What you might see…

Ever since National Geographic declared that Monteverde might just be the best place in all of Central America to see the resplendent quetzal, spotting one has become almost a rite of passage, and many zealous, binocular-toting birders come here with this express purpose in mind. This slim bird, with a sweet face and tiny beak, is extraordinarily colourful, with shimmering green feathers on the back and head, and a rich, carmine stomach. The male quetzal is the more spectacular, with a long, picturesque tail and fuzzy crown. About a hundred pairs of quetzals mate at Monteverde, in monogamous pairs, between March and June. During this period, they descend to slightly lower altitudes than their usual stratospheric heights, coming down to about 1000m to nest in dead or dying trees, hollowing out a niche in which to lay their blue eggs. Your best chance of seeing one is on a guided tour, or arrive on your own just after dawn, the most fruitful time to spot birds.

Another bird to look out for, particularly in Santa Elena (and from March to August), is the bizarre-looking three-wattled bellbird, whose three black “wattles”, or skin pockets, hang down from its beak; even if you don’t see one, you’ll almost certainly hear its distinctive metallic call, which has been likened to a pinball machine. The far rarer bare-necked umbrella bird can only be seen in Santa Elena, and not very often at that, but those lucky enough to witness its spectacular mating routine will never forget it.

Several types of endangered cats, including puma, jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi and margay, live in the reserve, which provides ample space for hunting. You’re unlikely to come face to face with a jaguar, but if you’re lucky, you may hear the growl of a big cat coming out of the dense forest – usually unnerving enough to cure you of your desire to actually see one.

And what you definitely won’t…

Another famous resident (now thought to be extinct) of the Monteverde area is the vibrant red-orange sapo dorado, or golden toad. First discovered here in 1964, the golden toad hasn’t been spotted in many years and is thought to have either been killed off by global warming – the mean minimum temperature in Monteverde has risen from 15°C in 1988 to 17°C in 2010 – or to have succumbed to the chytrid fungus that has decimated amphibian populations worldwide over the last few decades.

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