Costa Rica

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province, Plus Photography Tips

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

This blog post is journal style if you want to read a full review of the tour provider click here. If you want to read photography tips click below in the table of contents. Even if you don’t choose this guided tour it is still: Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province.

Table of contents

Click on one of these links to be brought further down the page

  1. Day 5 intro
  2. The Hanging Bridges
    the Guides
    the Bridges
    the Garden
  3. the Bus Ride Through the Province
  4. Day 6 and the Resort Hotel
    Getting off the Resort
    The Infinite Pool
    Other Amenities
    The Private Beach
    The “Leatherback Turtle Park” misnomer
  5. My thoughts
  6. Photography Tips
    for the Rainforest
    For night Photography (Star Trails + Long Exposure)
  7. Conclusion

Day 5 of the tour with Hanging Bridges

You start the day with another early breakfast and depart the hotel Magic Mountain. This is where things got rough for me. I’m not really sure what I did, but in the morning I woke up with extreme back pain and spasms. I even almost passed out because of the pain. This is where it can be seen as beneficial to be grouped with a bunch of seniors, because most seniors are walking drugstores, lol. I normally don’t like to take handouts, but I was in so much pain I took some. The tour director also saw how much pain I was in and arranged a local drugstore to deliver some powerful anti inflammatory drugs to our next location. I also had a tour member lend me their spare walking cane. Hahaha. I did feel pretty silly most of the day, as I was by far the youngest man on the tour and here I am the one who gets injured and has to use a senior’s cane.

 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
Arenal Lake (near the hanging bridges)

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

The Hanging Bridges and Rain Forest Tour

Before arriving at the Hanging Bridges, the tour director asks which flavor of hike you want. You have 3 options to choose from: easy, medium, or hard. If I hadn’t been in so much pain still, I would have chosen hard, however, I chose the easy. I could have chosen not to go at all and stay at the base, but I was not going to let my back ruin my vacation. I am a very stubborn man :D, and I was also looking forward to this hike, as experiencing nature and wildlife is the very reason we chose this tour in the first place.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
Slatey-Tailed Trogon
The Guides

The naturalist guide on this tour was pretty good at spotting wildlife, however, the one we got was a little chauvinistic. The tour director doesn’t really have control over who you are assigned to. He wasn’t bad enough to report, but he said some things that were inappropriate. Aside from that, I was impressed at his ability to see things I would not have never seen in a million years. This is where we saw bats underneath a log. A lot of people get creeped out by bats, but I find them fascinating. There were also birds in there that are difficult to find elsewhere.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
I’ve shown this before, but the hanging bridges is where I saw these bats.
The Bridges

It was dumb of me to not get pictures of the hanging bridges, but alas. If you are afraid of heights, you might not like this place. I am not at all afraid of heights, so for me they are just wobbly bridges. Also with my back still spasming the wobbliness was not very fun. That was the reason I chose not to cross the longest and highest bridge, because it was essentially cross and come back, as the hike was not a loop. The novelty of the last bridge was that it was just high and long.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
Broad-Billed Motmot
The Hummingbird Garden

Taking the short guided tour was actually beneficial because it gave me time to wander around on my own and discover the flower garden with a bunch of hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are my favorite bird, as they are so unique in the animal world, and also challenging to photograph.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

The Drive Through Guanacaste Province

After the tour you are whisked away for a long drive to the desert climate of Guanacaste, on the west coast of Costa Rica. It may be a long bus ride, but the scenery is very pretty, and Arenal Lake is a highlight. Although the bus doesn’t stop for much, it did stop for a group of coati’s, which was a real treat to see. Coati’s are a little mammal similar to a raccoon, thus its nickname: the hog-nosed raccoon. They aren’t quite the nuisance that raccoon’s are though.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
14 Coati’s! Taken through the bus window
 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
A coati from the bus window

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

The Long Bus Ride

The long drive through the Province was broken up by having lunch in the quaint little town of Tilarán. With a population of just under 9000 people, and a fairly high elevation, it certainly is a pretty town. I would have like to explore more, but we just stopped for a delicious lunch. Perhaps if I ever get to go back I will stop at the town and self guide. After lunch is a final push to the resort hotel of the J.W. Marriott.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

Tilaran, Costa Rica

Day 6 The J.W. Mariott

I have a love/hate relationship with this hotel. Don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful resort in an excellent location with a fantastic pool; however, it is secluded, elitist and difficult to leave As the hotel is gated with a hefty fee to leave and enter. IMHO, the reason is that they want you to spend your money on the resort, so they make it difficult to leave. The more you spend in the next town, the less you have to spend there.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
A monkey housekeeping made out of towels
Getting off the resort (or not)

They have a shuttle van which goes to the nearest town of Tamarindo, but it costs $35 per person making it more expensive than a limo with no limo perks. I wanted to see Tamarindo, but it just wasn’t worth it. Once you get past this, youcan just enjoy the resort for what it is: a time to relax. Dinner here is very classy, and probably the best out of all of the locations thus far. The hotel itself is huge and you almost need GPS just for inside the hotel.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
A wind swept tree
The Infinite Pool

The pool is a gigantic infinity pool, with plenty of hot tubs sprinkled about. There are 2 swim up bars and plenty of cabanas. There is also an amazing private beach, if you want to swim in the ocean, which you might because the temperature at the time was 43*C or 110*F.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
I mean does it get much better than this? The infinite pool at the resort
Other Amenities

Other amenities include a spa which you can take advantage of. We did, because of my back. It is pretty pricey, but if you have sore muscles, it’s worth it. There is also a gelato bar, which we also took advantage of, again pricey, but worth it.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

The Beach

As I mentioned earlier there is a private beach which goes for miles in either direction, which makes for a nice beach walk with more wildlife, if you haven’t gotten your fill yet. One advantage of this is that if you walk far enough away from the resort at night, there’s less light pollution, and you can star gaze and get a pretty amazing sky. Being remote also makes it fairly safe at night to walk alone. The only other people you will probably see are other hotel guests, who spent a lot to be here so aren’t likely to be thieves. No guarantees though.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
Surf’s up pelicans
 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
Waves crashing on the rocks
The Leatherback Turtle Park

This was a bit of a misnomer, and if I had a major gripe about the tour it would be this. I thought until the day we were going to go, that we were going to “see” leatherback turtles; however, it turns out it was only going to be an instructional presentation. The area where the turtles roam are breeding grounds and therefore protected and off limits. While it doesn’t explicitly say on the website that you will see them, it doesn’t say that you won’t or can’t either.

It kind of seems implied by a “turtle park” that you will see them, or at least have to opportunity to potentially see them. In my opinion, it would not be so misleading if they said “leatherback turtle information session”. Suffice it to say we didn’t actually go. People that did go said it was interesting, but also said it was disappointing because they too thought there would be turtles. It didn’t ruin anything for us as it just meant more time swimming in the pool and relaxing in style.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

My Thoughts

Personally I think Caravan should work out a deal with the hotel and offer a day trip to Tamarindo instead, or as an option. That being said, they do want to be responsible tour operators, so learning about leatherback turtles wouldn’t be so bad.

I will say this about the hotel: the bad do not outweigh the good parts. I am glad we didn’t have to pay individually because, at the time of writing, this hotel lists the booking price per night at $600!

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

Photography tips

For the Rainforest

The rainforest is generally dark, so you probably want to turn up your ISO if you can. There may be times when you get a lot of light, but mostly there will be a thick canopy of trees: 800 is a good place to start. It makes a good blend of noise to shutter speed ratio, as shutter speed in low light can be tricky. Even if your camera has vibration reduction, image stabilization, or whatever your camera’s brand calls it, there’s only so much it can do. Even if it reduces the shake, there’s nothing it can do for motion blur. Also, the more magnification your lens has, the more you need to turn your shutter speed up. For example: a 18mm wide lens can get away with 1/30th of a second, while a 500mm telephoto needs close to 1/500th, but you can probably get away with 1/320th.

A rule of thumb is: you want your shutter speed to match your focal length: 20mm=1/20th or 500mm=1/500th. There’s only so low that you can go, however, (unless you have a tripod) but especially if you are shooting action like an animal. Err on the side of faster than you need, and you should do OK. Once your shutter speed gets high enough it starts to make less of a difference, except when you are shooting fast action like a flying bird. Then go as high as you can. A fast flying bird I would say double your focal length, so 400mm=1/800th of a second shutter speed.

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

For Night Sky Photography

I will start by saying that I’m no expert here. I like to play around with settings to see what looks good, but I will share a few tips that I do know. So ignore this if you know better than me.

 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
This is a 36 minute exposure. Lens: 16mm f/2 ISO=100 SPD=Bulb Aperture=f/22
  1. Tripod: it is almost a requirement to have a tripod for night shooting. I say almost, because in Iceland when I didn’t even know I would be shooting the Aurora, I didn’t bring a tripod but I got away with using my camera bag. That being said, tripods are not super expensive and there are light travel ones, so I recommend one.
  2. Composing your shots: make a plan before it gets dark on what you think will look good. When the sun goes down, it becomes very difficult to frame your shot (because it’s dark). You are typically only going to shoot a few locations anyways because of the long exposures. When I walked down the beach earlier in the day, I got an idea of what might look good. You probably want to put something in the frame so there’s not just sand and stars, perhaps some craggy rocks, a nice tree etc.
  3. Lenses: if you want to shoot the sky and have static stars then you need a wide lens, 24mm or less. I don’t recommend a lens with a focal length of more than 30mm if you want static stars, the wider the better. You also need the aperture to be the widest possible, F2.8 or wider. These lenses tend to be on the expensive side, so you can get away with an aperture of more, you will just need to turn up your ISO and introduce noise. You can always remove noise later.
  4. Camera: you need a camera that can be capable of 30 second exposures at the very least. A better setting would be “bulb mode”. This allows your camera to hold the shutter open for as long as you press the button. If your fingers wouldn’t get tired, you could theoretically hold it open for hours.
  5. ISO: You can start at the lowest setting and go up from there with 30 second exposures. If your shot is too dark at the lowest setting, put it up a couple notches and try again. Noise will be amplified when you are taking 30 second or longer exposures.Using the correct exposure with a high ISO will create less imperfections (noise, banding, jpg artifacts etc) than if you severely underexpose and have to fix it later. If you have to correct slight over or under exposure you will be OK though.
  6. (optional) a remote control: If the idea of holding your shutter open for hours at a time doesn’t appeal to you, you can get a remote control for you camera (if your camera manufacturer has one available for your model). This way you can set the duration for whatever time you want, depending on the complexity of your remote. This also means you can free your hands to read an e-reader or play a game on your phone. Just don’t use it too close to your camera and light pollute your photo.
  7. Shooting: take a test shot at 30 seconds to see how well it exposes, then adjust ISO up or down accordingly. If you can’t get it bright enough because your lens is slow F/5.6 or worse, turn on bulb mode and go for star trails. Typically, with a very wide focal length and a wide aperture 30 seconds is fast enough so the stars stay circles. More than 30 seconds and stars start elongating (star trails). If you find your stars are trailing even at 30 seconds, there’s nothing wrong with star trails photos. Ideally though, if 30 seconds looks good, you can take a series of shots and make a time lapse video and also turn that into a star trails shot later in photo editing by layering all the shots on top of each other. The only thing to do now is wait, and keep yourself from not getting bored.
  8. Exposing properly: you can play around if you want, but if you want to get technical and do a bit of math to avoid over exposure these are some things you can try. To get star trails that arc you need an ½ hour or more exposure, doing this wrong can ruin your shot. Take a test shot with your ISO up as high as it can go (mine goes up to 6400) and 30 seconds. If it exposes properly at 30 seconds great; if it’s over exposed, turn the time down in half increments 30 to 15 seconds etc. Now every time you cut your ISO in half double your time 6400ISO/30s to 3200ISO/60s then 1600ISO/2mins etc.

    Once you get to the minimum ISO, you can then turn up your aperture. Using the above example at f/2.8 you would get 100ISO/32mins so then F2.8/32m to F4/64m F5.6/2h8m. This way you can turn your ISO down to the lowest setting and calculate the correct time. There is nothing worse than taking an hour long exposure only to find out you exposed way over or way under. If your shot is slightly under it can be fixed, if the shot is completely white you will have to start over 🙁 For reference aperture halves at these intervels: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22. It’s far to complex to explain why F/4 is half of F2.8 so just trust me on this.
  9. Optional Tip: depending if your spouse or partner can, or wants to, stay up this late. You can make a romantic evening out of it. Just be up front with your intentions. Once you have your camera set up and will be taking shots for a half hour or more, than you can star gaze together. There are apps for night sky that will point out the constellations. Bring a blanket to lay in the sand, or even a couple of folding lounge chairs.
Milky way on Mansita Beach: ISO1600, 30sec
 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
That is the moon in the sky 30 seconds
 Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province
Another 30 second exposure ISO=1000

I use this remote, it is much cheaper than the manufacturers, and it has loads more features. The one downside is, and you can see this in the comments, the instructions are very poorly translated. If you are good at figuring out electronics, this won’t be a problem. If you are not, then you might want to look elsewhere.

This is an affiliate link to Amazon.ca

remote control

I use this tripod. It is a perfect blend (IMHO) of lightness, sturdiness, compactability and price. There are better tripods for much more, and there are cheaper ones that aren’t nearly as good.

This is an affiliate link to Amazon.ca

tripod

The above are affiliate links

Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province

Click here if you want to go to back to table of contents

In closing

Well, I hope you found my post this week interesting. Please hit that like button if you did, or leave a comment, (no email required). Even if you have things you don’t like or want to see, I welcome feedback, just don’t use profanity or attack others or I will mark you as spam. This isn’t a kid’s website, but lets keep it civil please.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “Things to see and do in Guanacaste Province, Plus Photography Tips

  1. Wow, you took some awesome pictures! I love the hummingbirds, they are such amazing creatures.
    I went across several hanging bridges in the rain forest when I studied abroad in Ghana…. talk about adrenaline inducing. Sounds like you had a great trip, thanks for sharing 🙂

Any comments are greatly appreciated.