Costa Rica: A Photographic Journey

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From the flutter of wings in butterfly gardens to the symphony of tropical birds, this photo essay is a celebration of life in one of the world's most vibrant ecosystems.

Each month, Bluedot Living will feature a photo essay by Yasmin Namini, a former Chief Consumer Officer at the New York Times, who is now traveling the world taking photographs. At Bluedot, we believe that celebrating the Earth’s most enchanting creatures, cultures, and landscapes will inspire us to help preserve them.

My journey through Costa Rica's eco-lodges and family-owned wildlife havens is more than a travelogue; it is a narrative of conservation, a call to preserve these pockets of paradise.

I first visited Costa Rica, nestled in the heart of Central America, in 2006 and was blown away by its beauty and incredible wildlife. I always wanted to return and finally did this April. I traveled there on a photography workshop with Aaron Baggenstos, a celebrated professional wildlife photographer, videographer, and author, accompanied by a local naturalist guide and photographer, Johan Chaves. It’s here, amidst the kaleidoscope of ecological wonders, that we visited Costa Rica’s unique eco-lodges and natural havens.


In the vibrant heart of San José lies the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, an urban oasis where the flutter of butterflies offers a peaceful contrast to the city's hurried pace. This tranquil sanctuary provided the perfect introduction to just a few of Costa Rica’s medley of winged beauties as captured in these photos.

Winged Architects: Pollinators of Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
Butterflies are important pollinators of flowers and food, aiding in the seed production of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Unfortunately, butterfly populations are in decline across the world largely due to habitat loss and pollution. These gardens attract, feed, and provide shelter for butterflies, supporting conservation, pollination, and biodiversity.
Equipment, settings: Canon EOS R5; multiple shutter speeds, f-stops, and ISO settings


Departing from San José, our first stop was Canopy San Luis, a distinctive birding habitat nestled in the cloud forest reserve.

Clockwise from top left: Green Honeycreeper, Blue-and-gold Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager.

Avian Palette: Tanagers of Canopy San Luis
From its large deck, birders can experience and photograph an array of bird species including a variety of exquisite Tanagers. In this photo, witness the vibrant splendor of just a few of Canopy San Luis’s colorful birdlife.
Equipment, settings: Canon EOS R5; multiple shutter speeds, f-stops, and ISO setting


Later we arrived at the Arenal Observatory Lodge & Trails, a sprawling 870-acre retreat nestled within Arenal Volcano National Park and a gateway to the wonders of the rainforest. Originally built in 1987 as a scientific research station for the Smithsonian Institution, it now stands as an eco-hotel and a hotspot for birdwatchers with more than 500 bird species traversing their forests.

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird sipping nectar from the vibrant Purple Porterweed

Resilience in Rain: Hummingbirds of Arenal
Captured here amidst a gentle rain shower is a Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird sipping nectar from the vibrant Purple Porterweed; a reminder and tribute to the tenacity and resilience of hummingbirds.
Equipment, settings: Canon EOS R5; 500mm; 1/1,250 sec; f/7.1; ISO 5,000


Papa’s Place, born from a family's vision in 2019, is as cozy a retreat as its name suggests. We arrived just before sunset eager to photograph frogs and bats. As the night sky darkened, we were serenaded by a chorus of frogs and watched a silhouette of bats weaving through the dusk.

close up of Long-Tongued Nectar Bat with a Banana Flower

Twilight Serenade: Nectar Bats at Papa’s Place
This image captures a Long-Tongued Nectar Bat in a delicate dance with a Banana Flower. Full disclosure, this photo op was orchestrated. Still the experience retained its raw magic, offering a rare insight into the nightly ballet that plays out in nature.
Equipment, settings: Canon EOS R5; 200mm; 1/200 sec; f/16; ISO 400


Our next stop was the Selva Verde Lodge & Reserve, established in 1986 by Giovanna Holbrook and her husband, Juan and renowned for its commitment to sustainable tourism. A short 30-minute drive south took us to Pierella’s Garden, a family-owned jungle sanctuary that originated as a modest butterfly garden. Their initial endeavor to attract insects gradually drew birds, bats, and more, transforming it into an ecological haven. Today, Pierella’s Garden thrives as a vibrant center of “backyard” biodiversity and conservation, offering encounters with an incredible array of wildlife from birds and sloths to bats and frogs.

two yellow black and white birds on a branch

Courtship Rhythms: White-collared Manakins at Pierella's Garden
In the lush corners of Pierella’s Garden, I photographed this pair of male White-Collared Manakins, each engaged in an extraordinary dance to attract a female mate. As each male leaped from branch to branch, I heard the clicking made with his wings as he touched the tree — a percussive invitation to potential mates.
Equipment, settings: Canon EOS R5; 500mm; 1/200 sec; f/7.1; ISO 3,200

ghost bats nested in a leaf

Tented Pups: Ghost Bats at Pierella's Garden
Nestled within their ingeniously crafted leaf ‘tents’ were newborn Honduran White Tent-Making Bats, affectionately known as Ghost Bats. These delicate pups were barely a day old. Photographing these tiny marvels offered a glimpse into the tender early moments of these fascinating creatures.
Equipment, settings: Canon EOS R5; 100mm; 1/200 sec; f/11; ISO 320


Donde Cõpe’s, the private residence of avid photographer Jose “Cõpe” Perez, has been masterfully transformed into a lush garden complete with a vibrant pond. This backyard paradise is a magnet for a diverse array of birds, including hummingbirds and Tanagers. It’s a unique place where local expertise blends seamlessly with the wilderness. I devoted hours here, capturing the rapid, fleeting movements of these swift hummingbirds.

three hummingbirds feeding on a red flower

Hummingbird Oasis: Donde Cõpe's
A trio of White-necked Jacobins feed on a Torch Ginger at Donde Cõpe's.
Equipment, settings: Canon EOS R5; 100mm; 1/200 sec; f/11; ISO 320


Our journey culminated high in the cloud forest at Trogon Lodge. At an altitude of 7,000 feet above sea level, it offered an escape from the tropical heat. Our mission was to find and photograph the elusive Resplendent Quetzal, known for its vibrant plumage and mystical allure. Assisted by local guides, we trekked to a nesting site nearby the Paraiso Quetzal Lodge. After a challenging 30-minute descent and valley crossing, we positioned ourselves near the nest.

Patience rewarded us when a male Quetzal, resplendent in metallic blue, green, and red feathers, appeared. He called to his mate, who briefly emerged before taking flight. Moments later, he swooped in, bearing a lizard for their chicks.

rainbow colored male Quetzal bird on a tree

Quetzal Quest: Paraiso Quetzal Lodge
Witnessing this stunning bird, especially his flowing breeding season tail feathers, was unforgettable and worth every step of our mountain trek.
Equipment, settings: Canon EOS R5; 600mm; 1/2,500 sec; f/4; ISO 4,000


Our morning photographing the majestic Resplendent Quetzal, was followed by lunch at Paraiso Quetzal Lodge, where we seized one last chance to photograph the vibrant local hummingbirds.

two colorful hummingbirds on a branch

Final Flourish: Hummingbirds at Paraiso Quetzal Lodge
This final photo features the dazzling Fiery-Throated Hummingbird and Talamanca Hummingbird.
Equipment, settings: Canon EOS R5; 176mm; 1/1,250 sec; f/9; ISO 2,000


With each photograph taken and each moment captured, my journey through Costa Rica's eco-lodges and family-owned wildlife havens is more than a travelogue; it is a narrative of conservation, a call to preserve these pockets of paradise, and a visual feast celebrating the life that thrives within them; a photographer's tribute to the enduring beauty of Costa Rica.

All photographs copyright Yasmin Namini.

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Yasmin Namini
Yasmin Namini
Yasmin Namini, former Chief Consumer Officer at The New York Times, led their print and digital consumer revenue business. These days, she advises media companies globally on digital transformation, revenue diversification, and direct-to-consumer strategies. Active in the news media world, she frequently speaks at industry events, teaches as an adjunct lecturer, and contributes as a Board Director. Off the clock, Yasmin indulges in her love for exploration and photography, having captured the beauty of all seven continents and over 50 countries. You can find her work at yasminnaminiphotography.com
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