We drove from Arenal to Monteverde along winding roads and rolling hills. The road went from paved, to dirt, to mixed cobble, then back to dirt. Our host later told us that the Monteverde community purposefully opted out of fixing the roads to discourage more traffic.
At nearly 5,000 feet, Monteverde is a cloud forest with dense biodiversity, rich culture, and a potpourri of activities for people of all ages. It was our second cloud forest, San Gerardo de Dota being the first.
The primary draw to Monteverde is the biodiversity. Rain forests teem with life. Costa Rica boasts 915 species of birds, 300,000 insect species and over 200,000 species of plants (does not include mosses & lichens.) There are 250 types of mammals, and 400 reptiles and amphibians. A visit to Curi Cancha (Click here for details about Curi Cancha) reveled some of Costa Rica’s greatest treasures. Costa Rica stands out as a country that has come to embrace it’s environmental treasures. Since their civil war in 1949, Costa Rica has abolished the military and changed their priorities of their development. Developing and protecting their environmental treasures has attracted large numbers of Eco-Tourists. One visit to a place like Curi Cancha and you can see why so many people want to visit. Curi Cancha is partly forest reclaiming farmland. There are well laid out paths to follow and different zones of interest. Our guide, Danilo, was phenomenal. He met us at the entrance and knew exactly where to find each and every type of thing we wanted to see. Whether it was the three waddled bell bird – the loudest bird, or the resplendent quetzal. Danilo was able to find them all. He even shared with us some special locations and knowledge we would not have found on our own. He pointed out porcupine quills, and bee hives, and was mindful of how much walking we could do with Alyssa and Kylie.
A favorite spot we all enjoyed was the hummingbird garden. Hummingbirds only exist in the Americas. Of the 338 distinct species of hummingbirds, 50 nest in Costa Rica. Curators at this garden placed nearly 10 humming bird feeders in a tree. One species that stood out was the Violet Sabrewing. It is brilliant violet and about 6 inches long.
We stayed in a guest house that sported ten acres of rain forest to peruse. In numerous walks we saw Pizotes, Agouti, Army Ants, Mot Mot birds, Toucans, and many birds we could not identify. Our host Dulce, took us on a night hike, where a viper almost got us. At night I usually spend so much time looking at where I’m stepping. I did not think to look up for vipers hanging from vines. Thankfully Dulce knew better and stopped me from running into this viper which was about head height.
She was able to spot several roosting birds. She also pointed out some bioluminescent fungus. We tried every day here to see a sloth, but we were not that fortunate. “In the rain forest everything grows on everything, it is very epiphytic” Dulce said. “It’s always wet.” It is also very colorful, very green, and full of life that camouflages itself and adapts well. Unfortunately the pictures do not capture the sounds. Howler monkeys fighting and screeching of spider monkeys. Deafening cicadas. Nightly orchestras of crickets, frogs, and other creatures. Daily symphonies of different bird calls. From black striped sparrow, to the 30 second long call of the warbler, to the three waddled bell bird, it was never quiet.
Aside from night hikes we learned from Dulce that Leaf Cutter ants are excellent indicators of stormy weather. Usually they march everyday getting their food; however, if rain is imminent, they will drop their leaves and hunker down in their nest. Instead of googling weather, we would just check the leaf cutter ant trail in the morning to determine the weather. It turned out to be accurate and a topic of scientific study. It remains unclear how exactly they know it will rain. Perhaps they Google it.
A stop at the Butterfly Gardens was perfect for the kids. Aside from an array of butterflies, they got to experience several invertebrates like Cockroaches and Hercules beetles and Tarantulas. Interactive, tactile, and informative they ran a great operation. Kylie and Alyssa are still talking about the guide who put the cockroach in his mouth.
To mix in a little adventure we decided for a canopy tour (a.k.a zip lining) We opted to use the Original Canopy Tour near the Cloud Forest Lodge. The tour featured a giant swing, and fourteen zip lines. The group was phenomenal with our littlest, letting her do several of the lines by herself. There were a few gentle lines, and then became longer, steeper, and faster. While waiting on the platforms we looked around. On one platform, we saw a pair of Emerald Toucanets. Life in the canopy was certainty different than the forest floor. The last zip line was nearly 1000 meters long and over 600 feet above the forest.
Just outside the entrance to the Cloud Forest Lodge is a pullout on the road. If you park there and walk through the forest a little, you come across a giant strangler fig. The word is out about this great tree climb, and sometimes there is a crowd. We drove up there early, to ensure there wouldn’t be crowds. That gave us time for a great climb.
This was once a 70 foot tree that a strangler fig killed. The tree eventually rotted but the strangler fig had grown lattice roots around it, like a staircase. Now stood a strangler fig tree with a hollow center, perfect for climbing.
The first two thirds of the climb was easy. The holes made a natural ladder. However, the last third became increasing cramped. And the narrow hole at the top made for a tight squeeze for those of us with larger bone structures. Sharleen braved her fear of heights to get to the top and see the fantastic view of the valley.
Monteverde was a mountain town with plenty to do for everyone. There are many zip line companies, butterfly farms, and forest reserves to explore. Four days was almost enough.
We were lucky to see the three waddled bell bird. On the ICUN Redlist, the bird is vulnerable and with only 6000-15000 left in the world, the forests would sound different without them. Habitat loss is the biggest threat to this bird.