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Costa Rica Tours

Amazing biodiversity, a lush natural environment, dramatically varied landscapes, and a night sky full of bright stars, beautiful star clusters, and glowing nebulas. This is Costa Rica. Its wonderfully varied ecosystems range from primeval rainforests to mangrove-lined waterways. It hosts Arenal, the youngest and most active of all Costa Rican volcanoes. TravelQuest’s tour of Costa Rica includes many of the country’s natural wonders, but we come here annually for the stars.

TravelQuest has journeyed to Costa Rica every winter for nearly 20 years. We don’t go for the beaches, the surfing, or the usual type of nightlife (though you can always extend your trip to include these options). The night life we enjoy is a star party, which takes place at our dark-sky Star Lodge situated on the western side of the country.

Our small group tours in Costa Rica offer an unusual combination—the wonders of the country’s rich biodiversity, and the celestial wonders overhead. We spend several days exploring the Costa Rician countryside and its varied environments, and several nights viewing the beautiful southern Milky Way from our dark-sky site. It’s a combination rarely offered by tour companies.

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A Costa Rican Star Party

Why do we go to Costa Rica for our star party? The country is ideally located for views of the splendid southern sections of our Milky Way galaxy. Some of the brightest, largest, and most dazzling clusters, nebulas, and galaxies are visible in the southern sky. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, traveling southward to see the celestial spectacle for yourself is well worth the journey.

At a latitude of 10° North, our wonderfully dark Costa Rican viewing site is 10° farther south than the Big Island of Hawaii, and 15° farther south than the Florida Keys. Many astronomical highlights that hug the horizon in these popular stargazing locales are 10° to 15° higher in Costa Rica’s southern sky. As a bonus for North Americans, the country is only a 2.5-hour flight from Miami.

Our Lodge provides a welcome retreat amidst breathtaking natural beauty. This is an “unplugged” experience: you will not find guest telephones, TVs, or in-room Internet connections. To help reduce our ecological footprint, there’s no air conditioning. However, most guest rooms have screened windows on three sides, so you can enjoy the evening breezes (and there are ceiling and floor fans available if you need them). The open-air restaurant and lounge, which overlooks the tree-lined grounds and the sparkling bay beyond, are popular meeting places throughout the day and evening. The Lodge’s chefs offer meals that include fish and other meats, locally grown produce, and tropical fruits. Dinner is served around 5:00 pm each day, so there is plenty of time to prepare for a great night under the stars. And throughout the night, you can count on regular cups of expertly brewed coffee—Costa Rica’s most famous export.

While at our night-sky retreat, enjoy a morning guided birding excursion in and around the 800-acre Star Lodge plantation, as well as the nearby mangrove, where up to 100 species of North Pacific dry forest birds can be found. From Tricolored Herons to the ever-popular Turquoise-browed Motmot, you will not be disappointed by the medley of chroma and the tuneful singing. We also head out from the Lodge’s private pier on a half-day boat tour along the Gulf of Nicoya. As we meander through the coastal mangrove habitat, our naturalist guide helps us spot and identify the many species of North Pacific forest birds that nest there.

The beautiful southern Milky Way features numerous splendid sights, including the famous Southern Cross on the left. (Photo by Gary Seronik/TQ)
A few of the cabins at our Star Lodge. The field in front of them opens to the south and is perfect for stargazing. (Photo by Aram Kaprielian/TQ)

Beyond the Stars

Of course, our tour in Costa Rica takes in more than the night sky. Join us, and discover for yourself why travelers from around the world celebrate this beautiful country in the heart of Central America for its rich biodiversity, dramatically varied landscapes, and the warm hospitality of its people. Experience the best of this safe, accessible paradise on North America’s doorstep.

Our naturalist guides will show you the best of the country’s diverse ecosystems—from primeval rainforests to mangrove-lined waterways along the Pacific coast. Spot monkeys and sloths in the forest canopy, crocodiles and exotic frogs in the wetlands, and myriad species of jungle and water birds soaring overhead. On the ground is a host of plant life, from orchids and bromeliads to mosses, ferns, and flowering vines. Our guides locate otherwise-missed species in veiled dwellings, and teach you to recognize concealed shelters and telltale signs of life in some of the most fascinating natural habitats on the planet.

We’ll visit Arenal, the youngest of all Costa Rican volcanoes. Rising more than 5,200 feet (1,600 meters) above sea level, it’s the most active of all Costa Rican volcanoes. Arenal last erupted in 1998, and eruptions can be traced back more than 7,000 years. Nearby is a rainforest canopy, with a series of “hanging bridges” that span the treetops of this lush corridor. The breathtaking 360° views include (jungle mists permitting) a unique vantage point on Arenal’s fissured slopes and classic conical profile. Farther on is the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, named for the near-constant mists that create a moist, warm environment where exotic plants thrive. On the trails through this lush ecosystem, our naturalist points out a remarkable array of flowers, animals, and especially birds. The bare-necked umbrellabird, the three-wattled bellbird, and, if we’re lucky, the fabulously colorful quetzal are all there, somewhere in this amazing forest. It’s a birdwatcher’s paradise.

In Costa Rica, environmentalism and tourism go hand in hand. The country has become a model nation for its environmental sustainability and stewardship. This care is evident throughout the countryside. During our numerous trail walks, our naturalist guides will reveal the country’s diverse ecosystems that range from rainforests and forest canopies to mangrove-lined waterways, wetlands, and jungle. Our Costa Rica tour will reveal a paradise of biodiversity and spectacular natural beauty.

The Roseate Spoonbill’s spoon-shaped bill allows it to sift easily through mud in shallow coastal waters. (Photo by Gary Seronik/TQ)
A group shot of our group of Costa Rica travelers in 2020. (Photo by David Eicher/TQ)
Our hotel near the Arenal volcano has a fine view of the mountain as well as beautiful and lush grounds. (Photo by Aram Kaprielian/TQ)

A Different Costa Rica Tour

A unique feature of our tours in Costa Rica are the three days (and nights) spent at our Star Lodge. Situated on the Gulf of Nicoya on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, the Lodge is nestled in the midst of a bird and wildlife habitat and is reserved exclusively for our stargazing and recreational pleasure. Overlooking the tree-lined grounds and the sparkling bay beyond is the swimming pool, lounge, and open-air restaurant. Meals are a creation of fresh ingredients including fish and other meats, locally grown produce, and tropical fruits. Always “on tap” is delicious Costa Rician coffee This is the ideal place to unwind.

During the day, you can join a morning guided birding excursion in and around the 800-acre Star Lodge plantation, as well as the nearby mangrove, where up to 100 species of North Pacific dry forest birds can be found. We also head out from the Lodge’s private pier on a half-day boat tour along the Gulf of Nicoya, meandering through the nearby coastal mangrove habitat. At night, we stargaze, observing the southern night sky from the grounds of our dark-sky Star Lodge. Your room includes red lights to keep your eyes adjusted to the dark before you head out to view the heavens. The Lodge’s manicured lawn has open southern vistas, offering a perfect site for setting up telescopes and other equipment.

The binoculars you use for birding will also work for stargazing. No need to bring a telescope (though you’re welcome to do so), because you can observe the heavens via our Explore Scientific 16-inch Truss-Tube Dobsonian telescope. Our trip astronomer kicks off our first evening of viewing with a tour of the southern sky, pointing out the most impressive sights visible in binoculars and small telescopes. He also helps with astrophotography and is always around to answer your observing questions.

When we visit Costa Rica in mid- to late winter, the southern Milky Way and its celestial jewels are on display: the Southern Cross, the beautiful Eta Carinae nebula, the glorious Omega Centauri globular cluster, the Jewel Box star cluster, and many more. As a bonus, the center of our Milky Way galaxy rises during the early morning hours, providing fine views of the bright star clouds and dark dust lanes of our galactic home. Make no mistake—many of our tour participants stay up all night to take advantage of the many southern sky sights not visible from more northerly latitudes.

The attractive grounds of our Star Lodge offer fine views across the Gulf of Nicoya. (Photo by Gary Seronik/TQ)

Join Us in Costa Rica

It’s easy to forget how accessible Costa Rica is—San Jose, the capital, is only a 2.5-hour flight from Miami. And the country is on Central Time, so there’s none of the usual jet lag that comes with crossing multiple time zones. Other aspects of everyday life are equally simple, whether it’s the standard North American AC voltage (no need to pack adapters), or the fact that US dollars are accepted virtually everywhere. Best of all, it’s one of the safest and most hospitable destinations to which TravelQuest journeys.

If this unusual vacation in Costa Rica sounds like perfection, why not come with us on our next Jewels of Costa Rica and the Southern Milky Way group tour? It’s a perfect tropical escape from the northern winter. And it’s a balanced journey—three days exploring some of the world’s most striking natural wonders, and three evenings surveying the secrets of the southern sky with a small group of intrepid sky watchers.

So join us on one of our Costa Rica tours, and discover the warm hospitality of a people who love to share what they call “la pura vida”—“the pure life.” Contact TravelQuest for more details on this journey to one of the most awe-inspiring places on Earth!

Header image by Gary Seronik/TQ