Going to Costa Rica. Anyone wants to join? (Sorry this is a long post)

Hi everyone,

I’m probably going to try to make it down to Costa Rica at the end of February/March primarily for some mammal watching, with a little bit of bird watching. I’m actually wondering if anybody with a similar interest would like to join.. Up to 4 people total.
Here are the target species for me:

Kinkajou, Tayra, Northern Tamandua, Pygmy Anteater, Baird’s Tapir, Olingo, White Lipped Peccary, Mexican Hairy Porcupine, and possibly a margay*(see below, Arenal Observatory Lodge); Also some cetaceans at Drake Bay. In addition, the following species are pretty much guaranteed in CR: White-Faced Capuchin, Mantled Howler, Geoffry’s Spider Monkey, Central American Squirrel Monkey, Central American Agouti, White-Nosed Coati, Brown-throated 3-toed sloth, Hoffman’s 2-toed Sloth. Another possible species that I am SUPER interested in finding is a Puma (small chance in Corcovado), and the small cats.

Long-Tailed Manakin, Blue-Throated Toucanet, Fiery-Billed Aracari, Spectacled Owl, Black&White Owl, Any other manankins and colorful birds that make for good pictures and are lifers… Many many guaranteed species include: Scarlet Macaws and other parrots, Chetnut-Mandibled and Keel-billed toucans, many trogons, tanagers, motmots etc… If someone else decides to join and is interested in seeing/photographing a resplendent Questzal, we can do that in Monteverde – I just happened to have seen it before so if I go alone I won’t spend that time, and concentrate on lifers and hopefully mammals.

The Itinerary will be very similar to Jon Hall’s trip with the exception of Timbirina Lodge since I’m not as interested in bat-watching, but with the addition of Arenal Observatory Lodge for a little bit of birding, but also in hopes of seeing the semi-wild margay that comes up on occasion with her totally wild kitten (does that still happen? Anyone knows?) and exploring the forest in hopes of finding other mammals and especially cats.

I was thinking:
Day 1 – Arrival. Night drive through Braulio Carrillo? (See note below)
Day 2 – Possibly pre-dawn hiking at Braulio Carrillo then continue to Drake Bay (whole day of travel). Possible night excursion with “Bug lady” at Drake Bay
Day 3 – Early morning (?) Whale/dolphin watching with Shawn Larkins then join a guide for 2 nights to Sirena Station in Corcovado. Night hiking around Sirena Station too
Day 4 – All day around Sirena in search of Tapirs, Peccarys, tamanduas, tayras, pumas, and hopefully some other surprises. Night hiking around Sirena
Day 5 – Travel to Manuel Antonio with random stops and hikes on the way if time permits
Day 6 – Early morning Mangrove tour for Silky/pygmy anteaters with a small chance for tamanduas, then hang out on the beach or hike for a few hours and drive to Monteverde for 2 nights. Organized Night Hike in Monteverde for Kinkajou, Olingo, Porcupine etc. Any tips for finding a kinkajou on our own are welcome from other mammal watchers 
Day 7 – Most of the day (including some early morning) bird watching for long-tailed and other manakins, Blue-throated toucanets, and of course mammals are welcome too, but not as likely throughout the day (right?). Try for Olingo at the hummingbird feeder in the afternoon then another night hike if we haven’t found most of the species the previous night. Especially Kinkajou – I’d be really disappointed to leave costa rica without having seen one (though it could happen).
Day 8 – Can always do some pre-dawn driving or hiking in well-preserved forested areas, then generally drive towards Arenal with possible stops along the way if there are any interesting places. Hopefully a night walk around Arenal forest and some lava watching. Could go to the Tabacon Hot Springs (on day 8 or 9 or not at all)
Day 9 – Some birding and/or mammal watching around Arenal during the day (Margay comes to visit during/after any of the meals? Specific times she usually arrives?) Perhaps some more night hikes or spot-lighting around the Arenal area if it’s safe. Or if I’m/We’re very satisfied with the progress then Tabacon hot springs if didn’t go on previous day, or lava watching/photography if weather permits and if there is an interest.
Day 10 – Pretty much last day in CR – could do some hiking in primary forest around Arenal in the morning, head back towards San Jose, maybe stop by primary forest in Braulio Carrillo or other highly biodiverse national parks. Night at SJ, and I’ll probably schedule my flight for early the following day and recommend the same to anyone who would want to join.

**About Braulio Carrillo – Since it’s so close to San Jose, does anyone know if it’s worth trying to drive through it at night? Maybe an hour each way, just because it’s a relatively low-traffic road through primary montane/cloud forest.. Do animals cross the road or is it worth spotlighting from the vehicle? The park is not very popular which means the wildlife is probably still abundant(?) Any tip would help. Is it safe to drive around Costa Rica at night?

Last thoughts: I’m planning on renting a car for the duration of the trip, contacting the guides and doing some more research ahead of time, but I’ve already done plenty. I’m also interested in poison-dart frogs, Basilisks, some snakes, hopefully a tiger shark should be easy at Corcovado. If anyone is interested in going please let me know – if our interests differ slightly we can both compromise some, and/or meet for some parts/sections of the trip.

In addition, any and every advice about my target species is welcome, and about the small cats would be awesome. Jaguar is not really on my list because 1. They are so rare in CR it’s almost a waste of time to look for them and 2. I’ve already seen wild jaguars before. Same for giant anteater – I think there hasn’t even been a recorded sighting since the 80s.

Thanks in advance!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  • Vladimir Dinets


    AFAIK, olingos are very rare at the hummer feeders in Monteverde nowadays. I saw one there 8 years ago, but at night, not in the afternoon. If you don’t mind such things, I’d recommend walking into the forest on your own late at night rather than going with a guided tour – these are too noisy. I saw a cacomistle there that way.

    I also saw a kink at the bird feeders at Arenal Lodge on that trip, but the guides at the lodge said they had never seen one before. That was before the margay, I suppose (never heard of it).

    Could you elaborate on tiger sharks in Corcovado, please? I’ve only been there on the inland side; saw a yapoc along the access rd. late at night at the river crossing.

    I tried driving through BC late at night twice, with zero results. I know a guy who takes students on two-week hiking trips there every spring. He said mammal sightings are sparse, but birding can be really good, although it’s not a good area for high-elevation stuff that you find closer to Panama border. In my experience, driving across Sierra del Muerte at 3-5 am is much better if the fog is not too dense; you can even see small cats and collared peccaries there sometimes.

    Frankly, going to CR to see pumas is a strange choice 🙂 I’d recommend Torres del Paine, or that place in NW Argentina where they walk into the camp, forgot the name. Or California, of course.

  • Jon Hall

    Hi Tomes, just a couple of points.

    Bairds Tapir is pretty much guaranteed in Corcovado (though be careful about which operator you use to get in to the park – they really try to rip you off… do not use the person I did). White lipped Peccaries are also pretty likely.

    Olingos may be quite rare at the humming bird feeders but at the small eco place nearby (I think the details are in my report) they see them most nights on their guided walk along with Mexican Porcupines (they leave bannanas out for the Olingos)… even though I was unlucky.

    Kinkajours are not to hard around Monteverde – I saw them in the grounds of the lodge I stayed in. They are active and vocal with good eyeshine so with a little effort you should be OK.

    And driving at night seems perfectly safe there.

    A pity you aren’t interested in bats – there are some great ones to be seen!

    Good luck


  • tomeslice

    Hey guys,

    Thank you so much for reading and replying to my post! I can always count on the Mammal Watching Blog for good tips.

    Vladimir, I have no problem walking by myself at night, I’m just worried that I won’t be able to find the mammals. Despite me walking completely silently trying not to step on leaves etc. and my amazing ability to spot anything that moves (during the day) I have generally been unsuccessful at night walks by myself.. I just think that maybe the guides know where to find the animals based on recent sightings. Maybe I can do some research to try to join a small group.

    Jon, I read your report forwards and backwards numerous times :-), that’s partially what inspired me to go back to CR… I was there with my parents back in 2002 when I was 16, but had no good knowlege of mammals and therefore I didn’t see any besides the obvious ones (monkeys, sloth, agouti, coati). What hotel did you stay at in MV, Jon? I would like to stay somewhere that has a good patch of healthy forest and not a mega-resort…

    Vladimir – if I understand correctly, the river you cross to get to sirena station has tiger sharks that are easily visible during high tide (which is when you don’t want to cross it). I read somewhere that the guide taps on the water to simulate an animal that fell in or is struggling or something and the sharks come by? I’ve also seen pictures on Flickr where the sharks are very close to the beach and you can see their fins…. But maybe I’m wrong.

    Jon – I did do some research on guides there (I wanted to go last February but ended up not being able to) and it actually seems like the guy you took is offers the cheapest option.. I searched around some different guides and he gave me the most economical price. Was he a good guide if you don’t take into consideration the money?

    I will definitely have to check out the Sierra del Muerte then instead of Braulio Carrillo for night drives.. But maybe an early morning hike there is still an option. I do a LOT of research on Flickr too besides reading, just to see what “common” people see in specific places. I’ve seen many pictures of northern tamanduas in Br. Car. whcih is definitely another species I’ll be disappointed to leave CR without seeing, because I’ve never seen any of the lesser aneaters (well besides a dead one in the pantanal).

    One last note, I’m not expecting Pumas, but it would be a nice bonus. Strangely, I’ve been to Torres del Paine back in ’05-’06 with my family, but again, I was maybe 19, when the itinerary was set and paid for by mom&dad plus I didn’t know as much as I know now.. So no pumas. Also despite my 100s of travels across the states including california I’ve never seen one.. It’s extremely difficult to see animals when you’re with non-mammal watchers.. But that’s why I’m going by myself. I just read in a few places and seen some pictures and videos on youtube of pumas in Corcovado near Sirena.. But that’s just luck.

    Thanks again guys and if you know anyone who wants to join and split some of the cost, feel free to refer them 🙂 I can give them my facebook page for them to judge if they’ll enjoy my company, but I will be very particular about waking up early and being at places at the right times to see the animals.

  • Jon Hall

    Hi again, the lodge in Monteverde is the Cloud Forest Lodge – the forest there was quite good and there were Kinkajous. I would not book ahead to visit Corcovado. Just turn up at the town and bargain – there are much cheaper ways of getting there than pre paying and the guides you use are nothing to do with the people who run the tours.

  • Vladimir Dinets


    The problem with walking by yourself in MV is that it’s not exactly legal 🙁 If you don’t mind that, you can take a guided tour and then repeat the route by yourself later.

    Are you sure they are tiger sharks? Sounds more like some small inshore species.

    The best place for early morning walks in SdM would be Mirador de Quetzales, or something like that, signposted on the highway. There are also a few small paramo-like patches, and a nice shrubland area around the highest point of the road.

    AFAIK, the most reliable place for N Tamandua is Camino Oleoducto in Soberania NP (Panama), and for Silky – Caroni Swamp in Trinidad.

    Oh, one more thing: there is a reserve called La Selva on Atlantic side that has a network of paved trails, perfect for spotlighting. It is mostly famous for bats and birds, but I also saw both species of armadillos there, and would probably see a lot more if I had more than a few hours there.

  • tomeslice

    Thanks again guys!
    You know what Jon? Now that you mentioned that, I do recall having known that at one point because I contacted them to inquire about rooms when I wanted to go last year.. I guess I should read your report again to re-familiarize myself 🙂

    Vladimir, I can get over the legality issue 😉 I’m not there to do anything bad. So I might do what you suggested or I might just hang out in the forest patch on the hotel property.

    About the sharks – I take it back – they are bull sharks and not tiger sharks. Different species. But they are in fact salt-water sharks that go into the mouth of the river, I guess because of the food supply (animals that cross the river). It’s actually a known behavior in sharks around river deltas, at least in India and Florida. I’ve seen articles about sharks going a few miles upstream rivers where the water is purely fresh. Here is an old article about bull sharks in Corcovado:
    But you can find more info about this in other places.

    Anyway, thanks again both of you! I really hope I get to go this year since I didn’t go last year.
    Oh, one last question I have to ask: How would you differentiate between an oncilla and a margay in the field? Or sometimes even between a margay and an ocelot? I saw an ocelot from afar in the pantanal but my guide identified it.. If I can see its tail that it will be pretty obvious, but you can’t always see the entire animal and sometimes you only catch a small glimpse..

    • Vladimir Dinets

      Yeah, bull sharks do it all the time.

      Most of the time it’s pretty easy: ocelots are a lot larger than even a very large housecat, margays are slightly longer than a housecat, and oncillas are about the same or smaller. Also, oncillas have small round rosettes, while margays and particularly ocelots have them stretched into stripes. Just take a good look at their pictures online, and you’ll find it easy to tell them apart.

  • Alan

    Tomes, we are making our 4th trip to the Osa Peninsula in May. All 4 times we have stayed at Bosque Del Cabo. While the price is high, the wildlife is amazing. We have seen both the Northern Tamandua as well as the Silky Anteater there. Puma sightings are common (relatively speaking of course). Check out their Facebook page for more information. If you can fit in a night or two there, you won’t be sorry. Their guides are great too.

  • tomeslice

    Thanks again guys!!
    That place does look very nice! I’ll consider it 🙂

  • tomeslice

    Wow – Alan, yesterday I was on their website, today I went to their Facebook page like u suggested.. And as far as puma sightings, I’m pretty sure you can take out the “relatively speaking” part: Puma sightings there are common! They update their Facebook Every time there’s a cat sighting – pumas seem weekly and some weeks daily. Just yesterday a couple of hikers saw a jaguarundi! I’m definitely going to add this place to the list of places for pumas, along with Torres del Paine. Oh, yes, on another subject, I started working on a database for mammals and birds that a person would be able to search for a specific species and it would tell him where to find it and when (dry season/late afternoon/on the fig tree near the soccer field.. etc). Obviously it will take years to compile and at one point I’ll put it online so that people can help put it together, and it will be a dynamic database that updates continually with people’s input…

    As far as staying at Bosque del Cabo this trip I think I will not be able to, because it sounds like you need at least 4-5 days there to really maximize the experience, and I can’t do that. But in the future when I come back with a friend/girlfriend/wife/etc I will for sure visit this place, as it looks like despite being a luxurious resort they are very eco-friendly and try to minimize their impact on the ecosystem.

  • white1985

    I’ve just added a trip report of our trip to Costa Rica in November last year to my blog http://mammaling.wordpress.com/
    Maybe you’ll find some helpful information there. We saw o.a. tapir, tamandua and olingo.

  • white1985

    Here are some comments based on my recent experience in costa rica:
    *Night drive through Braulio Carrillo: it is a quite busy highway that goes through the park. I think spotlighting here won’t really pay off. Just a few miles past the park entrance is a small house with an overgrown garden where hummingbirds are feeding during the day (also snowcap). Maybe you can check out this place for spotlighting on foot + the trail that start here and goes through the park.

    *Night hiking around Sirena Station: it’s not allowed and they say that they’ll throw you out of the park if they catch you doing it. Especially in the busy season (when you’re going) they might actually check and do it if they see you. There are a few species around the station though, which you can see without actually leaving the station (we saw common opossum, two rodent species and a tapir).

    *Organized Night Hike in Monteverde
    Tours into the reserve itself are around 17US$, tours is the smaller private reserves are 20-26US$. We asked for species such as kinkajou, Porcupine etc. but they hadn’t been seen lately and as we had already seen the species they do encounter often, we decided not take the tour. As we were busy during the day walking in the reserves, we didn’t have time to look for good areas to go spotlighting at night, so we were more or less limited to watching the bats at the hummingbird gallery. We also walked the grounds of our B&B and we saw many armadillo holes but not the animals themselves. There must be many possibilities though (also outside the reserve) but without a decent map and with little time, it was not feasable to find good places.

    *Hopefully a night walk around Arenal forest and some lava watching.
    Yo can go to the Arénal Observatory Lodge (4US$ if you’re not staying there). During the day you can watch the birds and monkeys etc. If you take your sandwiches with you for diner and stay until after dark, you can also go spotlighting. We were sorry that we couldn’t do that. Driving alongh the dirt road to the park/lodge wasn’t productive for us, but with a bit of luck… If was safe though.

    If you want to do a lot of night hikes, I’d also recommend you to go to La Selva. There is so much to see there and if you are staing n their cabins, no one will complain if you’re spotlighting, exploring, …

  • tomeslice

    Thanks White1985 (the year I was born)!
    That’s some awesome info! And I read your entire trip report – very cool. I am in fact wanting to stay at Arenal Observatory Lodge, which sounds like a good choice on several accounts – yours being one of them!

    I think I’ve decided against driving through Braulio Carrillo because of the reasons you and others have listed (practically 0 results from people that thought to try it like I wanted to) but maybe venture an hour south to around Cerro De La Muerte, which is on my way to Sierpe anyway (on the way to Drake Bay).

    La Selva was originally on my “menu” but I’m not sure.. I haven’t heard of many sightings there that are not easily observed in other places; mostly the primates and the rodents, with the addition of some otters (I’ve already seen before) and some rats and possums. But we’ll see, maybe if I can squeeze an extra day in CR I’ll go over there, just for the birding which would also be nice.

    Around Sirena – Jon Hall said he took a solo walk around 4am.. I wonder if I just woke up early and started walking for an hour or 2, and then turned off the mug light before I wondered back into the station, maybe no-one would care? But here is my other question – You mention species that can be seen around the station itself.. Does that mean you can wonder around the station with a spot-light? Shine at the trees near the edge of the station, and maybe barely hit the trailheads? Or, isn’t there a large open field next to the station? If you can just hang tight for an hour or 2 when everyone is asleep, and just listen for noises and keep your spot light with you, would that pay off? Or should I just venture to CR in April altogether? (I still haven’t bought my tickets)

    In MV, I do want to take an organized tour to Hidden Valley train one night, and then maybe wonder around the grounds of the lodge the 2nd night, or into the reserve by myself with a mag light. (I bought both a mag light and a spot light, but the spot light only lasts 20 minutes when not connected to the car charger).

    Anyway, thanks again for all the advice!!! I’m really looking forward to this.

  • white1985

    In Corcovado, I guess you could go for the leaving early/getting back a little late (just after dark) without problems. When we were in the park, there were only about 15 tourists, I don’t know how strict they are in the high season. The station is next to a grassy airstrip and borders the forest on the other side. If you just walk from side to side within the station, you can shine onto the airstrip and into the forest (into is of course rather limited…). Hence, you don’t even leave the building. No one will complain about that but of course it doesn’t beat walking the trails.
    I suppose it will be busier in April than it was in November, but you’ll have the weather on your side. If you have any more specific questions, you can always drop me an email!

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