Monteverde: A Walk in The Clouds
By Staff Writers
In 1951 a group
of Quakers from Alabama decided to search south of the border for
a peaceful land in which to live. They found it in the heights of
a cloud forest in Costa Rica.
They knew that
this area’s treasures of nature were so valuable that they had to
Preserve has since been joined by other successful conservation
projects like the nearby Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and the
Children’s Eternal Forest, featuring trees donated by children from
44 countries around the world.
Monteverde means "green hill". It is
a world-renowned center of tropical forest conservation, home to
one of the world’s most beautiful birds, the quetzal. There are
more than 100 mammal species, such as jaguars, ocelot and tapirs;
over 400 bird species (including 30 kinds of hummingbirds); 120
species of amphibians and reptiles; tens of thousands of different
insects (over 5,000 species of moths alone); and 2,500 plant species,
including 420 different types of orchids.
The Quakers wanted
to preserve the magic of this region, and succeeded. Today the magic
is to be found in the amazing numbers of colorful hummingbirds,
in the spectacular sunset views of the Gulf of Nicoya, and in the
whispering, almost alive, green forest.
average temperature is 17 C (62 F), the combination of geographic
and weather conditions produces great differences in temperature
and precipitation between areas just a short distance away.
lies between 600 meters and 1,842 meters above sea level. The Monteverde
Cloud Forest Biological Reserve has seven trails that total 12.4
kilometers. There are guided hikes that leave daily at 7:30 a.m.
with naturalist guides who have a first hand knowledge of the forest.
The reserve is
open 365 days a year from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are also special
tours for birdwatchers, and since the forest is just as interesting
at night as it is during the day, there are also evening tours (make
reservations in advance and don’t forget your flashlight!)
One of the hotels closest to the reserve
and dedicated to eco-tourism is Hotel Fonda
Vela, with 17 cozy and spacious
standard rooms, 6 junior suites and 2 mountain suites, all with
private bath with hot water, large windows, and scattered across
the property, surrounded by gardens and sunlight. All rooms are
wheelchair accessible. Fonda Vela
also features one of the best restaurants in the Monteverde, with
typical Costa Rican and international cuisine; an art gallery; a
one-kilometer hiking trail, and a private stable where guests can
arrange horseback excursions. A recent addition is a coffee shop
where one can choose espresso, mocha, glacé or cappuccino, among
others. There is also a conference hall where every night at 6 pm
(except Friday) there is a slide show about Monteverde’s history
Fonda Vela was
established by Quaker Paul Smith; his two sons who grew up in the
area, now run the hotel, where their father’s forest paintings decorate
many of the walls. Fonda Vela’s commitment to nature conservation
includes a 20-year-old reforestation project for local tree species;
the use of a solar panel to heat water; and refrigerators and an
ice maker using a special refrigerant called R134, which is ozone
The lumber for
construction is from trees that are not endangered species. The
hotel also uses organic gardening to supply the hotel restaurant,
and pumps the waste water into a drainage system far away from local
creeks and rivers.
at Monteverde is the Hotel Bel Mar,
a cozy and comfortable rustic, mountain style retreat with chalets
and standard rooms, each with private bath and hot water, and spectacular
views of the surrounding forest and the Gulf of Nicoya. The restaurant
balcony offers splendid views of the magnificent sunset, while hummingbirds
sip from feeders.
Although the Monteverde
Cloud Forest Reserve made the area popular, there are now many eco-related
activities that further expand the forest’s enchantment:
The Santa Elena
Rain Forest Reserve, opened in 1992, allows great views of the Arenal
Volcano on clear days (the volcano is
about 37 kilometers north of Monteverde, and
its loud rumbles can often be heard in the forest). A tour that
goes directly from Monteverde to Arenal by road has just been initiated
(ask the travel consultants at http://www.croca.com/ for
at Monteverde that give an even closer look at this forest’s treasures
are a canopy tour (suspension cables leading from one platform to
another); a sky trek tour (a network of trails and platforms reaching
high above the ground, where tourists can slide through the canopy
on ziplines attached to the platforms); one of the most extensive
butterfly gardens in Costa Rica; the Orchid Garden; an ecological
farm; a serpentarium; a handicraft market; the Valle Escondido Trail
and the Bajo del Tigre (Jaguar Canyon) Trail.
Because of its
location on the Pacific slope, its elevation and humidity, Bajo
del Tigre is a very different habitat from other rain forest
reserves in the area. Thirty of the tree species in Bajo del Tigre
are among those in the area that are new to science.
Bajo del Tigre
is part of the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest, 50.000 acres of primary
forest donated by children from around the world (many of whom have
never been to Monteverde) when they learned about the importance
of preserving this habitat.
and horseback riding are two favorite activities in the area. Most
local hotels can arrange these activities, but if you want to plan
in advance see http://www.crica.com/tours/tours.html.
Near the Santa
Elena Rain Forest Reserve is Hotel El Sapo
Dorado, which features 30 mountain suites (Classic, Sunset
Terrace and Fountain), all with private entrance and porch, and
furnished with two queen size beds. The Classic Suites have fireplaces;
the Sunset Terrace Suites offer a splendid view of the Gulf of Nicoya.
The hotel restaurant serves original dishes in a blend of international
and Costa Rican cuisine, along with a choice of vegetarian offerings.
is mostly a day place, those looking for evening activities can
enjoy several restaurants and two discos: La Cascada and La Taberna.
How to get
Monteverde is 184 kilometers northwest of San José.
Take the Inter-American Highway north to KM.149 (just before the
bridge over the Lagarto River), turn right, and continue along an
unpaved road for about 40 kilometers.
The drive from
San José to KM.149 takes about 2 ½ hours, and it’s another 90 minutes
A four-wheel drive is recommended. Dollar Rent-a-Car and Economy
Rent-a-Car offer several models.
van transportation can be arranged for those who prefer to leave
the driving to others. There are also shuttle and local buses.
What to bring:
A raincoat, sweater,
and rubber boots or tennis shoes for hiking.
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