Costa Rica Photo Tour: Arenal Volcano, Monteverde Cloud Forest, and Sarapiqui

Tour Intro

Costa Rica is a natural treasure with an incredibly rich and diverse array of plant and animal life. It has long been a biological land bridge between the Americas with more than a dozen life zones within its borders. Join us to explore the volcanoes, cloud forests, and rainforests of this remarkable land.

Bordered by the Caribbean and the Pacific, its coastline rises abruptly to volcanic mountains that run the length of the country. The sheer variety is amazing for a country of just 20,000 square miles. Within its borders are more than a dozen life zones. In the same day, you can experience 12,000-foot mountains, cloud forests, lowland rain forests, mangrove swamps, palm-lined beaches, dry tropical forest, and savannah.

This diversity is reflected in its rich plant and animal life. There are more species of birds here than in all of North America, over 800 in a country only four times the size of Connecticut. There are more butterflies in Costa Rica than on the entire continent of Africa. The plant life is spectacular; there are more than 12,000 species of plants, including a dazzling variety of trees and orchids.

All of this is being wisely protected in an excellent system of national parks and reserves that has won praise from conservationists around the world. The government has set aside thirteen national parks, eight biological reserves, three wildlife refuges, and other areas that now comprise one fourth of the country’s land area. These far-sighted efforts have placed Costa Rica at the forefront of conservation, especially among tropical countries, where deforestation is proceeding at an alarming rate.

Tour Highlights

  • All meals included in land cost. Limited to twelve participants.
  • Guided by a Costa Rican naturalist and professional photographers Cathy and Gordon Illg.
  • Visit Arenal Volcano area, providing incredible biodiversity and breathtaking landscapes.
  • Overnight at the serene accommodations located in the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, for evening wildlife photography.
  • Monteverde, trails access some of the most beautiful cloud forest
  • Sarapiquis Eco-Observatory/Nature Pavilion with three open-air observation decks for world-class photography.

Tour Itinerary

November 8: Home – San José
Sevegr River

Photo By: Cathy & Gordon Illg

Photo Location: Savegre River Costa Rica

Your Costa Rican adventure begins today as you board your flight to San José, the country's capital city. We will stay overnight overlooking the sprawling mountains and volcanoes in the hills of Alto de las Palomas, about fifteen minutes away from San José. The hotel offers excellent accommodations and superb service in a suburban village setting. We will have a Welcome Dinner and Orientation. Overnight Hotel Alta or similar. (D)

November 9-10: Sarapiqui - La Selva - Nature Pavilion

Photo By: Cathy & Gordon Illg

Photo Location: Costa Rica

Before breakfast photograph in the beautiful grounds surrounding the hotel. This will be your first opportunity to see topical flowers, Blue-gray Tanagers and Blue-crowned Motmot are easy to photograph as they feed outside in the garden. Enroute to your next location visit the La Selva Biological Station where you will have the chance to appreciate the flora and fauna of this exotic place. La Selva is perhaps the longest running and, certainly, one of the most prestigious research stations on tropical rainforest anywhere in the world. It forms part of a much larger protected area, which includes Braulio Carrillo National Park. The trails are very easy to negotiate, ranging from paved to hard-packed earth.

The Sarapiqui region is one of the most exuberant and luscious places in Costa Rica, especially with respect to the rainforest. It is named after a river and rests at the base of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range.  With the vision of maintaining Sueno Azul as a peace and nature sanctuary the management is focused on being an eco-tourism business offering the perfect mixture of nature with comfort, and adventure with safety. In addition to the natural forest, more than 200 bird species have been identified on the property. You may also see a multitude of colored butterflies, moths, tolumucos, bats, iguanas, lizards, toads, sloths, and armadillos.

Depart early the next morning to visit the Dave & Dave’s Natural Park, consisting of three covered open-air observation decks for world-class photography and bird watching. Enjoy a spectacular display of beautifully colored Costa Rica birds as they perch just feet away. Over 215 bird species exist here including the Keel-billed Toucan, Crimson-collard Tangaer, and the White-necked Jacobin. After a morning photo session here, enjoy lunch on this beautiful property, followed by additional photography in afternoon light. Overnight Sueno Azul. (B, L, D both days)

 

November 11-12: Arenal Volcano
Arenal Colcano

Photo By: Cathy & Gordon Illg

Photo Location: Arenal Volcano, Costa rica

After breakfast make your way to the Arenal Volcano Area. Along the way
visit the Mirador de Quetzales, where you will have the chance for additional bird photography. Continue on to Arenal, a spectacular, cone-shaped volcano rising out of the flat San Carlos Plains. It is the most active volcano in the country.

The next day enjoy a visit to the Arenal Hanging Bridges. Located in primary forest there are 15 bridges to enjoy with a rain forest circuit of trails connecting them. The imposing vistas of the Volcano from the hanging bridges over the forest make a perfect combination for an unforgettable experience. In the afternoon visit the Hidalgo Family Hot Springs, an exclusive retreat for those looking for a relaxing respite in natural springs heated by Arenal Volcano. Overnight both nights Arenal Observatory Lodge (B, L, D)

 

November 13-14: Monteverde Cloud Forest
Frog House La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Photo By: Cathy & Gordon Illg

Photo Location: Costa Rica

Then make your way to Monteverde. To enter the cloud forest we travel by boat across Arenal Lake, with our coach and luggage meeting us on the other side. Monteverde, is located in the Tilaran Mountain Range. This famous reserve offers well-developed and easily negotiable trails and access one of the most beautiful cloud forest, anywhere. Famous for its populations of Resplendent Quetzal, Monteverde has almost become synonymous with this legendary bird. 

You will be able to photograph another day amidst the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The Sky Tram & Sky Trek is a series of suspension bridges spanning forested valleys in the cloud forest. Accessible to almost everyone it provides visitors a bird’s-eye view of this spectacular habitat. The tram travels up the mountain side to arrive at a wide observation platform at the highest point. Overnight Montana Monteverde (B, L, D)

November 15-16: La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz Room

Photo By: Cathy & Gordon Illg

Photo Location: Costa Rica

As you depart Monteverde you will have a photograhic stop at the Curi-Cancha Reserve, a birdwatcher’s paradise.  The Resplendent Quetzal, Three-Wattled Bellbird, Blue-Crowned Motmot, Orange-bellied Trogon, and many others are frequently seen.  Frequently sighted mammals include armadillo, coati, agouti, kinkajou, ocelot, two-toed sloth, and three species of monkey: mantled howler, white-faced capuchin, and spider monkey. 

La Paz Waterfall Gardens, visitors have the unique opportunity to reach out and touch the impressive and mesmerizing cascades of five magnificent waterfalls flowing through rain and cloud forest. A series of observation decks built on the cliffs of the verdant canyon are perfect places to take memorable photos or simply sit back and feel the falls’ refreshing mist. The park has beautifully maintained low-impact trails that wind through a large butterfly observatory, aviary, snake exhibit and colorful garden teeming with curious hummingbirds.

The hummingbird garden and feeders attract several different species of birds we can photograph along with the beautiful orchids and flowers. A nearby frog house and reptile display offers opportunities to photograph red-eyed tree frog and several snakes that visitors rarely encounter in the wild.

You will enjoy two evenings here to enjoy the surroundings of the Peace Lodge. The rooms are luxurious, designed to be reminiscent of the rainforest environment. Rustic wood details are featured throughout the decor and private balconies overlook a dreamy forest mingling with clouds. Guests stay comfortable with fireplaces, heaters and Jacuzzis featured throughout the premises, designed to evoke a sense of peace and tranquility.  (Overnight Peace Lodge (B & L both days)

November 17: San Jose - Home
La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Photo By: Cathy & Gordon Illg

Photo Location: Costa Rica

After breakfast transfer to Juan Santamaria International Airport to take your flights back home (departure time to be announced as San Jose is one hour from the Peace Lodge). (B)

Photo Leader

Cathy & Gordon Illg
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Cathy & Gordon Illg

Cathy and Gordon Illg are freelance photographers specializing in nature and wildlife photography. For more than twenty years they have been guiding tours to outstanding locations for both scenic and wildlife photography. Their work has appeared in nearly all the major nature publications and prominent travel magazines, as well as earning numerous awards in Nature’s Best International Photographic Competitions. In 2003, they earned second place in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest.

They are more than just skilled photographers and instructors; they are also Certified International Tour Managers, which ensures that traveling companions will have a great time, regardless of where they are traveling and what they are doing. The job is particularly fulfilling when it involves bringing guests face to face with the great outdoors and the creatures that call it home.

If you are already an accomplished photographer, they will get you to the good locations, at the right times, and set you free. However, if you want help, they will provide as much instruction as you want. On most tours instructional presentations are provided, and participants are always encouraged to bring a sample of their work for a helpful, friendly critique or just to share with the group.

It was an amazing trip and the uniqueness of the Galapagos Islands certainly added to that. Everyone did a great job!!

S. Hon

Pricing and Details

US Dollars based upon minimum of 8 paying participants. There is a small group surcharge of $400 if 5-7 paying participants. All our program prices are based on double occupancy unless noted in exceptions.

Single rooms are subject to availability. We try to accommodate travelers who request single accommodations, as well as travelers who are looking for a roommate. If a single room is requested, or if we are unable to find a suitable roommate, you will be required to pay the supplement.

Testimonials

Cathy & Gordon are great tour leaders because they are uniquely qualified in nature and in photography. I highly recommend taking one of their tours IF you want to learn a lot and get some fine images for your collection. They really spent time with those of us on the tour to be sure we got the images we wanted. In my opinion, you can't lose by taking one of the Adventure tours.

L. Poe

Your naturalist guide was excellent as were Cathy and Gordon. The lodges etc. were well selected and put us in the correct location. Most had excellent food, and transfers worked like clock work. Well Planned, well organized and well done!!!

R. Zimmermann

Additional Notes

FITNESS & HEALTH

The trip will not be strenuous, but there will be walks each day, sometimes uphill in the heat, mud, or high altitude (7000 feet). Anyone who is reasonably fit should be able to participate in all scheduled walks, but if you have questions about how much activity is involved, please inquire further.

Terms and Conditions

Unless otherwise noted, this information applies to all tours.

Airfare

Contact Strabo Tours if you would like rates on International Airfare. Please note on your trip application form if you would like us to assist you with your airfare needs, a charge is added for this service. If making your own arrangements, it is important to discuss flight times with Strabo Tours before booking any airline tickets. This will avoid you having to pay airline cancellation penalties. Please contact Strabo Tours for destination airfare estimates, specific flight time arrivals, and departures.

The land cost includes:
  • Group transportation for tour events in the tour van.
  • Accommodations based on two people sharing a room, singles are assigned on a first come, first served basis.
  • Services of driver, English speaking cultural guide (if applicable) and photographic leader, during the tour.
  • Meals as listed in itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner).
  • Park entrance fees, day tours and excursions as shown in the itinerary.
  • Extensive pre-departure information and services.
The land cost does not include:

Domestic or International air fare; other airfare if noted in exceptions; air fare tax; airport departure tax; airport transfers; additional transfers or accommodations that may be required by those not traveling with the group; excess baggage charges; meals not included in itinerary; activities taken on your own; passport/visa expenses; personal medical or travel insurance; any expenses of a personal nature, such as room service, laundry, beverages not included with meals, medical expenses, photographic equipment, any activities not specified in tour itinerary or listed as optional, or any items not listed in what is included; fuel surcharges; exchange rate surcharges; upon the completion of your trip, modest gratuities to the local guides and the drivers are customary; tips for meals not included in itinerary.

Fitness and Health

The majority of trips are not strenuous (see exceptions below for particular destinations) and anyone who is reasonably fit should be able to take part in most of the activities. You may experience general fatigue due to the long flights and the change in time zones. You will need to be sufficiently agile to climb in and out of the tour van and be able to carry and manage your own equipment. We will frequently hike trails ranging from easy to moderate. Some hotels do not have elevators or air conditioners.

If you have any special needs or any physical condition that you feel might prevent you from fully participating, please contact Strabo Tours with your concerns (607-756-8676).

You should also be aware that medical services or facilities might not be readily available during all or part of your trip. This could include emergency medical care, presence of physicians, or adequate medication.

Exceptions:

The following destinations require more physical activity. Bhutan, China, Patagonia, Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Scotland, Domestic tours. On the African Safari you will spend many hours in a vehicle on game drives, land travel will sometimes be over very bumpy and dusty roads. Galapagos Cruise accommodations are in upper and lower berths (bunk beds) only.

The following destinations require more physical activity. Bhutan, China, Patagonia, Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Scotland, Domestic tours. On the African Safari you will spend many hours in a vehicle on game drives, land travel will sometimes be over very bumpy and dusty roads. Galapagos Cruise accommodations are in upper and lower berths (bunk beds) only.

Deposits, Cancellations AND Refunds

A deposit of $750 ($500 on domestic tours) per person is required. Specific tours may require an additional deposit due to accommodation bookings or transportation requirements. If applicable these will be noted on your invoice. Payment in full is required when bookings are made less than 120 days before the departure date. Space is subject to cancellation by Strabo if payment is not received when due.

If a passenger wishes to cancel they must send notification in writing to: Strabo International Tour, Co., P.O. Box 580, Dryden, NY 13053; fax 208-545-4119. At the time we receive your notification, the following per person charges apply:

  • 91 days or more before departure: $300 cancellation fee ($150 fee on domestic tours), plus Strabo’ costs, as well as fees that are charged by the suppliers providing the services included in your tour, and/or the airlines providing the air transportation.
  • 61-90 days before departure: $500 ($250 on domestic tours) minimum cancellation fee, plus Strabo’ costs, as well as fees that are charged by the suppliers providing the services included in your tour, and/or the airlines providing the air transportation. Fees may range from 25% to 100% of tour costs.
  • 60 days or less before departure or anytime after departure: NO REFUND.

Refunds for services that are voluntarily not used by you cannot be made.

Insurance

Each participant must be covered by medical insurance that is valid overseas.

We strongly urge you to evaluate your risk and to take out insurance on your trip. It is vital for you to realize that if you experience a delay or find it necessary to cancel or cut short your trip for any reason, you will lose part or the entire sum you’ve invested in it (see the section “Deposits, Cancellations and Refunds” in the trip brochure).

Travel insurance helps to minimize the risk of monetary losses you would incur in the event of a delay of your departure due to weather, airline strike, missed connection, etc., your inability to travel for reasons such as illness, injury, unforeseen financial complications and other personal circumstances, or if you were required to cut your trip short for medical or any other reasons.

There are restrictions and limitations on any insurance program. For this reason, please read carefully the enclosed pamphlet, which outlines their program of trip cancellation, baggage, and medical insurance. Trained agents are available to answer your questions, so don’t hesitate to call the toll free number in their brochure. It is to your advantage to apply for insurance at the earliest possible time, so don’t delay in making a decision.

Subject to Change

Itineraries have been carefully constructed to assure participants the best each destination has to offer; however, should events arise that are beyond our control, activities and hotel arrangements are subject to change without notice. The itineraries summarize typical areas you will explore. Since there is no possible way to visit all of them, your guides will plan each day considering the interests of the group and the weather at hand. Be assured that we will make substitutions that are as similar in quality and interest as possible.

Photo Release

Strabo International Tour Company, Inc. reserves the right and permission to use photographs of individuals on tour for use in promotional and publicity purposes. We also reserve the right to use clients photographs for promotional and publicity purposes, when submitted to Strabo International Tour Company, Inc.

Accommodations

Accommodations are clean, comfortable and pleasant, but not luxurious. When visiting parks and reserves, expect cabin-like accommodations with private baths.

Food & Drink

Costa Rican food is not spicy. Menus are usually simple, but the food is always good and plentiful. Breakfast menus are much like those in North America. Rice, meat, beans, and vegetables are usually served at lunch and dinners. Local cheeses are quite good. Delicious fruits and juices are in abundant supply.

Food is generally safe to eat everywhere in the country. Water is safe to drink in San José, and generally through out the country, your local guide can offer guidance if you have concerns. Although malaria has probably been eradicated from areas we'll be visiting, you should consult your doctor about precautionary measures. Full details will be sent upon enrollment.

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