Pura vida!

Red-eyed tree frogs, howler monkeys, spectacled caimans, poison dart frogs, toucans, coatis, and great green macaws. Ever since an early age, the name of ‘Costa Rica’ conjured up images of a magical land. Pouring over my parents’ copy of ‘The Atlas of World Wildlife’ I read about remote tropical rainforest some 9000 km away, exotic critters and pristine wilderness. Needless to say, this destination was high on my bucket list and it was [insert positive superlative here] to be able to visit the ‘rich coast’ in January of this year.

Costa Rica is a truly spectacular country with great wildlife opportunities, very friendly and genuine people, easy traveling, a well-developed infrastructure, and seemingly more Italian restaurants than in any other country outside of Italy. It might sound weird, but life in the countryside strongly reminded me of Romania. The small farming villages dotting the landscape – albeit with lusher and greener vegetation – have the same atmosphere and people seem to have the same way of life. All good stuff.

On the downside, I arrived feeling already ill, despite downing lots of exotic over the counter drugs acquired in the USA on our stopover. I will spare you the graphic details, but energy levels were pretty low… It was a very very frustrating experience of not being able to give 100% photography wise, despite multiple poison dart frog species prancing around. Luckily, a local GP provided me with a well-aimed syringe injection in the buttocks… and onwards I went once more 🙂

The abundance and diversity of plant- and wildlife is simply overwhelming. It is just wonderful to be a naturalist and observe creatures you never saw before. This was my first photography trip to tropical (rain)forests and that brought its own challenges. Being from the Netherlands – where we both have plenty of rain and forest, but not combined – it was refreshing to learn a whole new skill set of observing and photography techniques. I really enjoyed the low light capabilities and weather-sealed properties of my Canon 5D MK III, but it was often still a challenge to get a clear shot of your subject in between the dense vegetation. Preparation is key and among my sources, I like to recommend the e-book ‘The Guide to Tropical Nature Photography’ by Gregory Basco and Glenn Bartley. Very useful insights, although the layout was a bit too distracting for my taste.

The absolute highlight for me (in terms of both experience and photography) was going into the jungle at night, which I did whenever I had the chance. Not only can you see different species, like Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops asper), Mouse opossum (Marmosa spec.), loads of amphibians, insects, spiders, bats and did I mention loads of amphibians already? But you are immersed in a whole new world of sights and sounds. It was great to experiment with a setup that consisted of my tripod, a 100mm lens, and multiple modified flashlights.

On a different note: having been a well-developed holiday destination for several decades, means that sometimes you have to look a little harder for that remote rainforest and pristine wilderness I mentioned earlier. A logical consequence, but consider this naivety on my side. Seeing seventy year olds going by using walking frames – though inspiring in a way – somewhat dampened my sense of adventure 🙂 Some parts (like Monteverde & Manual Antonia for example) can feel completely overrun by tourists, even though wildlife viewing opportunities are still very good. It all depends on what you want to gain from the experience of course, but I preferred the quieter lowlands of north-eastern Costa Rica (with both primary and secondary rainforest) and the impressive delta of Tortuguero (which can be very busy too, but we were outside sea turtle nesting season).

This is a country I really felt at home in. With over 25% of Costa Rica designated as protected area, there is plenty more to see and I’m definitely looking forward to return. Pura vida!

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