My favorite locations for insects, reptiles, & amphibs:

La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

La Selva Biological Station, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica. The map is here.  This extraordinary location is about 90 minutes by car from San Jose International Airport (SJO.)  The station is surrounded by about 1500 hectares/3800 acres of protected lowland forest and adjoins the huge Braulio Carrillo National Park (47,000 hectares/150,000 acres) where few people go and where the wildlife is protected.

The station offers basic, no-frills accommodation to a limited number of guests along with equally basic canteen food. Stay in one of eight rooms that sleep three or book a larger cottage (sleeps 5 or 6) of which there are several. All have hot water and fans (but no A/C,) wifi in the rooms (which can be intermittent in some rooms,) at least three 110v US style power outlets, a desk, and some sort of deck.   La Selva also has reasonably priced laundry service, reliable and speedy wifi in the canteen, free coffee dawn to dusk, and much, much, more once you get to know it. That said, this is a research facility that takes guests, not a hotel, so don't expect hotel-type service.

Birders know it since some birding tours use it as a stopping point for a day or two (467 species on record.) But this is also a fantastic place to shoot insects, amphibians and reptiles in lowland forest (some old, some recovering, all protected.) I frequently see nobody on the many miles of trails during an entire day — although I don’t go there during the summer season when students are studying there. There are several excellent resident guides who conduct tours for day-visitors (you get a free tour with your booking.) There is also a small store that sells some nature-related books, T-shirts, bug repellent, ice creams, and a few sundry items but there is a town within a 15-minute drive.

Remember, when you stay there you are supporting the excellent work they do on the research side.

Book directly by email: if you want full board (I find that eating meals there is convenient and they always have a vegetarian option.) Again, this is not a hotel so it may take a couple of days to get a response if you enquire about a room -- be patient!  I’ve visited five times on 6-8 day stays and never once left the property once I’m there, that’s how good it is -- check my La Selva gallery to see a very small sample of the cool species I've photographed at this wonderful macro and bird location! 

Tip: Bring your own pillow. Seriously -- you'll thank me for this tip! 

Archbold Biological Station, Florida

  • lynx spider

Archbold Research Station, Florida. Archbold is located here and well worth a stay. The station was established 6o years ago by a wealthy and eccentric naturalist and is home to a variety of long and short-term research projects and educational programs. Over the years it has expanded to include almost 9000 acres of Florida scrub and is home to 19 federally listed species. It is a biological oasis in a wasteland of citrus and tomato farms.

The amazing Thomas Eisner spent substantial amounts of time here over his career and Mark Deyrup (who quite literally wrote the book on Florida ants and is an amazing illustrator) works there even though retired. I noticed that the folks at Bugshot are using it as a location for one of their workshops.

I spent a few days there in the late spring of 2019 and again in the fall of 2019 and was lucky to see the (vulnerable) Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) and a variety of interesting frogs, toads, and insects. Day visitors are welcome at the station.  

If you want to shoot at night (recommended) you will need to request accommodation (the only way to access the area after hours.)

Their very reasonably priced cottages are basic but very comfortable with hot water, beds and/or bunk beds, fully equipped kitchens and so on. Perfect for three to four people.  You can eat breakfast at their canteen and/or purchase a packed lunch there.  But probably better to cook for yourself in your cottage.  You can also run up the road a few miles for fast food or a supermarket.  Dinner and weekend meals at the station are only available to groups of 8 or more.  As a benefit, your stay helps support an institution that does valuable conservation research. Tip: I would avoid the hot summer months.

Iquitos, Peru

I’m really talking about the area outside of Iquitos -- although the city is pretty cool for street photography. I went a couple of hours down the river in the summer of 2019 and the insect hunting was truly extraordinary -- it was one of the most productive trips I've ever taken.  Check the Peruvian Amazon page on this site to see more than the few shots above. but a fraction of what I found.  

I contacted a friend who also happens to be part owner of a local outfitter, Amazon Experience, and they located the camp where I stayed. They picked me up at the airport, got me to and from the camp by boat, and gave me a bunch of great tips on Iquitos.  They are reliable, ethical, have good guides, and are a friendly group of people — genuinely committed to sensible tourism that benefits locals in a positive way.

I returned in late February 2020 as the coronavirus crisis was getting started and barely made it back to the states before borders started getting slammed shut.  Frankly, I would have preferred to have been locked down in the Amazon than in Virginia. On this second trip, I took a short and tantalizing trip into the  Pacaya Samiria National Reserve and camped overnight. Once the virus thing settles down I want to go back.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, USA.

  • Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) showing pits.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, USA. This is my neighborhood and I usually shoot in the park two or three times a week in the summer and fall if I’m not traveling. Trailheads vary between about 500 and 2800 feet elevation. The forest is mixed hardwoods with some stands of dead hemlock, some old orchards and lots of streams. Insect and amphibian diversity is extremely high throughout the park.

You can stay within the park at Skyland or Big Meadows which both offer overpriced and worn rooms -- probably better to get an Air B&B outside the park.  Food within the park is dismal with limited vegetarian options although the Skyland coffee stand is excellent. However, you can grab a truly world-class pizza at the Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen in Sperryville a few miles east of the Park entrance on Route 211.  Get the Veggie Deluxe: caramelized onions, shiitake mushrooms, and fontina cheese!  

The trails around Skyland and Big Meadows are all excellent for insects in early May thru Sept despite the popularity of the area. Expect many species of beetles, flies, wasps, hoverflies, moths, hoppers, and more.  Also, the occasional rattlesnake, lots of ravens, migrating birds,   barred owls, bobcats, black bears (June/July is the best time to get a decent photo since that’s their breeding season,) coyote, and more.

I see insect species in the 5 miles around Skyland that I see nowhere else in Virginia. You can see a selection of photos from the park in this gallery.  Tips: Avoid Skyline Drive during the peak “leaf season” in October when rates go up, noisy motorbikes infest the area, and hiking trails are busy. Best on weekdays in summer. Bring your own food.

Pulau Ubin, Singapore

  • Weaver ants tending Lycaenid caterpillar
  • Pulau Ubin

Pulau Ubin, Singapore. I love visiting Singapore -- the people are great, the food is extraordinary and cheap, and getting there can be surprisingly inexpensive if you shop flights. I stay away from the "core" and find a place to stay in Changi Village or historic and quaint Tiong Bahru near its excellent hawker market.

Despite coast to coast development, Singapore offers excellent macro opportunities starting with its amazing botanical gardens and even the touristy but stunning Gardens by the Bay. There are many subject-rich parks like Dairy Farm, Kranji, or Sungei Buloh and you’ll find insects, birds, and reptiles common to the Malaysian peninsular. 

Pulau Ubin is a small island off the coast which is reached by a 15 minute, SG$3 ferry ride. Locals say Ubin is representative of the way Singapore was a hundred years ago. I found a nice variety of subjects there (jumpers, tree and leafhoppers, lynx, snails, hammerhead worms, and much more.) Lots of trails, a restaurant, bike rentals. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to stay there anymore, but camping is allowed.

You may bump into some of the friendly and talented SG macro shooters there — my experience is that they are among the nicest people I've ever met. Tip: avoid on weekends and holidays. Check the time of the first and last ferries (which run once they have a full load of 12 passengers.)

Taman Negara, Malaysia

Taman Negara Kuala Tahan, Malaysia. A large protected area (Taman Negara simply means "national park") about 3 hours east of Kuala Lumpur with old forest, massive trees, and interesting wildlife. Lots of cheap flights to Kuala Lumpur from the US and EU.  

I’ve been there twice and would go again. You need to walk into the forest a kilometer or so (on great pathways and trails) to start finding the most interesting creatures.

I found excellent and huge spiders, flying lizards, cool frogs, trilobite beetles, geckos, snakes, and much more.  

Leeches are not a nuisance except in the lowest areas.

There are very inexpensive hostels (under $10/night) and homestays in the area but I stayed at the Mutiara Taman Negara "resort" which appears to be expensive if you look only at their nightly rate.    However, I found that I could get a really good deal by looking at their special offers, staying longer than 4 days, opting for a breakfast/dinner package, and prepaying.   It is a bargain for two or more people given the excellent food and fact that it is inside the park and thus perfect for night shooting. You can eat enough at the breakfast buffet that you don't need lunch (:-))

Very few people are there in November and December and it is not a resort in the Western sense -- just a group of cabins and a restaurant.

Tip: Carefully check monsoon dates. so you know what you are getting into. I went at the beginning of the Northeast monsoon and the afternoon bursts of rain were no problem and probably helpful in terms of wildlife.

Kenting, Taiwan

Kenting, Taiwan. A small and quirky town that's a sort of gateway to the southern tip of Taiwan (all of which is a national park) as well as parks that are just north and in the mountains. 

I’m told it is very popular during summer and best avoided at that time. I went in early winter (which is mild) and spent just a few days there. I would go back.

It has a really nice little night market, good bug hunting in the mountains near the town. A ton of dangerous snakes for those who are interested.

I got there by bus from Kaohsiung Airport (KHH) and met macro-buddy Dustin Rhoades there for a few days of fun shooting in late 2018. You can also take an express train from Taipei.   Hotels and food are cheap. Locals were friendly but few spoke English. 

Circle B, Florida

Circle B Ranch Reserve, Lakeland, Florida.

No great secret to this wonderful inland reserve which is well known by birders. You’ll likely see migratory ducks, sandhill cranes, snakes, barred owls, red-shouldered hawks, spoonbills, herons, etc. But it also has outstanding insect and reptile opportunities for the macro photographer.

Circle B has become quite popular and can get quite crowded on weekends. It is free. Tip: Get there when it opens and on a weekday, leave by 11:30, when it gets hot. No nighttime access. No food. Stay away on weekends.

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