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Photography time out in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been on my exploring radar for quite some time. I’d heard from several people who have visited that it’s just an amazing place, rich with a wide variety of wildlife to photograph. I felt like Costa Rica was calling our names: Maaatthew, Daaagmar! We seized the opportunity to travel during a break from photography courses in February and booked our seats on the non-stop Edelweiss flight. However, two weeks prior our trip, some bad news darkened our anticipation of the upcoming trip.

The howler monkey is Costa Rica's "jungle alarm clock" letting out an ominous call at about 5:00 am each morning.

Matt had to shoot a PR assignment involving skiers up in the mountains near Wildhaus. Almost done with his shoot, he was positioning himself to get a last good shot of famous Swiss skier Bernhard Russi on the piste. Unfortunately (while repositioning) his right ski had other plans, causing him to get twisted up awkwardly in the turn. After hearing an awful snapping sound in his knee he was sure his ACL ligament was torn again. Several examinations and doctor meetings later we had to make a decision. Can we risk going to Costa Rica? It was a tough decision, but we decided to give it a try and just take it easy.

A mating pair of scarlet macaws in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica.

A brown basilisk lizard appeared while we photographed leaf-cutter ants.

Arriving in Costa Rica at 7pm, we stayed one night in San Jose. A long drive in the car followed by an hour-long boat ride brought us to Drake Bay the next day. It was surprisingly busy at Corcovado National Park. Lots of gringos and of course various tour operators. We spent five tropical nights there. What a stunning (and humid) place! Fortunately we didn’t need to go very far to see the first amazing birds – the stunning scarlet macaw. There were two nesting right behind our hotel room.

We were dripping in sweat but fascinated and quickly got caught in the photography fever. This was refreshing as we didn’t have time in the last few weeks to indulge in our own shooting. Since Matt felt OK walking, we went on some short strolls through the jungle and scouted out some other locations for next year’s Viewfinder trip. We found a pretty cozy and charming place which was off the “mainstream” with beautiful flowers, a great ocean view and tons of hummingbirds! We had a blast (and went a little bonkers) competing with each other for a great shoot. Matt won the competition that day, but I’d get my chance.

Matt's first go at hummingbird photography in Costa Rica.

After our fun hummingbird contest, we gave Matt’s knee a little rest and joined a mangrove boat tour the next day. Our guide’s trained eyes were able to spot sloths, all kinds of birds and several types of monkeys – long before we could see them. Besides the noisy howler monkeys we also captured the cute squirrel monkeys. How adorable! We cruised through tight channels in the mangrove forest, amazed that there was so much life!

A chestnut-mandibled toucan perches on a branch near Poas National Park.

A squirrel monkey cautiously inspects his observers in Corcovado National Park.

Although I’m terrified of big spiders (after watching a show on National Geographic) and made Matt promise “no nighttime jungle walks”, it was me who came up with the idea to book a private night tour and check it out anyways. It all started very nicely, as we spotted many beautiful frogs such as the red-eye tree frog and glass frog, etc. Our guide waited patiently for us to take our pictures, and even helped us holding up lights and reflectors. The deeper we went into the jungle though, the more my heart started to race. Of course I tried to stay calm and act like nothing was worrying me, but when I saw a massive, gigantic wolf spider followed by another gigantic black spider right next to the trail, I was done being calm! I just wanted to get the heck out of the jungle. WHAT WAS I THINKING?! Matt teased me about the panicked look on my face which I won’t dispute! Needless to say it was a night of ups and downs for me.

Costa Rica's most famous amphibian, the red eyed tree frog. Photographed on a night walk in Corcovado National Park.

Leaving those crawling creatures behind we traveled onwards to the highlands of north-central Costa Rica where temperatures dropped significantly. We had to pull out some long-sleeved layers and make good friends with our rain jackets. Unfortunately Poas National Park was closed due to some volcanic activity, but we found other things to do around in the area. We met Mike, a friendly Canadian who is also big into bird photography and the three of us “bird-nerds” visited a nearby birding park together. Now I had the chance to work on my hummingbird shots and push Matt out of first place.

Another highlight to search for in the highlands is the resplendent quetzal. This breathtaking bird only lives in the highlands of Central America where it can eat the small buds of a particular type of Avocado tree. The three of us hired a birding guide who drove us a short ways from our lodge where we luckily saw about seven female and male quetzals! Because these birds usually stay up high in the trees and are well camouflaged they are not easy to photograph. On top of that, we had to deal with constant rain and hazy light, but we managed to get a few good pictures anyway.

Dagmar's hummingbird shot – for the win!

A soggy resplendent quetzal waits for better flying weather.

The next part of our travels will take us to Boco Tapada and the Arenal area. Stay tuned for more travel experiences and photographs from Costa Rica. Pura Vida!