Costa Rica Birds & Wildlife

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 dwelling within its borders.  In fact, tiny Costa Rica maintains the highest percentage of ecologically protected land of any country in the world.
"The tour leader was great. He spent time with everyone and went out of his way to make this educational, productive, and fun! Everything was organized and planned."
- James S.

With so many incredible wild places to explore, and so many wonderful ecolodges to choose among, selecting from the best to include in a two-week-long bird photography itinerary is a difficult task. From the lush rain forests of Costa Rica’s Caribbean Lowlands—the country’s largest ecozone—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.

Aracari feasting on bananasBirds 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 neo-tropical bounty with our cameras.


Check out Mark Thomas' trip report from our latest Costa Rica Birds & Wildlife photo tour
For trip questions or to enroll give us a call at (206) 463-5383

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Apr 9)
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)
Days 2–4
Keel billed toucanWe drive to our first lodge in the Caribbean Lowlands where we spend three days photographing a wide variety of subjects. This will be the warmest and most humid location on the tour, but we will be well rewarded for our mild discomfort. The fruit feeders regularly attract keel-billed toucan, black-mandibled toucan, collared araçari, Montezuma oropendola, brown-hooded parrots, red-legged honeycreeper, and more. The natural perches are often adorned in moss and bromeliads, and are changed daily so they are always fresh and new for our cameras. Here we have the unique opportunity to photograph the king vulture from a specially-constructed photography blind. By far the most magnificent of all of the vultures, the king vulture is much larger and more ornate than the more common black and turkey vultures. We also take a short drive to some well-stocked fruit feeders where we are likely to see and photograph three species of honeycreeper and a myriad of other small birds. In the afternoons we photograph a collection of macro subjects, such as the strawberry poison dart frog and red-eyed tree frog. We may even be able to photograph the beautiful eyelash viper and fer-de-lance, two very venomous denizens of the rain forest. Spider monkeys and coatis are also often seen on the lodge grounds.  We don’t stop shooting when the sun goes down. Weather permitting, it is here that we have our first opportunity to photograph nectar-feeding bats as they fly in for a drink from our flowers and feeders. (BLD)
Days 5–6
After breakfast, we travel to our second Caribbean Lowlands lodge. 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. QuetzalThe 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. Taking advantage of the morning light, the next day we head to a ranch where wild scarlet macaws and great green macaws come to feed. We will likely have the opportunity to capture incredible images of these beautiful birds in flight as well as perched in the nearby trees. We return to our lodge for lunch. In the afternoon we head to a nearby eco-center that has well-established fruit and hummingbird feeding stations where 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. Howler monkeys, agoutis, coatimundis and neotropical river otters are among the interesting mammals we may encounter here as well.  (BLD)
Days 7–8
Red-eyed frogAfter breakfast we drive to our next lodge in the Central Caribbean Foothills.  We arrive in in time for lunch at our lodge situated at 3,000 feet in Costa Rica's Cordillera de Talamanca. While here, we set up our hummingbird flash stations where everyone will get a chance to rotate/share the equipment to capture these cloud forest jewels frozen in flight. 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.  Our setups overlook well-stocked fruit feeders where there is always the chance to see and photograph blue-crowned motmots, lineated woodpeckers, golden-hooded tanagers, scarlet-rumped caciques, keel-billed toucans, and many more. 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. Conditions permitting, in the mornings we may opt to travel a short distance to a nearby river in pursuit of the beautiful sunbittern. After dinner, we have another opportunity to photograph nectar bats in flight as they maneuver through the forest to feed.  (BLD)
Days 9–10
Following breakfast on Day 9, we depart for the Central Highlands, our final ecosystem. 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!  Bat photographed at nightOur 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 first highland lodge is 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. The next two mornings are spent visiting the most active and accessible resplendent quetzal nest where we hope to capture this magnificent bird perching in the moss-covered branches. With a bit of luck we will also be able to capture the quetzal in flight as it flies back to the nest with food for its young. (BLD)
Day 11
EuphoniaAfter our second morning quetzal excursion, we head to our final lodge for lunch. 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. We shoot this afternoon at the gardens and feeders on the lodge property. (BLD)
Day 12
This morning we drive to a well-maintained bird feeding station located a short distance up the mountain. This location offers great opportunities to photograph acorn woodpeckers, long-tailed silky flycatchers, flame-colored tanagers, magnificent hummingbirds, volcano hummingbirds, and more. It is a wonderful way to end our Costa Rica adventure. We return to our lodge for lunch. After lunch we load up the bus and head back to our hotel in San Jose. (BLD)
Day 13 (Apr 21)
We depart for home. (B)
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Costa Rica Birds & Wildlife

Apr 09, 2024 - Apr 21, 2024

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place 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 we accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days prior to departure and may be paid by check or bank transfer. If you wish to make your final payment with a credit card a 3% convenience fee will be charged.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation. Based on the cancellation date the following apply:

Trip deposits are non-refundable.
150-91 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 50% of the total trip cost.
90-61 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 75% of the total trip cost.
Within 60 days of the start of the trip: No refund.

If, on the trip start date, your space has been resold and the tour is full—as designated by “Limit” number of travelers on the tour website page—we will refund your payment, minus the non-refundable trip deposit and any discounts given to resell your space.

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

We strongly encourage you to protect your travel investment and purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. We can provide travel insurance options, or it can be purchased online. A CANCEL FOR ANY REASON policy is available. Trip participants without travel protection insurance are considered “self-insured.” Without insurance you assume all risks and losses for any conditions requiring your cancellation.

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, including viral illnesses, 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. 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, and applicable health advisories. 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 email address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or email messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific details that are included in your trip fee. Generally, these 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, internal tour 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, 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.

Most of our trips are priced in double occupancy (shared) accommodations. Single accommodation is 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 accommodation 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 is 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, as well as 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 people 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 (trip participant) in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motor coach, automobile, van, boat, ship or aircraft or any other conveyance, and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts, bankruptcy 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, cancellations or changes in flights or other tour services, and by force majeure including sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine, epidemics, pandemics and outbreaks, 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 flight schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure due to low enrollment, 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, travel insurance premiums and medical related expenses; 3) At the company’s sole discretion, suspend or postpone any trip due to force majeure or disease outbreak in which case the trip may be rescheduled, or a refund issued less any non-refundable deposits paid to tour component providers on behalf of the passenger, or a travel credit 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; 4) 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 5) 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 signed Registration Form with the Enrollment Conditions and Release and Assumption of Risk sections must be returned 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.

I have read, understand, and agree to the terms, conditions, and provisions of the enrollment information, as stated on the Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris website and the Enrollment Conditions section of this form, especially noting the policy on cancellations, refunds, and limitations on responsibility.

I am aware that during any trip or tour that I am voluntarily participating in under the arrangements of Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., a Washington corporation, and its employees, agents and associates, certain risks and dangers exist while traveling in the United States, foreign countries, and wilderness areas in any country or territory that include the possibility of property damage, bodily injury, and death. There is a possibility of accident or illness occurring without access to immediate or timely medical treatment or facilities. There is a risk of tropical or communicable diseases that may require quarantine and removal from the tour at my expense, food-related illnesses, the risk of personal injury and property damage or delay or inconvenience by forces of nature, wildlife or wildlife models, quarantine, political instability, acts of terrorism, strikes, government restrictions or regulations change, thefts, and the risk of accidents during travel while on foot or by aircraft, train, automobile, van, bus, boat, ship, or other conveyance. I understand that such risks cannot be eliminated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of this trip or tour. In consideration of, and as part payment for the right to participate in such trips, tours and/or other activities and services arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates, I have and do hereby assume all risks, and hereby release Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents and associates, and will hold them harmless from any and all liability, actions, causes of actions, debts, claims, and demands of every kind and nature, howsoever caused, which I now have or which may arise of or in connection with any of my trips or tours and participation in any activities arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates.

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, I agree to indemnify them and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, I agree to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington and further agree that the substantive law of that state shall apply in that action without regard to the conflict-of-law rules of that state. The terms hereof shall serve as a release and assumption of all risk for myself, my heirs, executors, and administrators, and for all members of my family.

If any part, article, paragraph, sentence, or clause of this Agreement is not enforceable, the affected provision shall be curtailed and limited only to the extent necessary to bring it within the requirements of the law, and the remainder of the Agreement shall continue in full force and effect.

I acknowledge that if anyone is hurt or property is damaged during my participation in this activity, I may be found by a court of law to have waived my right to maintain a lawsuit against Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents, and associates, based on any and all claims from which I have released them.

Costa Rica Birds & Wildlife: Moderate Activity Level

Small bus travel. Easy walking at most locations. Less than 1 mile total walking each day. Rolling and slippery gravel slopes and uneven ground on mountains in quetzal habitat.
Trip Details
Apr 09 - Apr 21, 2024
Fee: $6,895 from San Jose, Costa Rica
Deposit: $1,500
Limit: 8 participants
Activity Level: ModerateModerate

Single Supplement: $840
  • 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
  • Includes all meals, lodging, ground transportation, entrance fees, photo guide, use of flash units and instruction
Tour Leaders
Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

This trip provided photographers with a large range of bird photography opportunities. Each location was well organized. Both the food and lodging were excellent. 
—N DuBois

The trip was excellent. I saw more kinds of birds and frogs than I knew existed--and at close range for good photography.
—R. Stanton