In Central America where the tenuous little strip of land separating North and South America becomes especially thin (just 10 degrees north of the equator) lies a tiny little country called Costa Rica. Considered the Switzerland of Latin America, it is known for eco-tourism and a higher quality of life than many other Central American countries. In fact, “Ticos” (as the local inhabitants refer to themselves) place lots of importance on family, friends and “pura vida” – a saying shared by locals which, strictly translated, means “pure life”.
On the northwestern coast of Costa Rica in the Guanacaste Province is a small beach called Playa Flamingo. There isn’t really a town located here – just a few quiet resorts and some high-end homes overlooking the coast. My family recently spent some quiet time here, at a place called Flamingo Beach Resort & Spa.
The hotel is located directly on Playa Flamingo (Flamingo Beach). The beach itself is beautiful, featuring light gray sand and beautiful blue water. Northwestern Costa Rica is known for it’s excellent surfing conditions and while we were there we experienced strong waves and light undercurrents while swimming in the ocean.
As a wedding photojournalist, I can tell you that Flamingo Beach Resort is a great location for weddings. It has all of the luxuries and conveniences that you would find in most luxury hotels anywhere combined with the privacy and anonymity you can only find in a place that is off the grid. Consider this: Flamingo Beach Resort isn’t associated with a town, per se; it is remotely located at where a road dead ends at a beach, where almost no one else has access to – a big selling point for someone who wants privacy.
One of the things that my family and I will probably always remember about our stay at Playa Flamingo is how genuinely friendly the staff were. We had initially read conflicting online reviews for Flamingo Beach Resort regarding how friendly staff were. But any reservations that we had regarding the issue were quickly allayed by the outgoing and personable staff treatment we received during our stay. Front desk staff including Pedro, Jose and others were always helpful and inquisitive as to whether we needed assistance. They were always saying hello and asking how our day was going.
Other staff at the hotel also exceeded our expectations. My son, who’s 18 months old, made friends with the cleaning staff and looked forward to seeing his friend Dora every day when she would visit our room in the mornings to turn down our beds, sweep, mop and drop off clean towels. Staff during our regular morning breakfast also made life lots of fun for my son. They were always warm and playful with him and encouraged him to engage them in conversation and fun.
Another favorite experience of mine was getting to know hotel staff at the upstairs patio bar, which had a fantastic view of the beach and coastline. Several of our nights were spent chatting with Oscar, the talented and friendly bartender, who makes fantastic mixed drinks, including the best Mojito that I’ve ever had (seriously!). Oscar was always glad to discuss recipes for his delicious drinks, Costa Rican lifestyle or a quick Spanish lesson (he, like most staff in the hotel, is bilingual).
As you can tell, we spent time getting to know the staff which is a testament to how important service is in the hotel. Flamingo Beach Resort is a full service hotel, offering services above and beyond the norm including, child care, quick laundry service, full sized rooms with kitchenette, daily turn down service, pool bar, world-class foods served fresh 3 times per day (room service available), transportation service, workout room, tennis courts, and a casino!
Our trip was during the end of September and the beginning of October, which is smack-dab in the middle of the off season for this region. This means that there were days where we rarely saw any tourists or anyone for that matter in the hotel or on the beach, which was great, given that our vacation objective was to enjoy a quiet week away from the hectic life that we live in Austin, Texas.
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This is a shot that I took while sitting in my car in the shade waiting for a wedding to start in Central Austin. It’s not unusual to see the high temperature in Central Texas during August to be recorded as high as 105 F. Working in Texas in the summertime is no joke…notice the temperature gauge at the bottom left – a scorching 103F!
Can you think of 10 things that embody the spirit of Austin, Texas? There are probably far more than 10 things that we think of when talking about Austin. But here are some that many of us can probably agree on. I challenge you to think of even more. Feel free to comment below the post…
10 Things That Are “Austin”:
6th Street – The entertainment center of Austin, located downtown between IH-35 and Congress Avenue. It is known worldwide as the place to party and hear live music when visiting Austin. 6th Street hosts dozens of bars & restaurants, nestled in buildings, many of which have been around since the 1800s.
Austin City Limits – The legendary Austin music show that premiered in 1976, which features primarily Texas musicians, but also features national and international talent. It is produced and filmed on the University of Texas Campus and is a part of regular programming on PBS Television. The show has also spawned the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which is an annual concert held in Zilker Park, attracting thousands of people and scores of musicians.
Barton Springs – Considered the “crown jewel” of Austin, this natural spring fed pool flows year round. It is 3 acres in size and has been a gather place for locals for more than 100 years.
Chuy’s Restaurant– A favorite Mexican restaurant in Austin since 1982 that started on Barton Springs Road. There’s now a Chuy’s Restaurant in every major Texas city and even one located in Tennessee and Alabama!
“Keep Austin Weird” – The unofficial slogan for Austin, originating by local Austinites who cherished Austin’s individual and atypical nature. Austin has long been known for its counter-culture attitude, hippies, liberal political thinking and a strong art/music community – which may seem “weird” to other more traditional Texans.
Lady Bird Lake – Another one of Austin’s precious resources, the lake was made what it is today with the help of many local Austin volunteers, including Former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, for whom it is named. Some of the wonderful features offered by the lake are its convenience (located in the heart of Austin near downtown), beauty, cleanliness (clean water, air, environment, etc.), trails for hiking and walking, open space and so much more.
South By Southwest (SXSW) – One of the largest music, film and interactive events in the United States, it attracts thousands of performers from all over the world each year in March. The music portion of the event lasts 4 days, with musicians performing at scores of venues throughout Austin. The film portion of SXSW screens hundreds of independent films from all over the world for audiences. The newest attraction of SXSW is the interactive events portion, which is a hub for demonstrating new technology.
Texas State Capitol – Constructed in the 1880s, it is home to the Texas Legislature and the office of the Governor and is the largest state capitol building in the United States.
University Of Texas Longhorns – The University of Texas and Longhorn sports have a long tradition in Austin and a significant fan base. On any given day in Austin UT fans can be seen wearing the UT colors – burnt orange.
Willie Nelson – Born in Texas, Willie Nelson established himself as a country music songwriter and performer in the 1960s. He made his home in Austin in the 1970s where he frequently played locations like the Armadillo Headquarters.
Runners Up (Things that didn’t make the top 10 list):
Waterloo (name of businesses; old name of Austin)
“The Drag” (Guadalupe Street)
And many more…
In the past few years I’ve photographed lots of brides and engaged couples at Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin, Texas. Obviously I can’t share all the photos from these shoots, but I wanted to show off some of the variety of photographs that are possible when shooting at Zilker.
The park has to be one of the most popular places for photography of any kind in Austin. Not only is it a huge repository for plant life centered in Travis County (which is why people are drawn to it) but it’s also one of Austin’s little jewels that’s been around for many years. I’m pretty sure that the creators of Zilker never intended it to be one of the foremost popular venues for photography around Austin, but that’s what it’s become.
ZBG features many different plant species and specific garden areas that are dedicated to a particular theme or cultural plant cultivation, if you will. For example, one of the popular areas of Zilker is the Japanese Garden, which features Koi-filled fish ponds, stone trails leading around bamboo gardens and a structure made of stone and bamboo that only could fit into a Japanese garden . The entire area is shaded by trees and feels like being in another world.
Zilker also features a beautiful rose garden where weddings frequently occur. Colorful roses line the concrete paths that wind down the hill from the main entrance of the park. The Rose Garden area is very open, located at the edge of the tree line bordering the Japanese Garden. It also features a red and white gazebo next to fish ponds and a historic brick structure in the shape of a keyhole that has been apparently transplanted from historic downtown Austin.
Other areas featured at ZBG are the Prehistoric Gardens further down the hill from the main office, which feature “old world” plants, pools and even a beautiful, natural-looking water fall. Toward the front of the park is an area that contains historic Central Texas pioneer homes and work areas made of wood.
Ultimately there are many, many different areas of the Garden that offer photography opportunities for brides or couples. After visiting and photographing friends and family there for years I’ve grown to love and appreciate Zilker for the beautiful part of Austin that it has always been and hopefully will always be!
Things you’ll need to bring if you photograph a bride or couple at Zilker:
– Payment for photographing someone at ZBG
– Bug/Mosquito repellant
– Sun block
-Comfortable walking shoes (ZBG has lots of trails)
– Patience. If the park is busy, you may have to wait for that perfect shot! 🙂
Hints/Tips: Arrive early and check park closure times (which change with daylight savings time). Park staff require visitors to leave 30 minutes prior to gate closure.
Martin Whitton is a passionate wedding photojournalist who lives and works in Austin, Texas. Email your questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.