With swathes of cool, misty tropical rainforest, known as cloud forest, and exceptional biodiversity, Monteverde is a great place for hiking and wildlife watching.
Situated in the mountains in the north-west of Costa Rica, Monteverde has a much cooler climate than the area around Arenal and is home to a number of national parks that boast incredible wildlife. Having left Arenal, our base for our first few days in the country, we headed to Monteverde, where we spent a couple of days exploring the area’s national parks, taking part in a night-time safari, zip lining and finding out how to make coffee, sugar and chocolate.
The national parks we visited included the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. There we hiked along the many hiking trails, admiring the views over the canopy from the odd hanging bridge and patiently keeping an eye out for the local wildlife, which, when we saw it, was phenomenal.
My favourite creature was this adorable, miniature frog that was hiding between a couple of leaves at the entrance to one of the parks. I would have missed it, had it not been for one of the park’s rangers who seemed to know where all the wildlife was hiding and pointed it out to us. It was so incredibly cute, I could have spent hours looking at it.
There were also lots of insects, including some beautiful beetles and intriguing millipede-type creatures (above), as well as lots of pretty birds. Mammals proved more elusive, but we did spot a capuchin monkey, camouflaged high in the canopy, making its way through the tree tops.
One of my favourite moments was when we joined an after-dark wildlife tour through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. It was great having an opportunity to see the park’s nocturnal inhabitants, having previously hiked along the trails during the day. We saw more wildlife than I was expecting, too, including a tarantula, snakes, frogs and a toucan sleeping in a tree.
During our guided tour, we all kept a vigilant eye out for an armadillo, as one of our group was desperate to see one. After a couple of false spots, we’d almost given up hope, when right at the end of the tour, our guide stopped us and gestured towards a nearby bush. There, in front of it, slowly crawling along the ground, was an armadillo.
Aside from the wildlife spotting and hiking, Monteverde, which sits at an elevation of 1,400m, is a great place to try your hand at zip lining. I’d never been zip lining before, but was really keen to have a go. So on our last morning in Monteverde, we headed to a nearby zip lining facility and got kitted out.
The tour started in terrifying fashion when we were all given the option of doing a rope swing from a very high platform. I’m not great with heights, but despite being very nervous, I wanted to give it a go. At the top of the platform, I turned to jelly as I stood on the edge and looked down at the ground, 30ft beneath me. When the guide, who’d hooked me up to the rope, told me to jump, I was too scared and had to ask him to push me off instead.
The rope swing was surreal, as I was so terrified I went numb – I didn’t scream or shout, I just clung in silent terror to the rope, taking huge swings backwards and forwards. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the rope started to slow and the guides on the ground were able to catch me and pull me off, amused to find I was shaking like a leaf.
From there, still shaking, we set off through the canopy, where we climbed up a platform and zip lined to the next one. The further into the tour we got, the higher the platforms became – some were 100ft-high – and on a number of them, they crammed us all on a teeny platform, with only our ropes to stop us plunging to the ground. Only once the entire group had assembled, did we zip line, one-by-one, to the next platform.
The zip lining was fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I didn’t enjoy the platform stays as I’d gingerly make my way along the narrow, sky-high planks of wood, clinging onto the tree trunks for dear life, petrified I’d stumble and find myself dangling 100ft in the air.
The tour ended with a huge zip line that extended as far as the eye could see over the canopy. It was so high I could see as far as the Pacific Ocean. Zip lining over such a massive area was an exhilarating experience as I hurtled through the air at a super-fast speed, watching the cloud forest zip past beneath me.
I enjoyed my time in Monteverde. I especially enjoyed the many hiking trails and the night-time safari tour, and it was good to see slightly different wildlife to that which we’d seen in Arenal. The zip lining, while heart-stoppingly terrifying at times, was also enormous fun and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was an amazing, exhilarating end to a fantastic, fun-packed, adventurous stay in the region.