Getting Around When Birdwatching in Costa Rica

Emerald ToucanetWhether going birding in Costa Rica or taking a trip near home, transportation to and from birding sites in Costa Rica is of primary importance. If you want to spend all of your time in Costa Rica at just one hotel, the logistics of getting around aren’t really an issue. However, if you hope to see a Resplendent Quetzal on Tuesday and a Great Green Macaw on Friday, the logistics of transportation become very important indeed.

Green ThorntailHere are a few options and information on travel within Costa Rica during a birding trip:

Car Rental: Renting a vehicle is usually an ideal option for a birding trip and Costa Rica is no exception. Get a four wheel drive vehicle and you can travel to just about anywhere in the country. It allows you to explore on your own, follow your own schedule, snack in the car while waiting for a crake to show, and so on. So, those are some advantages of renting a car. As far as disadvantages go, it can be fairly expensive (although not too bad if split four ways), and driving in Costa Rica isn’t as easy-going as home (lots of defensive driving, few lights, heavy traffic in some areas, and no signs). Nevertheless, it’s a good option to consider, there are several companies to choose from, and it will probably help you see more bird species on a one or two week trip.

Rent a GPS Navigator: These can be rented with the car. Do yourself a favor and rent one. This sweet little device is very helpful for directions in a country that has very few road signs.

Watch the road for speed limits: That lack of signage also includes speed limits but that won’t stop a cop from flagging you down. Speed limits are usually painted on the road itself. Keep an eye out for when the road reads “60” or “40” and obey to avoid getting caught in a speed trap.

Take a shuttle: There is more than one shuttle service in the country and these can be an easy, comfortable way to reach your destination. Depending on the number of places you visit, cost is similar to or less than using a rental car. Far more comfortable and efficient than taking the bus.
Some shuttle options:

Taking the bus: This might be the cheapest way to get around but it’s not nearly as comfortable as transportation options mentioned above and eats up a lot more time. Buses also have the distinction of carrying scam artists who hope to befriend you so they can distract you while a partner rifles through your bag or just makes off with it. Avoid that problem by being wary and carrying your day pack on your lap. In addition to the low cost, buses also go to just about everywhere in the country and many will stop wherever you tell them to.

Bike: This can be done and cycling is fairly popular among locals but the lack of shoulders and berms combined with buses, trucks, and other vehicles will turn every ride into a harrowing one.