I have just returned from an incredible trip to Costa Rica on a recce for a landscape and wildlife photography holiday that I am running in association with Pioneer Expeditions. We have just released the dates for 2021, when it is going to run from 10 to 24 April. Costa Rica is genuinely one of the most exciting destinations I have visited for both landscape and wildlife so I am extremely excited to share this trip!
The main focus for the photography holiday is wildlife photography. On the recce I spent hours at bird feeders photographing numerous spectacular species including toucans, parakeets and woodpeckers. I also had a magic morning floating along the banks of the thick pristine primary rainforest of Tortuguero National Park capturing the Basilisk Lizard, Monitor Lizard, Caiman, Monkeys and Tiger Herons to name just a few of the highlights. I came face to face with sloths, set up multi-flash hummingbird shots, organised frog shoots, hunted the stunning bright green Quetzal and watched monkeys play in the trees. I’m exhausted just remembering how many photos I took…and that’s just the shortlist! Although we will be visiting many national parks, one of the best things about Costa Rica is that the wildlife is everywhere. On one occasion while on a landscape shoot at sunrise on Punta Leona Beach, I turned around to find I had an audience of three Coati peering through the undergrowth.
White-necked Jacobin Hummingbird
From a landscape photography perspective, Costa Rica is an absolute gem! The perfect cone of Arenal Volcano is a landscape photographer’s dream, and walking on hanging bridges at dawn offers a truly unique vantage point to capture the rainforest. Watching the sky catch fire at sunrise on a completely deserted beach on the Pacific Coast was another highlight.
So, to the trip…
The first stop my recce trip was Tortuguero National Park. I am keeping it this way for the actual trip, as it is the perfect introduction to Costa Rican wildlife. Floating along the banks of pristine rainforest, where it meets the Tortuguero Lagoon offers beautiful scenery and a wealth of wildlife. I was lucky enough to see monitor lizards, monkeys, many many bird species, otters, Basilisk Lizards, two-toed sloths, and gigantic blue rainforest crabs (that’s not me forgetting what they’re called, they are just very unimaginatively name). That was on one short outing, and you’ll be pleased to be hear that on the actual photography holiday I will be including two boat trips.
There are so many other species that can be spotted too, but it just comes down to luck. That is what makes it so exciting! The key to capturing the shot is being on the ball with camera in hand and settings ready. I will make sure you are completely comfortable with how your camera is set up on the first afternoon while exploring Tortuguero town to ensure you don’t miss that once in a lifetime photo opportunity when it presents itself.
Anhinga in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
Basilisk Lizard, one of the many species you will get to photograph on the Costa Rica Wildlife Photography Holiday
Frog photography in Sarapiqui
I have lined up an amazing opportunity to photograph frogs in a controlled, but natural environment. While the ultimate goal is to capture wildlife shots in the national parks, this shoot in Sarapiqui offers the chance to learn macro photography, and start incorporating flash into your wildlife photography. We will use foliage from the frogs’ natural habitat, and each frog will only be photographed once during this shoot before being released again immediately afterwards, minimising the impact on the frogs.
Red Eye Tree Frog, taken on my Costa Rica Wildlife Photography Holiday recce
Boca Tapada is a beautiful, quiet area that lies in the mountains near the Nicaraguan border. The bird photography opportunities here are completely unrivalled. The place we are staying has beautifully positioned bird feeders, a fantastic rainforest trail, and you will get the chance to photograph bats feeding from flowers at night.
Orange Chinned Parakeet in Boca Tapada
Arenal Volcano area offers the first opportunity to get stuck into a “proper” landscape shoot. What do I mean by a proper landscape shoot? Tripods, filters, beautiful light (fingers crossed) and a perfectly conical volcano reflected in a lake. Unfortunately it also comes hand in hand with the possibility of a very early morning! I’ve scouted out the perfect spot on the banks of Arenal Lake from which to photograph Arenal Volcano and its reflection. We’re at the mercy of the weather, so I’ve kept the exact timings here flexible to allow us to head off the moment Arenal Volcano’s summit reveals itself.
In the meantime, we’ll be walking above the rainforest canopy on hanging bridges, relaxing in hot springs and I will be offering tutorials on editing and organising photos in front of the spectacular views from Arenal Lodge. I checked out lots of possible places to stay while on my recce trip and Arenal Lodge won hands down. Why? Well apart from the fact it has an infinity pool with views of the volcano, if we get a clear night you will have the chance to photograph stars above the volcano from the comfort of the lodge’s grounds.
Arenal Volcano underneath the stars
Photographing from hanging bridges in Arenal offers a unique perspective
The abundance of bird life and outrageous size of the crocodiles on the Tarcoles River made for one of my favourite wildlife photography experiences while in Costa Rica. The focus here is going to be photographing birds in flight. Floating through three different habitats (the river itself, the river mouth and mangroves) means there is incredible diversity. Having seen them elsewhere, but always high up above the trees, it was here that I finally captured a shot of two Scarlet Macaws flying side by side. They are actually very considerate to photographers, letting out squawks and screams that carry for miles so you always know when they are coming!
Pair of Scarlet Macaws, taken on a Costa Rica Wildlife Photography Holiday
American White Ibis, taken on a Costa Rica Wildlife Photography Holiday
Crocodile, taken on a Costa Rica Wildlife Photography Holiday
Punta Leona Beach
I have allowed two nights at Punta Leona Beach, giving us the best chance of a beautiful sunrise on a beach that can only be described as a photographer’s paradise. Palm trees, beautiful golden sand and rock formations mean there are plenty of compositional elements to include in the shot. In between time, we will visit a fishing village and Carara National Park. One of the exciting things about walking on rainforest trails is never quite knowing what is going to appear. In Carara National Park, we were lucky enough (or unlucky enough depending on your outlook) to witness a Tiger Heron feasting on a live lizard. Not pretty, but it’s reality!
Playa Arco Beach at sunrise in Uvita, taken on a photography holiday to Costa Rica
I could try as hard as I want to explain how incredible this setting was, but I just won’t be able to do it justice, so I’m going to let the photos do the talking.
This place offered real adventure. At 5am, on went our head torches, and we set off down the rainforest trail directly from Cusinga Lodge in search of Arco Beach. After a steady half hour of walking, we arrived at what is now my favourite beach in the whole world, hands down. The wide expanse of golden sand is backed by a bank of thick, pristine rainforest meaning the beach is completed isolated and receives virtually no visitors other than the small number of guests at Cusinga Lodge. And none of them were there at sunrise! We explored a secret cave, witnessed the most spectacular sunrise, photographed the local birdlife and scenery and all with Howler Monkeys whooping in the background. Truly one of the wildest photography experiences of my life!
Playa Arco Beach at sunrise
Aerial drone photo of Arco Beach in Costa Rica
San Gerardo de Dota
After the heat and humidity of the Pacific Coast, San Gerardo de Dota offered a welcome breath of cool mountain air. The pace of life is much slower too, with time spent sipping coffee while waiting for new birds to visit the feeders. I never would have expected to capture hummingbirds with my macro lens, but they are so unperturbed by human presence that a bit of patience and calm approach allows for a truly up close and personal experience! You can literally feel the air from their wings on your face! I have also organised for a multi-flash hummingbird shoot, which will give you the chance to experience and learn a different style of wildlife photography.
We will also have the chance to practice the techniques learned at Naujaca Waterfalls, as we photograph and walk along the banks of the Savegre River and visit San Gerardo De Dota Waterfall.
Fiery-throated Hummingbird, taken on a Costa Rica Wildlife Photography Holiday
Los Quetzales National Park
The main reason for visiting the area around Los Quetzales National Park is in search of its namesake, the absolutely stunning Resplendent Quetzal. With iridescent feathers producing shades of bright green and cobalt blue, and tail plumes that can reach up to 75cm long, it is a truly majestic bird to witness and photograph. We were incredibly lucky on our trip, stumbling across a mother and its baby almost the moment we arrived. As it flew from perch to perch, it was just a matter of being patient and waiting for it to present its colours to us.
Apart from the obvious reasons for staying at Paraiso Quetzal Lodge, with its breathtaking views, it also does tourism the right way. It has a fantastic relationship with the local farmers in the area. One of the biggest threats to the Resplendent Quetzal is habitat loss. The farmers are now paid to inform the lodge when there is a Quetzal on their property. People like ourselves benefit as it is then easier to locate these illusive birds. The farmers also benefit, and most importantly, so do the Quetzals, whose habitat is valued by the locals, who are incentivised to protect the trees that they nest in.
Resplendent Quetzal, taken on a Costa Rica Wildlife Photography Holiday
The trip is taking place from 10 to 24 April 2021. If you would like to find out more, then please do feel free to either phone or drop me a message!