On this trip we will experience some of the finest photo destinations that Costa Rica has to offer. Christopher P. Baker has been writing about and photographing this diverse country for almost 30 years—including the National Geographic Traveler Costa Rica guidebook—and knows every part of the country like the back of his hand. Since Costa Rica is known above all for its ecological diversity, and as a nature-lover’s paradise par excellence, he’s selected a variety of environments that maximize the best locations for photographing both nature and culture.
We’ll start in the Central Highlands, in the heart of coffee country, where we’ll arrange photos shoots at an organic coffee farm and an artisanal chocolate maker’s; as well as a mask-making workshop in the historic town of Barva, and at the only remaining taller (workshop) still making Costa Rica’s iconic painted carretas (ox-carts). We’ll journey through the scenic highlands to Zarcero, a lovely town known for its topiary, before continuing down the serpentine mountain roads that lead into the Northern Lowlands.
Basing ourselves at Arenal Observatory Lodge, we’ll enjoy unparalleled vistas of Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal, with plenty of opportunities to photograph at by day and night. We’ll hike the mountain trails, where we can expect to photograph a wide range of birds, from oropendolas to toucans, and perhaps even such mammals as sloths, peccaries, and (if truly lucky) rare wild cat species. A telephoto lens is a must!
Next, we’ll journey around Lake Arenal and cross the mountains to Guanacaste, Costa Rica’s driest zone, with its own unique dry-forest flora. We hope to catch some of the late-blooming tree species, such as malinche—royal poinciana, or “flame tree”—with its dramatic bright red display. Here well explores the wetlands to photograph giant jabiru storks and other birds, and perhaps even a crocodile or two. Guanacaste is cattle-country, and we plan on an opportunity to shoot at a working ranch, as well as at Guaitíl, a hamlet where descendants of Chorotega indigenous people produce hand-crafted pottery in the traditional manner. Expect superb photography here!
We then return to the highlands for two nights in Monteverde, renowned for its cloud forest reserves. With luck, we’ll be able to photograph the quetzal, and we’ll focus close-up on hummingbirds also, as we explore Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Finally, we venture via the colorful town of Atenas to the southern slopes of Poás Volcano for two nights. Hopefully, we’ll be able to hike the dwarf-forest and venture to the crater rim (the park is often closed for long periods due to volcanic activity) for spectacular photography to end our tour.
Day 1 (April 22):
We’ll meet at the Hotel Bougainvillea, a lovely property set amid lush gardens in Santo Domingo de Heredia, surrounded by coffee fields on the outskirts of San José. A shuttle runs to and from the capital for early arrivers who may wish to explore downtown San José. We’ll meet this evening for dinner and spend the night away from the noisy bustle of the city. Spend the night in Santo Domingo.
Day 2 (April 23):
We’ll journey this morning to Santa Bárbara de Heredia and Finca Rosa Blanca, an organic coffee plantation where we’ll learn first-hand about traditional coffee production, cupping, etc. The setting is lovely, and we may get to meet with the finca owner, Glenn Jampol—a close friend of Christopher’s—and perhaps even visit the finca’s photogenic boutique hotel. Then we head east to Sibú Chocolate, an artisanal chocolate producer and café where we’ll lunch, followed by, a fascinating presentation about chocolate culture. Spend the night in Santo Domingo.
Day 3 (April 24):
A short distance north of our hotel, the community of Barva is one of the most historic towns in the highlands, famous also for its huge mascaras (masks). We’ll visit the basilica then photograph at a mask-making workshop. We then wind through the coffee fields westward to Sarchí, Costa Rica’s premier artisan center. Here we’ll photograph at the only taller (workshop) still making Costa Rica’s iconic painted carretas (ox-carts), which it does in the traditional manner, powered by a giant waterwheel. We overnight amid coffee fields in the highlands near Llano Bonito.
Day 4 (April 25):
After visiting a local farm we go further into the mountains to Zarcero, with an impressive setting and a famous plaza adorned with fantastical topiary. Then we’ll head sharply down into the Northern Lowlands to La Fortuna, an agricultural town and adventure center with Arenal Volcano as a sensational backdrop. We’ll enjoy a superb view of the volcano from a lodge on the slopes of an extinct volcano overlooking Arenal. The lodge will be our home for the next two nights.
Day 5 (April 26):
This morning we’ll explore along the trails around our hotel, with countless opportunities to photograph birds, butterflies and, hopefully, mammals such as capuchin monkeys, sloths, and coatis. Your afternoon will be at leisure: a chance to relax, further explore the grounds, or to partake in the many activities available locally. This evening we’ll descend to a local hot spring to soak in thermal waters. Second night at the lodge.
Day 6 (April 27):
Today we venture around the superbly scenic north shore of Lake Arenal and descend to Guanacaste. This dry lowland region (once part of Nicaragua) is quintessential cattle country and we’ll find time to visit a working cattle farm to photograph. After lunch overlooking the Corobici River (popular for whitewater rafting), we’ll stop in Liberia to photograph the historic colonial quarter before continuing to Guaitíl. The tranquil village is famous as a center for Chorotega ceramics, providing opportunities to photograph every stage of production. We overnight in the heart of the Tempisque wetlands in Guanacaste.
Day 7 (April 28):
We’ll dedicate today to exploring the wetlands—a superb birding venue, where we have a strong likelihood of seeing roseate spoonbills and jabiru storks close up—and the shoreline of Palo Verde National Park on a boat tour, accompanied by a naturalist guide. Keep your camera at the read for crocodiles and all manner of other wildlife. We’ll spend a final night in Guanacasta.
Day 8 (April 29):
This morning we pass through the village of Las Juntas de Abangares and climb back into the Meseta Central. We’ll take advantage of any opportunities to photograph as we meander past dairy farms to reach Monteverde. Founded by U.S. Quakers in the 1950s, this world-famous mountain community, and its sister community of Santa Elena, is the gateway to several cloud forest reserves and is today a center for adventure activities. We’ll have the afternoon free to explore the community at leisure. Overnight in Santa Elena.
Day 9 (April 30):
Up early this morning to explore Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve at the peak hour for birding. We have a very good chance of photographing the Resplendent quetzal—an unforgettable treat! The trails also offer opportunities to focus up close on insects, plus orchids and other flora. We’ll also visit the Hummingbird Gallery, named for the many hummingbirds drawn to the feeders. The afternoon is again free for you to relax, or take advantage of the many venues (from a Serpentarium to The Bat Jungle) and activities (from horseback riding to ziplines). We’ll continue our stay in Santa Elena.
Day 10 (May 1):
After breakfast, we’ll drive via Atenas and La Garita and the old carreta route (followed in olden days by carts hauling coffee beans to the Pacific port of Puntarenas). We’ll break to photograph at the Botanical Orchid Garden. Following lunch, we’ll continue to our hotel, at the base of Poás Volcano. We’ll spend the night in El Cacao, Alajuela.
Day 11 (May 2):
We’ll rise early to take advantage of the best weather conditions as we drive up the mountain to Poás Volcano National Park, where we hope to photograph the massive crater from the viewing platform (NOTE: The park frequently closes due to volcanic activity.) We’ll also hike amid a photogenic dwarf forest, plus enjoy the spectacular scenery as we descend again past strawberry and dairy farms. This afternoon is at leisure, with an option to visit downtown San José. We’ll spend our second and final night in El Cacao, Alajuela.
Day 12 (May 3):
We’ll transfer to the airport for your flights home.
Or…. OPTIONAL EXTENSION to Tortuguero National Park
Ext. day 1 (May 3):
This morning we’ll journey from Villas San Ignacio Hotel to Tortuguero National Park, one of the last large areas of tropical rain forest in Central America. Eleven habitats are found in the park and are home to three species of monkeys (Spider, Howler, and White-faced), Three-toed Sloths, and river otters which are frequently seen along the natural inland waterways and canals. Caiman, iguanas, river turtles, Basilisk Lizards, and Poison Dart Frogs (Dendrobates) inhabit the area, along with more than 320 species of birds including all six species of kingfishers found in the new world, 3 species of toucans, 8 species of parrots, and other neo-tropical species such as the Slaty-tailed Trogon, White-collared Manakin, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, and White-fronted Nunbird.
We’ll travel Highway 32 past the scenic Braulio Carrillo National Park. Our journey will continue to the dock at either La Pavona in Guapiles or Caño Blanco in Siquirres (La Pavona is our main port of operation, but depending on weather conditions it might be necessary to change to Caño Blanco) where we’ll board our private boat for the one hour ride to Tortuguero and Tortuga Lodge (times might vary depending on river’s water level). Tortuga Lodge and Gardens is situated on 146 acres of private land bordering Tortuguero National Park on Costa Rica’s northeast Caribbean coast. Tortuguero, called the Amazon of Costa Rica, contains slow-moving tropical rivers that function as the roads in the area. Visitors are immersed in a world where the forest merges with the water.
In the afternoon we’ll explore the small village of Tortuguero. A town with no cars and one street. Through this visit, learn about and photograph the ways of life of the local residents. Once back at the Lodge, we’ll have a chance to relax with some snacks before dinner. Overnight at Tortuga Lodge.
Ext. day 2 (May 4):
Today we’ll explore the incredible Tortuguero National Park along the canals via private boat and guide. Any number of animals can be expected as we drift through the canals. It is an experience not to be missed. (Umbrellas, rubber boots, socks, ponchos and bug spray will be provided!) Back at the lodge, there will be some free time to relax before dinner. Overnight at Tortuga Lodge.
Ext. day 3 (May 5):
After breakfast, we’ll transfer by boat and bus to San José where we’ll check in to our hotel. The afternoon will be free to explore the town or perhaps do some photo editing. Overnight in San Jose.
Ext. day 4 (May 6):
Guests will be transferred to the hotel to board their home-bound flights.