Attracting visitors in their droves, the RESERVA BIOLÓGICA BOSQUE NUBOSO MONTEVERDE is one of the last sizeable pockets of primary cloudforest in Mesoamerica. At an altitude of 1440m and straddling the Continental Divide, the reserve was established in 1972 by George Powell (an American biologist) and Wilford Guindon (a local Quaker) to protect the country’s rapidly dwindling pristine cloudforest. Today, it encompasses ten square kilometres of protected land and is administered by the nonprofit Centro Científico Tropical (Tropical Science Centre), based in San José.
The reserve’s sheer diversity of terrain – from semi-dwarf stunted forest on the wind-exposed areas to thick, bearded cloudforest vegetation elsewhere – supports six different life zones, or eco-communities, hosting an estimated 3000 species of plants, more than 100 types of mammals, some 490 species of butterflies and over 400 species of birds, including the resplendent quetzal and the three-wattled bellbird. The cloudforest cover – dense, low-lit and heavy – can make it difficult to spot wildlife, though the amazing diversity of tropical plants and insects more than makes up for this, with guided walks leading past thick mosses, epiphytes, bromeliads, primitive ferns, leaf-cutter ants and poison-dart frogs.
Nine trails wind through 13km of the reserve and most are contained in a roughly triangular pocket known as El Triángulo. They’re clearly marked and easily walkable (at least in the dry season), and many of them are along wooden or concrete pathways that help prevent slipping and sliding on seas of mud.
If you’re keen to plunge straight into the cloudforest, make for the Sendero Bosque Nuboso (1.8km). The forest canopy along this trail is literally dripping with moisture, each tree thickly encrusted with moss and epiphytes. You’ll probably hear howler monkeys and the unmistakable “boink” of the three-wattled bellbird, but it’s difficult to spot either in this dense cover – your best bet for bird-watching is at the beginning of the trail. The spongy terrain efficiently preserves animal tracks, and in the morning especially you may see tracks from agouti or coati. One creature that you will see on this trail is the clearwing butterfly, whose transparent wings are as fragile as the thinnest parchment.
At the end of the trail, a small mirador, La Ventana, has vistas of the thickly forested hills on the other side of the Continental Divide. It’s reached via a staircase of cement-laid steps that lead to a lookout point suspended over an amazingly green expanse of hills – a surreal place, with only the sound of wind as company.
The Sendero Camino (2km), higher in elevation than the others, is stony, deeply rutted in spots and often muddy, but as this trail (which also leads to La Ventana) is wider than the others, it gets more sunlight, attracting greater numbers of birds and butterflies. Often quite steep, the Sendero Pantanoso (1.4km) passes through sun-dappled swamp forests and leads past magnolias and the rare podocarpus – the reserve’s only conifer. It links with Sendero El Río (1.1km) to bring you, in a long arch, back to the park’s entrance. The Sendero Wilford Guindon features a 100m suspension bridge that takes you high up into the trees for great birds’-eye views of the cloudforest canopy.