Ranking My Birding Lodges

After 5 years of birding in almost every corner of Costa Rica I have a nice collection of Costa Rica Birds I have photographed – 334 Species! (Plus additional birds in Nicaragua & Panama which made 2 of my higher counts below! But those photos are in separate country galleries  along with the trip gallery for each trip and below the link on each place name is to that trip gallery.)

I only count birds I get photos of, unlike most birders, and thus I can say I saw more than the numbers recorded below in each place, while some birders even count ones they hear and don’t see, which is okay if you know what you are doing, but I’m a visual person and thus my counts are only of photos made!

For the places I visited multiple times, I use the highest of the multiple counts for ranking and to show the possibilities for someone considering these places on your birding trips. AND of course this “ranking” is purely on the number of bird photos made, not evaluating quality of room or food or other nature advantages, like other wildlife, landscapes, etc.   🙂

Lodge name link is to my photos of that date’s experience including the photos of the birds. Most are 4 to 6 day experiences.

Birding Lodges Ranked by # Bird Species

85 speciesBirding Tour of Nicaragua  (2016) arranged by Tours Nicaragua https://toursnicaragua.com/  with stays in 2 lodges (Montibelli & El Jaguar) plus visiting 4 outside reserves and I added the colonial town of Granada for Easter Week celebrations on my own. I will return when politics cool down a little or they have a regime change!   🙂   I did a second, shorter trip to just Western Nicaragua (also in 2016) which was very good without quite as many birds; 26 in 2 locations: Juan Venado & Lost Canyon. Tours Nicaragua again.

53 speciesMaquenque Lodge, Boca Tapada, Costa Rica, almost to the Nicaragua border on a river where I spent my nights in a “Tree House Room,” possibly the “coolest” place I’ve ever slept plus the most birds yet in one place in Costa Rica! And the food is good, though not exceptional. But I will return!

51 speciesSelva Verde Lodge Sarapiqui, Costa Rica where that link is to my first visit (2016) with 51 birds including visits to 3 places outside the lodge (most birds at lodge) while on my second visit (2019) I got only 33 birds with just 2 outside visits. The rooms are nice but the food is not particularly good with all 3 meals served buffet style. The grounds are great with most of your best birding done there right along the river. I get more birds there than at the La Selva research station, though it is good and might give you different birds. Because the birding is good, I will return in spite of their lackluster food.

51 speciesTranquilo Bay, Bocas del Toro, Panama (2018) is the only hotel/lodge in Bocas that caters to birders and they really do it well! Their island alone is full of birds and behind my cabin was the best Manakin Lek I’ve ever seen! Then they have multiple tours off their island that guarantee a large variety of birds! Take every tour! The food was very good and individual cabins are big and roomy! I want to return someday!

49 speciesArenal Observatory, Arenal National Park, Costa Rica (2019) is one of my top favorites because of the excellent birding AND the very good food and rooms and I have favorite corner room (#29) with windows facing both the volcano and the lake for the sunsets. You never need to leave for birds, though there are several birding trails outside the lodge you can get a guide to take you too (I have no car) that will up your bird count! Same for other sights, plenty on the property, even a gorgeous waterfall, but more outside you can go to and a nearby Butterfly research center that is possibly the best in Costa Rica, plus several hot springs. They also have on property the tallest birding tower in Costa Rica that guarantees you some closer shots of many different kinds of birds plus at least two kinds of monkeys. I had an earlier visit in 2018 with only 28 birds but just as good or better experience with better frog and monkey shots! I’m scheduled there again for Christmas 2020 and will continue to return! One of my 2 or 3 favorite places in Costa Rica!

47 speciesEsquinas Rainforest Lodge, Piedras Blancas National Park  (2018) near Golfito, Costa Rica. I flew to Golfito and the lodge sent a taxi for me. It was in October with heavy rain most all day every day and yet in the short times the rain stopped I got a lot of birds coming out to feed. Most photos on the lodge property except for one boat trip in the rain in Golfito Bay. Another favorite place with great birding possibilities when not raining plus nice simple rooms and very good “Tico Gourmet Food.” Another favorite place to which I will return!

45 speciesRancho Humo Estancia, Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica (2018) is a hotel you will enjoy staying in even if you did not see a single bird!   🙂   It has maybe the nicest rooms of any hotel I’ve stayed in, very plush with gorgeous vistas of both sunrise & sunset, plus their food is maybe the best I’ve had in any birding hotel! I love it and will definitely return! It is one of my 2 or 3 top favorites and with a large number of birds and the only place yet I’ve found the rare Jabiru Stork.  I highly recommend!

44 speciesMonteverde Lodge & Gardens Hotel, Monteverde, Costa Rica (2019) is another favorite hotel even without the birds! Very nice rooms and excellent food with the guide services of a real expert with the hotel-connected Costa Rica Expeditions. One of my best guides anywhere. The secret to getting a lot of birds is to go each morning to a different reserve with a good guide and this hotel provides the best! That means staying a week! Each reserve has its own special birds. I loved my week there! Will return!

38 SpeciesCristal Ballena Hotel & Rio Sierpe trip to a wonderful hotel with great food and 20 of those birds were on the hotel grounds! A truly good place to visit plus you can go whale-watching, the main attraction, plus I think the nearby Nauyaca Waterfall is the most beautiful falls in Costa Rica! Subjective opinion on waterfalls!   🙂   Plus you can fly down there and there is a rainforest trail on the hotel property and other beaches and places in the area to visit along with fishing those who like to AND beautiful sunsets when not raining! I happened to go in the rainy season, so was limited there.

36 speciesTambor Tropical Resort, Tambor Bay, Costa Rica (2017) was another fabulous boutique hotel on a beautiful beach with excellent big rooms and great food for my Christmas Week experience there. They also have an excellent husband-wife bird guiding team. Most of my birds were around the hotel including a trail along the river from the bay, plus we went to nearby Curu Wildlife Reserve and to Raptor Ridge. There’s a nearby Tambor Airport so I flew there to avoid the Christmas week traffic when most Ticos are on vacation. It was a great week! Surprised I haven’t been back yet. And oh yes, the Tambor Turtle Rescue Association cabin and nesting area is right on the corner of their beach and Christmas morning I got to release 12 baby turtles! A real treat!

35 SpeciesOrosi-Tapanti-El Copal, staying in a B&B I didn’t like and El Copal private reserve was not open, but got a lot of birds around the reserve and in the Tapanti National Park – a beautiful scenic area all around Orosi with the historical Las Ruinas de Ujarras, a big lake, and two great miradors!

34 speciesDanta Corcovado Lodge, Los Patos Ranger Station, Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica 2018 – Not my highest bird count but one of my most memorable experiences with lots of birds on property plus a guided hike into the national park where I got my only photo of a Blue-crowned Manakin and my best shot of a Red-crowned Manakin which is the only one I’ve seen doing “the Michael Jackson dance.”  I also got my best red-eyed tree frog photo on the lodge property night hike. They have a nice tower for photographing birds in the tree tops even if it is not as tall as Arenal Observatory’s. And their food is excellent with the rooms being large and comfortable even if a little eccentric or qwirky in design. I highly recommend it and will return someday! I met a young Tico guide here that I still relate to on Facebook and another guest there introduced me to the Tamron 600 mm lens I now use on my camera as my favorite ever!

32 speciesHotel Punta Leona, Jaco, Costa Rica (2019) is a very nice hotel, close to being a luxury one with two of the nicest near-private beaches (technically all beaches are public) anywhere on the west coast plus multiple pools and many other activities. It is big and has lots of guests, thus all meals are buffet which I’ve already said I do not like. So I rate them low on food, though you can get a nice sandwich or pizza at the poolside bar!  🙂

They have their own “in-house” birding guide who does morning and afternoon bird hikes which are excellent plus he got me a private guide for Carara National Park which was my best visit there yet with the most birds yet in Carara! Also, they have nesting boxes for the endangered Scarlet Macaw which guarantees you photos of that bird! Plus watch the babies in the nests on their internet “bird cam.”   🙂   I am not a beach person, but  a family with just one birder could find everyone happy at this place!   🙂   It is big with lots happening which is good for a lot of families. I personally prefer the smaller, quieter boutique beach hotel Tambor Tropical Resort noted above.

31 speciesRio Celeste Mountain Lodge, Tenorio National Park & Caño Negro Reserve, Costa Rica (2017) is a quiet little lodge near the national park run by a French couple with nice basic rooms and good food. Lots of birds in their gardens and they have their own “rainforest trail” which like most forests is too dense to photograph birds easily. Only photographed one bird in the national park but lots in the nearby Caño Negro Wildlife Preserve & hotel grounds. The park is famous for Rio Celeste, the river that turns to a turquoise color when it mixes with another river and a turquoise waterfall that I couldn’t see because of storm damage on the trail to it. It was a very interesting experience and I traveled to and from on a public bus which is its own adventure! Other times may be better for birds.

30 speciesTurtle Beach Lodge, Tortuguero,  Costa Rica (2019) plus earlier visits to Laguna Lodge in 2016 and in 2010 – Tortuguero is one of the favorite places in Costa Rica to experience the rainforest with arrival to your lodge only by boat. Even though I liked both visits to Laguna Lodge, I think Turtle Beach Lodge provided me with better guides and more birds. And like all lodges, just walking around their campus is a good birding experience. Plus Tortuguero is the only place I’ve seen an Agami Heron or a wild River Otter. Stay as many nights as you can. A lot of their guests are on country-wide tour buses and just stay one or two nights. 3 nights or more is better!   🙂  Rooms are basic and the food pretty good at both places even though buffet again – both are better than some of the other buffet restaurants, better than Selva Verde.

30 speciesMacaw Lodge near Carara National Park Costa Rica (2019) is one of the best “get-away” lodges I have found, 45 minute drive up the mountain from Tarcoles, partly on a gravel road into the tropical jungle hide-away with the biggest variety of tropical plants and gardens of any lodge yet. There are also a lot of birds, just not the very best for that. The rooms or cabins are large and the food is semi-gourmet with an emphasis on healthy since a lot of yoga retreats happen there. Its a large property with plenty of hiking trails and a big waterfall, streams, gardens for their natural food and chocolate farm plus two yoga platforms. They can call in a local birding guide but I decided to go without one this time and did okay. There is also the option of a local guide taking you into Carara Park nearly an hour away. I passed this time (been there 3 times). The forest experience is excellent and there are many birds and a few other animals. Got an interesting forest sunrise from near cabin 10.

30 speciesRancho Naturalista near Turrialba, Costa Rica, (2017) is one of the few lodges created for one purpose only – birding! And it is very good at that but I think over-rated and there are many other places I prefer to go with friendlier management and more birds. I do give them credit for some of the best birding guides in Costa Rica and my first place to photograph a Snowcap Hummingbird and a Sunbittern, though since found them other places. Every birder in Costa Rica needs to go here at least once! The rooms are nice basic rooms and the food is excellent!  I also was there in 2015 (birding club trip) which is when I had this count of 30 birds with only 26 in 2017 but I got the Sunbittern then and it is the title link.

24 speciesHacienda Guachipelín, Rincón de la Vieja NP  –  If going to this National Park, it is the best hotel with lots of services, excellent birding guides, their own natural hot springs and more waterfalls than the park! It is a terrific experience regardless of bird count and the younger set will like the zip line.

24 speciesTarcoles River, Crocodile Safari Birding Boat Tour  (link is to my 2016 visit with highest count, one of 8 times there)

22 speciesXandari Nature Resort, Alajuela  Link is to my 2019 visit, but the 2018  visit was also good and I’m going again later this month! A top favorite hotel regardless of the bird count!   🙂   My photo books library is being installed there this month! The only place where you can see all my photos in print.

21 species — Roads around El Copal Reserve (reserve not open) Also included in the total Orosi count with Tapanti.

20 speciesCristal Ballena Hotel, Uvita  People go here for the whales but there’s a lot of birds & the most beautiful waterfall in my opinion. The 20 count is just the hotel grounds. It was 38 with nearby Rio Sierpe boat trip!

19 speciesSi como No Hotel Manuel Antonio & Damas Islands  The overpriced hotel with lousy service and food in the overly commercial Manuel Antonio makes it a place I will not return to – but the rooms are okay with great sunset views and the nearby Damas Islands Estuary even better for birds than the hotel or the national park.

19 speciesVilla Lapas, Tarcoles  The count is mostly Tarcoles River & a couple at Carara.

17 species — Banana Azul Hotel, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, another favorite hotel and “get-away” place even if not best for the bird count! A very relaxing, laid back area and hotel with food good enough that I rarely ever eat outside the hotel, though there are many options. Nearby national parks/reserves Cahuita & Gandoca-Manzanillo, plus two Bribri indigenous reserves and three rescue centers provide lots of wildlife photography including birds and you get your best endangered Green Macaw shots at the ARA Center in Manzanillo. I like the whole south Caribbean area and now visit it annually in September, the lowest rain month.  🙂   Trip galleries by years:    2019,     –2018,     –2017   and many more to come! The nearby Almonds & Corals Tent Hotel in Manzanillo was good (below) but this is better!

15 speciesLos Campesinos Lodge near Quepos  (birding club trip)

15 speciesAlmonds & Corals Tent Hotel, Manzanillo in Caribe

14 speciesTapanti National Park  Also included in total Orosi count with El Copal. Pairing places for the same visit is helpful.

14 speciesRio Chirripó Retreat Lodge, Chirripó & Cloudbridge

14 speciesAguila de Osa Hotel, Drake Bay & Corcovado

13 speciesCerro Lodge & Carara Park

13 speciesBribri Yorkin Indigenous Reserve (birding club trip)

13 SpeciesLuna Lodge & Lookout Inn, Corcovado South  Carate, Costa Rica (2009 Birding Tour)

12 speciesTapirus Lodge & Braulio Carrillo National Park   Longest tree tops tram ride in Costa Rica and one of the longest zip lines. Tram is good for birds and this is the only place I have seen a wild Tapir plus a lifer bird, the white-tipped Sicklebill. Constant rain!

12 speciesVilla Caletas Hotel, Jaco  Best sunsets in Costa Rica! Great rooms and food though expensive!

12 speciesMariam’s Cabinas San Gerardo de Dota & Quetzal National Park  (birding club trip)

11 speciesHotel Savegre, San Gerardo de Dota  (2009 birding tour)

11 speciesCarara National Park solo (also counted above in Punta Leona total, but here separately as my best of 3 trips to Carara)

10 speciesSoda & Mirador Cinchona  Best in early morning for breakfast.

9 speciesVilla Blanca Cloud Forest Resort (low bird count but super hotel!)

7 speciesTrogon Lodge, San Gerardo de Dota & Quetzal National Park

And that is all the places I have visited in my first 5 years in order of the number of species of birds photographed. A good start!   🙂  I could rave more about some of the hotels and their services which is becoming more important to me. But this post list is about the birds!

¡Pura Vida!

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