Situated at approximately 3,000 ft. elevation on the Caribbean slope near Turrialba, Costa Rica, Rancho Naturalista is widely considered one of the top birding lodges in Central America.
Having visited Rancho Naturalista multiple times over the past several years, I can say without hesitation that it is my favorite place to stay in Costa Rica. The feeders around the lodge have been set up with bird photographers in mind. The staff are friendly and helpful, and the resident bird guides are among the best in the country. While the rooms are all a bit different, they are all very comfortable. Delicious locally-sourced meals are included as part of the package.
The 160-acre private reserve can be explored via a network of well-maintained trails, on which I found five new species for the year: Slaty Antwren, Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Bicolored Hawk, and Thicket Antpitta.
Late one afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the call of a Three-wattled Bellbird, which was the first eBird record for Rancho Naturalista. With over 500 species listed on the eBird hotspot, adding a new species here doesn’t happen every day!
I enjoyed sitting quietly and watching the hummingbirds from the main balcony, where coffee/tea/hot chocolate and cookies are available 24/7. Hummingbird pools — pools of water in the forest where hummingbirds and other species of birds come to bathe — attract some species that don’t regularly visit the feeders. All together I observed a nice variety of hummingbirds during my stay, including White-necked Jacobin, Green Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, Purple-crowned Fairy, Green-breasted Mango, Green-crowned Brilliant, Violet Sabrewing, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Crowned Woodnymph, Snowcap, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.
Additional birding highlights included Ruddy Pigeon, Plain Antvireo, Checker-throated Antwren, Dot-winged Antwren, Zeledon’s Antbird, Dull-mantled Antbird, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, White-crowned Manakin, Scaly-breasted Wren, Emerald Tanager, and Kentucky Warbler.
While the birding at Rancho Naturalista itself is legendary, a significant variety of other habitats and elevations can be easily birded on day trips from the lodge. On my last morning, I joined Oliver Komar (who just happened to be visiting at the same time) for a short excursion to nearby Plantanillo, where we had the privilege of photographing a Sunbittern on its nest!
eBird Hotspot – Rancho Naturalista
eBird Checklists – Rancho Naturalista
eBird Checklist – Plantanillo