Monteverde National Park
Welcome to ground zero for Costa Rica’s ecotourism—and biodiversity. Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde, the country’s famous cloud forest, is home to 2,500 species of plants and animals (including 400 types of orchids and about the same number of birds). What makes the place so rich? A varied climate over a small area, fostered by warm trade winds that rise from the Caribbean and form cool clouds—and a heritage of conservation that was kicked off by Quaker settlers who wanted to protect their watershed in the 1950s. Even today, only 160 people are allowed into the park at a time. The upside? You’ll have a better chance of spotting resplendent quetzals (one of Central America’s most beautiful birds), shimmering blue morpho butterflies, and toucans, all living among thick mosses, strangler figs, and ferns some 30 feet high.
There are 13 kilometers of trails in Monteverde, and your best bet for a longer loop is to start with El Triangulo—the triangle—along the eastern edge of the park, made up by the Sendero Bosque Nuboso (with lots of strangler figs), the open El Camino (good for spotting butterflies), and the Sendero Pantanoso (the “swamp trail”), which crosses the continental divide. Take the 1.8-kilometer (a little over one mile) Chomogo to the park’s highest accessible point—and for a quick taste of what it feels like to be in the canopy, head for the big suspension bridge on Wilford Guindon. You’ll miss a lot without a guide, so book a natural history, night, or birding tour (from $15, not including the $15 park entrance fee)—which often fill up days in advance.
The roads around here are so rough that it may well be easier to get around by horse. Though you can’t ride within the park itself, there are plenty of outfitters that offer everything from sunset tours to five-day treks. You can even ride (with help from a boat and a jeep) to Monteverde from Arenal. Desafio Adventure Company has a six-hour trip to 100-foot-high San Luis Waterfall ($60)—but can put together an eight-day epic, too. Sabine’s Smiling Horses does full-moon rides ($50). Meg’s Riding Stables (phone number: 2645-5560) has been around the longest and has mellow horses for kids.
Some people love ’em, some people hate ’em, but zip lines are ubiquitous in the area around Monteverde’s protected reserve—and they do give you an up-close-and-speedy look at the canopy. How do you pick one? Decide whether you want an eco twist—or just a rush of adrenaline. Extremo Canopy has small groups and a one-kilometer-long cable, the longest around. Original Canopy Tour has a rappel down the middle of a fig tree. And Selvatura is one of the biggest operations in Monteverde—expect long lines, but in exchange, 18 platforms and a huge Tarzan swing.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication