This is perhaps the only birding trip report on the internet that is based entirely in the North-west corner of Costa Rica (The Guanacaste region, plus a one day trip to adjacent Alajuela).
This holiday was inspired by First Choices ( http://www.firstchoice.co.uk ) decision to offer all-inclusive holidays in Costa Rica at a reasonable price. They fly direct from Gatwick to Liberia in the north-west province of Guanacaste. The hotels they use are on the Pacific coast around the Gulf of Papagayo. The Guanacaste Cordillera comes within 35 km of the coast at this point so both the dry coastal forest and the highland areas were within easy reach. Because this region is rather distant from San Jose it is relatively unfrequented by birders and the bird tour operators. None of us had visited Costa Rica before.
El Nakuti Resort ( http://www.1-costaricalink.com/hotels_guanacaste_costa_rica/hotel_nakuti_resort_costa_rica.htm )
This was our base. It lies on Panama Beach which is in the Bay of Papagayo and consists of single-storey blocks scattered around the grounds. The rooms are well designed, comfortable and air-conditioned. The food was only average and the beer was horrible. The grounds were quite extensive with mature trees and was home to Hoffmanns Woodpeckers, Cinnamon Hummingbirds and many more widespread species.
El Nakuti Resort - Plenty of trees and shrubs to attract birds
The glum look is because it is teeming with rain.
Rincon de la Vieja Mountain Lodge
We stayed here for one night. It provided simple, comfortable rustic accommodation and good food. The grounds consisted of open grassland with scattered trees and a couple of ponds. The flowering shrubs at the entrance attracted hummingbirds. The approach road was an unsurfaced track which crossed the Colorado River via a rocky ford. To reach it a good 4 x 4 is essential, at least in the rainy season.
Rincon de la
Las Espuelas (www.1-costaricalink.com/hotels_guanacaste_costa_rica/hotel_best_western_las_espuelas_costa_rica.htm)
We stayed here for one unplanned night. This Best Western Hotel lies just east of Liberia on the Pan-American Highway. It was a very pleasant motel-type hotel with good food and drink. The grounds were surprisingly productive with Gray Hawks in one of the trees near the road, Turquoise-browed Motmots and a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet.
We hired a large Toyota 4 x 4 from Avis ( http://www.avis.co.cr/avis_locations_liberia.htm ) who have an office a five minute drive from Liberia Airport. They were waiting to meet us when we arrived and were generally efficient. But there are many car hire places near the airport though none are within a reasonable walk.
It rained every day, often for most of the day. This made the birding difficult and uncomfortable although it did keep the temperature to a pleasant level. This weather was caused by a tropical storm which hit Nicaragua very hard so it may be that, while Guanacaste is supposed to be the driest province in the country, the rest of Costa Rica may have fared better. But on our experience we cannot recommend going to Costa Rica in October.
The high humidity meant condensation on our optics, while the heavy cloud meant that Mike, with his mighty Canon DSLR, often had to go to 1600 ASA.
We found the Pan-American Highway a perfectly reasonable road to travel along except at night when bicycles without lights viewed through teeming rain were a considerable hazard. The roads between our base hotel and the highway were fine but the roads into the cordillera were usually unsurfaced and had to be treated with caution. Traffic was generally light except in the vicinity of Liberia, although even this was a lot easier than Slough during the rush hour.
We hired one guide for one day - Carlos Jimenez who is based in Coco Beach. He was an excellent guide who spoke good English. We had a very good day with him, mostly in the cordillera, in spite of the terrible weather.
We used Birds of Costa Rica by Garrigues and Dean which had just been published by Helm. It is a very good field guide although some of the illustrations might be slightly pale. We discovered a few species outside the range described in the book. We also used the maps in Globetrotter Travel Atlas Costa Rica from Rowland Mead (published by New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd. ISBN 1 84537 380 4) to navigate. They proved invaluable.
If you wish to contact any of the trip members please email Mike Collard, Dave Ferguson, Dave Parmenter or Jim Rose.
All photos copyright 2007©