A Warm Couple of Weeks in Central America
Beach at Dominical, Costa Rica
This year, we booked the flights and grabbed the passports for a couple of weeks of warm temperatures, lush green terrain, and time to explore an area rich in wildlife. Despite its relatively small size, Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. Daily temperatures in Jackson Hole typically range between -20° to +20°F. Daily highs in Costa Rica in January hover close to 88° F. It’s an easy trade!
Costa Rica has been on my “bucket list” of places to go for quite a few years. Since our kids are grown and have moved out of the house, we’ve been able to travel a bit more. Costa Rica lived up to all of my expectations!
This page will not be a travel guide to all you would need to know if you are planning on making a trip to Costa Rica, but more of a journal or scrapbook of what we did and what we saw.
Wildlife is abundant and extremely varied. The rain forests covers most of the country. Each acre probably contains thousands of interesting critters, however they are not always easily spotted.
Some of the animals are easy to spot — if you are in the right place at the right time.
Scarlet Macaw: Some wildlife is “common” only is certain areas. Guidebooks can help! Guided trips are even better.
Some the wildlife looks amazingly familiar, including Kingfishers, Osprey, Doves, & Great Blue Herons.
And, some wildlife seems to come from another world or another time. Iguanas are relatively common in Costa Rica, but I find them extremely fascinating.
Central America connects continents of North America with South America. Costa Rica connects the countries of Panama on the south to Nicaragua on the north. The Caribbean Ocean spans the length of the east coast, while the Pacific Ocean runs the length of the west coast. Mt. Chirripó, the highest mountain in Costa Rica is 12,532 ft. above sea level. We could see smoldering volcanos down the spine of the country from our plane window. Before coming here, I knew none of these details!
We drove to Dominical, after flying into San Jose. It is a popular tourist spot for Americans, and many of the locals speak English when needed. A Central American version of Spanish is the common language. The country runs on the Metric System. The country is in the Central Time Zone.
There are public beaches along the ocean in many areas. Dominical is a mecca for surfers of all skill levels, while many beaches are signed with notices of dangerous under currents or rip tides.
Green is the predominant color in Costa Rica, but other brilliantly colored subjects can be found without much effort. Fruit, like pineapples, bananas, oranges, limes, mangos, and coconuts are abundant and cheap. Restaurants cater to the tourists and locals with a wide variety of food types, usually at prices similar to what we see in Jackson Hole. Hard to beat a a meal cooked with fish fresh out of the ocean.
People come to Jackson Hole typically hoping to see Moose, Elk, Deer, Pronghorns, Bears, Bison. Depending on the time the year, they might also hope to see Bighorns and Mountain Goats. In Costa Rica, I might hope to see Sloths, Macaws, Toucans, Whales, Dolphins, Crocodiles, Monkeys, Parrots, and so forth. The country also has many species of big Cats and mid-sized mammals. There are over 50 species of Hummingbirds!
Costa Rica has at least 22 National Parks! Considering the entire country is roughly the size of West Virginia, parks are fairly close to most areas of the country. Additionally, the country has numerous reserves and privately protected zones. Some of the National Parks require a certified guide, while others allow self-guided entry. Prices for guided trips seem to range between $28 to $200. (I am sure some are much more). Our hiking trip to the Nuykaya Waterfalls was only $8 per person.
Butterflies, jumbo Grasshoppers, and Moths flutter around. Lizards, frogs, toads and snakes are harder to see, but fill the rain forests. Some of them are poisonous. At our duplex residence, we see a variety of birds, insects and lizards. Geckos chirp part of the evening as they wait to ambush small bugs.
Tours, Parks, and Guides
Guided tours are common in almost all regions we visited. Like Jackson Hole, being out very early or late makes a difference. Wildlife is more active during those hours. We took quite a few tours and we winged it several times. The guided trips are well worth it! They know where to look (sometimes a result of the animals not moving very far or they return to a limited number of resting places), and they are good at spotting animals. Some parks, like Parque Nacional Marino Balena require a guide. If interested, check out Anywhere Costa Rica for additional information on tours and travel.
Hacienda Baru: This place is only a few miles from Domincal. I went there several times…possibly the best deal we found! Normal entry is only $8 per person. Guided Bird Watching tours are only $25 or so. A ticket is good all day, so you can return several times. If you return with your previous map and ticket, entry is only $4, and good all day. I did a two hour morning tour, which turned out to be a private tour for $20. After my tour, I returned several more times and found things I know I would have missed.
Post Trip Reflections
I had originally planned on making a post while in Costa Rica, then adding photos to it regularly during the trip. My Norton Security protection stopped while in Costa Rica and I was hesitant to be online without it. I waited to submit this post until I was home and safe. Looking back, I’d say we had a great trip. My wife is already talking about another trip there. (I’d like to get back to Sanibel Island in Florida someday, too). The beginning of the “dry season” starts in mid-December in Costa Rica and runs for four or five months. January is a good month to be there. We heard the whales are in a few of the bays in February, so that might be a worthwhile consideration. We based our trip out of Dominical and we spent a lot of our time within 40 miles of there. It’s a much bigger country, so we know we only scratched the surface. I’d definitely budget for as many guided tours as possible if going there (again). I didn’t find time to take a night tour, but many places offer them. Maybe next time! I’d also like to time some of my shots better. For example, the Nuykaya Waterfalls shot was taken in mid morning on a bright day. I might prefer to go there on an overcast day, but that simply isn’t an option when you only have a few days. Same for the shot of the Macaws…by the time the tour made it to the park entrance, it was already mid day. At Carara National Park, we paid a guide to show us additional locations outside the park. I could now go there at sunrise and have chances for photos with much better light.
If You Go: There aren’t many road signs in Costa Rica. The rental car company offered a “Mobile Hot Spot” cube ($8 per day), which came in handy for connecting to the Internet and navigation. The “Waze” app worked well for navigation. “WhatsApp” allows people to call the US (if connected to the Internet), without the normal out of country fees. It also works for texts. I used a Spanish/English app to help with tough words. That app is downloaded onto the phone, so an Internet connection was not needed. I also downloaded a speech version of Spanish/English. We had “Cellular Data” turned off on our phones, tablets and computers.
The Wet Season: We were in Costa Rica in the “dry season”, but I asked about the wet season. Along the coast, the guides told me it can often be clear in the morning, then turn cloudy by noon and rain the rest of the day. Most tourists don’t like that scenario so those months equate to the “off season”. Some roads can be impassible and dangerous. The Baru River, for example, was only knee deep in January, but the high water marks along the river indicate it could be a dangerous and raging river at times. Personally, I’d like to go there when the seasons are changing!
Back in Jackson Hole, snow is deep and temperatures are dropping to well below freezing. When we pack up to leave Costa Rica, we’ll be re-entering a more familiar environment and reality.
Below, I will include a list of the gear I chose for this trip, and following that section, I’ll add a few more random photos. Cheers! MJ
My Costa Rica Equipment Choices
It is always difficult to know what equipment to take, or to be more specific, how much can be stuffed into legal sized bags. Photographers coming to Jackson Hole surely suffer the same dilemma. I chose to bring my Nikon D5, figuring it could handle the low light situations. Speed might also be a factor. I picked a Nikon 24-70mm all around landscape lens and a Tamron 150-600mm lens for the wildlife shots. I own a new Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens, but I haven’t been 100% satisfied with it. I own a Nikon 200-500mm lens, but I like the extra reach of the Tamron lens. The obvious filler lens would have been my Nikon 70-200mm lens, but instead I chose my older style Nikon 70-180mm Zoom Micro. I love that lens! It work fine as a standard lens, but it also is incredibly sharp when used as a macro lens (Nikon calls them Micro). I managed to get my disassembled four piece tripod and ball head into my travel duffel bag. Lastly, I brought a Nikon SB910 strobe, and SU800 controller, Radio Poppers, and a CamRanger. I carried the core of my gear in my ThinkTank back pack. That turned out to be a good call since our checked bags didn’t arrive with us in San Jose. Delta Airlines delivered them to us in Dominical the next day, but I have to admit the thought crossed my mind that I might never see my tripod and strobes again.I would make exactly the same equipment choices again today, for all the same reasons.Note: I read over the Costa Rica customs documents about photography gear. It mentioned allowing only one camera body.I am not sure how strict on that issue, but it might be worth noting here.
Snowy Egret: Dominical Beach
Diocesis De San Isidro: San Isidro, around 30 miles inland from Domincal
Diocesis De San Isidro:
Downtown Market: San Isidro.
Farmers Market: Tuesdays and Thursday in San Isidro.
Fresh Onions: Tuesdays and Thursday in San Isidro.
Watermelon: Tuesdays and Thursday in San Isidro.
The Edge of the Rain Forests: Near Dominical
Cherry Tanager: Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge near Dominical.
Squirrel Monkey: Along the Sierpe River on the Osa Peninsula.
Tiger Heron: Baru River near Domincal.
Coastal Sunset: South of Dominical
Squirrel: Hacienda Baru Preserve near Dominical
Great Blue Heron: Parque Nacional Marino Balena on the Osa Peninsula.
Crocodile: Along the Sierpe River at Sierpe on the Osa Peninsula.
Crocodiles: Take from the bridge over Rio Tarcoles near Carara National Park.
Nesting Scarlet Macaws: Carara National Park.
Flying Scarlet Macaw: Carara National Park.