Monteverde, Costa Rica
Monteverde and the neighboring town of Santa Elena jointly form a small community of 6,500 inhabitants in the province of Puntarenas, northern Costa Rica. Located around 150km (90mi) away from San José, approximately 1,400m (4,600ft) above the sea level, it can be reached after a four hour drive from the national capital – more if taking a regular bus. This region is known primarily for its cloud forest, which embraces a large biodiversity and is a paradise for ecotourism.
Cloud forests are generally tropical forests, found on the slopes of mountainous areas, at some altitude, characterized by a persistent cloud cover, typically fog at the canopy level. This cover provides a constantly high humidity level, allowing the existence of a large quantity of plants and animals. It is very common to see plants covered by other plants in these areas, as well as a great diversity of insects, reptiles, birds and mammals.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the main reserve of the region, spreads over 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) and has a network of 13km (8mi) of trails, besides including several viewpoints and a hanging bridge. This reserve is home to more than 3,000 species of plants, 500 species of birds and another 500 species of butterflies. Nearby, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, completely managed by the local community, is much smaller, but worth visiting if time is not a concern.
On the same road that leads to the Santa Elena Forest, less than 500m (1,600ft) before arriving there, Selvatura Park is an excellent option to see a lot in a short period of time. A very well structured touristic complex, it charges visitors specific fees to access each attraction. It is possible, for example, to take a 3km (2mi) trail in a circuit that includes eight bridges hanging at heights from 12m (40ft) to 36m (120ft). The park also features one of the largest canopy circuits in Costa Rica, allowing visitors to “fly” through the cloud forest on 12 cables. The Selvatura Park also has a herpetarium, an insect museum and a beautiful butterfly garden.
The number of people visiting Monteverde has increased substantially over the last decades and currently more than 250,000 tourists come annually. Most of them sleep in Santa Elena, a town that is practically merged with Monteverde and completely overshadows it when it comes to infrastructure.
From Monteverde/Santa Elena it is possible to continue exploring Costa Rica heading to La Fortuna, near the Arenal volcano. La Fortuna is reached either after circling Lake Arenal or, faster, cutting through the lake on a taxi-boat. The wonderful Manuel Antonio National Park is located 195km (121mi) away and can be reached by bus, via Puntarenas. The Nicaraguan border at Peñas Blancas is 190km (118mi) away and also requires two buses to be reached, connecting at the Pan-American highway. From there, the Ometepe island lies 40km (25mi) north (to Rivas/San Jorge) and then another hour away on a ferry boat. Another great option in Nicaragua is to visit Granada, a marvelous colonial city 105km (65mi) away from the border.