Costa Rica Birds

Resplendent Quetzals & Other Neotropical Delights

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If good things come in small packages, tiny Costa Rica is a prime example. Roughly the combined size of Vermont and New Hampshire, this verdant Central American country preserves an incredible variety of habitats and a wealth of wildlife that dwells within its borders. In fact, tiny Costa Rica maintains the highest percentage of ecologically protected land of any country in the world.
"Outstanding in all aspects—from the variety of colorful birds, frogs and critters to learning new techniques for photographing hummingbirds. The leader displayed boundless energy in providing photo opportunities. "
- D. Wisler

With so many incredible wild places to explore, and so many wonderful ecolodges to choose among, selecting from the best to include in a 2-week-long bird photography itinerary is a difficult task. From the lush rain forests of Costa Rica's Caribbean Lowlands—the country's largest eco zone—to the epiphyte-laden cloud forests of the highlands, over 800 species of intriguing birds provide exceptional photo opportunities. These include several species of toucans, colorful tanagers, honeycreepers, parrots and macaws, a multitude of hummingbirds and, the star of the show, resplendent quetzal—considered by many to be the most beautiful bird in the Americas. Our trip is timed to photograph quetzals at the height of their nesting season, making their movements more predictable.

toucan-costa-rica-tour.jpgBirds aren't the only banquet on our photographic menu. Our photo tour encompasses a broad range of photography styles and subjects, from macro images of extraordinary tree and poison dart frogs, butterflies, leaf-cutter ants (and a variety of other insects), to wide-angle shots of forest interiors and broad mountain vistas, and fast action photography of jewel-like hummingbirds. And—if conditions permit and the creatures of the night are accommodating—we also have the opportunity to photograph frogs and nectar-feeding bats after dark.

All of our selected lodges have well-established bird feeding stations where we are able to entice many species of dazzling birds onto attractive and photogenic natural perches. Sugar-nectar feeders attract hummingbirds—numerous species and in big numbers—that we photograph "frozen" in flight with the aid of our brand-new multiple flash systems that allow high-speed shooting with a deep depth of field to capture the entire bird in sharp focus, with a light-balanced background.

Costa Rica is just a short hop from the United States. The country is politically stable—as many as 50,000 American retirees live there drawn by the country's miles of unspoiled tropical beaches, its exceptional biodiversity, and relaxed lifestyle. For those who want to experience their first photography foray into the tropical Americas, Costa Rica is a great starting point!

On this trip we believe we have achieved the perfect combination of a thoroughly productive itinerary with carefully selected photography locales, a broad selection of target-rich habitats, and an ample amount of time at each place to fully capture their neotropical bounty with our cameras.


Check out Mark Thomas' trip report from our 2017 Costa Rica photo tour

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Apr 5)
Participants fly to San Jose, Costa Rica.  Our hotel offers complimentary shuttle service from the airport. We meet this evening for dinner and an introduction to the days ahead.  (D)
honeycreeper-costa-rica-photo-tour.jpgDays 2–4
We drive to our lodge in the Caribbean Lowlands.  The lodge is set alongside the Sarapiqui River on 500 acres of lowland rain forest preserve.  Several well-stocked bird feeders bring a variety of colorful subjects close to our cameras.  But birds aren’t the only attraction here. Colorful poison dart frogs are found throughout the grounds, making wonderful macro subjects for our cameras.  The emerald basilisk lizard, iridescent green and sporting its three impressive dorsal crests, is frequently found here and is a very cooperative subject.  The warm, wet climate of the lowlands is the perfect habitat for the red-eyed tree frog, another rain forest icon.  In the evenings, we use special lighting techniques to photograph them as they come out to court and feed.  We visit a nearby property where we are likely to see and photograph macaws.  The following morning we visit an eco center that has well-established fruit and hummingbird feeding stations whose frequent visitors include the red-legged honeycreeper, green honeycreeper, blue gray tanager, crimson-collared tanager, golden-hooded tanager, Passerini’s tanager and a host of others.  Along the river, sunbitterns and fasciated tiger herons are regularly seen.  We are likely to photograph several toucan species, including keel-billed, chestnut-mandibled and collared araçaris, plus Montezuma oropendolas, brown-hooded parrots, and numerous tanagers and honeycreepers.  Howler monkeys, agoutis, coatimundis and neotropical river otters are among the interesting mammals we may encounter here.  (BLD)
Days 5–7
On the morning of Day 5 we take a short drive to a nearby biological research station.  This area offers the highest bird diversity in the Caribbean Lowlands.  We spend the morning hiking and photographing on the local trail system with a knowledgeable local guide.  Here we may see remarkable great green macaws, bare-necked umbrellabirds and great potoos.  Fruiting trees throughout the property are often visited by flocks of colorful parrots.  Toucans, honeycreepers and tanagers are also regulars here.  After lunch we continue to our next lodge in the Central Caribbean Foothills.
We arrive in late afternoon at our foothills lodge situated at 3,000 feet in Costa Rica's Cordillera de Talamanca.  Toward dusk we relax on the lodge balcony with a drink, enjoying the view and watching the birds as they fly to their evening roosts.  In the mornings, we shoot birds from this same balcony while sipping our morning coffee or tea.  Many species visit the lodge’s fruit-filled bird feeders, including blue-crowned motmots, lineated woodpeckers, golden-hooded tanagers, scarlet-rumped caciques, keel-billed toucans, and many more.  Conditions  permitting, in the mornings we travel a short distance to a nearby river in pursuit of the beautiful sunbittern.  At the hummingbird feeders we are likely to see green thorntails, white-necked jacobins, green-breasted mangos, black-crested coquettes, snowcaps and rufous-tailed hummingbirds.

We set up our high-speed flash stations in the afternoon where everyone gets a chance to rotate/share the equipment to capture hummingbirds “frozen” in flight.  After dinner, we have the rare opportunity to photograph nectar bats in flight as they maneuver through the forest to feed.  (BLD)

basilisk-costa-rica-mark-thomas.jpgDays 8–9
Following breakfast on Day 8, we depart for the highlands.  Driving up the winding mountain roads we enter thick cloud forest.  The area is home to the superlative resplendent quetzal—one of the world’s most spectacular birds!  Our trip is timed for optimum quetzal activity during the nesting season.  The aptly-named “resplendent” quetzal is like no other bird on earth.  The brilliant red and green male has fantastic elongated upper tail coverts forming a feather train that make him three-and-a-half-feet long from head to tail. Our destination is San Gerardo de Dota where our lodge is located at 7,200 feet in a valley at the edge of mature oak forest and the Savegre River.  While quetzals are regularly seen and photographed here, the lodge also has wonderful hummingbird feeders that regularly attract numerous species, including gray-tailed mountain gems, green violetears, and magnificent and volcano hummingbirds.  Many species restricted to the high mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama are also found here, including sulphur-winged parakeets, Costa Rican pygmy owls, black-capped flycatchers, flame-throated warblers and flame-colored tanagers, to name a few. 
On the morning of Day 9 we photograph at a nearby feeding station a short drive up the mountain.  The station was designed, built and maintained by a photographer with bird photography in mind.  It has both fruit feeders and hummingbird feeders and the perches are all natural and situated perfectly for uncluttered and pleasing backgrounds.  (BLD)
hummingbird-crowned-woodnymph.jpgDay 10
This morning we return to the bird feeding station located a short distance up the mountain for a second opportunity to photograph at this productive site.  After lunch we drive further into the highlands to our final lodge located at nearly 8,700 feet in a habitat with a variety of high-country species, including monotypic and extraordinarily colorful fiery-throated hummingbirds.  This afternoon we take our first trip to a nearby quetzal nest site.  Our guides have full knowledge of all of the active nest sites in the area—and know what we are looking for as photographers.  (BLD)
Day 11
Today is dedicated to photographing resplendent quetzals.  We have scheduled morning and afternoon excursions with our guide to visit the nesting sites that offer the best photographic possibilities.  Our guides are in direct contact with the local farmers and landowners and are able to bring us to the best locations for photographing this magnificent bird.  With luck, we capture that desirable quetzal flight shot.  (BLD) 
Day 12
This morning we photograph the high-altitude bird species near our lodge—or make sure our memory cards are downloaded and files backed up.  After lunch we travel back to our airport hotel in San Jose.  (BLD)
The Costa Rica tour was superb. We visited, enjoyed and photographed a tremendous variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, etc. at various elevations and lighting conditions. It was a rewarding experience, led by Mark Thomas, a knowledgeable, energetic and sharing guide/mentor.
—J. Cooney

This is truly a great workshop. You learn at least 3 photo techniques that are not usually used: flashlight for red eyes frogs (instead of using flash), multiple flash set-ups to arrest wings of hummingbirds, night shots of bats in flight—and you get the opportunity to photograph the quetzal—the bird of Central America.
—J. Shirley
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Costa Rica Birds

Apr 05, 2018 - Apr 17, 2018

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days priors to departure and must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:
90 days or prior:
89 to 61 days prior:
60 or fewer days:
Cancellation Fee:
100% of deposit
50% of entire trip fee
100% of entire trip fee

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in air schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 4) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Costa Rica Birds
  • Explore verdant moss-draped oak forest to shoot superlative resplendent quetzals during their nesting season
  • Photograph numerous hummingbirds using our new high-speed multi-flash systems
  • Stay in attractive ecolodges with well-stocked bird feeders amidst unspoiled natural habitats
  • Visit a broad spectrum of biomes from lush lowland rain forest to the stunted fairyland landscape of the high altitude páramo
Apr 05 - Apr 17, 2018
Fee: $5,595 from San Jose, Costa Rica
Deposit: $800
Limit: 8
Tour Leaders
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