5 Essential Photo Opportunities in El Castillo | Volcano Watersports

5 Essential Photo Opportunities in El Castillo

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22 February 2024

If you’re travelling to Costa Rica this year, the likelihood is you’re going to take a few photographs. For both avid and casual photographers, this is a country that provides some of the most stunning backdrops, with plenty of opportunities to light up your Instagram page.

El Castillo, specifically, is a prime location. Located in the northern Highlands, the province of El Castillo doesn’t just provide a range of activities and experiences, but countless photo opportunities that cannot be recreated anywhere else.

So let’s get straight to them! Below, you’ll find our top five most essential photo opportunities in El Castillo, as well as a few tips and tricks to make them perfect.

The Location: Lake Arenal

The village of El Castillo was born just over 55 years ago, as a result of the 1968 eruption of Arenal Volcano. With hundreds of families relocating for safety, it quickly became both a safe haven and a home for these families, eventually growing into the buzzing, magical place that it is today. When you get there, you’ll find out why. With a perfect blend of lifestyle and climate, El Castillo provides some of the best views and experiences in the country, with one of the most exciting being the nearby Lake Arenal.

What We Love About Lake Arenal

Hmm, what could watersport enthusiasts love so much about Lake Arenal? Well, watersports, for one! If you’re an adrenaline lover, Lake Arenal is the first place you should be going when you touch down in Costa Rica. Here, you can hire one of our boat rentals for waterski, wakesurf, tubing, or simply cruising across the lake to take in the awe-inspiring scenery. Whether you’re out there for two hours or five, this is an experience that will live forever in your memory, providing a great introduction to what Costa Rica is all about.

What Else Can You Get Up To?

Apart from waterskiing, cruising, and taking a bucketful of photographs, there are several other things you can get up to at Lake Arenal! The nearby rainforests have some great hiking trails, providing scenic views of the water and Arenal Volcano -- which looms high and mighty in the Arenal skyline. You can also use one of our boats to have a party, complete with delicious food, drinks, and your own Costa Rican-inspired playlist!

The Showstopper Photograph

A la hora de tomar fotografías, hay una oportunidad que no se puede desaprovechar: la fotografía "en acción". Cuando practique esquí acuático en aguas cristalinas, pídale a un amigo o a un familiar que le haga una foto en el momento de saltar. El resultado será una fotografía impresionante que resaltará sus habilidades; o tal vez una fotografía de usted zambulléndose en el agua. En cualquier caso, ¡será una gran foto!

The Location: The Lava Fields

We mentioned before about the 1968 volcanic eruption. This was a devastating natural event that changed the landscape of Arenal forever. Today, you can learn more about what happened by going on a tour across the Arenal 1968 Trail, which takes you all the way to the lava fields that buried much of the surrounding jungle. The trail itself is perfect if you want close-up views of Arenal Volcano, with hundreds of volcanic boulders scattered around, and some gorgeous wildlife to boot.

What We Love About the Lava Fields

There’s a lot to love about this trail, mainly because it’s the best way to see Arenal volcano up close. Because the presence of volcano gases and fumaroles poses risks to climbers, Arenal Volcano is still restricted, but this trail gives you some terrific views to experience the magnificence of the site.

What Else Can You Get Up To?

Well, there’s not a lot you can do other than hike! But that's enough for photography lovers. Other trails you can choose include the Bosque 1968 Trail and the Colada 1968 Trail, both of which take you to the Arenal Volcano viewpoint.

The Showstopper Photograph

There’s no better photograph to take on this trail than at the viewpoint, but the one thing that might hold you up is the weather. It’s not uncommon for the top of Volcano Arenal to be covered in clouds, especially if you’re travelling during the rainy season. For this reason, if you want to take a good snap, make sure to check the weather and do the hike when you know the visibility will be good.

The Location: La Fortuna Waterfall

Nearby the village of El Castillo is the gorgeous La Fortuna. This is home to a biological reserve which features the tourist hotspot, La Fortuna Waterfall, located just ten minutes away from the town itself. The waterfall is one of the biggest in the area, with water plunging from over 200 feet into a sapphire-blue pool below. Surrounding the area is a picture-perfect jungle, complete with wildflowers, mystical plants, and amazing wildlife.

What We Love About La Fortuna Waterfall

The thing we love about La Fortuna Waterfall is its convenience. While Costa Rica is home to several spectacular waterfalls, some of them require a trek to reach them. Hiking through a Costa Rican rainforest is not the worst thing in the world, of course, but sometimes it’s nice to have a spot like this sitting right on your doorstep. As we mentioned, it’s just ten minutes away from the town by car, and the trail itself is short and easy. It does consist of around 530 steps to reach, but this is necessary if you want the best views to snap the waterfall in all its glory.

What Else Can You Get Up To?

We mentioned the town of La Fortuna, and we would recommend that you don’t use it as a pitstop. The town itself is beautiful and bristling with culture, friendly locals and plenty of great restaurants to try out some Costa Rican delicacies. There are also the hot springs, the El Salto rope swing, and even a chocolate tour to sink your teeth into!

The Showstopper Photograph

While a photograph of the La Fortuna Waterfall will be beautiful by itself, a great way to show it off is to show the scale. Ask a friend or family member to stand in the pool itself, and try to angle yourself as low as possible. That way, you can get your subject standing in the shadow of the 200-foot waterfall, demonstrating just how magnificent it really is. We should note that you shouldn’t get too close to the plunging water. A lot of people swim in the pool beneath La Fortuna Waterfall, but the spiralling waters do make it rough, so don’t risk your life for the sake of a picture!

The Location: Arenal Rainforest

Talking of hikes, our favourite hike that you have to experience is the one through the Arenal Rainforest. Specifically, hiking along the Mistico Hanging Bridges, which are suspended at around 320 feet. This is a great way to get a bird's eye view of the landscape, with plenty of opportunities for some awesome wildlife photographs – without having to be at ground level with some of them!

What We Love About Arenal Rainforest

About that wildlife, some of the most beautiful in Arenal Rainforest include howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-faced monkeys, toucans, sloths, butterflies, and even jaguars. As well as this, Costa Rica has around 350 different bird species, so you’re sure to see a fair few of them perch on the bridges as you explore!

What Else Can You Get Up To?

While the hanging bridges are a great experience, there are plenty of other things you can get up to. Nearby is the Butterfly Conservatory, which is the largest exhibition of butterflies in all of Costa Rica. As well as this, Arenal is home to the ziplining Sky Adventures, which are perfect if you want to travel above the rainforest at a bit more speed!

The Showstopper Photograph

While hiking across the hanging bridges, we challenge you to photograph some of the rarest birds in Costa Rica. These include the quetzal, the trogon, the keel-billed toucan, and the noisy scarlet macaw – you’ll hear it before you see it! Not everyone gets the opportunity to see these beautiful birds, let alone photograph them, so keep your eyes open and keep your camera close!

Our Final Photography Opportunity

We thought we’d finish this list by suggesting something a little different. Or at least, a little more specific. While Lake Arenal, the hanging bridges, the La Fortuna Waterfall, and the lava fields are absolute must-sees, when it comes to photography, you can’t beat something a little more off-the-cusp.

When you’re exploring the region of El Castillo, make sure you take advantage of the sunset. During the dry season, this usually occurs from around 5 to 7 PM, and it’s the best chance to capture Costa Rica in all its beauty. This doesn’t have to be a big landscape shot or a cleverly crafted silhouette snap. It can just be a picture of El Castillo. The people going about their daily life. The wildlife settling down for the night.

It might seem a little small, but it’s these moments that make Costa Rica such a magical country – especially when they’re soaked in the gorgeous, orange spotlight of the setting sun. It’s also these moments that you’ll really remember when you’re finally home. Even a single photograph can be enough to place you back in that moment, allowing you to relive the wonders of Costa Rica all over again.