Costa Rica - Paradise Found?

After spending 10 days photographing the Caribbean, Volcanoes and the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, I had to ask did I find paradise? In many ways Costa Rica has a little paradise for everyone from those who just want to lounge on the beach to the adventuress who want to zip line thru the jungle. Costa Rica offers something for anyone. As a photographer it was nonstop action for me.

Upon arriving in San Jose customs was very quick. Located right outside of customs was a Kobi cell phone desk. I purchased a Kobi sim card for $20 USD for my unlocked IPhone. It lasted the entire 10 days and was great for calling back to the US and access to 3G internet as I traveled. (even deep in the jungle without AC I had 3G internet) I spent my first night at the Real InterContinental Hotel & Club Tower of San Jose. The Real InterContinental is a 4 star hotel but with many 5 star amenities. There was a mall across the street with a grocery store where I stocked up on supplies. There is also a Kobi store in the mall if you missed the one at the airport. 

The next morning I headed toward my first stop Tortuguero National Park.  Although I had read travel warnings about the bad and narrow roads, I found the roads to be no worst then the mountain roads in North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky. After a very long drive it was another 2 hour boat trip to reach my jungle cabin at the Pachira Lodge. The cabin was basic with no ac but did have electricity and a full bath. The ceiling fan provided relief from the heat at night. No need for an alarm clock the howler monkeys will wake you up early. There are a series of canals that parallel the Caribbean beach that make up Tortuguero National Park. Tortuguero is best known for their huge population of nesting sea turtles; however, this area has one of the greatest diversities of wildlife in Costa Rica. The Pachira Lodge provides boats with guides to tour the canals. The evening tours provided the best light and best wildlife viewing opportunities for photography. I photographed toucans, herons, egrets and many other marsh birds, sloths, monkeys, crocodiles, caimans and Jesus Christ Lizards during the boat tours. 

After 3 days at Tortuguero I headed toward Arenal Volcano located near the town of Fortuna. I stayed at Lomas del Volcan, a 300 acre reserve just north of town with a great view of the volcano. There are less than 50 hand built cabins with all the amenities including AC and a super large bathroom. The food at the restaurant was excellent featuring local Costa Rica fare. Above the resort are maintained hiking trails great for photographing birds. I 

photographed more birds around the reserve than any other single place in Costa Rica. Also there were a lot of active leaf cutting ants. While in Fortuna I visited the Danaus Eco Reserve about 5 miles south of town. This bio reserve is small but has a large variety of native plant life, butterflies, frogs (strawberry poison dart and the famous red eye tree frog), and a couple of sloths. I also visited the famous Hanging Bridges which is about 15 miles from Fortuna. This tested my fear of heights but was well worth the visit. Make sure you take the side trail to the waterfall. I photographed a pit viper, and a tarantula and coatis in this park. 

After another 3 days I headed toward the Pacific coast for some R&R. I stayed at the 5 star JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort and Spa located on the Pacific Ocean. It was a long trip from Fortuna but I made it in time to photograph the sunset over the Pacific. The hotel has the largest infinity pool in Central/South America. It is beautifully landscaped but the 

 area outside of the hotel was more desert like than the tropical Costa Rica I had experienced so far. I stayed in a ground floor room with a small lanai for lounging. It was like having my own private bungalow by the pool. I would highly recommend the ground floor rooms by the pool over the upper rooms with balconies. The food at the resort was excellent but much Americanized. By this time I had become accustomed to traditional Costa Rica dishes. I mostly photographed the resort and the ocean. There was very little wildlife in this area of Costa Rica.

Finally after a couple of days it was time to head back to San Jose. I spent the evening walking around and photographing the historic part of San Jose before heading back to my hotel for an early flight home.

Costa Rica is one of the most challenging places to photograph wildlife. Although wildlife is plentiful it is often hidden in the thick jungle or high up in a tree. Pay close addition to your exposure settings. A long zoom lens is a must. When shooting wildlife in trees I often had to overexpose up to a whole F-stop to counter the bright sky to properly expose a dark colored animal. I bracketed many shots and then chose the best exposure when I got home. Costa Rica is definitely a photographer’s paradise!

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