When we researched our Central America trip (deciding what we wanted to see), Monteverde was high on the list. All the guidebooks rated it as one of Costa Rica’s ‘must see’ places, and we understood that there was a lot to do there. So we booked six nights in a small hotel. We were excited about hiking through the rainforest, and looked forward to being based in one place for what seemed to us a long period of time.
Unfortunately, we were disappointed, for two reasons. First was the weather. We knew it was likely to be cool and wet, so had packed appropriate clothes. What we had not anticipated was that the wind would be blowing a non-stop violent gale. This meant that it was always wet –when not raining, water would be blown off the trees. It also made walking very difficult. We’re not talking about hiking: just a short walk from our hotel to a restaurant was a real battle against the elements. It didn’t help that our hotel was on top of a ridge. And even when indoors, the constant howling gale outside made us feel cold. We’d never experienced anything quite like it.
The other reason was due to our failure as researchers! We’d seen that there were lots of interesting places to go in Monteverde, but hadn’t realised the extent to which they overlapped. There are several rainforest reserves in the area, and lots of other ‘attractions’ competing for tourists’ attention. It seemed to us that a lot of the operators had expanded (even since our guidebook was written) to offer what was already available elsewhere. There is little point in visiting more than one butterfly garden, or going on more than one night hike. If you did, your money would soon run out, because nothing is free in Monteverde, and entrance fees mount very quickly.
Orchids, butterflies and frogs
On our first day, we could not attempt a hike in the dreadful weather. So after looking round the small town of Santa Elena we made three short excursions, to the Orchid Garden, the Butterfly Gardens and the Frog Pond. The latter two were indoors, and at the first we were at least sheltered from the wind.
At the Orchid Garden we saw examples of many varieties which grow wild in Costa Rica. Some are so tiny, we were provided with magnifying glasses for the tour!
At the Butterfly Gardens, we were given a tour by a Canadian student whose enthusiasm for insects and butterflies was infectious. Before she took us into the gardens, she spent some time showing us various insects, and made even that very interesting. The butterflies (many colours and sizes) were beautiful, but as they seldom stay still, they are not as easy to photograph as orchids!
We found the Ranario (frog pond) the least interesting of the three tours. We waited for evening, as most of the species are nocturnal, but the tiny ones in particular were difficult to see, even with the help of the guide. We also had the difficulty of taking pictures through glass, except when the guide took one frog out for closer inspection.
We are immersed in mud so far…..
Optimistically, we thought the weather seemed slightly better next day, and decided to do some hiking in the rainforest (strictly speaking, it’s cloudforest in this area). We chose the Curi-cancha reserve; we were wrong about the weather, but walking among trees meant that we were partly sheltered from the wind and wet. Some of the trees had other trees growing round them, forming some interesting patterns and shapes. We heard some birds but could not see them, except in one open space where humming bird feeders had been hung on a tree. We enjoyed watching these brightly coloured birds, but they move extremely fast and are difficult to photograph. It didn’t help that Sandie’s camera was not functioning properly, due to internal condensation – hardly surprising in this weather.
Undaunted, we went the following day to the Reserva Santa Elena, and spent about five hours hiking the trails there. We heard a number of different bird calls, and we did see some very small birds, but they were too far away and flying too fast to be photographed. The only other wildlife we saw on the trails was a beetle and a land crab, though we did see a large centipede in the café after our hike. (And while we were eating breakfast that morning, a monkey was sitting just outside the window.)
But we did see some wild orchids, and some interesting fungi. The worst thing about the walk was that the trails were extremely muddy. In places we had to wade through deep mud, as witnessed by our hiking boots and trouser legs by the time we’d finished. And this is the dry season… we’d hate to do it in the wet.
Next morning we played safe and went to the Serpentario, where we saw a variety of snakes (venomous and non-venomous) and other reptiles, indoors and safely behind glass.
In the evening we did a night hike in the ‘Children’s Eternal Rainforest’, the biggest reserve in Costa Rica, funded by collections from children around the world. On this walk we saw more wildlife than we had seen so far: an agouti, an opossum and a frog, plus several birds (sleeping!) and insects. Not easy to photograph, though.
That was the end of our stay in Monteverde. The incessant gale-force wind really got us down, and we debated daily whether to give up and move on. We survived for four days / five nights, but that was definitely enough. So we quit Monteverde and moved on to the coast, back to the sunshine and hot weather – we hoped.