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Costa Rica is a wildlife lover’s paradise! With an abundance of opportunities to capture animals in their natural habitat, it’s also a photographer’s paradise! Put these together and you have the perfect trip for those looking to see wildlife and take home the proof!
Your naturalist guide on this trip is also an accomplished photographer. So if wildlife photography is your thing, this is a fantastic chance to get some expert tips and tricks. You’ll never have a dull moment in this beautiful green country, so get ready to explore away from the tourist traps! Take in the fresh, clean air and enjoy some peaceful quiet in the rainforest!
Day 1: San Jose, Costa Rica Meet your Expedition Leader on arrival in Costa Rica’s capital and transfer to the Hotel Bougainvillea, a short distance from downtown yet the world apart. The hotel is surrounded by 10 acres of lavishly landscaped botanical gardens with sweeping views of the Central Valley and mountains. Your photography opportunities begin immediately, with close-ups of the many colorful birds drawn to the flowers, bromeliads, heliconias, native trees, herbs, cacti and frog ponds. Some of the emblematic species that frequent the gardens include blue-crowned motmot, ferruginous pygmy owl, and the crimson-fronted parakeet. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner at our hotel.
Driving into the Talamanca Mountains this morning, we stop to shoot the panorama from atop 11,322-foot Cerro de la Muerte, Costa Rica’s highest point along the Pan-American Highway. On the summit, we’ll also photograph various dwarf plants and birds endemic to this range, which may include fiery-throated hummingbird and volcano junco. The rest of the day is devoted to seeking photographs of Costa Rica’s most famous bird: the resplendent quetzal. Its iridescent plumage is regarded by many as the most beautiful in the world, and it is certainly the highlight among the more than 500 different bird species found in Costa Rica’s cloud forest. We spend the day at Paraiso del Quetzal—“Quetzal Paradise”—a private eco-reserve next to Los Quetzales National Park, where we are immersed in the bird’s native habitat. On a guided nature walk led by our Expedition Leader and a local bird expert, we’ll set off with a spotting scope in search of the quetzal and the 100-plus other species that live here. Though quetzals require patience and good fortune to see, the odds here for photographing this mystical, revered bird are the best anywhere. The flora is as impressive as the fauna, and we make our way among trees adorned with luxuriant epiphytes. At higher elevations, the distinct mountain vegetation is dominated by oak and bamboo forest. We’ll also photograph various dwarf plants and birds endemic to this range, which may include timberline wren and sooty robin. This evening, we settle in for two nights at Savegre Mountain Lodge, tucked into the mountainside at 7,200 feet, where the cool air is ideal for hikes among orchids and bromeliads to search for wildlife. The gardens here attract a great variety of local endemics such as yellow-winged vireo, flame-throated warbler, collared redstart and yellow-thighed finch. The hummingbird feeders are always abuzz with activity, visited by green violet-ear, white-throated mountain gem, striped-tailed, volcano, magnificent and scintillant hummingbird varieties, among others. A guided garden walk provides an enticing introduction to our verdant setting.
Today we explore the Savegre Nature Reserve, a 1,000-acre private conservation area in the montane cloud forest. Enjoy exclusive use of a new observation platform with prime photo opportunities of this lush habitat that is home to Baird’s tapir, wild boar, coati, and monkeys, as well as six elusive species of neotropical cats including jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay, oncilla and jaguarundi. As we spend private time on the photography platform during the early morning and afternoon hours, ferns and mosses flourish in the constant mist and tropical birds add dashes of color to the canopy. Face-to-face with a magnificent forest, we are eye-level with a natural garden for hummingbirds including the fiery-throated hummingbird, white-throated mountain-gem, volcano hummingbird and lesser violetear, while spider and white-faced monkeys may be heard in the distant canopy. Feeders on the platform can also attract acorn woodpeckers, yellow-thighed finch, and flame-colored tanager. Trees covered with epiphytes make it easy to spot golden-browed chlorophonia and spangle-cheeked tanager, while red-tail hawks and flocks of endemic sulphur-winged parakeets can make a fly-by. Between visits to the observation platform, we visit the nearly-12.000-foot el paramo in Los Quetzales National Park. This is a prime vantage for landscape photography and seeing endemic species like the green spiny lizard and the unusual volcano junco. We lunch with a local family and visit their farm where they grow mushrooms on oak branches and make delicious blackberry wine. This evening, a treat is in store as we share dinner at the home of a local family.
An early morning walk reveals a wide array of resident species, and we may get photos of emerald toucanet, golden-browed chlorophonia, spangle-cheeked tanager, colibri and trogons, to name but a few. This high-altitude habitat will thrill nature photographers, with its multitude of vibrant bird species and many endemics—the Savegre watershed contains approximately 20 percent of all bird species in Costa Rica. This habitat is ideal, too, for the resplendent quetzal. Listen for their deep, melodious calls as we quietly track them, looking for a giveaway glimpse of red in the trees. Aguacatillo trees, which are a relative of the avocado and one of the quetzal’s favorite foods, cover much of the area. Sloth, coyote, and puma also inhabit the park’s diverse terrain, which encompasses 14 different ecosystems. Later this morning we depart for the lowlands on our drive to the Sarapiqui region of northeast Costa Rica. Humid and carpeted with fruit plantations, Sarapiqui also shelters some of the best-preserved premontane rain forest in the country, making it an outstanding ecotourism destination.
Learn about global efforts to conserve rain forests on a guided walk through La Selva, a renowned international biological research station run by the Organization for Tropical Studies. One of the first private protected areas in Costa Rica, La Selva was established in 1953 and has been a pioneer ever since then in rain forest research, conservation, education and ecotourism. Covering nearly 4,000 biodiverse acres in the Caribbean foothills, it encompasses both old growth and regenerated tropical forest harboring more than 1,850 species of plants, 350 species of trees and 448 bird species. La Selva teems with mammals, too—on our hike led by a La Selva naturalist, we may have a chance to photograph two- and three-toed sloths, collared peccary, agouti, white-nosed coati and tamandua anteater. Troops of white-faced capuchins, mantled howler and Central American spider monkeys often raise a ruckus in the branches. Reptiles and amphibians are also plentiful, and we'll hope for close-ups of Costa Rica's famous red-eyed leaf frog. This afternoon, embark on a 2-hour private boat tour on the Sarapiqui River, enjoying views of the exuberant flora and fauna along the riverbanks. Photo possibilities may include monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, caimans, river turtles, sloths, otters, toucans and a wide diversity of other birds including green ibis and sungrebe. Sarapiqui is also part of a protected biological corridor for the endangered great green macaw.
An exciting morning of photography is in store at the Costa Rica Nature Pavilion. Photographers of all ability levels will delight in the natural perches that bring more than 20 bird species into close proximity for perfect shots. The 10 perches are just 6 to 16 feet from the covered viewing platform and are ideal for all lens sizes. They are positioned 360 degrees around the observation deck to guarantee optimum lighting and backgrounds from sunrise to sunset using both flash and natural light. The surrounding nature park was established after concerted reforestation efforts to provide habitat for 225 different bird varieties—half of all avian species in Sarapiqui. Next, we get a special visit from experts who work at the Snake Garden, which showcases some 50 species of reptiles including all of Costa Rica's poisonous snakes and most of the non-poisonous ones. They will bring a selection of reptiles for us to observe. Among the most notorious are bushmaster, pit viper, fer-de-lance and tropical rattlesnake. Most of the cold-blooded creatures at the Snake Garden are guests—rescued while passing through, and soon to be released at one of the nearby biological reserves.
We stop at Mirador Cinchona today to round out our hummingbird photo collection. While the old Cinchona town site was destroyed by an earthquake in 2009, a new cafe has been built near the classic middle-elevation birding site of Virgen del Socorro, surrounded by multiple feeders that attract a dazzling array of these tiny birds. Here in front of a rushing waterfall we'll hope to photograph coppery-headed emerald, green-crowned brilliant, stripe-throated hermit, violet-crowned wood nymph and green thorntail hummingbirds. Among the many other birds we have a chance to shoot are red-headed barbet, collared aracari, silver-throated tanager, bananaquit and green honeycreeper. After this final exploration of the rain forest, we return to San Jose, stopping en route for a farewell lunch. Our destination, Xandari Plantation Resort & Spa, sits on a coffee plantation overlooking the broad Central Valley. Xandari offers spa treatments, swimming pools, tropical fruit orchards and trails leading to waterfalls, which you have time to enjoy at your leisure.
Our Costa Rica adventure ends as we transfer to the airport this morning for departing flights.
4,586,353 (2011 census)
Equatorial, Monsoon, Tropical Savanna
Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO), Daniel Oduber Airport (LIR)
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