With spectacular beaches, volcanic peaks, and a renowned tropical dry forest, Costa Rica’s northwest Guanacaste province is made for exploring. Recently, guest Ben Cober joined us aboard the National Geographic Quest as it set sail from Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica on our Wild Costa Rica Escape: Exploring Guanacaste’s Natural Wonders. Over the course of six days, he experienced this remarkable region for the first time and created wonderful new memories. Here, he shares some stand-out moments from his voyage, including a surprise visit from a family of humpback whales.
We embarked from Puerto Caldera after dusk; and with our orientation completed, guests flocked to the forward deck to stare in wonder at the brilliant Milky Way Galaxy and shooting stars throughout it. Someone exclaimed from the bow; and as we all rushed to join them, we saw dolphins riding National Geographic Quest’s wake through blue-green bioluminescence. The dolphins returned to join us the following morning.
This morning marked my first time setting foot on the shores of western Costa Rica. Thousands of hermit crabs navigated colorful pebbles and beautiful shells, and our team hiked off into the tropical dry forest for wildlife spotting, with the peaks of dormant volcanoes visible in the distance.
National Geographic Quest
After our hike from Zapotal Beach, we boarded one of our Zodiacs to return to our ship. It was at this moment, sitting so close to the water, feeling the wind and spray, and seeing National Geographic Quest entirely alone in the bay—with no other human structures in sight—that it first struck me that we were truly on an expedition, not a cruise. I felt the exceptional, exclusive feeling of invigorating isolation.
Up Close with Wild Whales
Guests who were awake early enough for the dawn stretch session were greeted by a surprising group of humpback whales diving and rolling right off the starboard bow of National Geographic Quest. Our expedition leader led a spontaneous educational session about the cetaceans; and the following morning, our Captain made a special detour to locate and follow (at a safe distance) the family as it swam through the sea. I love the unique Lindblad Expedition feature of being able to visit the Bridge at any time, and this picture shows the staff and crew determining where to drop anchor later that day, while the map shows the loop the Captain made that morning while following the whales.
Heeding the Call
This video marks my very first Zodiac expedition up a river through a dense mangrove forest. While what we were seeing was beautiful and captivating, I wanted to record video to capture the symphony of diverse birdsong filling the space around us during the 90-minute adventure. The forest was full of life everywhere we went.
Capturing the Moment
It was such a special treat to have a professional naturalist from Costa Rica, with decades of experience and a passion for ornithology, guiding us up and down the mangrove forest river. I felt immensely special being one of just four guests on this intimate Zodiac river journey, and a recipient of his wealth of knowledge and excitement. Here he shares a close-up photo of one of the many colorful birds alighting in the canopy above us.
As our mangrove river Zodiac returned to the ship, we happened upon a brown pelican “feeding frenzy.” Our naturalist was just as surprised as we were; and living up to Lindblad’s unique flexibility to follow where the best wildlife opportunities are, we cut the engine—with the sun beautifully setting behind our ship—as we watched the flock feed on the hyper-rich waters off Guanacaste. The wonderous moment was enhanced even further by our naturalist’s illuminating interpretation.
The Big Reveal
One afternoon our head of hospitality announced over the shipwide P.A. that a special reception of hors d'oeuvres and drinks were being served on the sundeck—an activity that wasn't listed on our Daily Program. Having been in my cabin for a bit, cleaning up and changing after a day of hiking and snorkeling, I had no idea the current conditions “up top.” This was my view walking out into this incredible surprise.
A Trail of Evidence
I love a good mystery, and I love tracing the clues. Sometimes discovering what recently happened is just as exciting as watching it actually happen. During our wildlife-saturated final hike through the Curu National Wildlife Refuge, I was falling behind the group a bit, taking too many pictures, when I stumbled upon a one-foot-wide trail of shredded leaves, perpendicular to our hiking trail. I immediately knew it was the work of leaf-cutter ants, blazing a trail through the forest back to their nest, and this one little ant was still working to find its way back home.
“Capturing” a Capuchin
Lindblad Expeditions has this fantastic partnership with B&H, where guests can check out exceptional camera equipment during the voyage. Wanting to give it a whirl, I rented a very impressive, modern Canon body and an excellent zoom lens, both far more effective than my little iPhone 11. During our hike through the Curu National Wildlife Refuge, we encountered numerous families of white-faced capuchin monkeys. This is probably one of the best photographs of any animal in a tree I’ve taken in my life.
Bonus Discovery: Pura Vida
Costa Ricans generously use the term “pura vida” as Hawaiians use “aloha” to mean many things: “hello,” “goodbye,” and “things are great” (although it technically translates to “simple life” or “pure life”). As the guests enjoyed an amazing BBQ on the beach of Isla Tortuga alongside our staff and crew, nestled in a tranquil little bay on our final evening, the lights of National Geographic Quest came on one last time—our own constellation to guide us home against the night sky.