Dr Duncan James > Nature Travel Guide > Planet Earth > the Americas > Costa Rica > Sarapiqui

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Nature Travel Guide

Location 9: Sarapiqui (Costa Rica)

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.

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!

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
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.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
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 reservations@chilamaterainforest.com 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 threepaths@ots.ac.cr 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.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
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

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.

Most information in the images is repeated in the text, except some features of the maps.
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.

Larger-scale information relating this page include the Planet Earth, the Americas and Costa Rica articles.

Even more articles including detailed site descriptions, illustrated wildlife-watching activities, self-guided walks, itinerary recommendations, birdwatching overviews and mammal-watching overviews are available in the premium eBooks.

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