Walking deep into a lush, primeval forest with a symphony of bird songs in the background is something everyone should experience at least once in their life.
Costa Rica is at the forefront of sustainable forest management, and it offers many opportunities for ecotourism and forays into the forest. One option is a visit to the cloud forests of Monteverde.
At an altitude of 4662 ft., the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and neighboring Santa Elena Reserve are protected areas along the Continental Divide, characterized by nearly 100% humidity year-round. Trade winds from the Atlantic cool and condense to form clouds. The six ecological zones and biodiversity of life contained within the forest reserve are bathed in a constant mist. This keeps it relatively cool – different from what I expected for a tropical forest.
Vegetation rules here. The highland forests contain a tangled growth of orchids, bromeliads, fern, vines and mosses. The sound of the birds is constant as one hikes, contributing to an almost sacred sense of the forest as a cathedral of nature.
There are 100 species of mammals here and 400 species of birds. The wildlife, however, is less apparent here than in Manuel Antonio to the southwest, where sloths, howler monkeys and capuchin monkeys are numerous. The Holy Grail of sightings in Monteverde is the mysterious, elusive quetzal bird. Alas, I did not see one when I was here. The most memorable wildlife sighting I had was a swarm of bats on the night hike.
At nearby Selvatura Park I climbed a series of elevated hanging bridges. These allow one to move back and forth from forest floor to forest canopy. The canopy is filled with life – insects, butterflies and birds, birds, birds. The bridges allow you to more intimately immerse yourself in the biodiversity of life here.
But the most exciting way to experience the canopy is to zip across the forest from tree to tree on lines strung and secured between the platforms. Just make sure you’re securely fastened into your harness and away you go. For the truly adventurous, a Tarzan swing is offered.