Monteverde Cloud Forest: South American Paradise
The Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve is a Costa Rican non-profit reserve founded in 1972, maintained and administered by the tropical science centre, which is a five hour bus ride from the capital San Jose. It draws tourists from all around attracting them with its diverse wildlife and serene landscape. It is located in the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range and consists of 26,000 acres (0.03% of the landmass on earth!) of untouched rainforest. It draws nearly 70,000 tourists every year. Among visitors are also many scientists for it being the home of nearly 2500 plant species (of which it has the highest collection of orchids in one place in the world) and also thousands of animals and insects species accounting to 5% of the total world’s biodiversity. The prevailing variable climate and large altitude gradient in the Monteverde helped produce the amazingly heterogeneous set of creatures that live there today. Some of them are the jaguar, ocelot, Baird’s tapir, three-wattled bellbird, bare-necked umbrellabird, and the famously elusive resplendent quetzal.
History of Monteverde
Every place has its own story, and this one has its beginning from a group of four Quakers who were imprisoned in Alabama in 1949 for refusing to participate in the army. The discovery of the Monteverde for residential purposes was in the early 1950s when a few Quakers from Alabama, USA retreated to the region to escape from being drafted into the North Korean war draft. They retreated to Costa Rica, South America knowing that it had abolished its army some time ago. They named the area Monteverde meaning “Green Mountain”. They lived simple lives in Monteverde earning their livelihood by means of dairy and cheese production.
Later in 1972, the Monteverde rainforest was threatened by local farmers looking to expand their property into the forest region. It was during this time that a visiting scientist George Powell and his wife, along with a long-time resident Wildford Guidon decided to promote the Monteverde Rainforest as a nature preserve. The Tropical Science Centre, a non-governmental scientific organization responded to their efforts and accepted institutional responsibility for the welfare and protection of the Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve by initially purchasing 328 hectares with help from the National Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). As the preserve gained popularity and on the acquisition of financial aid, they succeeded to purchase the current area of 10,500 hectares (26,000 acres).
It captured huge public interest as it was home to the currently extinct “golden toad” as the visitors grew from 2,700 in 1981 to more than 40,000 in 1990.
Interesting Fact:100% of the incomes collected by the entrances and other services are designated for educative, preservation and research programs.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is much different from a rainforest in the sense that it is much more humid and cloudy due to its high altitudes (about 1500 meters above sea level) and receives much less rainfall. It houses 9 different ecological life zones (it being diverse in itself) which includes 400 species of birds, 110 species of amphibians and reptiles, 100 species of mammals, thousands of species of insects as well as 2,500 species of plant life. However, it might be tough to spot the wildlife amidst the thick vegetation and misty weather.
The Monteverde Cloud forest reserve consists of several well maintained hiking trails which take people through some of the highlights of the reserve like the serene landscape formed by the tall trees, streams, swamps, still waters and waterfalls, the orchid trails, the continental divide and the cloudy mist that surrounds it all.
Some of the main attractions are:
1. The Chomogo and the Bosque Nuboso Trails: It passes through Peñas Blancas river valley having an elevation of 1680 metres above sea level going through and out of dark and sunlit patches. Besides this there are many other hiking trails like the Sendero Bosque Nuboso, The George Powell Trail (named after the founding scientist), a suspended bridge trail that will lead you through the best of nature.
2. The Butterfly Garden: One the main attractions in Monteverde, where naturalists enlighten people about the importance of butterflies and their life cycle by examining their eggs, caterpillar, pupae and adult butterflies. Hundreds of species of colourful butterflies are screened in the gardens which are raised in greenhouses. Surely a paradise for natural photographers to take excellent shots.
3. Ecology Farm:The trails lead through premontane and secondary forest, and feature lookout points and waterfalls. There is good birding in the area, and other animals that can be spotted include coatis, agoutis, sloths, monkeys and porcupines. A small area of coffee and banana plantations is found on the property as well.
4. Canopy Tour: This is a very popular ride where tourists are zip lined from the tree tops to the ground. A short guided hike gives opportunities for tourists to rappel between elevated platforms. Due to this adventure activity possibility of sighting wildlife here is low.
5. Cheese Factory: Fresh farm made cheese and ice cream can be purchased from this store. A huge window behind the shop allows the people to witness cheese production from traditional hand churning methods.
6. Friends Hill: The hiking trail “Cerro Amigos” (1,800meters length) offers excellent views of the surrounding rainforest. On a clear day the Arenal Volcano can be seen, lying 20 kilometres northeast.
7. Sky Walk: The sky walk is a 3 kilometre trail consisting of 5 suspension bridges among the treetops. The quetzal birds and the monkeys can be seen darting below.
8. Horseback Riding:Several outfitters in Monteverde offer horseback riding tours to Arenal Volcano viewpoints and the cloud forest.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest can offer you memories that would stay with you for the rest of your life. With its natural beauty and diverse wildlife will take you back to time when there was no technology, no buildings, and no trace of colonization, just bare nature untouched by man. Not only a spot for tourists but even scientists looking to study various exotic animals which are on the brink of extinction and together study the history of our planet as well. Conservation efforts by a small pocket of people led to this marvellous reserve, it truly shows that every single person can help contribute to save the earth.