The ideal exotic offshore destination for nature photographers.
Costa Rica’s volcanoes are irresistible to photographers bent on making long exposures of red-hot rock streaming down a mountainside or exploding into a night sky.
Arenal Volcano near the town of La Fortuna offers the best opportunities for iconic imagery, but you’ll need luck to capture the dramatic eruptions, normally obscured by cloud and fog.
Luckily, you won’t have downtime waiting for skies to clear. You can spend days shooting waterfalls, jungles, cloud forests, and a Noah’s ark of butterflies and frogs at mom-and-pop vivariums and ponds while keeping your eye on the mountain.
VOLCANO TIP: Oddly, your chances of getting a clear shot of the volcano improve during the rainy season (May through November). Scout tripod holes beforehand (best views are on the way to Tabacón hot springs from La Fortuna), as skies may clear only very briefly. Look for a foreground—tree groupings most commonly—that can be used to frame the volcano and give scale to the scene. If you’re blessed with a clear view, chimp your LCD histogram for the best-looking exposure, especially if shooting at night.
Wildlife, Free and Captive:
You’ll encounter plenty of wildlife as you motor from lodge to lodge. You may get good photos of coatimundi, deer, armadillo, sloth, anteater, and giant iguanas.
Visit the numerous ranarios (for frogs and snakes) and mariposarios (for butterflies), advertised in tourist centers (Arenal Volcano, Manuel Antonio National Park). The creatures often are in natural walk-through enclosures. In private ranarios, for a small fee handlers will place specimens in settings of your choice.
WILDLIFE ON-THE-RUN TIP: Keep your camera ready to use by leaving it turned on, setting controls for autofocus and aperture-priority autoexposure at maximum aperture, activating image stabilization, and mounting a moderate telephoto or telezoom lens (300mm) with lenshood.
Costa Rica protects more than 25 percent of its land in parks and preserves, making it a vast playground for nature photographers. Do your research and start packing!
Two hummingbird photo locales, a fruit feeder (refilled each morning) and a unique hummingbird bathing site lure a variety of subjects, including the rare snow-capped hummingbird. (www.ranchonaturalista.net)
Savegre Mountain Lodge
Nestled in a secluded pocket valley beside a trout stream, these hummingbird feeders literally swarm all day long. Just down the road is a photo-dependable hangout for the highly-sought resplendent quetzal.(www.savegre.co.cr)
Lookout Inn Lodge
High on a hill above the Pacific next to Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, this wilderness site is the place to shoot scarlet macaws in flight. Best time is when they are feeding in the date grove below the lodge. (www.lookout-inn.com)
Near the laid-back town of Samara in Guanacaste, this beach boasts excellent sunrise/sunset orientation, sand, rocks, and palm groves, plus large undeveloped sweeps of sand.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Costa Rica’s top tourist destination, this compact collection of beaches offers all-natural settings with boulder-, sand-, lagoon-, and palm-fringed forests, accessorized with tame monkeys.
This surfer-friendly outpost on the Nicoya Peninsula is a gateway to off-the-beaten-path beaches (Santa Teresa, Hermosa, Playa Carmen) best accessed by four-wheel drive along the primitive coastal route.
Nature photographer and filmmaker Tim Fitzharris is author of the bestselling National Audubon Society series of photography guides and producer/director of the feature film, A Far Away Life (www.afaraway lifemovie.com). See lots of his images at www.timfitzharris.com.