Location 9: Sarapiqui (Costa Rica)
The northern end of Braulio Carrillo forest with birds, insects and mammals.
Play Costa Rica Birdwatching Bingo as you explore.
My favourite place is La Selva thanks to the long forest trails.
The Sarapiqui River runs through Sarapiqui and it is a popular for rafting. Forested hills rise above the river with elevations varying between 200m and 700m. There are various ecolodges and also the famous wildlife reserve/research station called La Selva (which is effectively an ecolodge).
The birdlife has species from the Caribbean-side of Costa Rica. It is generally a good area to see lowland birds, insects and lizards. At La Selva (and to a lesser extent elsewhere) there are speciality forest birds and mammals including monkeys and peccaries.
Watch out as there are (at least) two "Puerto Viejos" in Costa Rica. Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui is the full name of this one. A lot of visitors really do go to the wrong place by accident!
- Site 1: Chilamate One of my favourite hostels in Costa Rica. It is set in the forest. Trails through varying habitats can be explored nearby. (GPS coords 10.4495N 84.0641W)
- Site 2: La Selva Access Road A walk from Puerto Viejo is described that offers excellent birdwatching. (GPS coords 10.4372N 84.0004W)
- Site 3: La Selva A famous wildlife-watching destination. Incredible forest with river views. Birds, mammals, amphibians and other wildlife. (GPS coords 10.4313N 84.0050W)
- Site 4: Selva Verde Some good birdwatching but access is limited. (GPS coords 10.4514N 84.0697W)
- Site 5: Walk SE of La Virgen An example of a good rural walk offering good views and some good birdwatching. (GPS coords 10.3884N 84.1404W)
- Site 6: Tirimbina A community reserve near La Virgen with a network of forest trails. Not directly connected to Braulio Carrillo forest but with good variety of birds. (GPS coords 10.4165N 84.1241W)
- Site 7: Dave and Dave An expensive bird photography attraction with a large number of bird feeders. If you are a keen photographer this might be an essential place to visit, otherwise not. I saw and photographed toucan, hummingbird, euphonia and tanager. (GPS coords 10.4124N 84.1252W)
- Birds Seen in 1 Week at Sarapiqui (Winter)
This is a jacamar perched, looking around for insects to catch on the wing. The thin bill indicates that this is a Rufous-tailed Jacamar. They behave like flycatchers: waiting for an insect to fly past, flying off to catch it and then returning to either the same or a different perch.
This information is a summary only and times/routes may have changed.
There is a direct public bus from La Fortuna which is the previous location on some of my recommended itineraries. If you are coming from San Jose then there are two bus routes: a slow route (approximately three and a half hours) and a fast route (approximately 2 hours). The roads are good quality if you are coming by hire car and there are also "tourist buses" available. Once at Sarapiqui there are regular buses running between the sites and taxis are not too expensive.
The Red-legged Honeycreeper often feeds near the tops of trees but can also come down lower. This is a male which only has its bright plumage during breeding season.
Chilamate http://www.chilamaterainforest.com has dorm beds costing $35 (in 2014) and private rooms also available. It is relatively small and friendly with a network of trails in the forest running towards the main Braulio Carrillo park. I even saw a lot of good birds in and around the main accommodation buildings. The price includes unlimited access to their grounds and remember you are waking up and eating breakfast surrounded by nature. You can contact Meghan Casey by phone on (506) 2766 6949 (landline) or (506) 8842 1171 (mobile) or email on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
La Selva http://www.ots.ac.cr is long-established and has developed a very high quality offering. In 2017 the price was $96 a night and you can save some money by going half-board. Compared to Chilamate the network of trails is much more extensive going deep into the Braulio Carrillo forest. The section of river here is more secluded than elsewhere in Sarapiqui and I saw more mammals in the forst. As well as taking tourists, they are a research station which does a lot of biological research. Phone La Selva on (506) 2524 0607 (Costa Rica number) or (919) 684 5774 (USA number) or email them at email@example.com to find out more.
On the Sarapiqui River rafting is a popular activity. Many budget travellers come to the Sarapiqui river to raft. A popular place to stay (that is in a good spot for birdwatchers) is La Virgen. As usual I recommend using your guidebook/website of choice to review the available accommodation to find somewhere.
Selva Verde requires you to explore their forest at all times with a guide which is why I do not recommend it as accommodation. I have not personally tried Pozo Azul Magsasay http://www.pozoazul.com/magsasay.html which seems to have a good location near the Braulio Carrilo forest and the price was a reasonable $60 private in 2014.
The warty skin, smaller back legs and general look show that this is a toad. I like to go for walks in damp areas with a torch in the late evening to see how many amphibians I can find.
Wildlife of Sarapiqui
- common mammals: peccaries, monkeys, agouti
- common reptiles: small lizards
- common amphibians: poison-dart frogs
- common insects: ants
- common birds: parrots, tanagers, vultures, manakins
- possible birds: 285 species (of which 76 are likely)
- birds possible at this location but not in many other places in Costa Rica: (14 species) Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias), Common Black-Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus), Sungrebe (Heliornis fulica), Great Green Macaw (Ara ambigua), Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus), Central American Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium griseiceps), Gray-rumped Swift (Chaetura cinereiventris), Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica), Brown-capped Tyrannulet (Ornithion brunneicapillus), White-ringed Flycatcher (Conopias albovittata), Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus), Purple Martin (Progne subis), Bay-breasted Warbler (Dendroica castanea)
- resident birds: 235 (in addition there are 23 passage, 27 winter and 0 summer)
- birds seen on 1 week research trip (winter): 120 species
- birds most often seen on 1 week research trip (winter): (starting with most common) Clay-colored Robin (Turdus grayi) 12x3 (m12), Chestnut-sided Warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica) 10x2 (m2), Passerini's Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii) 10x4 (m15), Montezuma Oropendola (Gymnostinops montezuma) 10x3 (m7), Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) 9x2 (m2), Red-lored Parrot (Amazona autumnalis) 8x3 (m10), Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) 8x2 (m2), White-collared Manakin (Manacus candei) 8x2 (m2), Olive-backed Euphonia (Euphonia gouldi) 8x2 (m2), Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) 7x5 (m19), Blue-gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) 7x3 (m5), Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 6x3 (m6), Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris) 6x2 (m3), Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 5x10 (m22), Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana) 5x1 (m1), Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl) 5x1 (m1), Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis) 5x2 (m3), House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) 5x2 (m2)
- average birds seen in 1 day (winter): 47 species
Open habitats include pastures and fields of crops. There is plenty of opportunity to see birds such as seedeaters, finches, flycatchers, tanagers, birds of prey (those preferring open spaces), warblers and woodpeckers (often more visible in the open as there are fewer trees in the way).
Every forest site I visited at Sarapiqui also had some open habitat, however I saw the best open habitat birds on a couple of dedicated walks along the rural roads along the access road to La Selva and also in the countryside east of La Virgen.
As usual in Costa Rica, the highlight for many visitors is the forest. The large number of specialist forest birds and mammals is the primary reason many wildlife watchers visit Costa Rica (and also Sarapiqui). At Sarapiqui the good forests are those connected directly or via ecological corridors to Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo: a very extensive forest with a very intact ecosystem. This means you are looking to explore any site with access to forest that is within the area created by two arms of the Sarapiqui river.
Waterbirds are not as easy to see as you might expect. Yes there is the river, but other water habitats are limited and a lot of the paths in the Sarapiqui location do not give views of the river. However, I did see some waterbirds where I had opportunities to stop and look (for example from bridges, from some paths at La Selva and from some viewpoints at the site called "Walk SE of La Virgen"). I saw Spotted Sandpiper on rocks, Belted Kingfishers on perches, egrets and cormorants feeding in the water and herons stood under trees overhanging the bank.
I have seen Grey-necked Wood-Rail in wetland habitats and also in forest.
This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on June 2017.
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