Costa Rica

Marie and I vacationed in Costa Rica a couple weeks ago with two good friends, and I thought I’d share some of the experiences here. I know some of the local birders have stayed at the same Lodge we did, and others have either stayed in other locations or haven’t yet been to the country. Regardless, I’d love to hear any comments or feedback and encourage folks to use the comments section below to share any other great lodges or locations to bird in the country.

We left on a Friday afternoon and got a fantastic round-trip rate on Delta (14,000 Skymiles roundtrip per person), but it meant not arriving until around 9:30PM local time. We decided to stay at the San Jose Marriott the first night, which was a wonderful hotel and property.

Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen
View of the Marriott San Jose property from our balcony.

We did some light birding the next morning before heading out to La Fortuna and the Arenal Observatory Lodge. I tallied 18 species at the Marriott, including 10 life birds. My favorite of these was probably the Yellow-headed Caracara.

Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen
Marriott San Jose , Costa Rica.

The drive to Arenal is no joke…the roads are two-lane most of the way and pretty “serpentine”. We stopped in La Fortuna for lunch, where we also got our first real view of the Arenal Volcano.

La Fortuna and Volcan Arenal. Costa Rica.
Arenal Volcano from La Fortuna Park.

It was about another 30 minute drive from La Fortuna to the Arenal Lodge, where we would spend the remainder of our 4 nights. I’ll include a few pictures of the Lodge here, but really encourage you to visit my Flickr album if you want to see even more.

View of Arenal Lake from the deck at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Costa Rica.
View of Lake Arenal from the observation deck. Restaurant at left.

To the right of the image above is the fruit feeder station, which has the volcano as a backdrop. You could stand there for hours and be entertained and “wowed” by the stream of birds that regularly visit the feeder: Great Curassow, Crested Guan, Golden-hooded Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Blue Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Montezuma Oropendola, Bananaquit, Buff-throated Saltator, Brown Jay, Black-cowled Oriole, Melodious Blackbird, and Clay-colored Sparrow (to name a few).

Great Curassow (male). Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Great Curassow (male). Arenal Observatory Lodge, feeder area.

Being at eye-level this close to the birds allows you to really capture some great images, and see details that you might not normally see in terms of plumage and interactions. For example, you may not easily see the brilliant yellow underwings of the honeycreepers otherwise.

Red-legged Honeycreepers (males). Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Red-Legged Honeycreepers. Arenal Observatory Lodge, feeder area.

Another view from the deck is below; notice the fruit feeder to the right….this gives you an idea of how close you can get to these birds. Might I also mention that the bar is right behind you, and they serve wonderful hand-mixed cocktails and have a hearty selection of bottled craft beer. I was very pleasantly surprised with the selection.

View of Arenal Volcano from the deck at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Costa Rica.
Arenal Observatory Lodge. Deck, feeder at right. Arenal Volcano in background.

The birds often bickered over the selection of fruit…

Black-cowled Oriole and Buff-throated Saltator interaction. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Black-cowled Oriole and Buff-throated Saltator. The Saltator “won” this conflict.

I was asked what my top 5 species were from the trip, and it’s almost impossible to say, but I can tell you that the Golden-hooded Tanagers are in the top 5 somewhere.

Golden-hooded Tanager and Red-legged Honeycreeper. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Golden-hooded Tanagers. Arenal Observatory Lodge.

When you finally pull yourself away from the observation deck, you’ll pass right by a nesting Streak-headed Woodcreeper on your way to the gardens.

Streak-headed Woodcreeper. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Streak-headed Woodcreeper. Arenal Observatory Lodge.

The gardens below are at a intersection roughly between the “frog pond” trail and rainforest and a path leading to the waterfall and some farmland.

Costa Rica - April 2019 (Arenal Observatory Lodge)
Arenal Observatory Lodge gardens. Arenal Volcano in background.

The gardens host a large colony of nesting Montezuma Oropendolas, and is otherwise rife with birds. On several visits over the week, the following species were very regular there: Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Long-tailed Tyrant, Social Flycatcher, Gray-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Piratic Flycatcher, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Band-backed Wren, Black-cowled Oriole, Bananaquit, Variable Seedeater, White-tipped Dove, Clay-colored Thrush, Keel-billed Toucan, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and White-necked Jacobin. Other extremely notable birds for me here were a single Gartered Trogon and Common Tody-Flycatcher.

Social Flycatcher. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Social Flycatcher. Arenal Observatory Lodge gardens.
White-necked Jacobin. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
White-necked Jacobin. Arenal Observatory Lodge gardens.

Just past the gardens begins some pasture, where we saw Variable Seedeaters and Morelet’s Seedeaters

Costa Rica - April 2019 (Arenal Observatory Lodge)
Edge of the garden, pasture beyond.

The area between the gardens and the waterfall was good for Yellow-throated Toucan, Clay-colored Thrush, and Buff-rumped Warblers in particular.

Danta Waterfall. Costa Rica - April 2019 (Arenal Observatory  Lodge).
Danta Waterfall. Arenal Observatory Lodge property.

The property also has other wildlife, including Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, and Coatimundi (“Coati”). I photographed the Spider Monkey below from my back patio.

Costa Rica Spider Monkey. Arenal Observatory Lodge,  Taken from my room's back porch (room 31).
Spider Monkey. Arenal Observatory Lodge.

We made a couple afternoon jaunts outside of the Arenal park, one to Mistico Hanging Bridges park, where we saw a Sloth and a Rufous-tailed Jacamar! Another day, Marie and I went ziplining at Arenal Ecoglide, I’d definitely recommend the experience. Photos here if you’re interested.

As for the lodge, I can’t say enough how great it is, and would recommend to anyone interested in a relaxing, natural vacation. The room was clean and very spacious, with great views of the volcano (we stayed in a “junior suite”, which is very reasonably priced). The rooms are not air-conditioned (you don’t need it, they have high powered ceiling fans, which is plenty) and don’t have a TV, but do have good wi-fi. Our room had a mud room, wet bar area with a dorm fridge, and a large sofa. It also had a large covered front porch and large tiled, covered back patio.

View from our back patio of Volcan Arenal. Costa Rica - April 2019 (Arenal Observatory Lodge).
View of Arenal Volcano from our back porch.

I sat on the back porch in the evenings, sipping on a cold one (or two), and had both species of monkeys, frequent Coati visits, and a wonderful parade of birds, including Black-striped Sparrow, Scarlet-rumped Tanagers, Great Curassows, Hepatic Tanager, Bananaquit, House Wren, Montezuma Oropendola, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Green-fronted Lancebill, Brown Violetear, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Crowned Woodnymph, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds.

Crowned Woodnymph. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Crowned Woodnymph. Arenal Observatory Lodge, Unit 31. I had to set my cerveza down for a minute to capture this bird’s portrait. It insisted.

There’s really a whole lot more to say, but I’ll cut this a short and leave you with another Top 5 bird… the Great Potoo!

Great Potoo. Arenal Observatory Lodge. Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Great Potoo. Arenal Observatory Lodge.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Diane Reed says:

    I love your Costa Rica photos and report. What a blast seeing your zip line photos!! Your next visit there should include Rancho Naturalista and Savegre Mountain Lodge (both can be combined into one week). Having stayed at both places, they are truly something you can’t miss.

    Hoping to cross paths again sometime soon when I finally leave St Johns County and head for Spoonbill, where I will get my 85 species.

    You and Marie are the best!

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