Birding Costa Rica: San Jose to Dominical
At the end of December, we were supposed to take a family vacation to Costa Rica. The plan was a few days around the Arenal volcano and then a week at an incredible villa in the hills above Dominical on the Pacific Ocean coast. But those plans were scrapped a long time ago due to the pandemic. To distract myself from that disappointment and the ongoing isolation, I’ve decided to do some recap posts of our trip to Costa Rica in December 2018 and January 2019. Like every birder who has been lucky enough to travel to Costa Rica, I was literally left speechless over and over again. On a daily basis, I wanted to stay exactly where I was for the rest of my life. I now better understand what a gambling addict feels when he walks into a casino. It’s a birding bacchanal. Indeed, I literally suffered a birding hangover after Costa Rica for weeks.
In short, the birding is indescribably amazing. Indeed, essentially everything else about Costa Rica was awesome, including: the villa in Dominical, surfing lessons, ziplining through the jungle canopy, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-faced capuchin, sloths, Jesus Christ lizards, coati, agouti, peccary, the cloud forest, hanging bridges, the fruit, waterfalls, and an erupting volcano. I imagine it will take me quite a few posts to do the trip justice. And I’m honestly looking forward to putting the posts together.
We flew in to San Jose, waited three hours for a rental car, and were finally on our way. Since we were staying in the Talamanca Mountains for the second half of our trip, we drove west toward the coast and then headed south to Dominical. My first lifer of the drive was a Magnificent Frigatebird soaring over the ocean near Jaco. At the Tarcoles Bridge, a Yellow-Headed Caracara flew past. We stopped for lunch at a joint called Pizza Pata. As we ate, we found giant lizards in the trees, saw two Scarlet Macaws fly across the highway, and had our first looks at Montezuma Oropendolas. The rest of the drive produced incidental looks at a Gray Hawk and a Fiery-billed Aracari. All told, it was 7 lifers before we pulled up to our destination, and about 25 “what was that?”‘s.
The drive was just prelude. Our arrival at the Dominical villa was one of the most magical moments of my life. It sits up a steep hill. It’s about a thousand feet above sea level and only 1,200 feet from the coast. It offers sweeping views of the mountain ridge to our northeast and the ocean to our southwest. The grounds are a gated property, with hiking trails, rainforest, creeks, and orchards. And, of course, birds. So many birds. An incredible array of dazzling birds everywhere you looked.
The driving from San Jose was pretty easy. The road south (34) is a two-lane highway. You won’t set any speed records on it. But it felt safe. I definitely recommend renting a 4WD/AWD vehicle, wherever you are headed. Once you get off the highway, it’s dirt roads everywhere. And if you can get a non-birder to drive, that’s probably a good idea too.