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Photographing Wild Costa Rica

8 days with Natural Habitat Adventures   Rating: Deluxe

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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 a 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 crimson-fronted parakeet. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner at our hotel. 
Day 2: Cerro de la Muerte / Paraiso del Quetzal
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 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. 
Day 3: Savegre Nature Reserve / Los Quetzales National Park
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.
Day 4: Bird Photography in Savegre / Sarapiqui
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. 
Day 5: La Selva / Sarapiqui River Cruise
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. 
Day 6: Costa Rica Nature Pavilion / Sarapiqui
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.
Day 7: Mirador Cinchona / Xandari Plantation / San Jose
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.
Day 8: San Jose / Depart
Our Costa Rica adventure ends as we transfer to the airport this morning for departing flights.
All This Included
Secluded in the tropical wilderness, our small group of photographers is one with the verdant landscape. We wait in silence in the cloud forest and train a keen eye high in the trees, looking for brilliant specimens of Costa Rica’s hundreds of beautiful bird species. Our ultimate quest is the resplendent quetzal, sacred to the indigenous people of these remote mountains. Keep watch for sloths and monkeys, as we listen to nature’s chirps, caws and calls. All around us, bright bromeliads, orchids and ancient oaks provide enticing subjects, too. Descending from the cloud-swathed Talamanca range to the rain forest of Sarapiqui, embark on a river cruise revealing crocodiles, frogs and myriad jungle wildlife. For nature photographers, Costa Rica is Pura Vida!
  • All transportation and activities as described in the itinerary
  • Accommodations
  • Meals from dinner on Day 1 through breakfast on the final day
  • Soft drinks with meals and purified drinking water with meals and activities
  • Services of NHA Expedition Leader, local guides and lodge staff
  • Airport transfers on Day 1 and the final day
  • Most gratuities
  • All permits, entrance fees and taxes
  • Photograph a wide array of exotic tropical birds, from brilliant hummingbirds to coveted finds like the resplendent quetzal and great green macaw
  • Capture photos of jungle wildlife—sloth, tapir, peccary, agouti, coati, monkeys and more—on guided nature walks and a private boat cruise on the Sarapiqui River
  • Visit world-famous La Selva biological research station to learn about conservation from active scientists and explore the rain forest on a naturalist-guided photo adventure
San Jose: Hotel Bougainvillea
San Gerardo de Dota: Savegre Mountain Lodge
Braulio Carrillo National Park: La Quinta Country Inn
Central Valley: Xandari Resort & Spa
Pre and Post Add-ons
Arenal Volcano Extension - 3 Days / Year-Round, From $1295
Visit Costa Rica’s most dramatic landmark, Arenal Volcano, one of the most famous volcanoes in the world.
Costa Rica & the Panama Canal - 8 Days / Dec - Mar, From $5990
Explore tropical rain forests, wander pristine beaches, snorkel over colorful reefs, and cruise the legendary Panama Canal on this small-ship nature adventure.
  • Group Size Limit: Approximately 10 Travelers.
  • Not Included: Travel to and from start and end point of trip, alcoholic beverages, some gratuities, passport and visa fees, optional activities, items of a personal nature (phone calls, laundry, etc.), airport and departure taxes, optional travel insurance.
  • Physical Requirements: Moderate. This adventure does not require a high degree of physical fitness, however, in order to participate in this trip, travelers should be able to walk 2-3 miles unassisted over uneven terrain with potentially muddy, slippery surfaces, up inclines involving some altitude gain, and at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet above sea level. Travelers should be aware that the heat and humidity may be very high in Sarapiqui, while temperatures may be quite cold in the Talamanca Mountains, especially at night. Roads throughout the trip may be bumpy.
  • Important Information About This Trip: This meticulously designed Costa Rica photography expedition takes small groups of travelers on an intimate journey into two distinct ecosystems, offering a range of activities that give our guests the best wildlife photography opportunities available in this world-renowned ecotourism destination. 
  • Mandatory Insurance: Since the areas we travel to on this trip are remote and wild (that's why we go there!), we require medical evacuation insurance for our guests' safety. If you decline the medical evacuation insurance coverage offered by Natural Habitat, we request that you send us documentation of the independent coverage you have selected. We will add the cost of a medical evacuation policy to your tour invoice until you provide our office with proof of coverage including your insurance company's name, contact number and your individual policy number. Thank you for understanding that our policy exists exclusively in the interest of our guests' safety. 
  • Getting There & Getting Home: Arrive in San Jose by 4:30 pm in order to make it to the hotel in time for a 6 pm welcome dinner on Day 1. You may depart any time on the final day. 
  • Please ask your Vacations To Go travel counselor for more information.
Terms and Conditions
For Natural Habitat Adventures terms and conditions, please click here.

* The prices shown are U.S. dollars per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability. Prices quoted for land/cruise arrangements are subject to increase without notice. Once we have received your deposit, land/cruise prices are guaranteed. Air prices quoted via phone or email are subject to increase and are guaranteed only from the time that full payment is received. Also, air prices or air promotions mentioned on this site or on the phone do not include baggage fees imposed by airlines.