In many ways my professional life revolves around travel. Most years find me on the road at least once a month, leading photography workshops, speaking at photography and nature expos, or teaching classes for camera retailers. But, like everyone else, the past year has been quite different. I led two workshops since February instead of six or eight, and otherwise I’ve basically been at home. That’s not exactly what I would call my’ “natural habitat.”
I was so excited for the chance to go to Costa Rica in January of 2021 for a busy four days of photographing and recording tutorial videos. I’m usually in Costa Rica with a group of photographers in January, but this year it was just me and my camera man (and best friend) Jeff Weese. It doesn’t take much research to learn that Costa Rica is my favorite destination, and it was the perfect place to warm up and get my creative juices flowing.
I scheduled the short trip in conjunction with my Olympus Nature Photography Masterclass. This five-week online class features two live meetings each week, along with assignments and interaction within a private online community. I wanted to offer something unique for the class, and I decided that two live meetings from Costa Rica would do the trick.
The travel was surprisingly easy. Costa Rica doesn’t require a negative Covid-19 test to enter the country as of November 2020. Travelers are required to buy travel insurance that specifically covers Covid-19-related medical care, as well as lodging costs should you have to remain in the country to quarantine. This insurance is available from government agencies in Costa Rica, and I was able to find a private policy for a very reasonable price. Once you have your insurance you need to fill out an electronic “health pass” online. You are given a bar code which will be scanned when you go through immigration in Costa Rica. I had printed copies of my insurance paperwork and even a negative Covid test, but the Health Pass barcode was all that anyone really looked at.
As of January 26, 2021 you will need a negative Covid test to enter the United States. From what I understand most airports that serve US destinations are now offering rapid Covid tests for US travelers. Be sure to check with the US State department when you are planning your trip to make sure you have all of your ducks in a row before you travel. You can click here for up-to-date travel information for Costa Rica.
There were about one third the number of travelers I would expect at the airport in San Jose. January is in the middle of the high season and it is usually packed. With fewer people and everyone wearing a mask, it felt as safe as any other public place during a pandemic. We were the only passengers in the rental car shuttle and we didn’t have to wait to pick up our car. After a few minutes of traffic leaving Alajuela it was smooth sailing all the way to La Fortuna.
We stayed with my friends in the hills outside of Monterrey, Costa Rica, and there was nothing unusual up there related to the pandemic. The cows didn’t seem to notice.
After visiting with my amigos for a night we headed south to the central Pacific coast. Once agin it was smooth sailing and we made it to Tarcoles in a few hours. I didn’t expect much beach traffic on a Wednesday afternoon anyway. If you are driving to the Jaco beach area from San Jose or other points north, you should try to avoid heading that way on Friday and Saturday. It seems like everyone in San Jose goes to the beach for the weekend and there is really only one road to get there. You should also consider this if you’re planning to go to the airport from Jaco on Sunday. Everyone else in Jaco will be headed that way on Sunday, and the traffic is generally terrible.
I decided to rent a small house since there were only two of us for the week. There are TONS of great properties in Costa Rica on Air B&B and other sites. We stayed in a nice two-bedroom house in a great location for around $250 for three nights, including all fees. The house was comfortable and the Wi-Fi was plenty fast enough for me to host my Zoom meetings.
Most of the restaurants in this area have outdoor seating all the time. Everything seemed normal except that the wait staff wore masks. You are asked to wear a mask in public places, and from what I saw most Ticos are in compliance. Many places we went had installed pedal-operated sinks outside. Restaurants and even the national park ticket office required us to wash our hands before we entered.
Once we were in the forest things were exactly as usual. I don’t think I’ve ever been in Carara National Park when I would have considered it crowded. We only saw one other group along the trails in about nine hours. I’m not sure if the lack of tourists made any difference for the wildlife. I take my groups to this park because we always see great wildlife, and this day was no exception. I don’t think we saw significantly more wildlife than usual.
I didn’t go into downtown Jaco Beach. We were trying to avoid crowds and it seemed like Jaco was jumping as usual. We also avoided the bars and restaurants in Playa Hermosa after seeing the big crowds spilling out onto the beach. I’m happy to see people going to the beach because it supports the local businesses, but we didn’t really want to rub elbows with a bunch of strangers. I hope that Costa Rica can continue to enjoy a relatively low infection rate as they open things up more. I know my friends who are tour guides are hurting, and they would love for more tourists to come pouring back to Costa Rica.
The airport in San Jose was nearly empty as we headed home. Short lines to check in and go through security are some of my favorite side effects of the pandemic. Being cooped up at home has made the personal effects of the pandemic feel so important. Going out in the world a bit, especially to a place that I’m so familiar with, gave me a more clear view of the impact of the past year’s events. While I appreciate short lines and easy travel, the thousands of people who make a living from travelers and tourists are really hurting. Let’s hope we can turn this around sooner than later. Get vaccinated when you can and wear your mask in the mean time. Let’s get the world working again.