Costa Rica: A final stop at Rancho Naturalista

“This is breathtaking,” I said to Steve as he drove. “I know most people think of Arenal, Monteverdi or the Pacific coastal areas as the most picturesque in Costa Rica, but this is just stunning!”

I was referring to the area of Paraiso with its rolling green hills of farmland, south east of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. The farmland was mostly chayote, the green pear-shaped tropical fruit that tastes a little bit like cucumber, and the trucks on the road with images of the fruit (though some call it a squash) picked up and carried out their loads to Costa Rican markets.

The road in this area was smooth, the landscape a variety of greens under a cerulean blue sky with some puffy white clouds. “This is definitely paradise,” I added.

A roadside cemetery near Paraiso.
Our journey, so far, on this trip.

Originally, we were only planning to stay one night at Rancho Naturalista, but our friends who we were to meet in San Jose after our stay there weren’t going to be home in time for our arrival, so we added another night. And boy were we happy we did.

Rancho Naturalista is just outside the town or Tuis, which is southeast of La Suiza. Rancho Naturalista was the first birding lodge in Costa Rica and now is run by Lisa Erb, who is originally from the U.S. Her passion for preserving the property and business shows in all that she does. She’s onsite and greets each of her guests, and makes certain that everyone has the best experience possible. She was instrumental in making sure that we were able to stay an extra night when we made the request upon our arrival.

Rancho Naturalista sign greeting you upon your arrival.
View from the main building.

The food

The food was fantastic. The dinner bell rings at mealtime and guests are served family style on the outdoor patio overlooking the feeders. (The staff will ask you when you check in if you have any food allergies.) The steak in the photo below is the best steak I’ve ever had in Costa Rica. And for dessert on our first night they served Tres Leches (also below), which, as a Texan, I completely appreciated.

The wildlife

On several occasions an adult and two juvenile Tayra took advantage of the bananas the staff put out for the birds. These animals from the weasel family were both adorable and a little bit frightening once you saw their big claws and giant teeth. But mostly just interesting to see. It’s not often you get such close-up views of them. Agouti also scampered around under the feeders, adding to our lists of wildlife encounters.


The birds

The staff at Rancho Naturalista are constantly putting out food to attract the birds. We had a variety come in like Black and White Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, but also the birds featured below: Summer Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, and Red-throated Ant-tanager.

Summer Tanager
Scarlet-rumped Tanager (a.k.a. Passerini’s Tanager)
Female Scarlet-rumped Tanager (a.k.a. Passerini’s Tanager)
Red-throated Ant-tanager

We birded around the property during our first morning with Mercedes, our guide. There are over 120 acres at Rancho Naturalista that connect with adjacent forested properties creating a large protected area of the Caribbean pre-montane rainforest. The many trails and a Hummingbird pool are also highlights, and you could spend a week there and still not cover everything.

Like everywhere else we visited in Costa Rica, hummingbirds were plentiful, like this Green-breasted Mango.

Green-breasted Mango.

At last! Finding the bird Steve has been chasing.

“Oh, hey. Do you want to find a Sunbittern?” Mercedes asked us casually.

Steve’s eyes grew big and he said, “Yes!”

We’d been trying to find that bird ever since we started visiting Central America, only to come up empty at each visit.

We climbed into our car and Mercedes directed us down the bumpy road onto the main road in town and through some side streets to a river where we pulled off and at first we saw this Water Tyrant that was later joined by a companion.

Water Tyrant

We walked a few more yards to a different part of the river and then she said, “There it is!”

It stood near the rocks as if it had been waiting for us. It couldn’t have been easier to find. Steve snapped over a 100 photos of the bird that is neither a bittern nor a heron. It’s monotypic–in it’s own family.


Now, to my target bird for the trip

Mercedes then took us to a place back on the Rancho Naturalista property, where the Snowcap had been seen earlier by another guide. From the moment we booked our trip to Costa Rica I wanted to make sure that I had the opportunity to see the Snowcap. I first learned of this little hummingbird during a live virtual birding event sponsored by Swarovski at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. They had cameras at a few birding lodges in Latin America and the Snowcap made an appearance at the Rancho Naturalista during the live presentation. I got only a brief glimpse of its bright white cap and I swooned, “I have to see that!”

Snowcaps love verbena and we sat in chairs a few yards away from the verbena hedge and as if on cue, the little hummingbird appeared for me on our last day of birding in Costa Rica.


And if the Snowcap wasn’t enough, a Black-crested Coquette showed up on the same verbena hedge.

Ending in San Jose

Our last couple of nights were spent in San Jose with my friend Lori and her husband Cliff who live there. I had been friends with Lori for years and when I found out she was moving to Costa Rica after they married, we gave them a Costa Rica birding guide as a wedding gift and they’ve become birders as a result.

Our birding adventure was over, but we enjoyed spending time with friends, not having to wear mosquito repellent and I forfeited my usual bandana to tie back my hair. This was the perfect re-entry back into normal life. We visited the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, ate more fresh pineapple, and played a few rousing rounds of Rummikub with our friends and showed them our photos of our trip. (We may or may not have been responsible for Cliff buying a new camera and lens.)

Costa Rica post script

The words you see below in the photo, “Love the life you live. Live the life you love.” was on a sign hanging at Rancho Naturalista. It was the anecdote I needed at this time in my life. I had been hoping that Costa Rica would bring some clarity to my next step in life, having just lost my job. I didn’t know exactly what that was, but what I did know was that I was going forward with a life I loved.

Here’s the recap of our 24-day birding adventure in Costa Rica.

Our 24-day journey through Costa Rica.