300 other bird species, plenty of mammals, and numerous reptiles, including crocodiles!

The best time to visit Palo Verde as a birder is during the dry season. The trees will have dropped their leaves, making it easier to see birds farther through the forest. The rivers and watering holes have also shrunk to only a few lagoons, making it easy to spot wildlife along the shores and in the water. However, keep in mind that the dry season is extremely hot and sunny.

Palo Verde National Park at a Glance:

  • Must See Birds: Cattle Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Other Animals: Variegated Squirrels, Howler Monkeys, White-nosed Coatis, and Crocodiles
  • Where to Stay
    • Camping is allowed near Hacienda Palo Verde Research Station. There are toilets, hot water showers, and meals are available at the station.
    • Rancho Humo Estancia is one of the closest hotels to Palo Verde
  • Other Attractions:
    • Take a boat tour along one of the rivers to maximize your wildlife viewing
    • Take a guided birdwatching tour through the national park
    • Visit Hacienda Palo Verde Research Station and participate in one of their many public events

#4. Carara National Park

Carara National Park is a hidden gem surrounded by farmland and one of the only wildlife sanctuaries in the area. It is considered a biological melting pot because of its location between the dry forests of the Northwest and the rainforest of the Southern Pacific lowlands, making this park extremely diverse in wildlife! This park is one of the few places to find the rare Scarlet Macaw, as well as some of the largest crocodiles in the country.

One of the best things about Carara National Park is that the mixed forest offers an easier place for bird-watching than some other forests. It isn’t as dense, so it can be easier to spot birds and other wildlife through the foliage.

Carara National Park at a Glance:

  • Must See Birds: Scarlet Macaw, Tiger Herons, Orange-collard Manakin, Antbirds, Trogons, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and Royal Flycatchers
  • Other Animals: Giant Crocodiles, Red Brocket, Collard Peccary, Monkeys, Sloth, Agouti, and Tayra
  • Where to Stay
    • This park is an easy day trip from the nearby city of Jacó
    • Hotel Cerro Lodge is located very close to Río Tarcoles Bridge. They also cater to birders and nature enthusiasts.
    • Paradise Bay Hotel Boutique is located North of Jacó to get you out of the hustle and bustle of the city
  • Other Attractions:
    • Take a guided tour of the ancient burial grounds of the Huetar people
    • Enjoy eating at Restaurante El Cocodrilo
    • Spend some time looking for crocodiles at Río Tarcoles Bridge
  • Caution: Petty theft and robbery have increased in this area. Always travel in groups, park near official buildings, and be aware of your surroundings.

#5. Manuel Antonio National Park:

Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest national park in Costa Rica, but this shouldn’t deter you from checking it out! Because of its manageable size and easy trails, it has become one of the most popular parks in the country.

If you’re looking for easy hiking and ocean swimming, this is the destination for you. Although it isn’t known as an amazing bird-watching location, there are still plenty of birds around to fill up your list. Additionally, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can check out the white-water rafting or sea kayaking offered by local companies.

Manuel Antonio National Park at a Glance:

  • Must-See Birds: Blue Gray Tanagers, Palm Tanagers, Fiery-billed Aracaris, Black-hooded Antshrikes, Baird’s Trogons, Yellow-Crowned Night Herons, and Brown Boobies.
  • Other Animals: Squirrel Monkeys (Costa Rica’s rarest primate), Bottle-Nosed Dolphins, Humpback Whales, Rough-Toothed Dolphins, and Green Iguanas.
  • Where to Stay
    • La Posada is perfect for those who only want to visit the park and the beach because those are within walking distance. They also provide private jungle bungalows.
    • Parador Nature Resort and Spa is for those looking for a more relaxing experience but still wanting to be very close to everything.
  • Other Attractions:
    • Enjoy a nighttime paddle board tour through the mangroves
    • Take a boat tour for an up-close experience with marine life
    • Check out the Medicinal Plant Garden

#6. Corcovado National Park and the Osa Peninsula

Corcovado National Park is not a place for your average tourist. This is one of the last untouched forests of Costa Rica, so you need to be prepared for rugged terrain and rough accommodations. This remote area contains one of the last old-growth wet forests along the Pacific coast, as well as 13 other amazing ecosystems. It’s easy to understand why National Geographic has labeled this place as the most biologically intense place on Earth!

Hiring a guide is an essential part of your visit to Corcovado. They decrease your chance of becoming lost, and they can help with details like checking tide charts before you head out. Also, the right guide will know the best places to spot birds.

Located near Corcovado National Park, the remote Osa Peninsula is a fantastic escape from the hustle and bustle of the world. This area is not easily accessible and will give you that peaceful and quiet jungle experience you’re looking for. Although these locations are rugged and remote, they’re some of the best birdwatching locations in Costa Rica.

Corcovado National Park at a Glance:

  • Must See Birds: Scarlet Macaw, Orange-collard Manakin, Great Curassow, Rufous Piha, Harpy Eagle, and Black Hawk
  • Other Animals: Jaguar, Baird’s Tapir, primates, Silky Anteater, and Peccary
  • Where to Stay
    • Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge is located 500 feet above the water at the tip of the Osa Peninsula.
    • Cabinas Jiménez is a great place to stay and relax in the city of Jiménez.
    • Campsites are located around the ranger stations in Corcovado. At Sirena Station, you can find a dormitory-style lodge and meals for purchase.
  • Other Attractions:
    • Snorkel off of Cano Island Biological Reserve in Drake Bay
    • Kayak through mangroves near Puerto Jiménez
    • Tour Rancho Raices de Puerto Jiménez Chocolate Farm
    • Set sail on a deep-sea fishing or whale-watching tour

#7. Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge

Cano Negro is an amazing place to visit year-round. This wildlife refuge is especially perfect if you’re looking to check water birds off your list. For three months starting in January, migratory birds stop here, creating a world-class birding location in Costa Rica. The easiest way to view them is to take a boat tour down the Rio Frio River. Hiring a boat tour through the Cano Negro Tour Cooperative is a great way to support the local economy.

Cano Negro is also a great park for anglers. During the dry season, as the rivers dry up, the fish congregate in the year-round lagoons. If you are looking to find exotic freshwater fish species, then this is the place to do it! Just think of the stories you will be able to tell.

Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge at a Glance:

  • Must See Birds: Olivaceous Cormorant, Nicaraguan Grackle, Lesser Yellow-Headed Vulture, and Water Fowl
  • Other Animals: Fresh Water Fish, Spectacled Caiman, Green Iguana, Striped Basilisk, Howler Monkeys, and River Turtles
  • Where to Stay
    • Hotel de Campo Cano Negro is right in the middle of the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge. If you want to be close to the action, then this is the place to be.
    • Kingfisher Lodge and Tours provide a great all-in-one package. This family-owned lodge will treat you like family and provides tours of a lifetime as well.
  • Other Attractions:
  • Take a turtle and butterfly tour
  • Go horseback riding through the rainforest
  • Enjoy an ecological tour

#8. Tropical Lowlands of Sarapiqui

Sarapiqui Valley has transitioned numerous times over the last century. Once a primary farming region for bananas, it became a destination for kayakers after the banana trade died out. Since a major earthquake in the 1990s, the people of Sarapiqui have rebuilt and created an amazing eco-tourism region.

The area is a birder’s paradise because the Sarapiqui River and Puerto Viejo River combine in the rainforest, which provides diverse habitats for birds to live in. Unlike other rainforests in Costa Rica, Sarapiqui is extremely flat, making this a good location for those who prefer to avoid mountains.

Tropical Lowlands of Sarapiqui at a Glance

  • Must-see Birds: White-tipped Sickle Bill, Great Pootoo, Crested Owl, and Great Green Macaws
  • Other Animals: Howler Monkeys, Snowy Contiga, and Brown Two-toed Sloth
  • Where to Stay
    • Ara Ambiua Lodge is the place to stay if you are looking to support local ecology. There are lakes and trails for you to explore while you enjoy your time.
    • Gavilan Lodge is right on the Sarapiqui river, making it convenient for tours hat leave right from the lodge.
  • Other Attractions:
    • Have fun white water rafting on the Sarapiqui River
    • Relax on a safari boat tour
    • Zip Line through the rainforest canopy
    • Check out the suspension bridge walks

#9. La Selva Biological Station

This research station, located within the Sarapiqui Lowlands, is one of the most important biological research stations in Costa Rica. La Selva was established in 1968 to protect the area from encroaching farmland. It eventually became part of the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) to further protect this area. Since its opening, it has pioneered forest conservation, protecting old-growth forests, and recovering wetland tropical forests.

The station does not allow you to explore on your own due to the high risk of injury. They do, however, have plenty of tours to meet everyone’s needs. La Selva tour guides are well equipped to handle any challenge the rainforest may pose and know the best wildlife-spotting areas.

La Selva Biological Station at a Glance

  • Must See Birds: Bare-necked Umbrella Bird, Red-capped Manakin, Great Antshrike, Long-billed Hermit, and Rufous-tailed Jacamar
  • Other Animals: Mexican Porcupines, Honduran White Bats, and Common Opossums
  • Where to Stay
    • La Selva has single and family cabins to accommodate up to 180 visitors. This is the best place to stay if you want to be right in the middle of the action.
    • El Lugar is a resort-type hotel just South of La Selva. If you are looking to travel to La Selva for the day, then this is an ideal choice for you.
  • Other Attractions:
    • Enjoy a guided horseback ride through the forest
    • Visit Cope Gardens
    • Go on a pineapple plantation tour

#10. Santa Rosa National Park

With over 250 bird species spotted here, don’t count out Santa Rosa National Park as a birding destination in Costa Rica. It may be one of the driest and hottest places in Costa Rica, but it’s no less stunning in terms of wildlife. The area was originally made a National Park to protect La Casona, the site of the Battle of Santa Rosa in 1856, where local Costa Ricans defended their independence from Nicaragua.

Plenty of diverse ecosystems like dry forests, savannahs, deciduous forests, marshland, mangroves, and beaches mean there’s an abundance of wildlife. The Santa Rosa beaches are also famous for sea turtle nesting and at times can have over 8,000 turtles on the beach at once to nest.

Santa Rosa National Park at a Glance:

  • Must-see Birds: Raucous White-throated Magpie Jay, Lesser Ground Cuckoos, Violet Sabrewings, Orange-fronted Parakeet, and Coastal Birds
  • Other Animals: Sea Turtles, Armadillos, Deer, and Tapirs
  • Where to Stay
    • During the dry season, you can camp near the ranger station for a rustic visit to the park.
    • Four Seasons Papagayo Resort is located to the south of Santa Rosa National Park and offers a very luxurious experience for those looking to relax.
    • Andaz Costa Rica Resort is perfect for those looking for a balance of true Tico culture and resort-quality amenities.
  • Other Attractions:
    • Enjoy surfing at one of Santa Rosa’s beaches (closed during turtle nesting season)
    • Visit the historical sites and learn about Costa Rican culture

For info on birdwatching tours in Costa Rica, check out these resources!


Have you visited any of these birdwatching locations in Costa Rica?

Tell us about your experience in the comments!



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