A Guide, or Not?

Soon we will be taking a family/birding vacation to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Rainforest – Original Photo by Gunther Wegner

I have been reading for the last year about birding the tropics.  Most of the information state that birding tropics is a completely different experience than birding the mid-latitude temperate climates.  So it might be a good idea to either go with a tour or hire a daily guide.

But it’s not that easy.

Which has led to a back and forth discussion with myself.

First of all, let me say that money doesn’t really come into play.   If I am going to pay the money to go to the tropics, another $50-100 for a daily guide is kind of a moot point.  So that rules out money.

I’ve decided that the real issue is what type of birder you are and what you expect from the adventure.

Probably a Guide

If having as many birds on your list is your thing, then definitely hire a guide or go with a tour.

If you are the type that figures you will only go to the tropics a time or two in your life, and want to see as many birds as possible, than hiring a guide is probably the right thing.

Probably Not

But, and here is where I have my internal argument, if you really like to “see” the birds of an area, especially the common birds, do you need a guide?

When I go to a different area of the U.S. I don’t hire a guide.  I contact a local birder, ask for a good spot to see the local, common birds, and go bird.  As I have stated many times I like to take my time and try to see, maybe even sketch, the common birds of an area.  But with a tour or even a local guide, I feel you have to move at their pace. Which is usually faster than I like and usually leads to not seeing the local birds in-depth.

I have my Answer, Or Not

So I think I have my answer.

Or maybe not.

Back to the point about how birding the tropics is different.  I really don’t want to waste my limited birding time in the tropics by missing birds because I don’t understand the situation.  So probably the best  compromise is to hire a local guide for the first morning. Get a feel for birding the tropics from someone who knows and on subsequent days journey out on my own like I do in the U.S.

Now I hope I have my answer.

And I would appreciate any advice from anyone who has birded the tropics.


3 Replies to “A Guide, or Not?”

  1. I recommend guides, simply to get the most out of your time, esp. if you need to reserve some time for non-birding family activities. More than just the environment is different down there; you will also be unfamiliar with the car rentals, traffic habits, negotiating mountain roads, calculating spending in US vs local currency, trying to find much less read local maps, etc.

    Also, learning about one area does not equip you to bird another distinctly different area–say you have a guide in the Caribbean-side lowlands; that’s not going to have a lot of carry-over to the Monteverde cloud forest.

    One doesn’t have to be part of group tours, either. It’s not terribly more expensive to arrange for private guides. Nor do they have to be all-day affairs; have a guide for some morning birding, then strike out by yourself later in the day, for example.

    1. Thanks for input. It’s what I was looking for. So I’m going to go with a local guide for a morning or two. That should work for a first visit and I can plan subsequent trips from there. And thinks for pointing me towards Matt Hysell’s blog.


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