Professionally Leading Worldwide Birders

Arenal has been one of the biggest natural wonders of Costa Rica. Its summit and constant volcanic activity for more than 50 years (declined in 2008); has become a magnet for millions of worldwide tourists.

This perfect cone-shape stratovolcano has it all as a destination, hot springs, roaring rivers, calm lake waters, fishing, windsurf, rainforest hikes, adrenaline seekers also enjoy rafting, ziplining, horseback riding and much more. Yet; its less know side are birding. Birds at the Arenal Volcano area is a fascinating, overwhelming beauty that captivates everyone’s wish list. From the more common Scarlet-rumped Tanager to the always elusive Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo. It truly has it all for those seeking to explore rainforest avifauna. Dozens of kilometres to explore whether pasture fields with scattered trees to deep mountainous jungles. A place you should not skip. La Fortuna the small town at the base of the summit has a quaint feel, full of shops and restaurants that offers a good array of experiences for all budgets and tastes. The adjacent forested hills are just as good as any known birding location in Costa Rica. Whether you travel alone or guided there is no room for dull birding time.

We would like to describe in great detail our 25 years of experience guiding on this part of northwestern Costa Rica and would also live to divide into 5 sectors; this is in order to make a full description of where do we go birding while in Arenal. Sometimes we do go off the beaten path to located certain species but the vast majority of our sites are well known.

1. Arenal Observatory Lodge hotel ground and forests. Certainly, there are about 100 other hotels to stay but very few are set up to be birding from your bed. At Arenal Observatory Lodge you get all you will need in terms of quality and quantity. Quality cause on its forest is well-known sites for Three wattle Bellbird, Bare necked Umbrellabird, Great Curassow, Thicket Antpitta, Black-crested Coquette, Spotted Antbird, Lovely Cotinga, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo and Ornated Hawk Eagle to mentioned few of the most marvellous local rarities.

The hotel trails are comfortable to walk and long enough to spend 3 full days without ever leaving the comfort of your room. Rivers, waterfalls, gardens, secondary, primary forests are just within steps away.

The quantity because in any direction you might look there will be half a dozen bird species as for example flycatchers, tanagers, toucans, oropendolas, thrushes, hummingbirds, euphonias, woodcreepers, wrens and many more.


Describing where to start birding at the lodge grounds is a complicated matter due we love all birds and would also depend on your skill levels or personal targets. But we recommend the following:

Don’t waste your time thinking about breakfast, they start serving too late for us, instead consider asking the front desk to prepare something the night before. Best birding here is before 9 am but would also depend on the ever-changing weather. Don’t forget you are in the rainforest anyway. If you are new to Costa Rican birds first explore the forest edges and gardens those would give you enough work on your first days. As you get comfortable with the local sounds and bird behaviour enter t the waterfall trail as early as you can. Sadly, you are not the only one hiking around and some tour companies offer daily walks.

 

The Zompopa (leaf-cutting Ants) trail is very good all day long yet a bit less active in the late afternoon but you can still find species such as Rufous Motmot, Collared Trogon, Scaly crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush and even Song Wren an incredibly melodious singing bird. Their sound is nothing like you ever heard on a Wren. If you decided to enter in the early morning take it really slowly as the day goes by the birds would start showing themselves. Be prepared for a mixed flock (by the way only local birders are prepared for this, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see every single bird that moved). There might lapse of time where you don’t see much at all, don’t worry the birds are there whether you find them or not. Try to get a bird sound expert, this could and will increase not only your bird list but also the direction to where you should put your focus on. Having a native birder is the way to go, they simply love what they do and they do it every day.

 

Saino Trail (peccary) is pretty much like the Zompopa but here you have a beat more gardens to birdwatch; therefore more bird species would likely be found.

 

The Waterfall Trail is a bit tricky but not less rewarding. Here is where we have sighted on many occasions Bare necked Umbrellabird and Antpittas, if you get lucky an army ant swarm can join the hike and trust us, birding would never be the same. All kinds of birds come out from every crack of the woods. Don’t forget to every now and then lift up your head for the mid-canopy birds, forest falcons, kites and other good raptors are there too.

  1. The lake view Tower. Sit and wait. You should take an extra day to be just there. The most reliable place to find Lovely Cotingas and perhaps the only one in the area. Although the early morning shall be the best we have spent hours in the middle of the day searching for Great Black Hawk, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, White Hawk, King Vulture and we have not been disappointed.

     

    On the River trail nearly no one ever goes there due to the darkness and the worry some steps. But what we have found about this hidden corner is like no other in the entire property. Right there you just sit and wait for the birds. We have seen with an incredible detail bird species that you could spend a lifetime seeking for them without success; not to mention the fact the birds avoid human contact as much as possible.

     

     

    2. El Castillo Road is too good to be ignored, unlike the Arenal Observatory this full of more open active and none active farmland. This does not mean at all to be a bad birding choice on the contrary a different array of birdlife is found. Raptors, pigeons, chachalacas, tanagers, hummingbirds and passing thru forest rarities. Since the weather is kind of ever-changing don’t forget to bring your raincoat. As ironic as it sounds We had superb birding while drizzles on one occasion as the downpour stopped we were able to photograph a perched Black Hawk-Eagle and saw very well in the distance a Three wattle Bellbird.

     

    3. Peninsula Station. This sort of new entry to the Arenal National Park is a back road is covered by forest as it borders the lake. If you are in the will of driving and stopping along the way is definitely a must to do. Along the roadside many different types of forest ages co-exist; this technically means birds, birds, and more birds. The diversity of birding increases dramatically; White-fronted Nunbird, Crested Guans, Great Antshrikes, Black-headed Saltators, Raptors of various types, Tanagers, and even the Keel-billed Motmot has a spot.

    Highly recommend going slowly and stopping dozens of times, things start to slow down if it’s hot and sunny but bear in mind that it can be good for prey birds. Afternoons can give us good surprises but it has to be overcast and/or rain before.

     

    4. Chato Volcano’s Road is another superb location if you are early enough, due is popular amongst young hikers this hike can get a beat busy, so our suggestion is to be there around 530 am; it offers all kinds of possibilities from common Blue-grey Tanagers to a quietly perched Lanceolated Monklet.

     

    5. Arenal Mystico Hanging Bridges. Although it can be a beat touristy still could provide a wonderful birding if arriving at 530 am tour. This would beat crowds and of course, get you hours in before others. Highlights of this private property can be Dull mantled Antbird, Broad-billed Motmot, Rufous Piha, Bare necked Umbrellabird, mix flocks with an impressive number of 30 or more species. And if you are lucky enough to come across an army ant swarm you can pretty much be in heaven.

     

    6. Locations within 1 hour or less driving from La Fortuna. We know Costa Rica is filled with birds and many of them are so close to our hotels that do consider driving away is not the first choice BUT if you really want to get the very best of Arenal Volcano birds Bosque Eterno de Los Niños. Bajos del Toro, Platanar Volcano, Refugio Bosque Alegre & Laguna.

Please contact us to arrange a local guide.