Costa Rica 2008
In 2006, we traveled to Costa Rica with students from our school. We had such a wonderful time that we decided to return, this time with a group organized by Elderhostel (www.elderhostel.org) and led by Greg Basco (www.deepgreenphotography.com). Since the purpose of the trip was to enhance our knowledge of photography, we ended up with a lot of pictures, many of them very good. Paring them down to a usable gallery has been challenging! At any rate, we truly enjoyed our trip, and extend thanks to Elderhostel, an excellent organization for mature travelers, and to Greg, an outstanding nature photographer and instructor for providing us with this opportunity. This web page is organized by site and in the order in which we traveled to each.
Our first night was spent in this very attractive hotel in San Jose. The gardens are beautiful. If you stay there, be sure to give yourself time to explore them in some detail. The rooms are pleasant with balconies that have views of the gardens and of the mountains in the distance on the other side of the city. Our breakfast at the hotel in the morning was very tasty, as well, and the people are friendly and helpful.
Arenal Observatory Lodge
This was our second visit to the Lodge (www.arenalobservatorylodge.com), and this time we had much better weather. The first time around it poured down rain, and we never got to see the volcano. This time, it appeared each morning, and also most of the night. We got some good shots of eruptions as well as some fairly nice portraits of the volcano at rest. We also got in some good bird photography at the feeders and saw a crew of coati mundis sharing the birds' fruity bounty. The road to the Lodge was stopped up a couple of times when a troop of howler monkeys decided to feed in the trees above. Of course, we stopped to take pictures, too!
One of our side trips was to Danaus Ecocenter, a facility that provides sanctuary to some of Costa Rica's endangered denizens, including sloths and red-eyed tree frogs. We practiced our photo skills on these animals, as well as butterflies, boat-billed herons, a variety of flowers, and a caiman hanging out by a pool.
Arenal Sky Tram
A second side trip was to the Sky Tram for a ride up into the rainforest and an opportunity to photograph the volcano, Arenal Lake, and folks who were brave enough to try out the zip line. (That didn't include any of us, sadly.) The tram itself made for a very interesting ride up through the rainforest canopy until we reached the very top, so we got to see a lot of the plants that live high up in the trees.
Another beautiful area in Costa Rica is Sarapiqui. Selve Verde (www.selvaverde.com), a private rainforest preserve, was our base of operations in this part of the country. This facility offers delicious food in an attractive restaurant, a very nice pool in a beautiful tropical setting, and rooms that are like living in a tree house. The grounds are well-kept and planted very nicely, as well. We were awakened by roosters crowing and howler monkeys howling--an unusual combination, but an interesting one. This is where we photographed red-eyed tree frogs with flashlights, encountered a fer de lance, and worked with poison frogs captured from the wild. Selve Verde is an excellent choice of venue for this area. (Just a note: The website for Selve Verde is great. It's full of photos of all of the animals you might expect to see, as well as informative about the facility.)
Located at 4,000 feet elevation, this small establishment offers fabulous views of a cloud forest waterfall and some beautiful hummingbirds. Vera keeps feeders full of sugar water and the hummers just keep coming. Since this was my first experience with hummers, I first just watched them, and then got some fairly good shots of them perching on sticks, flowers, and other available places as they awaited their turns at the feeders. We also got a chance to play with a hairy tarantula and get shots of it on a hand of bananas. I got a good photo of the waterfall and Bill got some great cloud forest shots as the mists kept slipping in and out of the verdant valley. If you are in this area, visit Vera's Place if you enjoy watching hummingbirds.
From the rainforests of Sarapiqui we headed west over the mountains to Dominical on the Pacific coast. The bus ride over Cerro De La Muerte at 10,000 feet elevation took us from rainforest up through hardwood trees to dwarfed vegetation and back down again, literally passing through the clouds each way. When we made a rest stop at a small shop, we were surprised to find that it was only 54 degrees. We also photographed the Sucia River, which runs yellow from sulphur produced by Irazu Volcano.
We stayed at Hotel Villas Rio Mar (www.villasriomar.com) in Dominical. This is a fairly nice facility, but lacking in the finer points. For example, we had to find our room in the dark, and there were no lights or indicators to help us. The staff member who was supposed to lead left us and went on ahead. However, the grounds are beautiful, with many flowers, birds, and animals to photograph. They also have a lovely pool, and the rooms are comfortable. The bathrooms are huge!
While at Dominical, we photographed sunsets over the Pacific Ocean and birds at the river. We also explored the grounds of the hotel and found black iguanas and tiger herons to shoot. Thanks to our naturalist, Yehody, we also got the unique experience of observing and photographing some tiny leaf-nosed bats.
Also in Dominical we made a side trip to La Cucinga. What will I remember best about this place? Chestnut mandibled toucans, and the best bathrooms I have ever seen anywhere! The bathrooms are all made from native woods beautifully finished. The toucans perched in trees and provided people with terrific opportunities for photos. I'll also remember the bananas growing near the dining area and the delicious food we were served. The facility is a study center and a retreat center situated on a high cliff overlooking the Pacific, so you know that the scenery is phenomenal. It is a very enjoyable place to visit, and probably a good place to stay.
Savegre Mountain Hotel
Savegre Mountain Hotel (www.savegre.co.cr) was the spot I loved best during this trip to Costa Rica. The valley is remote and beautiful. To get there, we had to go down a precipitous dirt road that wound around the mountainside and threatened to dump us off the edge at every moment. Once we arrived at Savegre, though, the drive was forgotten. This facility, built and run by the Chacon family, is a refuge. They serve their own fresh trout caught from pools on the property for dinner. They have hundreds of hummingbirds that come to feeders all day, and also to the flowers in the gardens. Our mini-suite was located right beside the swiftly flowing river, and was very comfortable, even though the room was a little small. Days at Savegre were warm and nights were chilly, even though it was July.
We hiked out to find the resplendent quetzals and photographed the river. We spent hours taking pictures of hummingbirds in flight or perched on calla lily leaves and blossom. In short, we simply enjoyed the peace and beauty of the place.
The hotel provides income for everyone in the valley. In addition, several scientific institutions have research centers there to study everything from fungi to quetzals. This is a site that you should not miss if you decide to visit Costa Rica.
Casa Conde Apartotel and Suites
The last stop on our tour was this suite hotel in San Jose. This was our second visit, and it was every bit as pleasant as the first. The suites at Casa Conde (www.1-costaricalink.com/hotels_san_jose
_costa_rica/hotel_casa_conde_apartotel_costa_rica.htm) are very well-appointed, and complete with kitcens, 2 bedrooms, a nice laundry area, a sitting area, and great bathrooms. They also have a pool and restaurant seating outside by the pool. The service is excellent, and the food is very good. The grounds are very well land-scaped and most walls have murals depicting Costa Rican life. The best part for me, though, are the stained glass windows in each building that show all of the major ecological areas of the country. This is an great choice for lodging, and we recommend it very highly.
We love Costa Rica as a destination for travel. If you are into photography, or if you just want to see the country and enjoy what it has to offer, we recommend two possible ways to do so. If you are an Elderhosteler, their photo trip is excellent. If not, or if you're just an independent soul, Foto Verde (www.fotoverdetours.com) is an excellent travel agency in Costa Rica. They can put you on one of their already-planned tours, or help you create your own custom destinations. It is specifically designed for photographers, and is owned and run by professional photographers.