It has been hard times for those of us who depend on a fragile industry as tourism is. Borders are closed, and everyone is home (or at least trying to) to avoid this situation that is affecting the entire world, but ‘nough said about the Corona virus topic, let’s rather use that “free time” for positive things. In my case, I am fortunate to live in a rural place where we have space in our property, so we still manage to go outside and enjoy the outdoors safely.
On Easter week my wife and son managed to escape and spend some wonderful time camping in the forest of Esquipulas, a location where I run local birding tours (https://www.manuelantoniobirdwatching.com/esquipulas-birding-tour) this time deeper into the jungle and joining other family members who live near us.
On this trip we spend nearly a week camping, surrounded by vast forest, beautiful moon and stars at night, as well as the cozy sounds of the common Pauraques at night! https://www.xeno-canto.org/545393 I knew I would have plenty of time to spend in the jungle, so I brought my Zennheinser Microphone/recorder as well as camera and of course binoculars. Most mornings I managed to escape and trek into the forest to collect some audio recordings, which produced some good stuff, including White-tipped Sicklebill, Chiriqui Foliage Gleaner, Riverside Wren, Northern Bentbill, White-throated Shrike Tanager and more. But, as usual, forest interior could always be a good place for other non-avian creatures such snakes, lizards and frogs!
At camping ground included an improvised “wood stove” where we cooked our meals, water from a spring up the hill from where we were, we had all we needed! The property is beautiful and it is been prepared for some agriculture, which we enjoyed working and helping, including corn, beans, plantains and taro root.
Above: Me riding a horse with my Son Edrian after cutting some fire wood, below, a huge Turnip-tailed Gecko near our sleeping site, it measured approx 20cm from head to tail. There was a surprise or two every day!
When it comes to snakes, I spotted 2 forms of Eyelash Pit-vipers while hiking with Michael, a little closer than he liked! fortunately no accidents with it, later Jose -my wife’s uncle found a non-venemous Brown Vine snake, how lucky I was!
Creepy crawlers? You name it! although not many pictures of them since it wasn’t my focus I did manage to photograph a small (no bigger than a thumb nail) Trapdoor spider which I found while working on the field.
Following are some of the birds I did manage to photograph:
Olive-sided Flycatcher’s call: https://www.xeno-canto.org/545524
Scarlet-rumped Tanager’s calls: https://www.xeno-canto.org/545527
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat’s calls: https://www.xeno-canto.org/545533
Blue-black Grosbeak calls: https://www.xeno-canto.org/545537 According Avibase, this is an endemic sub-species shared with Nicaragua and West Panama. A total of 3 subspecies are recorded in Avibase.
Long-billed Gnatwren: https://www.xeno-canto.org/545539
Chiriqui Foliage-Gleaner, an endemic species shared with Panama : https://www.xeno-canto.org/545545 and https://www.xeno-canto.org/545563 and even a more interesting recording, contact calls made by two individuasl who sang, got closer to each other adn began to call like this: https://www.xeno-canto.org/545569
Gray-chested Dove: https://www.xeno-canto.org/545550
White-tipped Sicklebill, Flight call: https://www.xeno-canto.org/545554
Chestnut-backed Antbird: https://www.xeno-canto.org/545567
Below are two eBird lists I made:
Time flew by so quickly (as usual when you are having fun), it felt so nice to be disconnected from the news and media for a while and being outside, now we are at home and I cannot wait to go back!
Here is a new video that I made some days ago, this is a promo/intro video of El Rey Marsh, a local birding spot near Manuel Antonio national park where I lead professional bird watching tours locally.
The Aplomado Falcon (Falco femoralis) is a South and Central American species that is rarely reported in CR. According eBird data the last reports on Coris de Cartago from July to August 2017 and Cocorocas (Puntarenas) 2017, among other older reports.
Nearly 8-10 days ago, an individual was reported on the San Isidro Central Park, in the San Jose province, this has caused many birders from many regions of the country to come chase what appareantly some call “The General” (after the General Valley, on which San Isidro lays in).
Oscar Herrera, along with my wife Karina and I decided to join the crowd and off we went to chase this cool falcon.
We were lucky that the bird was on the same antena on which it has been seen by many birders, just above the BCR (Bank of Costa Rica) in downtown San Isidro, we arrived at 7:20am and there it was! We were very happy to get these perfect views, since our previous experience with it in Cartago on August 2017 was a bit distant. https://manuelantoniobirding.wordpress.com/2017/09/05/birding-trip-to-cartago-part-1-aplomado-falcon-and-tapanti-np/
It is fun to catch up with birding buddies but above all, it is great to see how so many people can be linked by one subject in common, one of the many beauties of bird-watching.
El Copal, what an amazing place this is!
On July 8-9th I visited this beautiful reserve along with my friend bird guide and biologist Oscar Herrera. It has been a year since my last visit here so we came to scout the trail in order to get familiar with the current location of some hard-to get target species for my friend and clients Jim and Gretchen Peterson whom I will be guiding for next week.
El Copal has approximately 160 hectares of primary forest and is part of a giant corridor that connects with Tapanti NP, and eventually with Los Quetzales NP up in the highlands of CR. The average elevation on which the trails and the Lodge is at averages between 1.200 to 1.400 meters above sea level.
Cartago, Provincia de Cartago
Thanks for the forest conditions in this forest, open habitat with plenty of Melastomataceae plants — favorite trees to many tanager species – makes for a superb birding experience. It is known to be the home to some of the least common species such as Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Yellow-eared Toucanet and just so much more.
Our day began at 3:00am as we left Quepos, we did a stop in Villa Mills to get some audio recordings and some photographs, followed by a quick stop at the telecommunication towers un in Cerro Buena Vista to photograph Volcano Junco, then we continued to Ujarras, one of the best spots to find the endemic Cabanis’ Ground-sparrow which we luckily got quickly at its favorite habitat, squash orchards near the Ujarrás ruins —what a beautiful sparrow!
We finally got to El Copal near 2:45pm and were welcome by a serious downpour which kept us sheltered at the deck of the lodge, however this not affect our birding opportunities, dozens of birds were flying in and out of the forest to feed on Melastomataceae, as it is typical here in el Copal. Once the rain stoped we decided to bird the forest edge and it was overwhelming, Common Chlorospingus (probably better called Super common Chlorospingus) were well, common! Bay-headed, Silver-throated, Emerald and other Tanagers were numerous.
White-ruffed Manakin was quite common with various male and females seen, finally Ashy-throated Chlorospingus and for our surprise a pair of Rufous-browed Tyrannulets! Great recordings were obtained of them vocalizing as well as many other species.
Last bird of the day was a Short-tailed Nighthawk, a lifer to Oscar.
The next morning we were up and ready by sunrise, the trees were full of birds once again, this time Collared Trogon, White-vented Euphonia and several others were new to the list. This has always been my experience any time that I visit El Copal, plenty of good birding off the balcony.
Finally after breakfast it was time to enter the forest. The trail here is a simple loop with 2 short one-way in same-way back trails. We chose to do it clock-wise as we found the first 2.5-3km to be relatively flat and after that the remainder goes up on a steep trail and then a steep descent to the lodge for another 2-3 km more. We figured the easiest way to cover this is the first flat section and looping back via the “shortcut trail” for an easy hike.
Black-headed Nightingale-thrush: https://www.xeno-canto.org/486637 | Ashy-throated Chlorospingus: https://www.xeno-canto.org/486638 | Tawny-throated leaftosser: https://www.xeno-canto.org/486639 and its song https://www.xeno-canto.org/486640
On the fist 350 meters we found an Ochre-breasted Antpitta that was quite close to us, for our surprise, it flew up in a short sally it made me think it hunts like a flycatcher, for our surprise it caught a small fern leaf, then flew to horizontal vine where there was another OB Antpitta and It handled to it, was this a mating ritual or simply where they constructing a nest? — we could not tell.
Birding in this type of forest can represent a challenge and definitely birding by ear is a must so one can understand where are the mixed flocks moving to and who are it’s members. We were lucky to get several small flocks every 600-800 meters, mostly compound by Common Chlorospingus, Carmiol’s Tanager followed by many tanager species where the highlight were Golden-olive and Black-and-yellow Tanagers, later Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, spotted and Olivaceous Woodcreepers and more.
The trails are in ok conditions, with some muddy parts but still doable, the road from the town of El Humo is in excellent conditions and the las hill up to the lodge has cement tracks thus making it easy for 2wd SUVs.
Our 2-half days produced 93 species from which 95% was seen. In terms of photography, it wasn’t our priority on this trip but for bird audio recording it was excellent! Many species were well documented, as time allows I plan to edit and upload the audio to both eBird and Xeno-canto with a link here.
El Copal is a rural tourism project whose main focus is the conservation of this beautiful forest, you can learn more about it on
Corcovado is Costa Rica’s most biodiverse place in Costa Rica. Remote, pristine, paradisiac, unique. These adjectives don’t make justice to the uniqueness of Corcovado. For years, visiting Corcovado was nothing but a dream for many visitors due to the difficult access, often requiring to spend some nights at Puerto Jimenez to then embark in long, but excellent hike to the different park stations.
In the last few years Corcovado is more accessible partly thanks to the better roads, but also for the logistics from Sierpe River, which makes it possible for visitors based on Manuel Antonio to take a one-day trip, departing at 5:00am, and returning home for late dinner! Still, this is not for the faint of heart and is rather recommended for the keen nature enthusiasts.
The following trip report is written from a naturalist point of view, although it is impossible to skip the birds in such great place!
On Oct 30th and Nov 1st 2018 I was able to take visitors to this park, an experience we will all remember for years!
The drive is little less than 2hrs, reaching Sierpe on time for breakfast. After some minutes of rest, we met our local naturalist guide and boat man, off we went with high expectations. Crossing the river mouth takes serious boating skills, our captain, Jose has done this for living for all of his life as a fisherman, now in the tourism industry for several years.
Once in the ocean we were fortunate to spot various Brown Boobies, pelicans and frigate birds, including some red-footed Boobies. Then, a Humpbacked whale bridged out in the distance! Our captain took us to enjoy that from a close, yet professionally respectful distance to the creature, which gave us one of the best shows I have seen of these animals.
The boat ride is about 2hr15min to my favorite station; Sirena, where the probabilities for Tapir are higher. Here we did a wet landing, so shoes off and pants rolled up we dis-embarked.
Tapir is the holy grail and we got one on our first trip, but on the second trip we got 3! Some which allowed good close ups and also nice pictures. These animals are considered the largest terrestrial mammal of CR, noble and quite tame I found.
The trail remains parallel to the beach along most of its length, White-collared Peccaries, Yellow-throated toucans, and White-nosed Peccary were common. This is the only place in the country where one can see all 4 species of monkeys, oh don’t forget the Scarlet macaws which we got several times!
Lunch is included at the ranger station at noon, after some minutes of break we went back to explore a bit more. The second leg of the hike is productive, we explored some of the habitat near the river, nearby we heard the alarm calls of spider monkeys which brought us hope to find the Puma, unfortunately unsuccessful. Pumas are not seen every day, but the possibility is there, just hope for some good luck!
Our ride back was ready at 2:30pm, with a quick stop at the mangroves of Sierpe to explain about this important habitat.
If you are keen to visit Corcovado, please contact me, visit www.manuelantoniobirdwatching.com and I will be happy to explore this place with you!
A big day, year, sit, or any period of time you decide to call it is an event in the birding community where birdwactchers try to record the highest number of birds possible within that period of time – again, day or year! and list could be a yard list, feeder list, state/province, country, or even the whole world! Its a fun and friendly competition of between birders. Some call it the wold cup of the birding industry!
On Oct 6th the second Global Big day was celebrated, and unlike a personal big day, on this event teams work hard to get the biggest number possible to put their respective countries high on the list (whilst I am sure many teams also are eager to tip their country team “competitors”!). I had the chance to join my friends Andres Chaves “El Socio”, Eidel Chaves “Socio jr” and Oscar Herrera. We decided to bird Cloudbridge and part of the trail that leads to Costa Rica’s most strenuous hike; Chirripó mountain, an excellent place for furnarids, our main wanted group, with our target species being Buff-fronted, Scaly-throated, and Lineated foliage-Gleanes are our target list, we therefore called our team “The foliage-gleaners”.
We arrived to Cloud bridge at 6:45am and soon began to bird, we got the common forest edge species such as Snowy-bellied, Stripe-tailed hummingbirds, Red-faced Spine tail, purple-crowned Fairy and others, as typical of this place, the entrance area was quite productive.
Once we ventured into the forest we found the activity to be quite slow, despite the beautiful sunny day we had (3-4 days of non-stop rain just had ended), still we continued and too the trail that leads to the Chirripo’s main trail (4km area), the is quite steep, and often difficult to carry a tripod, during the first 2 hours we got some iconic species such as Resplendent Quetzal, Northern Emerald Toucanet, rufous-browed Peppershrike, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, PLENTY of Brown-capped Vireos, and after several more birds we finally recorded our first Lineated Foliage-Gleaner!
Then, followed by almost 1hr of CERO activity and about 2km of ascending a very steep, open habitat we finally cough up with some more highlights, which included the beautiful Brown-billed Scythebill which allowed some good audio recordings and some documentation pictures, very nice to bring back the energies to continue! Other common birds here included both Collared and Slate-throated Redstars, Tufted Flycatchers and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, but if that was not enough, a pair of Golden-browed Chlorophonias came into the view!
Once we made it to the 4th kilometer junction, we all took a short break, but in the meantime were quite eager to spot the SIlvery-throated Jay–a bird I have never seen before, nevertheless we were not fortunate to find.😣
Later as we began the 4 kilometers steep descend we were fortunate to get another furnarid; “Buffy Tuftedcheek!”-screamed Oscar, then Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Spotted Barbtail and then, one of our targets: Buff-fronted Foliage Gleaner a bird I had seen few times in San Gerardo de Dota, Los Quetzales NP, and other sites.
In Resume, birding here, like many middle-elevation sites is all about mixed flocks, and if you are lucky with a few flocks along your hike it can be a superb day of birding, we considered it to be a very slow day but it did produce some highlights -we all agreed Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner to be the bird of the day!. Nevertheless we recorded 87 species for the day.
After all, we all had learned that the best part of these events are not just the birds, it is the companion, the jokes, the food at the field, and the many memories to take in our minds of a wonderful day with people who sahre the same passion; BIRDS!
The ebird List can be seen at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S49004607
Bocana de Puriscal is located just north of the little visited la Cangreja National park, this in the province of San Jose.
The area suffered severe deforestation decades ago , and unfortunately what must have been precious foothill and parts of middle elevation forest is now turned into cattle pasture, and agriculture fields. Nevertheless the pioneer farmers kept a narrow strip of forest
along the ravines on which the small creeks run down the mountains, these have been extremely important habitat to the few species that were able to adapt to this serious forest alteration.
I usually get to visit this place 3 to 5 times a year to visit family and I always get to enjoy some birding at this place, it is excellent for owling, at times I have seen literally three species of owls perched on the same branch in a gap of 1.5 hours!
On this this trip I spent 2 days Birding along the track down the mountains -each trip was about two to three hours -. This time it was geared with my recorder to collect some audio as well as with my camera.
Again, the Level of deforestation , and the way the forest have been narrowed down to a slim strip had made made it
easier to get species that are otherwise extremely difficult such as scaly breasted wren, basically every time I come here I get to see this bird and to even good decent pictures of this elusive little wren.
Other species that favor this kind of habitat are Sulphur-rumped flycatcher which remains near water.
Other typical species that are nearly always seen here include the near endemic endemic Black-hooded Antshrike, fiery billed aracary, spot crowned euphonia, although the later can be easily see at open habitat.
Despite the steep walk I always find birding here quite productive as the track is essentially along the creek, so does the forest, like this it is easy to follow foraging troops as the line of forest dictates their traveling pattern. Now, from a photographer’s perspective, it is great to walk down the hill so birds are seen near eye level.
This might not be a place for the tourist to visit as it would be a bit hard to fit in an itinerary unless your birding trip is off the beaten path, although if you are a Costa Rican or an simply someone retired and living near Puriscal, it might worth to bird the area, you never know what you can get.
Some of the audio recordings:
Lesson’s motmot https://www.xeno-canto.org/436643
Rufous-and-white wren https://www.xeno-canto.org/436644
Blue-crowned manakin https://www.xeno-canto.org/436645
Blue ground dove https://www.xeno-canto.org/436642
Between July 16th to July 18th I had the opportunity to lead a birding trip to the southern Pacific side of Costa Rica to my friends Jim and Gretchen Peterson whom I have had 4-5 consecutive years the opportunity to be their guide while during their last birding trips to Costa Rica.
After three years of trying Scaly-breasted Wren unsuccessfully we decided to try luck at Esquinas Rain-forest Lodge. My friends picked me up from Quepos and so another adventure began. We did some stops along the way, including El Rey Marsh, where in just 20-30 minutes we got some of the common birds nevertheless the highlight was no doubt American Pygmy-Kingfisher.
A long drive we saw Gray and Roadside Hawks as well as a Double-toothed Kite perched on a wire (a bit unusual). We got to the town of La Gamba and began our Birding; our first birds included Red-crowned Woodpecker which is very common naturally, some of the typical Seedeaters, then Blue-headed Parrots flew over providing us some quick -poor views but fortunately later on we were able to spot some perched. As we continued we found Rusty-margined Flycatcher, one of our targets, then we stopped at River right before getting to Esquinas and we got entertained seeing a Band-tailed Barbthroat and then one of our targets showed up, Red-rumped Woodpecker, we began to run out of targets so soon! https://www.xeno-canto.org/426104 recording of the BTBT
After dinner we went to do some owling which produced two owls; Black-and-white Owl and Tropical Screech-Owl, unfortunately we missed Striped Owl and potoos.
The next morning and with big expectations we decided to take the riverbed trail, soon enough we got one of the 2 main targets for Jim, Striped Woodhunter along with some of the common species including Great Curassow, Black striped and orange-billed sparrows, Bairds Trogon, the Costa Rica only endemic Black-cheeked Anttanager and others.
After breakfast we had to focus on our next target; Scaly-breasted Wren, and taking Julia’s recommendation we took the waterfall trail looping back via la Fila trail and finally we were able to hear 1 singing! as we approached to its location our sudden moves and a bad maneuver from my part flushed the wren away, three years of effort flushed away in front of her eyes!! As rain came upon us we had to continue down the Fila trail and we found a small mixed flock feeding with an army ant swarm, after seeing a couple of Tawny-winged Woodcreepers, Bicolored antbirds, gray-headed Tanager, Lesson’s Motmot, another Scaly-breasted Wren sang so we knew we were back in the game!. After less than a minute of play back that little brown and elusive wren flew in front of us, walked up for 3 to 4 feet and began to call in front of us, great success!
On our Next day, after a short birding session and a good breakfast we left for Coto 47, a marshland south of Esquinas, not far from the Panama border. Although first we stopped at the Hospital road we got Sapphire-throated Hummingbird as the highlight. Later not one but three Gray-lined Hawks! We were just missing the famous Savanna hawk at this point.
Later we went to the sector known as Las Pangas, the flooded conditions where ideal for the thousands of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, hundreds of Northern Jacanas, however, we had to be so lucky to stop at a spot, where after some scanning I was able to spot a pair of Masked ducks! a new species to my life list, and new for Gretchen and Jim’s CR list! A duck I had tried many times at San Vito in the past!
After that we then continued to another spot for more Red-rumped Woodpecker, unfortunately, given the floods suffered in the area some months ago the habitat is gone, nevertheless we got many Crested Oropendolas and a pair of Brown-throated Parakeet. After this, we checked another marsh and got a good glossy ibis, and right after that a bird that had characteristics of a Hybrid Northern x Wattled Jacana was foraging near the road.
Followed that we had our last stop, Savanna hawk. I took Gretchen and Jim to one of the spots and as we scanned the trees Jim asked – “Do they perched on the fence posts?” and soon enough a hawk was been harassed by some kiskadees and perched on the post – “now we know they do” I said!! (seconds before I just had said I had never seen them on posts, but only on trees, dead branches or the ground!).
This is a trip I particularly enjoyed guiding, excellent and challenging at the same time due to the tough targets but above all for the wonderful companion. Enjoyed every minute of it.
Photos by Jim and Gretchen.
On May 17th I met my guide Angel Martinez just about sunrise and we drove to Soplillar, Angel’s favorite Birding spot, unfortunately due to the weather we had to skip the location for Zapata wren as the chances for rain were high and Angel wanted to get me as much of birds as possible so we had to sacrifice one for the others.
Once at the first spot the fun began and we got some of the birds I wanted to see the most just within 5-10min from our arrival; Cuban trogon which during the time I was there I learned that It was very common, great lizard cuckoo (which was seen several times at different sites we were at) and Fernandina’s flicker, which apparently is not too common here according to Angel.
Later, my first crow flew right in front of us! Cuban crow.
We walked a little more while having a nice chat and seeing some birds, Angel took me to a narrow trail he knew he could get more of my targets, sure enough Cuban tody was there followed by Cuban vireo! Also white-crowned pigeon which in Costa Rica is a rarity, here I enjoyed more than a dozen of them!
This location basically consisted of open scrub habitat with some partially flooded pastures, Angel mentioned that it will be unpassable some months later due to the flooded conditions.
Then back to our ride, Angel took me to a forested area where they regularly get the quail-doves, however we were not lucky at that moment, we walked out of the forest to an open marshy area and got one of the ducks I desired to see the most, and never ever thought I could see it in Cuba!; wood duck, what a beautiful duck! Later a Cuban pygmy-owl and various other birds more were seen here.
Later Angel took me to a spot to see the cuban screech owl (Bare-legged Owl) which we got. I did know of this location based on other bird- trip reports I read prior to my visit as well as eBird lists, I thought that I could find the owl on my own, NO WAY! you need Angel as your guide! He knows every perch and roost. Here we got a pair of Gray-fronted quail-dove (resent split from gray- headed q-D).
The rain started, nonetheless he was determined to get me more birds, at another location he took me to show me the nest of a bee hummingbird (extremely small naturally, we got La Sagra’s flycatcher, Cuban pewee and black-whiskered vireo, the later one is abundant here, however it is uncommon in Costa Rica.
Then the storm came in, putting an end to our trip, a pity because it was so exciting to get so many quality life birds, but also sharing with a colleague of another country. On our way back we got antilliant nighthawk.
Although it was only half a day due to the rain I enjoyed every moment, every bird and all the chatting with Angel.
Angel Martínez García Cellphone 01 5294 1853 email: email@example.com
In PLaya Larga we stayed at a Casa Particular, since the last 3 years the Cuban government is allowing people to rent rooms, we found, through a recommendation a house named Casa Yaima https://es.airbnb.com/rooms/17680234?s=51
Yaima Reyes – Phone (0053) 54115198 email: firstname.lastname@example.org Yaima is a wonderful host, and she went the extra mile to make sure we had all we needed, particularly since we had our son and getting somethings for him was not so easy. Her house/room is extremely clean, excellent location, you will be happy staying here.
Part 1: Introduction, logistics, recommendations, playa Larga, stygian owl and bee hummingbird
Part 2: Birding Playa Larga with Angel Martinez
Cuba is a country full of history, wonderful beaches, extremely friendly people and of course with endemic birds any birder would wish to see! but also with unique politics!
I had the pleasure to visiting this interesting country between May 15-24th 2018 on a family holiday. We did all of the planning on our own using recommendations given to us by other friends whom I am thankful for sharing their experience. Blogs and traveling sources such as Loney planet were of great help. eBird was extremely helpful when I planned the birding sites, but also helped on getting an idea where my targets were most likely seen at, for the bird Field guide I used “Birds of the west Indies” by Raffaele, Wiley, Garrido, Keith and Raffaele. 2003 Princeton university press.
A bit of an old book now but I combined Avibase and eBird for updated taxonomy.
For maps and navigation I used an app called Maps.me, you can download the entire map of a country so you can use offline, notice that the internet in Cuba is from the stone age (will detail later) so using google maps is almost impossible. Like Google maps you can put markers, use it as a GPS, search for places etc.
The following trip report will be (as usual) written in English hoping to help a larger audience, however I also hope to help Costa Ricans who are planning a similar trip get their ideas to put a trip together, I wish I could had found a report as detailed as I am hoping this one to be. This was not a 100% birding trip due to our son’s age, but I did my efforts to get as many as I could. So if you are a birder the most helpful information will be between May 15th to the 20th, the rest is mostly beach and city traveling.
We used Copa Airlines and found tickets for us$553 round trip for the 2 of us and our baby son (he was on our lap) with a connection flight in Panama each way (1hr30min approx). The flight to Panama took about 1hr and from Panama to Cuba 2hr10min (Costa Rica to Panama and then Cuba).
NOTICE that Cuba requires a travelers visa, we bought ours in the Cuban embassy for us$15 per person. You can buy it from Copa Airlines at their booth at the CR airport for us$60pp if I am not wrong. You can also buy it in Panama at the Copa Airlines desk for cheaper I believe. In CR Cubana de aviación (Cuban airlines) sells it for $25. Make it simple, just buy it at the embassy if you want to save $ or just do it in Copa Airlines desk (airport) if you can not make a trip to San Jose just for it.
A Travelers insurance is mandatory. We bought from INS in Quepos (A Costa Rican insurance company). Us$50 per adult.
Getting out of the Cuban airport was no so bad. It is a small airport (yes! Even smaller than San Jose CR). Once outside, as usual there are many taxis who are offering their service, we, however never felt harassed by them, instead they made a respectful approach and kindly offered their service. We stood aside, saw the panorama and picked a driver/taxi of our preference. Our driver, a man named Alex, good driver and quite talkative, during our 20 min ride to our hotel in Havana gave us some friendly info about the country. Cellphone 53479157. Again, too many drivers, I did manage to get a drivers contact (although I did not use his service), he drives a toyota Hiace with rooms for 12 people: Delfin Cordero phone 52822134 email email@example.com A private trip to places like Varadero cost approximately 150 cuc for a private ride ($180 approximately, find out about the exchange) for a family of 5, but a taxi for 2 should be between 90-100 CUC ($105 us$).
Cuba uses 2 currencies; the one used by the locals called CUP or Moneda nacional, which is about 23CUP to 1 CUC, and the other Currency is the CUC or moneda convertible, which is what tourists use, 1CUC = $0.70 or 1 Euro. I DO NOT recommend to use US dollars, use Euros instead as they have more acquisitive power. In Cuba you will find CADECAS, which is the place you can change currency, they as almost everything in Cuba belong to the government so the exchange is official.
We booked a room in Habana very near Viazul as we had a bus ticket to Playa Larga the next day. In Cuba you can stay at hotels, all run by the government but also you can rent rooms at private homes for a much better fee. We used VRBO (how was life before VRBO!?) and got a room for 25 CUC / $30 for the night! The rooms was very nice, very clean with TV hot shower and full A/C. Our hosts Miss Onelia, mr Carlos and daughter Sandra were super friendly and accommodating, we felt like at home thanks to their help. Onelia Rodriguez and Sandra Negrin. firstname.lastname@example.org On this night we ate dinner at Habitania, which is walking distance from Viazul, I consider this the best dinner I had in Cuba! MAP HERE.
Highlights of the day were Red-legged thrush (very common in Cuba), Cuban emerald.
May 16th. After a delicious breakfast made by Miss Onelia we walked to Viazul as we had a bus to catch at 7:00am. They’d requested to be there one hour before. Our destination was Playa Larga where the Zapata Marsh is at.
VIAZUL: This is a bus company that offers transportation to most famous destinations (To Costa Rican readers: our Tracopa of 1990s!) the transportation in Cuba is a bit rustic as you must know, you can go by private taxi if you can afford it, or if you go to the office of Viazul there are taxis who offer a shared ride, we met other tourists who asked us if we were willing to take a taxi and divide the cost; we already had our Viazul tickets so we did not shared a taxi.
When you book a bus ticket through Viazul website and plan to go to Playa Larga it is hard to understand their website, there is a ride that goes from Havana and ends in Trinidad and does some stops to drop people off. The options that you have to buy on this ride do not mention Playa Larga, you must buy tickets to Playa Giron which pases by Playa Larga and simply get off in Playa Larga, cost is us$13 pp. The ride took about 2hr45min with a 10min stop at a restaurant called Pio Cua, south of Australia, yes! Australia! where I managed to see the following birds:
Little Blue Heron
*Greater Antillean Grackle
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
We finally arrived to Playa Larga at 9:45am, we took a “taxi-bike” ride to our Airbnb which was fun and cost us 2 cuc (little more than $2).
We were now established and went on a recon walk into the small village to buy groceries and here is where the first difficulty was faced; we were told that the cuban stores were not as supplied as those of other countries, but I never thought that this was that extreme! We had difficulties finding even the most basic things, no beans, no meat, no eggs! We really had to improvise using what we could, yes! There are some restaurants with excellent seafood as well as typical Cuban food but even there sometimes somethings from the menu were unavailable, not a problem if you are adults only but when traveling with a small child it makes things very, very hard.
We ended having lunch at a place called Chuchi el pescador. One of the best places we were told. Later on the day we figured that if you walk towards the local clinic/hospital there are many more options. Our walk produced 5 new birds; where the highlight was Cuban oriole, Cuban black-hawk, and west Indian woodpecker.
Here is where I want to advise you to bring as much as you could from your country in terms of food and snacks, items of personal use e.g batteries, face tissues, PLENTY of insect repellent (Dont you dare to come to Playa Larga without it!) medicines, sunblock, cereal bars, basically anything you might need.
During our walk in town, I met a man who figured I was looking for birds and recommended to go to a place for the bee hummingbird, or as it is called in Cuba; Zumzumbito, so glad he mentioned that as I knew there was a spot for that but did not know where exactly, a Taxi charged us 12cuc for round trip and waiting time. This place is located in the town of Pálpite, about 15minutes north of Playa Larga and it is well known, see the map here (22.326217,-81.183535 coordinates), mr Bernabe and Mrs Juana keep their garden with feeders, so getting the smallest bird of the world here is quite easy indeed.
Back in Playa larga, at dusk I got Antilleant nighthawk, and thanks to the recommendation of a local expert guide, Angel Martinez I got one of the owls I had wished to see the most; Stygian owl! Here the maps to the precise location on which I saw it: https://goo.gl/maps/RojQ3DjRxJK2.
Part 1: Introduction, logistics, recommendations, playa Larga, stygian owl and bee hummingbird
Part 2: Birding Playa Larga with bird guide Angel Martinez