Bird-watching in Costa Rica

With more than 850 species of resident and migrant birds, Costa Rica is an avian paradise.

By Bree Sposato

Beaches and volcanoes drew me to Guanacaste, Costa Rica’s northwesternmost province. To my surprise I found the region’s array of birds—some of the most beautiful were iridescent or leggy, and so many filled the forests with song—equally stunning. Here are three great places to observe these colorful creatures.

Santa Rosa National Park

Yellow-naped amazon parrots, ivory-billed woodcreepers, crested bobwhites, orange-fronted parakeets and hundreds more bird species thrive in Santa Rosa’s nearly 15,000 acres. Close by sits Guanacaste National Park, the proximity creating a sort of corridor into the peaks of the Guanacaste mountain range. You’ll need a car equipped with four-wheel drive to tackle the roads, and it’s best to hire a guide who can not only navigate them but also give you the history of the park and point out the best observation points.

Palo Verde National Park

On the banks of the Tempisque River, Palo Verde’s wetland sanctuary is one of the most important bird-watching spots in the country. At times it’s home to Central America’s largest concentrations of aquatic birds—as many as 250,000 toward the end of rainy season. Check in at a ranger station and hire one of the boat operators so you can glide along the river. Your guide will probably have a pair of binoculars, but the open-air boats fit around 10 people, so it’s best if you bring your own. You may spot the white ibis, black-crowned night-heron, falcon, little blue heron and more. Also on view: cute white-faced capuchin monkeys.

Rincón de la Vieja National Park

This sprawling park is home to Rincón de la Vieja volcano and its namesake crater. Geysers and hot pools make the landscape an otherworldly setting for its excellent bird-watching. Species found here are more varied than in the other parks. While hiking along the reserve’s trails, look for the lesser ground-cuckoo, red-crowned ant-tanager and the tody motmot; pretty parakeets and curassows are also abundant. Whether you’re an avian amateur or an expert, the vibrant assortment of species found here and throughout the country is bound to impress.

Palo Verde National Park
18 miles southwest of Bagaces; 011-506-2200-0125;; $10*
Santa Rosa National Park
22 miles north of Liberia; 011-506-2666-5051;; tickets, $15 (open daily 8 a.m.–4 p.m.)
Rincón de la Vieja National Park
16 miles northeast of Liberia; 011-506-2200-0296;
  • *All prices are in USD.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: February 2015