Developing a new itinerary, as one might imagine, is a pretty hefty undertaking with an extensive list of to-dos. Capturing the right photos for our brochures and website is just one piece of that larger puzzle. Our art director and staff photographer, David Vargas has been fortunate to visit some remote and remarkable parts of the planet where he captures the essence of each place—from its people and culture to its landscapes and wildlife. Most recently David returned from Guanacaste, Costa Rica where he photographed some of the elements guests will encounter on our brand-new itinerary, Wild Costa Rica Escape: Guanacaste’s Coral Reefs & Volcanic Peaks. Scroll on to see a few of David’s favorite images from his trip and the story behind them.  —As told to Lauren A. Greene   

Bat Islands (Isla Murcielago)

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Bat Islands (Isla Murcielago) are in the World Heritage-designated Guanacaste Conservation Area.  It’s a paradise for snorkelers and divers and is well-known for a site called the Big Scare where you can dive with bull sharks. But there’s plenty to do on land too, including photographing the beautiful scenery from the shoreline or on an incredible hike to the top of the island. I loved how the waves were crashing around this woman as she photographed the water. To create that dream-like feel, I used an ND filter with long exposure—it almost looks like she’s walking on clouds.

Rincón de la Vieja National Park

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Guanacaste is home to one of the largest tropical dry forest areas in the Americas and you’ll get to experience it at Rincón de la Vieja National Park which is where this photo was taken. You’ll start off in the green, lush forest and as you hike along, it slowly begins to transition from green to gold. The plant life starts to change, and you’ll see flora that is well-adapted to life in the dry environment. Dry forests are incredibly rare and unique. I’ve traveled a lot and have never seen anything like it before. To really show off that contrast between the two forests I focused on the color and composition here.

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These two images were also taken in Rincón de la Vieja. I placed them side-by-side to highlight one particularly special experience that happens while exploring the park: first, you cross this narrow suspension bridge single file through the trees and then, when you get to the other side you’ll come upon Oropendula, a spectacular waterfall that plunges into a turquoise pool. I wanted to capture the feeling of being immersed in this cathedral of green. You’re experiencing the whole forest all by yourself and you hear the sounds of the birds and the waterfall—it’s really peaceful. And then you get to cool off with a dip in the pool.

Cowboy Culture at the Hacienda

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Cowboy culture is a big part of Guanacaste which you’ll see on the way to and at the Hacienda Guachipelin, where there’s an authentic working horse and cattle ranch. On my drive there I noticed a herd of cows coming down the road behind me. I jumped out and started taking pictures while I walked alongside the moving car. There were moments the cows came too close and my driver moved me a little farther away until I got the shot I wanted. Afterwards I asked the young cowboy if I could take his portrait. He was genuinely warm and friendly and didn’t mind how much time he spent talking to me while the cows just waited along the road for him.

Curú Wildlife Refuge

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We were walking through Curú Wildlife Refuge when all of a sudden we were in the middle of a mass of white-faced capuchin monkeys. They were perched up on the palm trees moving from tree to tree, going about their daily lives.  I noticed the mother of one family carrying a baby and the father was visibly protective. He would jump ahead first and make sure it was safe for the mom and baby to come over. It was fascinating to see that behavior up close—the trees aren’t that tall so you can get a really good view of them. It took several tries to get this shot—then the family stopped to rest for a moment and the baby looked right at me.

Farm-to-Table at the Hacienda

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The food at the Hacienda where guests enjoy lunch is all farm-to-table fresh. They grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs in a hydroponic greenhouse and gardens right near the restaurant. Eggs, milk, honey, and meat all come from chickens, cows, bees, pigs and turkeys raised on the ranch. And anything they don’t produce on site they buy from sustainable local vendors. I wanted to capture the chef as he went through his process to prepare meals. He goes right into the greenhouse to pick out his ingredients for the day and then creates amazing traditional dishes like gallo pinto and arroz con leche.

San Jose Mercado Central 

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Guests embark and disembark the ship in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital and have a chance to tour this vibrant city. As a photographer I’m always interested in capturing people in the local markets with all the color and activity. A mother was selling these amazing fruits and her little girl was just perched up on a crate in the middle of it all. I asked the mom if I could photograph her and she was so accommodating. Her daughter was so friendly, and it was easy to capture her personality. At a nearby park I spotted a girl that was feeding pigeons. I loved her attitude and energy and the bold sculpture behind her really added to the picture. The locals were all so warm and friendly—getting to meet some of them was one of my favorite things about the trip.  

Tamarindo Mangroves & Estuary

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These dense mangrove forests are in the surf town of Tamarindo and there’s a variety of wildlife thriving here—birds, reptiles, sloths, monkeys. The local guides were incredibly knowledgeable—at one point our skiff driver stopped the boat right in front of this one tree and there was a beautiful owl nesting inside. It felt very serene as we glided quietly through the still waters of the estuary and I wanted to capture that feeling here.   

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