- The Enthusiast's Guide to Travel Photography: 55 Photographic Principles You Need to Know
- Destinations of a Lifetime: 225 of the World's Most Amazing Places
- Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Photography
- Where to fly into: Juan Santamaría International Airport is the largest airport in San Jose.
- Best luggage: For a trip of this length, the Nomatic Check-In roller bag is the ideal choice. It offers polycarbonate construction that stands up to the rigors of travel, silent wheels, low-profile handles, and a three-stage aluminum handle to fit your height. With space for 78 liters of gear, this bag has plenty of room for a 5-day trip or longer.
- Attractions & Things to Do: When you aren't out photographing wildlife and waterfalls, consider checking out the National Theatre of Costa Rica in San Jose. The National Museum of Costa Rica in San Jose is also well worth your time.
- Best Time of Year to Visit: The dry season (December to April) is your best bet.
- Check the weather in the San Jose area right now.
Costa Rica is one of those locations that is a landscape photographer’s dream.
In every corner of the country, from the beaches to the jungles, the waterfalls to the wildlife, and many points in between, there is beauty to behold and capture with your camera.
To say that Costa Rica is a stunning place is quite the understatement. In fact, a list of 10 places to photograph in Costa Rica is far too short!
With that in mind, here are 10 of my personal favorite things to photograph in Costa Rica
What to Photograph in Costa Rica: Llanos de Cortez
One of the most famous and beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica is Llanos de Cortez.
This waterfall is a hard-to-find gem in the hot and arid Northwest region of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Given the dry climate, it’s strange that this waterfall runs throughout the year. Yet, it does, and with a good volume of water, as you can see above.
There are many different vantage points from which to photograph this beautiful waterfall.
From the front, you can get the full breadth of the waterfall. From the top, you can compose a unique shot that most visitors don’t think to create.
You can also go down river a bit and compose an interesting shot of the base of the waterfall masked by the lush trees that grow along the river’s edge.
This is a great place to relax, swim, and have lunch too!
What to Photograph in Costa Rica: Lake Arenal
Lake Arenal is nestled next to the Arenal Volcano in the Northern Highlands. It is considered by many to be the most breathtaking lake in the entire country.
It’s hard to beat the scenery here - the volcano rises to the east of the lake while thickly wooded rolling hills ascend all around the lake’s shores.
Naturally, sunrise and sunset are particularly excellent times to visit the lake. But there are many other activities, too. Watersports like sailboarding and kayaking are top choices of many travelers.
There are also many species of birds that call this area home and provide you with opportunities to hone your bird photography skills.
Quick Tip: With so much to see and do in Costa Rica, we recommend visiting this gorgeous country as part of a photography tour. Your time in-country is limited, so you want to make the most of your time there, and a photography tour will do just that! Experts like our friends at ColorTexturePhotoTours know all the best spots to get the best photos, as well as off-the-beaten-path locations to get you away from the crowds. Learn more about photography tours in Costa Rica.
What to Photograph in Costa Rica: Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Located in the Guanacaste Province, Rincon de la Vieja National Park has an abundance of ecological diversity. There are no less than 32 waterways, two volcanoes, and a rich tapestry of plant and animal life.
While there, you can strive to photograph rare animals, like the elusive puma and jaguar, as well as tapirs, kinkajous, sloths, and many different types of monkeys. You’ll also find emerald toucanets and blue-crowned motmots.
Your visit should offer enough time to explore both sides of the park - the Pacific side and the Caribbean side.
The Pacific side is decidedly drier, with a landscape that contrasts with the more lush eastern side.
If you’re up for the adventure, head to the summit of the Rincon de la Vieja volcano. It requires a full day’s hike, but the journey to the top is well worth it. You’ll travel through multiple ecosystems on your way to the summit, and once there, you’ll have a beautiful view of Von Seebach, the volcano’s primary crater.
Recommended Travel Photography Books:
What to Photograph in Costa Rica: Bridges
Mix up your landscape photography by seeking out some man-made elements to include in your photos. In Costa Rica, there are many beautiful bridges that pair well with their surroundings.
Bridges offer wonderful sightlines to help drive the eye deeper into the shot. In some cases, they also add pops of unexpected color, such as the billboards that line the approach to the bridge shown below.
And, of course, bridges are prime subjects for creating a shot that’s all about symmetry.
When composing a symmetrical shot of a bridge, patience is the key. Taking the time to frame the shot perfectly - as was done in the image above - will get you the payoff you’re looking for in the end.
Get more bridge photography tips in this detailed article.
What to Photograph in Costa Rica: La Fortuna Waterfall
Known as one of the most breathtaking tropical waterfalls in Costa Rica, La Fortuna is 230 feet tall - quite the sight to see amidst the thick jungle surrounding it.
The waterfall’s thin stream of water sharply contrasts with other waterfalls in Costa Rica, like the much wider Llanos de Cortez discussed earlier. It terminates in a shallow pool of blue water where beautifully textured rocks protrude out of the water’s surface.
As you can see below, moving the waterfall to the side of the shot offers a different and unique perspective from the centered shot above. This is something you should strive to do when photographing any waterfall - seek out different vantage points to see how changing your shooting position changes the look and feel of the shot.
The combination of the water, rocks, and the intense green colors of the surrounding forest is a gorgeous combination for photos. There’s even a small beach where you can relax after getting your shots!
Here’s a quick read that tells you all about the La Fortuna area.
What to Photograph in Costa Rica: Birds
Photo by ALDO GRANGETTO via iStock
While Costa Rica might be more famous for its many different kinds of frogs, it is also home to a wide range of birds.
In fact, there are over 900 known species of birds in Costa Rica, with many more likely yet undiscovered. Since males and females have different plumage, there are far more combinations of colors and textures in these birds than the number of species.
The photo above is of the most spectacular bird in Costa Rica - the Resplendent Quetzal.
It’s iridescent green feathers are certainly eye-catching as is its extremely long tail feathers. These birds range through the tropical forests of Costa Rica, and throughout the forests of Central America.
Toucans are one of the most common and popular birds in Costa Rica. There are six species, including the chesnut-mandibled (shown above), fiery billed aracari, emerald toucanet, collared aracari, yellow-eared toucanet, and keel-billed toucan.
Perhaps the most identifiable of the bunch is the keel-billed toucan, which has an enormous, rainbow-colored beak.
You can also photograph more than 50 types of hummingbirds, 17 species of parrots, over 50 kinds of tanagers, and four species of vultures, just to name a few.
What to Photograph in Costa Rica: La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Yet another must-see location in Costa Rica is La Paz Waterfall Gardens.
As you might’ve guessed, the gardens include multiple waterfalls you can photograph - five, to be exact.
There are viewing platforms above, below, and in front of each waterfall, so you can capture their beauty from multiple vantage points.
But the La Paz Waterfall Gardens offers much more than “just” waterfalls.
You can also enjoy an abundance of plant and animal life, including jungle cats, birds, monkeys, butterflies, and, of course, the famous Costa Rican frogs.
Quick Tip: The La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a private nature park and sanctuary that is home to more than 100 species of animals. You’ll find a jungle cat exhibit and monkey enclosure, a hummingbird garden, tropical aviary, and much more. Get a photographer’s perspective on the La Paz Waterfall Gardens to learn what the park has in store for you and your camera.
What to Photograph in Costa Rica: Juan Castro Blanco National Park
In the northern region of Costa Rica is Juan Castro Blanco National Park, a region teeming with wildlife, volcanos, rain forests, and more.
You can explore the park via an extensive trail system that allows you to see a wide variety of animals and plants, including well over 200 species of birds, orchids, sloths, ocelots, deer, and 22 species of bats.
The park is also home to Bajos del Toro, one of the tallest waterfalls in Costa Rica at more than 300 feet.
The waterfall descends into an ancient volcano crater, and as if that isn’t a sight that’s impressive enough, the walls of the crater are scarred with red and orange mineral deposits.
The combination of the red and orange minerals and the vibrant green moss surrounding the falls is truly breathtaking.
Get a feel for what Bajos del Toro looks like by examining these stunning images.
What to Photograph in Costa Rica: Frogs
A trip to Costa Rica wouldn’t be complete without training your camera on the many types of frogs that call this area home.
There are more than 150 species of frogs in Costa Rica, but researchers believe the number to be far higher than that. It’s just a matter of discovering the rest!
One of the most impressive frogs you’ll find is the Red-Eyed Tree Frog.
These frogs get their name from their huge, bulging red eyes that are immediately identifiable. They have a neon green body with blue and yellow accents and a white underbelly that makes them a beautiful sight. Their orange hands and feet only add to the display!
But the Red-Eyed Tree Frog is just one of many you should seek to find while in Costa Rica. Learn more about some of the country’s most famous and beautiful frogs in this frog photography tutorial.
What to Photograph in Costa Rica: Tenorio Volcano National Park
Tenorio Volcano National Park sits in the northern reaches of Costa Rica and is home to four volcanic peaks and two craters.
The park’s namesake reaches nearly 6,300 feet high, though as impressive as it might be, the jewel of the park is Rio Celeste.
The river has a turquoise blue color to it that’s quite astonishing to see. The blue color comes from aluminosilicates - a combination of aluminum, siicon, and oxygen - on the river bottom that absorb all colors, except blue, present in sunlight. The reflected blue rays create the stunning visual sensation.
As with other areas of Costa Rica, the colors and textures of this place are astounding. The variety of flora, fauna, and ecosystems is equally impressive.
You’ll find thermal springs and geysers, lagoons and rivers, cloud forests and rainforests, and many varieties of animals, including the elusive Puma.
As far as things to photograph in Costa Rica go, Tenorio is a must!
Quick Tip: Ready to pack your bags and head to Costa Rica? Check out ColorTexturePhotoTours for upcoming dates this spring and summer so you can see these locations (and more!) firsthand.
Other Tips for Planning a Costa Rica Photography Trip