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Costa Rica: Private Photography Expedition

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Costa Rica: Private Photography Expedition

Discover a wealth of photographic subjects on an itinerary that has been carefully designed to immerse you in the best parts of Costa Rica for nature and wildlife photography.

 With over 850 recorded bird species in a country the size of West Virginia, birding will be very rewarding near all of your comfortable accommodations, with additional excursions into national parks and private reserves to search for regional specialties along with exotic mammals, unusual insects, and brilliantly-hued wildflowers. Designed for photographers of all levels, your bilingual naturalist/photographer guide is with you every step of the way to offer tips and techniques to help you capture the images of a lifetime. 

Daily Itinerary

Costa Rica Photography Itinerary

Scaly-breasted Hummingbird Taken by Andy Morffew
  • Day

    San José, Costa Rica

    Upon arrival, you will be greeted at the airport and transferred to the Hotel Bougainvillea for dinner and overnight. (D)

  • Day

    San Jose / Sarapiqui Region

    After breakfast, meet your bilingual photography and naturalist guide and Spanish-speaking driver who will be with you for the next nine days. En route to the Sarpiqui Region, make a stop at El Tapir Nature Reserve for hummingbird photography. Possible species include snowcap, white-tipped sicklebill, black-crested coquette, blue-chested hummingbird and green thorntail. Some of the raptors you may have the chance to spot here are the white hawk, bat falcon, ornate hawk-eagle and crested eagle. After this, continue to Cope Wildlife, where Jose Alberto or “Cope,” feeds and cares for birds—the house gardens are always full of tanagers, honey-creepers, toucans, woodpeckers, hummingbirds and more. He has built photography hides around the garden, strategically positioned for great lighting and background. One hide overlooks a small pond where the star of the show is the grey-necked wood rail that visits the pond daily.

    Arrive at Estación Biológica La Selva in the late afternoon. Located in the Caribbean foothills of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range, La Selva's protected areas include four major tropical zones with more than 5,000 species of vascular plants, of which more than 700 species are trees. Thousands of arthropod species are being currently recorded at La Selva, and more than 400 species of resident and migratory 

  • Day

    Sarapiqui Region

    Join your guide this morning at the Research Station for a nature walk along on one of the area’s well-maintained trails. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded in this lowland tropical rainforest, including trogons, toucans, great curassows, tanagers, honey-creepers, hummingbirds, euphonias, wrens and many more. Along with a plethora of birds, there are monkeys, agoutis, coatis, and anteaters, as well as a variety of reptiles.              

    Explore the Nature Pavilion Park this afternoon. Photographers of all levels will enjoy using the world-class photo perches which are positioned 360 degrees around the deck to guarantee optimum lighting and backgrounds from sunrise to sunset for both flash and natural light photography. Located in La Virgen de Sarapiqui, your hosts, Dave Sr. and Dave Jr., will greet you to show you the highlights of the property. This farm was formerly an abandoned oil palm plantation; however Dave and Dave decided to start a reforestation process to try to reestablish the natural balance. An observation deck built at the highest point of the farm offers up-close views of birds at the busy feeders. There are also several hummingbird feeders at the house that attract species like the white-necked jacobin and rufous-tailed hummingbirds. There is also a pond where you may observe several species of poison dart frogs. Take a short, but steep trail (with wide cement steps and handrails) to the Sarapiqui River where there are chances to find tiger herons, egrets and sunbirds. After backtracking uphill, take some time to relax at the observation deck. There are about 20 species of birds that frequent this area, including the keel-billed toucan, collared aracari, Montezuma oropendola, golden-hooded and crimson-collared tanager, yellow-crowned euphonia, and green and red-legged honeycreeper. (B,L,D)

  • Day

    Sarapiqui Region / Arenal Volcano National Park

    Today, enjoy one last outing in Sarapiqui—a visit to Frog’s Heaven. Committed to the conservation of amphibians, the owners dedicate part of the profits from each ticket purchased to research and conservation efforts. Investigate a series of terrariums where the natural habitat of each species is recreated, then feel free to wander through the exhibitions of frog species and their natural history.

    Your next stop is Arenal Volcano National Park. At 5,500 feet above sea level, this symmetrical volcano has five craters, and from time to time, deep rumblings can be heard and clouds of vapor or smoke billow from the top. This area also boasts the largest freshwater lake in the country, the man-made Arenal Lake. Check in to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, the only hotel within the park boundaries, for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D) 

  • Day

    Arenal Volcano National Park

    Spend a full day in Arenal where you will have opportunities to photograph the volcano from the observation deck and visit the Butterfly Conservatory. This butterfly conservatory was created as an attempt to restore the natural ecosystems through the rainforest regeneration process and the country’s four most important ecological environs are reproduced in the garden. You can learn about the life cycle and metamorphosis of the butterflies and view exhibits that illustrate how butterflies, frogs, insects and plants co-exist in this natural environment. There are 25 species of butterflies in the garden and more than 800 individuals. You may choose to take a stroll along the Rainforest River Walk which is next to Butterfly Creek, where occasionally you can spot animals such as monkeys, sloths, agoutis and coatis as well as toucans, oropendulas, hummingbirds and parrots. Return to the lodge for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D) 

    Arenal Volcano
  • Day

    Arenal Volcano / Central Pacific Region

    Bid farewell to Arenal this morning and drive to the Central Pacific Region, which encompasses a variety of habitats distributed from sea level up to 3,000 feet. This is an area where the flora and fauna of the northern hemisphere overlaps with southern hemisphere species. Of the many species found here, the scarlet macaw is probably the most impressive, colorful and vocal.  This region encompasses some important conservation areas like Carara National Park. The landscape in the area consists of a mix of secondary growth forest and farmlands. These environs are home to toucans, woodpeckers, tanagers, hummingbirds, orioles, wrens, thrushes, jacanas, gallinules and many more. Green iguanas and frogs are also found in the area, as well as mammals like coatis, agoutis and monkeys. Near the mouth of the Tarcoles River, you can easily observe large American crocodiles sun basking in the sandbanks. Check in to the Macaw Lodge for dinner and overnight.  (B,L,D)

  • Day

    Central Pacific Region

    Today, explore the expansive grounds and gardens of Macaw Lodge, where there is a large bromeliads collection distributed among ponds and natural streams. The large botanical garden is filled with palms, fruit trees, cactus, bamboo and heliconias.

    This afternoon, explore the Tárcoles River by boat. The Tárcoles is home to the world’s largest wild American crocodile population, with some individuals measuring up to fifteen feet in length. In addition to the crocodiles, over fifty different kinds of birds can be seen, including the rare scarlet macaw and a great variety of resident and migrant waterfowl. Iguanas and basilisk lizards are often seen basking along the shoreline. On the way downstream, the boat heads along the Estero Guacalillo, a most impressive mangrove ecosystem that features four different species of mangrove trees. (B,L,D)

  • Day

    Central Pacific Region / Copey de Dota Valley

    After breakfast, depart from the central Pacific to the highlands of Cerro de la Muerte and Copey de Dota.  En route stop in Uvita for coastal landscape photography, and visit Playa Arcos, a sandy beach backdropped by thick jungle, while tiny offshore islands make for a dramatic ocean view.

    Continue to the highlands and Copey de Dota. This temperate region is one of the only places in Costa Rica where crops like apricots, apples and blackberries can grow. The trees here are different than those found in the lowlands, and include several varieties of oak, as well as up to a dozen species of wild avocado. This area is considered to be a birdwatcher's paradise with the iconic resplendent quetzal, emerald toucanets and hummingbirds being fairly common sightings. Check in to the El Toucanet Lodge for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

  • Day

    Copey de Dota Valley

    Today visit the 200-acre Paraiso de Quetzal property, one of the best places in Costa Rica to spot the vibrant, and endangered, resplendent quetzal. In addition to this target species that was revered by the Maya and Aztec as the “god of the air,” more than 140 bird species—including several that are endemic to the area—make this place a birdwatcher's dream. Take a gentle one-mile walk through cloud forest to search for resident resplendent quetzals, while epiphytes, such as orchids and bromeliads, add an interesting botanical component to your walk. During the breeding season (February to July) males grow twin tail feathers up to three feet long and have been known to emit a wide range of sounds to attract a nearby female. (B,L,D)                  

  • Day

    Copey de Dota Valley / San Jose

    Spend the morning at El Toucanet for more highlands landscape photography before returning to San Jose this afternoon. Check in to the Hotel Bougainvillea for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D) 

  • Day

    San José / Home

    Transfer to the airport for your independent homeward flight. (B)


Hotel Bougainvillea

Hotel Bougainvillea

Located just 10 minutes from downtown San José, this hotel is surrounded by 10 acres of tropical gardens. All rooms have a private balcony, flat-screen TV, telephone, safety deposit box, WI-FI, coffee maker, radio alarm clock, ceiling fan and hair dryer. Amenities include a swimming pool, fitness center, tennis courts, mini spa, business center and restaurant and bar which feature local and international dishes.   

La Selva Biological Station

La Selva Biological Station

Lodging accommodations are rustic cabins equipped with twin beds, private bath, fan and balcony. Located about a 15-minute walk from the main reception area, you are truly immersed in this pristine rainforest environment. Meals are served cafeteria-style in the open-air dining hall (where you may have the chance to mingle with research scientists and students) with options to please most palates, including vegetarians.

El Toucanet Lodge

El Toucanet Lodge

This delightful, family-run lodge offers beautiful pinewood cabins with spectacular mountain views. Accommodations include a private bath, Wi-Fi, private terrace and large windows. Set in a cloud forest over 6,000 feet above sea level, this area enjoys year-round temperatures ranging from 45º - 70ºF. The restaurant serves typical, home-cooked Costa Rican dishes, and specializes in baked trout, supplied fresh from a nearby farm. 

Macaw Lodge

Macaw Lodge

The Macaw Lodge is nestled among the hills and lush forests of Cerros de Turrubares in the Central Pacific region of Costa Rica. The 264-acre property features eight acres of cultivated paths where you can wander through the giant black bamboo forest, hike to the waterfall and take a refreshing dip, enjoy a rest in the gazebo overlooking the pond or find solace in the palm forest. Stop for rejuvenating exercise in one of two open-air yoga studios, explore the fruit and cocoa orchard or take a guided tour of our sustainable farming operation and learn more about hydroponics, aquaponics, vermiculture and composting.

The Lodge’s second story, with dramatic balcony overlooking the beautiful lobby below, has eight guest rooms. Each room features two full beds with therapeutic mattresses and bedspreads woven by the Maya of the Guatemalan Atitlan area, a ceiling fan and a private bathroom built from marble extracted and processed locally, solar-heated water, and towels and bed sheets made from bamboo fiber. The screened windows can be opened to welcome the refreshing breeze.

Arenal Observatory Lodge

Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa

Set on 870 acres, Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa includes 270 acres of natural primary rainforest with rivers and waterfalls, 400 acres of reforested land and tropical gardens and 200 acres of pastureland. The gardens and landscaping are extravagantly designed with colorful flowering plants, shrubs, and trees chosen to attract wildlife, like jewel-toned hummingbirds, brilliant butterflies, and exotic birds. This is the only hotel located within the Arenal Volcano National Park and while on the property you can always feel the volcano’s commanding presence. Originally built in 1987 as a scientific research station for the world-famous Smithsonian Institution, today, the historic Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa offers 48 comfortable hotel rooms in various buildings spread over the property. The restaurant offers floor-to-ceiling windows for gazing at the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal, along with a huge observation deck just outside. The Observatory Spa will help you relax with massages and other body therapies, or choose to unwind by the outdoor pool and Jacuzzi.

Rooms feature two queen-sized beds, a private bathroom, a coffeemaker, a room safe, sitting chairs and a writing table. Rooms are located either in the main hotel building, overlooking the gorgeous Costa Rican rainforest or the impressive Arenal Volcano from their private balconies, or are located 500 meters (0.3 miles) from the main hotel building, down a moderate slope, and feature terraces with striking views of Lake Arenal. 

Call 800.234.9620
11 Days, 10 Nights
Trip Type

Trip Highlights

  • Enjoy a comprehensive Costa Rica tour—the lowland Caribbean rainforest of the Sarapiqui Region, lush cloud forests of Copey de Dota, sky-piercing Volcano Arenal & coastal rainforest of the Central Pacific Region.
  • Visit the La Selva Biological Station, the leading research center for Costa Rican ecology which offers over 31 miles of well-kept trails in some of the country’s most pristine primary tropical rainforest.
  • Photograph a wealth of jewel-hued birds, exotic wildlife, colorful flowers & a huge variety of landscapes.
  • Cruise along the Tárcoles River, home to scarlet macaws, iguanas, and the world’s largest population of American crocodiles.
  • Travel with an expert, bilingual guide & private driver, who are with you every step of the way to point out local wildlife and make sure every aspect of your expedition goes smoothly.