Golfito & Casa Orquidea Botanical Garden

Dec 19, 2019 - National Geographic Quest

Very early this morning, our Captain docked National Geographic Quest onto Golfito’s pier. Rooted into a small gulf (“golfito”) within the second largest gulf in the country, Golfito is the largest town in the area of Golfo Dulce. Surrounded by green, blue and gray mountains, this gulf offers spectacular views of almost untouched rainforests and directly behind the town, the Reserva de la Universidad de Costa Rica owned and run by the biology school of this state-run university.

During the early hours of today, we entered Costa Rican waters to begin the second half of our journey. First on our schedule was to do customs to enter the “happiest country in the world.” Once the immigration authorities left the ship, we began our day with two options. We could peacefully and at our own pace explore the mangroves on the coastline of the Golfito area, or we could join our naturalists over exploration by Zodiac into the farthest end of the gulf into the tidal dependent Rio Coto. We can only do these boat rides when the tide is high. Into the small river we went and were rewarded with great sights of rare birds such as the roseate spoonbill, the yellow-billed cotinga – both male and female – and great views of the Nasca booby; very rare in this latitude. We also got reports of good sightings of yellow-throated toucans, Central American squirrel monkeys, green iguanas, and even a raccoon. What a way to begin our days in Costa Rica.

The ship repositioned just a few miles up, north off Golfito, to a small beach called Playa San Josecito where our afternoon destination awaited. Casa Orquidea Botanical Garden has been owned and run for the last 40 years by Ron and Trudy McAllister, our friends and hosts for the past 22 years. Their garden opened its arms and allowed us to enjoy its beauty.

Individually or with our naturalist, we walked the trails of their home to take pictures or simply relish on the colors, smells and knowledge of the different and many plants and fruits. Cannonball trees, turmeric and ginger plants, achiote or annatto trees, heliconias, orchids, bromeliads, mango trees, vanilla orchid vines, cacao trees, Quassia amara trees and many, many more. Back on board somewhat on a hurry to avoid getting rained on, and more than just the rain, the lighting, we came to the ship with great pictures in our memories and cameras.

We repositioned again across the gulf toward tomorrow’s destination, Playa Blanca, to invite to dinner the researchers from LAST, Latin America Sea Turtle, a NGO that studies sea turtles in the area of the gulf. A wonderful way to finish our day, with great expectations for tomorrow.

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About the Author

Maguil Céspedes


Although Maguil was born in San Jose, he was raised in the countryside of Costa Rica, and it was this experience that provided him with a deep knowledge of and a profound love for the rural life of Central America.  It was this passion for nature that led Maguil to study biology at the University of Costa Rica, where he received his master’s degree in 2002. His thesis explored the genetic structure of big leaf mahogany, an endangered species of tree that is commercially extinct in much of Central America.

About the Photographer

José Calvo

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Nicknamed “Indio” (Indian) because of his powers of observation and quiet nature, José has almost two decades of experience working as a naturalist and photography guide; as well as being recognized as an expert birder and nature photographer in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is rich in biodiversity — over 893 bird species have been recorded in the country. Since very young José spent all of his free time in the outdoors in the forest, where he soon fell in love with the birds. He particularly enjoys listening to their calls, and watching their behavior. Oddly enough, another one of Jose’s passions is science and technology, and because of this, he was among the first in Costa Rica to experiment with digital photography. As the technology quickly improved so did his love for it.  He truly believes that nature photography is the perfect combination of both of his passions.

About the Videographer

Eric Barnes

Video Chronicler

Eric is a native of Southern California and has been taking pictures for as long as he can remember.  He made a career as a news photographer, working for local and national news agencies.  As a photojournalist, Eric has documented some of the most important news events both nationally and around the world.  He has covered everything from the tsunami in Thailand to the war in Afghanistan and countless other compelling stories.

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