Top 3 places to see wildlife in Costa Rica and where to stay! - July 11, 2017

Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering Costa Rica in the 1500s and gave Costa Rica its name – directly translated this means rich coast but this country’s riches were not within the metals he was searching for.  500,000 species of the animal make this country one of the most bio-rich places on the planet.  With 900 species of bird including the large Macaws, 212 Mammals, 70 lizards, 4 types of monkey and 2 types of sloth! Not to mention all the weird and wonderful flora, insects and butterflies you will see here.

Osa Peninsula;

What is referred to by national geographic as the most bio-diverse place on the planet, this is any serious nature lovers 1st stop?  It crams 2.5% of the planet’s biodiversity into just 0.001% of its surface area. And, this being Costa Rica, 80% of it is protected, mostly by the Corcovado national park. Due to the remoteness of this most southern peninsula of Costa Rica, it is normally best accessed by boat or plane.  Drakes Bay (named after England’s famous Privateer) is a favorite place to stay.  Small Eco lodges dotted along the rain-forest covered coast providing a range of experiences from ‘eco-luxe’ to rustic, all focusing on living harmoniously with their surroundings.   Clients have seen the elusive large cats that roam this area along with Tapirs, both species of sloth and plenty of money and Scarlet Macaws.

 

Where to stay?

Aguila De Osa is a rustic eco-lodge nestled amidst the jungle-covered hillsides overlooking the tranquil waters of Drake Bay.  This exquisite rain-forest and marine adventure hotel have its own dock for guests arriving via boat. Aguila de Osa is committed to sustainable hospitality, so you can travel well and travel right when exploring the region.  As you are so remote all meals are included at the hotel, along with tapas and music so you can swap stories & sightings with other travelers.

Enter Aguila De Osa by boat!

Copa De Arbol Beach and Rainforest Resort is a luxury beachfront eco-resort set among 70 acres of pristine rainforest reserve.  Their 4 tier pool and Bali style lodgings make this one of the best hotels in Costa Rica! Copa is committed to the conservation and preservation of the Osa Peninsula, its surrounding waters, and the local communities.  Due to remoteness, all meals are included at this hotel.

 

If the Osa Peninsula is a little far out of your reach – the Peninsula runs onto the Southern Pacific coast that we refer to as the Southern Zone. and you can see a lot of wildlife there as well. It remains fairly untouched and you can find lots of waterfalls, deserted beached and hikes. The bird life on the coast is spectacular and you will get to see a lot of the wildlife that Costa Rica is famed for – including whales!

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Southern Caribbean Coast;

The east coast of Costa Rica is a road less traveled by tourists but has been gaining traction over the last few years.  You will not find any large hotels or high rises in this part of the country and its evident Caribbean vibe means you get some ‘one love’ mixed with your ‘pura Vida’.

As the rain-forest still remains fairly intact there are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife in this region.  I have never seen so many sloths in a single day than I have in this part of the country! The beach town of Cahuita has a national park that runs parallel to the beach.  It is common to see many birds, sloths, monkeys just from the main path as well as caimans and eyelash pit vipers! At certain times of year, you can see the raptor migration, where billions of birds travel south for warmer climates and fill the sky!

Where to stay?

Private Villas between Cocles and Punta Uva or Banana Azul on Playa Negra.

There are so many affordable rentals along this side of the country – normally tucked back up into the hillside they are slightly cooler than properties on the beach provide great views. Just let us know the size of your group and we can send over some options.

Banana Azul boasts 14 beautiful guest rooms of the main hotel, built from local hardwoods, are unique.  The hotel grounds are equally impressive, surrounded by tropical gardens, a beautiful pool, and an ocean view.  You can cycle into the town of Puerto Viejo in minutes and carry all the way down the coast to Manzanillo National Park!

For a different (and very immersive experience) you can sleep at a Hammock tent retreat in the mountains behind Cahuita.  Terra Prima offers all-inclusive camping packages and is reserved for adventurers as it requires a horseback ride or hikes to get there, although there is a shortcut available.  Enjoy their secret waterfall and do the sunrise hike for great views and chances of spotting some local animals!

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Monteverde;

Being a cloud forest this unique eco-system is a birder’s wild-life enthusiast’s haven!  A day walking through the network of trails over hanging bridges is a great way to see wildlife from a different perspective. This is also where wildlife will stay very active – in the tree canopy amongst the clouds.  The Resplendent Quetzal – one of the most beautiful birds in the world is regularly seen here along with 400 other species. Amongst this megadiversity of wildlife are 2,500 species of plants tens of thousands of insects and near to 5,000 species of moths.  Santa Elena is the closest town and it packs tons of charm with rustic Eco-hotels to match.

Where to stay?

Monteverde Lodge and Gardens.

This rustic lodge has a very warm welcome with an open fireplace and a laid-back atmosphere.  The staff is all very helpful with an informal but caring service style.

The high-ceilinged rooms are complemented by hardwood floors and expansive windows. All have private bathrooms with solar heated hot water, a sitting area, coffee maker and hairdryer. Bed options include both double and king size beds. Certain rooms have two floors, a balcony, and a glass-enclosed shower.

The food is what a Costa Rican grandmother would cook if she was also a creative and a contemporary professional chef.

Just beyond the restaurant and bar are lush gardens, replete with a stream, pond and small waterfall.

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Of course these are just a few of the many options you have in Costa Rica to see wildlife.  The best results you will have is by identifying when you can travel.  When you have a time frame we can help identify what wildlife is most active during those times and if the weather will be kind to you or not!

Inquire for a free quotation and some advice from our travel experts!

My favourite hotel in La Fortuna, Costa Rica – Arenal Kioro! - June 1, 2017

It is hard to stand out at one of the most trodden paths in Costa Rica but Kioro manages more than  just that!

Situated 10 km from the town of La Fortuna, this hotel is perched on a hill well above the main road – elevating you high enough to allow breath-taking views of the perfectly shaped Arenal volcano.

The drive up to this beautiful boutique hotel sets the standard as you wind up the hill through their beautiful gardens.  The warmest of welcomes awaits with a cold cocktail and a friendly smile from the reception staff. We had the pleasure of meeting Victor who showed us around the property giving us some of the interesting histories of the hotel.  Owned and built by a family has allowed it to retain certain charms whilst organically grown over the years.  When the plot of land was originally purchased people were unsure if the location would be suitable for a hotel – however, they were to be proven wrong.  It seems almost every room in this hotel looks at the volcano but the 360-degree surroundings of greenery and nature are of equal beauty!

All 53 suites are very airy and spacious fitting so much in one room!  There is a day bed – handy if you are traveling as a group of 3 (or have lots of luggage!), a coffee table and chairs just inside from the Juliet balcony, 2 queens or 1 king, double vanity bathroom and a Jacuzzi that has enough space for 4 people! All the other amenities follow suit and will not leave you disappointed! Even though being in the adventure capital of Costa Rica you can see why some people don’t tend to leave the hotel room!

Arenal Kioro is not just known for its lodging and hot springs – Its world-class restaurant offers a variety of cuisines and still boast one of the best buffet breakfasts in the area.  Having stayed at this property a few years ago this breakfast had really stuck in my memory – so this time I was prepared.  I got up a little after sunrise a jogged through the gardens to the gym (that has that great volcano view that you seem to get from every single area in this hotel) and worked up a good appetite!  After a quick shower and a dip in the pool, I went to enjoy the buffet breakfast that was just as good as I remembered it from years ago.  If I could offer one bit of advice it would be to enjoy a coffee on the platform just off the restaurant facing away from the volcano.   From here you have the best 360 views the hotel offers.

The Neidin Spa has situated a short walk through the beautifully kept gardens and has a wide range of services.  Not being familiar with Spas or the treatments they offer I thought it was about time that I take the plunge and went for a volcanic mud facial! I was shown to a private room with ‘that’ volcano view.  A cool scented towel was placed over my eyes, soft music was played and my facial massage started and ZZZzzzzz Whilst my treatment was only 30 mins, I was told I was asleep for about 20 of that!  To top it off whilst exiting the Spa one of the members of staff pointed out a sloth sleeping high in the tree above us – an animal I could very much relate to after my Spa experience.

There is so much else I want to include – the beautiful art & furniture throughout the hotel, the conservation efforts earning 5 leaves, the 2 pools, the bars (especially the one serving sunset cocktails) and much more.

One thing that I will never forget is the simplest – sitting in my room with a glass of wine looking out to the volcano (photo below)

I cannot say enough good things about this place – thanks again Kioro! Hopefully, I will stay with you again very, very soon!

Pura Vida!

A Night at Parque Del Lago, San Jose, Costa Rica - May 9, 2017

Upon my recent arrival at the San Jose airport, I had the privilege of staying at the lovely Parque del Lago; a beautiful European style hotel with excellent Costa Rican hospitality. It is perfect for the business traveler or anyone wanting to stay close to the city. Parque del Lago is a great choice for that first night of arrival or last night prior to departure. Just minutes from Teatro Nacional, Museo Nacional and the Gold Museum, there is a great variety of culture to discover in San Jose.

The feeling upon entering Parque del Lago is that of visiting a friend. The staff is extremely welcoming. The hotel feels safe, secure whilst retaining an artistic elegance.

Parque del Lago has several different room categories; 30 Standard Rooms with one King bed or two Queen beds.
6 connecting, Superior Rooms with one Queen bed and kitchenette, and 3 Junior Suites with a King bed, sofa, and kitchenette.

 


All rooms are finished in dark woods and offer clean white duvets and marble showers. As an extra bonus, magnifying mirrors and extra large closets are provided.

The Restaurant, Iconos, serves a beautiful complimentary buffet breakfast from 6 am to 10 am for their hotel guests, a Business Lunch from 12 – 2 pm and enticing Dinners until 10 pm. The desserts are to rave about and the bar is very warm and comfortable.

Parque del Lago has a Conference Room available to guests as well as non-guests for business meetings of up to 70 people. Coffee service and meals can be provided making your meetings complete and efficient offering a great location for people coming from all areas of the city.

There are 4 complimentary bikes available for exploring the city. Teatro de Nacional is fifteen minutes away and Central Market just ten.  La Sabana, one of the largest parks in the center of San Jose is just a few mins walk away as well as being close to some great restaurants and bars.  International calls, Wi-Fi and parking are all complimentary.

Parque del Lago is a great value for such a warm and inviting hotel in the center of San Jose.

Macaws! The Endangered Great Green Macaw & The Scarlet Macaw - April 19, 2017

Brilliantly colored and impossible to miss when in flight, the Macaws are the largest sized members of the parrot family. Apart from their beautiful bright plumage you can also recognise these birds often before you even see them, by the shrill and very unique squawk they make.  If you are visiting the south or central Pacific you are bound to see them!

Of the 17 species that reside in Central and South America, only two species—the Scarlet Macaw and the Great Green Macaw—call Costa Rica home. Although they are family, the chance to see them together is very rare as the slightly smaller Scarlet Macaw is commonly found on the Pacific coast with the Great Green Macaw preferring the Caribbean.

Macaws, known in Costa Rica as Lapas, have large pointy beaks that can expel a tremendous amount of pressure and their scaly boned tongue helps them get inside the tough nuts and seeds that are found throughout Costa Rica. They are considered social birds and will be often seen roosting and feeding in large flocks using their unique toe structures to navigate through the branches.

Although monogamous, changing partners on occasion have been recorded in the birds’ 80-year lifespan. A pair will lay at most a couple of eggs each season in ready-made cavities in trees. The young have adult plumage and will fledge the nest within approximately 105 days of hatching.

Conservation

Formerly present in over 85% of the country, (1) the Scarlet Macaws have now almost completely vanished from the Caribbean coast due to the destruction of the birds’ habitat. The Great Green Macaw’s numbers have reduced to an estimated 290 individuals in 2009 (2) and there are believed to be only 25 to 35 breeding pairs left in the country at present date. Both species have been added to the endangered species list. The exploitation of these beautiful birds in the pet trade has also attributed to their reduced numbers and, due to cross-breeding in pet trade circles, almost 20 types of hybrid Macaws exist—a very controversial issue in the birding world.

Fortunately, due to excellent conservation efforts by individuals and small groups, these beautiful birds have been given a second chance and are slowly making a comeback. Most notably is the work of Margot and Richard Frisius that lead to the creation of The Ara Project. This organization has been the forerunner of releasing new populations of macaws into the wild. They now operate in several parts of the country where they continue their efforts.

Another line of conservation is also giving the Macaws a helping hand and that is the endangered Mountain Almond tree. In 2008, after years as a target for logging due to their unique, hardwood, they were declared illegal to harvest until both tree and bird were no longer endangered.

The Great Green Macaw

Size: 90cm (3 ft) long and 1.3kg (approx 3 lbs) in weight

This Macaw is found exclusively on the Caribbean slopes preferring lowland humid forest and deciduous forest areas reaching up to an elevation of 600m (approx 2000ft.). Not as social as the Scarlet Macaw, they are often seen in pairs and in groups of 3-4. Almost all of their diet is from the almond trees, but they will reluctantly feed on other trees if needed.

The largest flock of wild Green Macaws are found in Sarapiqui and there is a small population of released Macaws in Manzanillo aided by the Ara Project.

National Parks: Maquenque National Park, Tortuguero National Park

The Scarlet Macaw

Size: 85cm (2 ft 9 in) long and 900g (2 lbs) in weight

The Scarlet Macaw is more commonly found in lowland humid forest, deciduous forest and tropical evergreen forest areas on the Pacific coast. They are often seen in pairs, groups of 3-4 and occasional larger flocks of up to 30. With a more varied diet than the Great Green Macaw they can feed from various palms as well as fruits, nuts, seeds, flowers and small invertebrates. Scarlet Macaws are also known to eat clay for the reason that it allows them to digest unripe and poisonous fruits that could otherwise be fatal.

National Parks: Corcovado National Park, Carara National Park, Palo Verde National Park.

1 – Forbes; 2 – Chassot et al

Costa Rica Photography Workshop - April 10, 2017

You love to travel and you’re excited about your new camera and you want to learn how to create some amazing landscape images. What a perfect opportunity to try out a photography workshop in Costa Rica!

Jansen Photo Expeditions has teamed up Costa Rica Vacationing to create a unique and interesting photo workshop in beautiful Costa Rica, December 5 – 12, We will be highlighting the wildlife, the landscapes, the beaches and the unique colors and contrasts of Costa Rica.

About us

Jansen Photo Expeditions has 10 years experience guiding photographic tours and workshops throughout the world. We partner with experienced guides in the local countries to give a flavor of the country from those who know and love it. We are traveling with our guide, Lisa Koppelman from Costa Rica Vacationing, an American who has lived in Costa Rica and knows the area well. Our group sizes are small and intimate, maximum of 8 clients plus your guides and driver. That way you will be immersed in the area and have the best possible experience.

What to Expect

Photography workshops take you to the best places to shoot, and most importantly, an experienced guide will get you to the right place, at the right time, in the right light. In our photography expeditions, you have experienced professionals helping you with composition and camera settings and you will come away with knowledge of photography and a stunning set of images from your dream destination.

Where do you want to go?

During our 7 days Costa Rica Photography workshop, we have fine-tuned the itinerary for the photographer in mind. We will be up early for the golden morning light and shoot late into the afternoon. We will be visiting and shooting these areas: Tortuguero, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Sarapiqui, Arenal Volcano La Fortuna waterfall, Rio Celeste National Park, as well as a night tour of the Cloud Forest.

We also have an optional 5-day extension to Aguila de Osa, 28 acres of protected rain forest only accessible by boat. Tropical wildlife abounds such as giant iguana, colorful birds, alligators, and howler monkeys. Please inquire about an itinerary to what is considered the most biologically intense place on the planet!

Our small exclusive groups give you the best value to see and photograph the country. You will have the opportunity to work closely with your workshop leaders and photographic instructors and be able to easily move from one location to another as well as develop a camaraderie with your fellow attendees.

What type of instruction to expect

Our workshops give you a hands-on approach, giving you the type of feedback you are looking for or leave you to be creative and come back to us for help when you need it. We have clients that shoot both their digital SLR or their iPhone / Smartphone. We provide instruction in both genres of photography.

Be ready for early mornings and late evenings. Sunrise in Costa Rica during our workshop is 5:30 am and sunset around 5:45 pm. The best light for a photography workshop is always early morning and late afternoon. Depending on the location and weather, sometimes a sunset or sunrise photo shoot isn’t possible, so be flexible. In our workshop, if the weather or conditions are bad, we will offer instruction on photo editing programs or find another location as an alternative.

Part of a great photography workshop is instructors who will not only help you with the basic settings on your camera but will also help you with creative concepts and help you create intentions for your shot. Only an experienced photography teacher can give you that type of instruction.

How to prepare?

Know the basic functions of your camera. You need to know how menu functions work, what type of exposure metering to use and how many focus points you have. If you are not familiar with this information, we can help you. Bring your camera’s manual with you, or better yet, download your manual to your smartphone so you always have it and it won’t take up space in your camera bag.

We will provide you a list of lenses and camera equipment to bring on your trip. Think about your favorite type of shooting.

Are you going to be shooting on the street where you would need an inconspicuous 50mm lens, or in a landscape environment where you might need a variety of lenses from wide angle to telephoto to capture the scene.

Think of what your subject matter is going to be and bring appropriate lenses. If you don’t own the right equipment, you don’t always have to go out and buy it.  There are a lot of rental options through companies like LensRentals.com

Be sure you have a STURDY tripod – the key word here is sturdy. I can’t tell you how many people have shown up at workshops with a beautiful $2000 camera and a flimsy $50 tripod. This will not hold your expensive camera or be sturdy enough to produce the results you want. If you don’t know what to get, ask us for recommendations.

Accommodations

All of our accommodations are eco-friendly lodges close to the workshop locations. In order for us to secure these accommodations, be sure to book your workshop with us early.

Creativity

Be open to new ideas – that’s why you came to the workshop. Listen to what we have to say. You might think you have a good handle on your photographic technique, but you never know, you might pick up a few gems that will help you become a better photographer.

Every pro photographer has a different workflow and by shooting with a pro, you can be exposed to a different shooting method and how we get those great shots. At Jansen Photo Expeditions, both my husband and I teach with a little different approach to landscape photography and photo editing.  By being exposed to different techniques, it only helps a student to see options that work best for them.

Be ready to make new friends

On our workshops, our small groups often create a camaraderie of like-minded creative individuals.  That’s part of the whole photography workshop experience. If you prefer to not be social, that is fine, you are welcome to shoot on your own or opt for a private workshop.

Many clients are focused on just one thing, to capture the ultimate landscape shot. But you may be bypassing some stellar opportunities. Look for unanticipated moments when you are on a workshop. If you are focused on the landscape, what if an interesting macro shot presents itself? What about interesting textures and abstract compositions. Costa Rica is full of bright colors and interesting photo opportunities. Bring your camera bag with you and be ready to change lenses and explore other opportunities.

One thing you don’t want to forget to bring is your excitement and passion. You will have a whole lot of fun, learn a lot, and go home with an incredible amount of quality imagery to add to your collection.

If you’d like to learn more about Jansen Photo Expeditions photography workshops, please explore our website or contact us directly for more information. JansenPhotoExpeditions.com. Our December 5 – 12, Costa Rica Photo Expedition is booking now for 8 adventurous creative individuals.

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