Trip Report: Wildlife of Costa Rica – January 2022

As a guide, answering questions is part of my job. Sometimes it will be questions about camera function or photographic techniques. Other times it may be questions about the ecology or history of a certain region. I love this part of the job, discussing the very things that brought me to this line of work in the first place, my sense of curiosity and love for adventure, travel, and nature. Oftentimes, the questions are about me, my past, and my philosophies around conservation and photography ethics. These are always interesting and engaging conversations. But, there is one question that I am asked on almost every Backcountry Journeys (BCJ) departure that I go on. It is, “what’s your favorite trip to run?”  

This is a question I can answer without pause. BCJ allows me the incredible opportunity to see some of the most beautiful places on Earth, from the frozen spruce forests of interior Alaska to the lava-spewing volcanos of Iceland. In a normal year, I see giant brown bears plucking sockeye salmon from waterfalls, I see wolves roaming the vast valleys of Yellowstone, and I see the sunset against a backdrop of Rocky Mountain majesty. But, none of these, as much as I love them, are my favorite. My favorite is, and will always be, Costa Rica.  

Let me take you through the reasons why, and how this past January 2022, a group of incredible clients and I basked in the natural splendor of one of the most beautiful places in the world, with camera shutters clicking all the time. Reason number one: BIODIVERSITY! Let’s put this in perspective. Costa Rica’s landmass consists of 19,761 square miles. The landmass of the entire world, only including dry land, is about 57.5 million square miles. So, Costa Rica makes up around 0.03% of the world’s dry land. However, over 5% of the world’s species reside here in this tiny country. And to further blow your mind, over half of these species can be found on the 700 square mile Osa Peninsula. And this is why BCJ runs the main portion of our Costa Rica Wildlife departure right here on the Osa.  

For wildlife photographers, this biodiversity translates into a dynamic and fast-paced shooting experience, where wildlife is popping out all the time, whether seeking it out or just sitting and enjoying a cup of coffee at one of the incredible ecolodges where we base our tours. One of my favorites of these lodges is Bosque Del Cabo. This beautiful and sprawling property encompasses over 700 acres of primary and secondary forest perched in the Osa’s highlands.  It is one of the most productive forests on the Osa in terms of wildlife. For our January group, our daily sightings consisted of multiple species of toucan, scarlet macaw, coati, and collared peccary. The property also maintains a complex network of trails that traverse the raw nature of the rainforest. We hiked every morning and afternoon, coming across parrots, trogons, monkeys, and sloths.  

Bosque Del Cabo is a property like no other for its natural beauty, but also because it is staffed by an incredible group of nature-loving locals; which brings me to the next reason Costa Rica is my favorite destination, the incredible people that live here, the Ticos and Ticas. Costa Rica is a country of welcoming and warmth, a place where outsiders are accepted and embraced, a place where locals love to share the beauty of their country and culture. Throughout my travels to other countries, it has at times been difficult to feel like an outsider. But, this is a feeling I’ve never felt in Costa Rica. And that same hospitality extended from our next lodge as well, Aguila de Osa of Drake Bay. 

Drake Bay is on the opposite side of the Peninsula as Bosque Del Cabo. Whereas Bosque is perched in the dense rainforests of the Osa’s highlands, Aguila is a beachside eco-resort accessible only by boat. Drake Bay itself is a protected bay created by the protective reach of the peninsula itself. It is one of the best locations to snorkel, dive, and see whales in Costa Rica, but we come here for its proximity to Corcovado National Park and the ability to access the park by boat. Corcovado is regarded as one of the most pristine parks in the world, where over 99% of the park is completely inaccessible to visitors, set aside for the wildlife. But that 1% that is accessible benefits from these protected areas, as wildlife abounds here. It is the only national park in Costa Rica large and diverse enough to support large populations of megafauna like tapir, jaguar, and puma.  

Our Corcovado excursion began with an early morning departure by boat. Our small vessel skirted the coastline, making our way south towards the park. But, along the way we came across a beautiful sight. A mother humpback whale and her calf playing at the surface. After pausing to enjoy these incredible cetaceans, we set back out only to be stopped again by a curious pod of pantropical spotted dolphins.

When we finally did arrive at the beaches of Corcovado and disembarked, our hike through the park would be filled with sightings of beautiful trogons, an enormous sleeping tapir, crested owls, and dozens of monkeys and other arboreal mammals.

It was a beautiful day and one of the most photographically productive ventures into Corcovado I’d ever had.  

Along with our hikes and visits into Corcovado, some of the most interesting photographic opportunities came from the little animals that reside here, the frogs, snakes, spiders, and other beautifully bizarre creatures that come out at night. And this brings me to another reason I love Costa Rica so much.

The frogs! I love macro photography, and few places offer such a beautiful and diverse range of subject matter as Costa Rica. We would spend two photographic sessions with these amazing little amphibians working on macro techniques like increasing depth of field and use of off-camera flash.  

It’s an interesting comparison, photographing wildlife anywhere else in the world versus Costa Rica. I often describe wildlife photography in Alaska or the lower 48 states as “chasing wildlife.” Though we obviously don’t actually chase anything, it is a hunt to find the animals. But in Costa Rica, wildlife is unavoidable. Whether cruising along the local gravel roads or walking the beaches, wildlife here abounds and it finds you no matter where you are.

And this is the final reason I’ll share with you why I love Costa Rica so much. It is that feeling of immersion into the ecosystem that overcomes me when I’m here that inspires and invigorates me. I often say I feel like the best version of myself when I’m in Costa Rica. And it surely this feeling that is partly responsible for that.

The climate helps too. But, it is this diverse and dynamic ecosystem that is the primary reason. It is always my goal to share this feeling with my clients here, to show them that though the jungle must be respected, it is nothing to fear. Embracing all that comes with it makes a person wiser and stronger for the experience. A deep curiosity and love for the natural world are unavoidable here, and that is the very thing that will elevate one’s nature photography more than just about anything else. 

For anyone out there who is considering a Costa Rica Wildlife adventure, I say don’t wait! We at BCJ have crafted an experience like no other, one where you will be immersed into the beautiful ecosystem of the Osa Peninsula and all of its incredible creatures, allowing you to walk away with literally thousands of photographs and memories to last a lifetime. 

Ben Blankenship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben Blankenship was born in Nashville, Tennessee. As a young man, he studied ceramics and fine arts. In college, he pursued filmmaking, writing, and photography. After graduation, he worked for nearly a decade in broadcast television as a video editor, photographer, and cinematographer. Over the last several years, he has transitioned into working full-time as a photojournalist and travel photographer. He has worked abroad in Costa Rica, Belize, and Uganda. His photographic passions include wildlife, conservation, travel, events, and documenting social and political events around the world. His work has been published in the New York Times, The Oregonian Newspaper, and by Photographers Without Borders. He currently splits his time between living in Costa Rica and Tennessee. See his most recent work on his website here: www.ben-blankenship.com

 

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.