Monteverde is home to one of the world’s few cloud forests. The clouds roll over the Central American mountain ranges from the Pacific Ocean, covering everything in condensation as they go. The result? Verdant, lush forests in the mountains and valleys, home to over 4% of our planet’s biodiversity, in just 0.04% of the land.
We stayed in the small village of Santa Elena, a short (but surprisingly tiring) 9km walk from the Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde, at a charming little ho(s)tel called Pension Santa Elena. From the hotel terrace you could sit and look across the coffee plantations in the valley as clouds passed by. Not just mist or fog, but clearly-defined clouds, looking as individual and fluffy as they do on the weather forecast.
We had arranged to meet a guide by the national park gates at 7am, and arrived early, as shafts of morning sunlight shone through the canopy of the forest. The steady drip of fresh water from the leaves echoed around the jungle, accompanied by rustling ferns on the forest floor. We stood there in awe, watching colourful birds flitting through the forest and exotic plants tumbling from moss-jewelled trees.
Neither of us are particularly avid birdwatchers, but we had both read about the ‘resplendent quetzal’, a bird found only in certain areas of Central America. With such a good name, we had to see one of these endangered birds. After much whistling, running and staring into the trees, our willing guide Adrian found a nesting pair of quetzals. We watched them swooping and diving through the treetops, calling to each other as they went. They truly are resplendent and completely deserving of their name.
It’s worth noting that our guide said he loves everyone in the world, everyone is so friendly and lovely. Except Colombians, for whom he reserved a special, unexplained hatred. Just in case you’re Colombian and were considering booking a guide in Monteverde; avoid Adrian.
The next day we donned hard hats and harnesses and went zip lining, over 15 wires of varying lengths through the jungle. The longest, a line of over 1km, flies right over the cloud forest canopy. Nicola and I were buckled to each other, eyes streaming as we skimmed over the treetops at well over 40mph. I feel a bit sorry for all the monkeys who live below. It must be a bit like living under the Heathrow flight path.
Our last adventure in Monteverde was horse riding. I had never been before, and made sure to explain this in my limited Spanish to the chap who was leading the expedition. Martin listened attentively, nodded, and pointed me towards the same horse that I was to ride regardless of my ability.
The trek started out relatively calmly, along a country lane. I was at the back, with Martin at the front and Nicola in the middle. After a minute or so of riding, Martin veered to the left, into the forest and up a steep bank. My poor little horse had no choice but to follow, and scrambled up after the other two horses. I kept falling behind, so Martin very kindly gave me a stick to poke my horse to get it moving. I decided that the last thing I wanted to do was antagonise a horse while perilously perched on the side of a mountain, so instead chose to feed the horse on the leaves from the makeshift whip. It worked a treat, and we happily meandered along a few yards behind the other two horses.
The highlight of the horse trek was the sunset. After an hour of scrambling up the mountain, we arrived at a rocky ledge and stopped. Martin spent a while staring wistfully towards the west, before declaring that this is the place for the most beautiful sunset in the world. He was probably right, except it was 11am and extremely cloudy. Good one, Martin.
We arrived back at our hotel and were were sitting outside our in our hammock when a cloud roughly the size of a snooker table drifted across the courtyard and went straight into our room. This perfectly explained why everything we owned had taken on a strange new damp quality; the clouds had been coming into our bedroom without us noticing. Nicola chased the cloud out of the room while I kept an eye out for any more. It was time to leave Monteverde; next stop, Manuel Antonio.