Will I be able to charge my digital camera batteries?
Yes, electricity is available at all of the lodges we use. Current in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama is the same as in the United States. If you are traveling to these countries from Europe or other areas, you will likely need to bring along a voltage converter, which can be found at many hardware and electronics stores. Peru and Chile have 220 volt European-style plugs in many areas. All hotels on your Foto Verde trip have outlets in each room, allowing you to recharge your camera and other rechargeable batteries. You may wish to bring along a 3-prong to 2-prong adapter plug as one sometimes encounters older outlets with only 2 slots, which can cause problems with many modern computer, electrical, and photo devices that use a 3-pronged grounding plug.
How should I store my images if I bring a digital camera to Costa Rica?
You have a few options. The first, and by far the easiest to pack and carry is a portable hard drive such as a Hyperdrive. Couple this with a 128 GB flash drive, and you have a very light and portable backup system.
The second is a laptop, which is attractive because you can review and work with your images and connect to the Internet to e-mail family and friends. The Macbook Air and Asus Zenbook laptops are our favorites as they offer very light weight with enough power to backup and edit images in the field.
The third is via a tablet. There are connection kits available that allow you to view your images on an iPad or Android tablet. Nonetheless, this type of setup is not quite there yet in our experience in terms of ease and reliability.
Can Foto Verde arrange my air travel? Does Foto Verde offer traveler/traveler health insurance?
Because we are based in Costa Rica, we have two disadvantages in regard to these questions. Regarding air travel, tickets from the US or Europe to Costa Rica that are purchased in Costa Rica tend to be very expensive. We recommend that you purchase air travel through your regular travel agent or indepedently through one of the many available online services.
Similarly, we are unable to offer competitively priced traveler’s insurance because of the limited competition for insurance provision in Costa Rica. You may be able to obtain travelers’, travelers’ health, and photo equipment insurance through your homeowners’ policy or through your credit card when booking your air travel. We recommend purchasing travel insurance if you have not already done so. There are many companies out there, but we've found Frontier MedEx to have a pretty good selection and Greg uses it when he travels to the US. Note that in the case of a medical emergency, we will assist you in every way possible.
Gear insurance is also a good idea. You may, of course, have your gear covered under your homeowner's policy. If not, we've heard good things about TCP Insurance. Greg has had his gear covered under the NANPA policy offered through Rand Insurance for years. He's only had to file one claim but they took care of things right away with no hassle. Note that NANPA also offers recommendations for travel insurance for photo tours.
Can Foto Verde confirm my return flights for me?
Unfortunately, we cannot do this for you. Because of airline privacy and security restrictions only the ticketed passenger is usually allowed to confirm flights. You can do so online or via phone at the front desks of any of your lodges or hotels. Be sure to have your ticket number and passport number handy as you may be asked by your airline to provide these when confirming your return flight.
How should I pack my photo gear for air travel?
We understand that getting your gear to your destination safely and without too much stress is a big concern for the traveling photographer. We’ve seen lots of different camera bags and strongly recommend Think Tank products. They’ve done a lot of work designing great bags that protect your gear and are fully compliant with major airline carry-on luggage policies. (Disclosure: Greg Basco has an affiliate relationship with Think Tank but he does not recommend any company whose gear he doesn’t use himself.) We recommend the following products from Think Tank.
How should I pack my gear on a daily basis once I arrive at my destination?
A great way to handle gear for everyday shooting during a Foto Verde Tours photo workshop is to use a smaller backpack or a belt system. Your tour leader will go over the objectives for each shooting session, helping you to decide what gear to have on hand. You'll rarely need everything so a way to carry only what you need is very handy. We recommend the following products from Think Tank.
My itinerary includes a boat tour for photography. What equipment should I use?
Greg finds that the best combination for photographing wildlife from a boat in Costa Rica is a fast telephoto lens with image stabilization (IS for Canon) or vibration reduction (VR for Nikon) mounted on a monopod, which allows for much more flexibility than a tripod and more stability than handholding your lens. Nevertheless, if you don’t have a monopod, do take your tripod along. You can use it with the legs folded up or, space permitting, even set up normally and shoot right off the tripod. Any advantage you can give yourself in terms of stability will pay off in sharper images. Some boats are covered while others are not. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Covered boats obviously help to keep your gear dry but limit your ability to obtain images of subjects slightly overhead. As with your general gear, it’s best to include rain cover accessories for your photo work from a boat.
How do I keep my equipment safe from theft while during my tour?
As photographers, we accept the need to be careful with our equipment as a fact of life. The best rule is never to let your equipment out of your sight. Nonetheless, this is not possible at absolutely all times. Despite the fact that Foto Verde Tours chooses reputable lodges and hotels, care, as with travel anywhere in the world, must be taken. To this end, the exomesh system marketed by www.pac-safe.com is an interesting option for securing your photo gear that has been recommended highly by well-known travel photographer Bob Krist in his Outdoor Photographer column. That said, we take great care to minimize safety risks during our tour. Equipment theft is not something that should make you nervous. While we avail ourselves of hotel safes when available to store documents and cash and other small valuables, we don't use any special locks or devices for our camera equipment. We simply use caution and the aforementioned planning considerations.
How do I keep my equipment safe from humidity while in the rainforest?
The lush cloud forests and rain forests for which Costa Rica is famous means that your camera gear will be exposed to high humidity. We’ve never had problems with our gear here in Costa Rica, and neither have our clients, so humidity is nothing to be obsessed about. And it is certainly not a deterrent to visiting and photographing the rainforest. Nonetheless, a three-pronged strategy will help avoid damage to your gear and allow you to concentrate on your photography.
First, pack your gear well in water repellant camera bags and backpacks and sprinkle these liberally with silica gel packages. Former Foto Verde Tour participant Christian Moynihan turned us on to this site for all of your silica gel needs: http://www.silicagelpackets.com/. Whenever possible, pack each item in ziploc bags to avoid condensation upon exiting an air-conditioned vehicle or when traveling from the cool highlands to the warm lowlands.
Second, try to avoid actually getting your gear wet. We try to send our photo clients to lodges with covered shooting areas but these are not always available. A good rain cover for your camera and/or a small umbrella that clips onto your tripod can be very useful. And rain showers can come down suddenly when you are out with your camera. That same small umbrella is an easy way to cover up as are garbage bags stored in handy places in your camera bag. Camera bags with built-in rain covers are particularly useful.
Third, at night you may want to dry your equipment with a compact hair dryer that you bring along for this purpose (most lodges do not have hair dryers in the bathroom).
Are there any tropical diseases of which I should be aware?
Though not a frequent disease in Costa Rica, some areas, notably the central Caribbean coast near the main port city of Limon, have over the past couple of decades been reported to have a couple of thousand cases of malaria every season (Costa Rica’s total population is approximately 4.5 million). Strains have not been reported to be chloroquine-resistant in Costa Rica. Recently, however, the government has made even further strides to reduce the number of malaria cases in the country. In fact, in the past couple of years there have been fewer than 20 cases in the entire country. You can read more here (in Spanish but your browser should give you a translation if you need it).
Nonetheless, for piece of mind and to prevent any possible infections, we strongly recommend that you consult your physician and inquire about prescription medication for this specific disease. Other tropical maladies such as dengue fever, leishmaniasis, and botfly infections do occur infrequently in Costa Rica.
Covering up and employing plenty of your favorite insect repellant is always a safe strategy. Remember that DEET, a major ingredient in many insect repellants, melts plastic. To avoid fusing your shutter button to your camera body, we suggest repellants made from botanical ingredients or other non-DEET products. Another option that is reported to have no effects on plastic is Picaridin, which is the main ingredient in a number of different repellant brands that can be found at sporting goods stores in the US and Europe.
For our South American destinations, considerations will vary according to country. For each specific photo tour, we will give you all of the info you need to prepare yourself for travel well in advance.
What is Leishmaniasis?
Leishmaniasis panamensis is a protozoan that causes infections in humans in tropical areas. Vector hosts are mammals (esp. rodents and dogs). Forest sandflies, not beach sandflies, bite infected vector hosts and then can pass on the protozoan to humans. The probability of contracting Leishmaniasis during your visit to Costa Rica or any other country in the region is low. The basic strategy for prevention is the same as that for preventing general mosquito and other insect bites – cover up exposed skin and use insect repellant (non-DEET based of course for the safety of our camera gear).
Will I have access to the Internet while on a photo tour?
Many of the hotels that we use do offer Internet access, either as wireless or via a hotel computer, to guests. In fact, we use hotels in capital cities for your arrival and departure days that do offer Internet so that you may e-mail family and friends. An smartphone or tablet is a great accessory to have as you can connect quickly when you have a chance. Nonetheless, you should not plan on having daily Internet access during your trip.
What emergency contact numbers should I give to friends and family?
We have a number of different emergency contact options, all of which will be made available to you when you book with us.
Will someone be there to meet me when I arrive?
Certainly. One of our representatives will be waiting for you as soon as you exit the airport after going through immigration, claiming your baggage, and clearing customs. Non-airport staff are not allowed inside the terminal, so please look for one of our representatives holding up a Foto Verde Tours sign as soon as you step outside. We will provide you with detailed arrival information when you book with us.
What expenses does my Foto Verde itinerary cover?
Your Foto Verde itinerary details exactly which meals are included in your package price. Nonetheless, our itineraries generally include all meals, transportation, guiding, entrance fees, and special tours. As a matter of course, your package price will include everything except tips, alcoholic beverages, non-meal time drinks and snacks, and airport departure taxes if applicable. The only other thing we don't include is dinner on the first official night of the trip. This is because a few people often arrive late, and we don't want to charge you for something you might not use.
I noticed that your tours are more expensive than the trips that some other companies offer. Why don’t you charge the same as some of the deals I found?
There are other photographers that offer photo tours or, as is often the case with travel companies, that will offer you a general tour even though you are a photographer. General tours and birding tours are much different than photography tours, and Foto Verde Tours in the region is the only company in the region that specializes in photo tours. Thus our services are geared specifically toward photographers, and we utilize only lodges and service providers that we feel offer you the best photo opportunities. Our guides and even our drivers are specialized in photography in addition to general natural history, a rare skill in the marketplace. Thus, we pay them a bit more than regular tour guides and drivers as we consider them to be added assets to you during your photography tour.
Be aware that on other companies’ trips you may find yourself sharing a day tour with lots of other people, most of them not photographers. We, on the other hand, always include private tours devoted specifically to the needs of our photographer clients. In addition, the hotels and lodges on these more general trips or photo tours from other companies likely have not been chosen by photographers for their photographic potential. You will find in the tropics that many of the best nature photography opportunities are found not deep in the national parks but rather right on the grounds of your hotel or lodge.
Finally, the photography workshop leaders with whom we collaborate are world-renowned as photographers but also as educators and photo insturctors. Our leaders are there to help you learn and get the best images possible, not to take their own pictures!
We offer a premium product, what we feel to be the best product for the nature photographer in Latin America. When you do your comparisons, we advise that you check carefully to see what is and is not included in your trip and how this may impact your photography experience.
Where should I change money? Do I need to change money?
This depends on which country you are traveling to. In general, however, US dollars will be accepted everywhere. If you want to change a bit of money to a local currency, our city hotels we use for the arrival days of each trip will usually give a better rate than the airport exchange stalls, and you'll be able to change money in a more relaxed environment.
Do I tip waiters at restaurants? How much is an appropriate tip for drivers, hotel staff, guides, etc.?
Tips are accepted graciously in both dollars and colones. In general, tips are included on all meal charges as an automatic 10% service charge (standard practice in all restaurants throughout the region). If service is outstanding, an additional tip of 5% or so is always appreciated. Nevertheless, since the costs of meals are included on Foto Verde trips, you need not worry about tipping at restaurants. As for other tips, the following should serve as loose guidelines; the exact amount is of course up to you and according to the level of service any one of these people might have provided during your stay.
- Bellhops often receive about $1 per bag.
- Cleaning staff at your hotels and lodges can receive $1-2 per night.
- A $1 tip for a bartender at the hotel is fine when you order drinks.
- Hotels and lodges often have a tip box that goes to a general pot that is divided among the staff. If leaving a tip in the box, we suggest somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 per room per day.
- Drivers transferring you to or from the airport appreciate a tip of $3-5.
- If you have a full-time driver during your trip, a tip of $5-10 per day per person is appropriate for groups of 5 people or more. For smaller groups, you can add a little bit to this per day suggestion.
- If you have a full-time photo/naturalist guide, a tip of about $10 per day per person is appropriate, with perhaps a bit more for smaller groups.
- Tips for professional photographers who lead your workshop is an open question. A tip certainly is not expected. Nonetheless, if you would like to tip your professional photographer leader, the practice is not considered inappropriate.
How do I make international calls?
The days of phone cards have come to an end. We urge you to think about online calls as a way to communicate with friends and family back home. Phone apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are a great way to text, voice message, or even make calls. For the Apple fans, FaceTime is a great way to stay in touch. And buying $10 of Skype credit will allow you to make calls directly to any phone number. Of course you can always do regular device to device Skype calls as well. These options all depend on WiFi, and we'll have access to it at least once every day or two on any trip. In case of an emergency your leader and guide can get in touch with the Foto Verde Tours office staff to make any necessary arrangements.
What kind of clothes should I bring?
In general, your best choices are lightweight garments that breathe and dry quickly, and you’ll want a mix of long sleeves and short sleeves. A light polartec and a good rain jacket are also good to have. For meals, it’s informal at the lodges and in the region in general. A pair of jeans, tennis shoes, and a clean shirt are just fine for dinner, even in the captial city hotels. Lightweight hiking boots are fine for your photography out in the field, and if you’re visiting a beach area, you will want sandals or aqua shoes as well. Of course a good hat and sunscreen are important. The sun is strong in the tropics, even on cloudy days. We will send you clothing information specific to your trip after you've signed up.
Can I have laundry done?
Many of the lodges we use offer laundry service for a cost of approximately $1 per garment with same or next day service. We will indicate to you which lodges have laundry service after you've signed up for a given trip.
I'd like a single room. Can that be arranged?
Certainly. Simply indicate your rooming preference on the workshop signup form.
I'm traveling by myself but would like a double room. Can that be arranged?
It depends. If we can match you up with a suitable solo traveler who also wants to share, we will place you in a double room.
Can I drink the water?
This is probably the question that our clients ask us the most. And it’s the one for which we have the least definitive answer, except to say that beer is always a safe choice!. Water in and around capital cities is treated with chlorine and generally can be consumed with no worries. The lodges that we use for our photo travel often have their own well water, which is tested regularly by the Ministry of Health. Nonetheless, upset stomachs do occur as a result of change in diet or simply bacteria different from those to which Northern stomachs are accustomed. Serious disorders such as Giardia or amoebic dysentery are virtually unheard of. Bottled water is very widely available at our hotels and lodges, and a conservative strategy would be to use it as often as possible when outside the capital. As with travel to any foreign country, immodium pills are good to have along, and some of our clients also bring along Cipro or other broad-spectrum antibiotics. Some go so far as to begin taking antibiotics before arriving in-country. For antibiotic use, we suggest you consult with your physician. That said, we have very very few problems with water and food-related issues on our tours.
The airline lost my luggage. What do I do?!
Don’t worry — too much! We will help you through the process. But read the following carefully and remember the procedure. In case of missing luggage, you must fill out a claim form with the airline and authorize “Foto Verde Tours” (through a signed note) to retrieve your baggage when it arrives to the country. In this case it is absolutely necessary for us to have a copy of the original passport of the person whose luggage is missing. Transportation of the baggage to the location where you would be must be arranged directly between you and the airline. If they agree to pay us for the transfer, we will be more than happy to deliver your bags for no fee. If the airline will not pay, we can still arrange delivery of your luggage as soon as possible but extra fees will apply.
Someone I know mentioned an airport tax. Do I have to pay that?
That depends. Each country is different. Some have airport taxes that one must pay before checking in. Others have exit taxes that are built in to the price of the ticket. We will clarify the airport exit tax considerations when you book for a given trip with us.
Is Foto Verde Tours the best photo tour option in the region?
Indeed. Surveys show that 9 out of 10 dentists recommend Foto Verde Tours (n=5, please draw your own statistical inferences).
Didn’t find your answer here? Make sure to check out the other links in our Travel Info section, and feel free to contact us at any time with further questions.