Costa Rica - Quetzals, Hummingbirds, and Tanagers 2020

Leader: John Crawley

Trip Dates  November 2 - November 7, 2020 (arrive November 1, depart November 8)

From: Fly to and from San Jose, Costa Rica

Target Group Size: 6 participants. Minimum 4

Photo Tour Fees: 
$5700 / person. ALL INCLUSIVE
Fee includes all lodging, food, in-field guiding, instruction, transportation and gas, permits. It even includes $240 in tips for drivers, cooking staff, lodge hosts, local guides, etc. The only thing you will have to worry about is if you chose to purchase any gifts or alcohol. $1000 will be required to reserve the spot on the trip, then the balance of $4700 will be due 90 days prior to the trip.

Renown for it’s biodiversity and ecotourism, many bird photographers put Costa Rica at the top of their lists of places to visit. On this trip we will emphasize three types of birds: Quetzals, Hummingbirds, and Tanagers. Along the way, we will photograph quite a variety of other species as well (see species list below). By visiting a variety of habitats, this trip will give the participants an appreciation for the range of beauty and diversity the country has to offer. By working with local businesses as well as collaborating with guides who grew up here and make their living showing visitors specialized areas and target species, we have created a team to make this trip unbelievably productive. 




November 1 - pre-trip - fly to San Jose, Costa Rica. We will have transportation to the Crown Plaza Hotel and an optional meet and greet dinner with the group.

November 2 - day 1 - Drive to our first hummingbird location at mid-elevation. Photograph at least five awesome hummingbird species as well as a few other birds both in natural light and at a flash set-up.

November 3 - day 2 - Photograph hummingbirds and other species right on the property of our lodge. After lunch we will have some time to do some macro with some amazing reptiles and amphibians as well.

November 4 - day 3 - Drive to low elevation and photograph up to six more hummingbird species including a chance at the beautiful Snowcap hummingbird. We will also join a local guide for a very short hike to look for roosting bats and owls in the daytime. Sloth may be possible as well. We should be able to pick up our first three tanager species at a feeder setup this afternoon.

November 5 - day 4 - Drive to high elevation and stay at an incredible lodge in the Cloud Forest. We will spend the afternoon with high elevation hummingbirds in natural light and a flash setup.

November 6 - day 5 - We will spend all day with the primary objective of photographing Resplendent Quetzels.

November 7 - day 6 - Descend a few thousand feet to some private residences with feeder setups for tanagers, finches, and more.

November 8 - post-trip - All flights must be scheduled out after 2pm


Equipment: I recommend bringing either a DSLR or ultra high-end mirrorless system. Bring your longest lens. Anything less than 600mm equivalent will really not be enough for many or most of the birds. Most photographers will prefer a 500mm or 600mm with a 1.4x extender or crop sensor body, or an 800mm. We will be passing through some truly spectacular scenery. Although the focus of the trip is birds, we will almost certainly make a few brief stops for mountain vistas. For landscape lenses on this trip, a wide angle and a short telephoto are perfect. I personally bring my 18-55mm and my 70-200mm.


Species in bold are the easier species to find and photograph. We will probably get 70-80% of the bold species. Species which are not bold or italicized are either difficult to find, difficult to photograph, or simply not highest priority. I expect to only get decent shots of about 30-40% of these. 


  • Black Guan

  • Crested Owl

  • Spectacled Owl

  • Bare-shanked Screech-Owl

  • Pale-vented dove

  • Orange-chinned Parakeet

  • Collared Trogon

  • Resplendent Quetzal

  • Hoffman’s Woodpecker

  • Black-cheeked woodpecker

  • Acorn Woodpecker

  • Great Kiskadee

  • Rufous-naped Wren

  • Collared Redstart

  • Passerini’s Tanager

  • Cherrie’s Tanager

  • Blue-gray Tanager

  • Palm Tanager

  • Silver-throated Tanager

  • Flame-colored Tanager

  • Red-legged Honeycreeper

  • Green honeycreeper

  • Bananaquit

  • Buff-throated saltator

  • Sooty-capped chlorospingus

  • Yellow-thighed Finch

  • Large-footed Finch

  • Rufous-collared Sparrow

  • Melodious blackbird

  • Chestnut-headed oropendola

  • Montezuma oropendola

  • and more . . .


  • Violet Sabrewing

  • Green Hermit

  • Long-billed Hermit

  • Stripe-throated Hermit

  • Green-crowned Brilliant

  • Talamancan Hummingbird

  • Fiery-throated Hummingbird

  • Purple-crowned Fairy

  • White-necked Jacobin

  • Crowned Woodnymph

  • Snowy-bellied Hummingbird

  • Stripe-tailed Hummingbird

  • Black-bellied Hummingbird

  • Coppery-headed Emerald

  • Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

  • Cinnamon Hummingbird

  • Green Thorntail Hummingbird

  • Steely-vented Hummingbird

  • Purple throated mountain-gem

  • Magenta-throated woodstar

  • Green Violetear

  • Snowycap

  • Volcano Hummingbird

Other animals:

  • Three-toed Sloth

  • White-nosed Coati

  • White-headed Capuchin

  • Lowland Paca

  • Honduran White Bat

  • Bats in flight

  • Insects, tree frogs, and reptiles

What to pack

  • Boots: Comfortable hiking boots that can get muddy

  • Jacket: You will want a coat that can keep you dry and warm. Be prepared for temperatures in the lower 50's with light rain.

  • Clothes: I wear a baseball cap to keep the prevailing light misty droplets out of my face. Jeans are ok, but if you have pants that slightly more water resistant to the misty moist conditions of the cloud forest, that’s even better. You will want long pants for most to all of the trip. Some people opt for shorts in the lower warmer elevations. You will need short sleeves for three or four days, long sleeves for three or four days, and a couple layers for cool mornings.

  • Binoculars: Not essential, but binoculars are convenient to help spot birds.

  • Lenses:
    Bring a telephoto lens. Anything in the 500mm to the 800mm range will be good. If you use less than 500mm we recommend you also bring a tele-extender. We want to use this longer lens to photograph birds like Quetzals at a comfortable distance, and for small birds near feeders.
    Bring a mid-range lens. A 70-200mm or an 80-400mm are both great choices for example. Mid-range lenses will be perfect for photographing hummingbirds perches at close range, larger owls or animals in a forest, and flight photography.
    Also bring a macro lens. We will have a couple chances to photograph some incredible tree frogs, insects, and reptiles. I also have used my macro lens to photograph hummingbirds point blank at the feeders.
    A wide angle lens is not necessary, but can be used for landscapes. We aren’t planning on having formal landscape photography sessions, but our lodges are situated in some really beautiful areas and some of you will really enjoy snapping a shot off your back deck of a sunrise over the misty hills, or try a long exposure on small terraced waterfalls behind the lodge.

  • Camera: Bring a DSLR or mirrorless. A high frame rate is useful for capturing action, but even more important will be your camera’s ability to handle higher ISOs. In the forest with natural light, we will often want to use an ISO of at least 800, and often 1600. Those of us who are able to use 3200 will be even happier. Shooting at 3200 won’t be mandatory, but it makes life easier occasionally. We will have one Nikon shooter and one Canon shooter available to help answer incidental questions. If you are shooting other brands, we may not be able to help with technical questions. All photographers on this trip should have excellent working knowledge of their gear no matter what brand you use. This trip is not for the novice.

  • Other: Be sure to pack a tripod, tripod head, lens cloth. Bring lots of memory!!!!!! John Crawley and Matthew Studebaker have found that we fill cards faster in Costa Rica faster than just about anywhere else we have ever been. We shoot with 120 GB cards in the cameras and download to external portable drives each evening. You may want a cable release for hummingbird set-ups so that you can sit comfortable and trigger your camera without looking through the viewfinder. You can bring your own flash if you wish but it’s not necessary. All flashes, backgrounds, and triggers for multi-flash hummingbird work will be provided for you.

  • A positive attitude. We want this trip to be enjoyable for everyone. Negative behavior and abrasive attitudes are not tolerated. Please read the waiver when you pay your deposit.

Cell Phones and Internet: You have three options for cell service in Costa Rica. First, you can arrange with your service provider to have an international plan in order to avoid very expensive roaming charges. Second, you can buy a sim card at the airport. Third, you can turn your phone to “airplane mode” and simply use WhatsApp or text to communicate when wifi is available. Wifi is nearly always available at the lodges we visit, but it may be somewhat unreliable and almost certainly very slow.

Weather and Schedule:
The sun rises around 5:30am and sets just after 5pm. Our sleep and shooting schedule will very based on weather and the plans for the day. Be prepared for sunny, humid, warm weather with temperatures in the lower 80s when we are at lower elevations. As we travel higher into the mountains, the temperatures will hover in the 50s and 60s with frequent misty rain.

Transportation: Our group will have a private tour van with plenty of space as well as a dedicated driver to help with luggage.

Hotel: All accommodations are booked as single occupancy unless you tell us otherwise. More details on the lodging will be provided after you sign-up.

Physical requirements and convenience: This trip is incredibly easy as far as nature photography goes, but keep a couple things in mind. Most shooting will take place right next to the vehicle or from porches or decks of lodges. We will have one or two very very short walks into a rain forest, and a couple spots where we need to walk up a small grassy slope. Accommodations will be comfortable, beautiful, but simple. Many roads will be small and bumpy.

Learning / Slideshows: 
This photo tour is primarily about putting you in the right place at the right time to make the best photos possible during your time in Costa Rica. John will pass along exposure and camera setting suggestions. We may have some informal learning opportunities and brief slideshows, but this trip is not designed to help you learn how to use your camera. We will try to peek over everyone's shoulder from time to time to check histograms and exposures. Aside from that, we will need YOU to tell us if you have additional questions, learning objectives, or concerns.


About the trip leader John Crawley:
John Crawley graduated with a degree in zoology with an emphasis in raptor biology and a minor in art history. His quality photography has gained him an incredible following - the number one followed bird account in the US on Instagram. See more of his work @jc_wings on Instagram. On top of his qualifications, he makes an amazing trip leader with his great attitude, kind personality, and natural leadership abilities.

To sign up for the Photo Tour, please add the deposit to your cart at the top of this page. E-mail me with any questions at