Onward and… upward? Absolutely. After 3 days of what was a blissful 7 day stay at the all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace Costa Rica, we had just completed a tour of a coffee plantation where we learned the secret behind the perfect cup of Costa Rican coffee and we were ready to stretch our legs! After 3.5 hours of driving through the most beautiful of micro-climates, we had reached our final destination: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Finally.
Fly like a butterfly, sting like a…
The minute we stepped out of the van, we could feel the change in temperature, and or the very first time since landing in Costa Rica, I was cold! Not only was their a serious nip in the air, but it had also started to rain.
After buying a few purple ponchos which made us look like giant grapes, we headed to our first stop at the reserve: the butterfly conservatory. The conservatory itself was quite big – well, more high than big – and filled with 32 species of butterflies (although the guide explained that one or two species, the most brightly decorated like the blue one pictured below, dominated since they were the favoured among tourists. Sad, I know.).
The butterfly keeper was kind enough to show us around the conservatory and explain how things work. Keepers actually put mashed banana out for the butterflies to nibble at (which starts fermenting and smells pretty rancid). Throughout the conservatory, visitors can see the entire cycle of the butterfly as they go from caterpillar…
… to full-grown majestic butterfly! In the background of the picture below, you can see sacs pinned to the wall. These are little butterflies in the making! While the conservatory helps to forward to procreation of the little creatures, sometimes butterflies emerge a little less than perfectly, resulting in butterflies with distorted or damaged wings. Unfortunately, these guys are pretty much doomed to live a rather short life. What is the average life expectancy of a butterfly you ask? Well, according to The Butterfly Site, it hovers around one month or so, depending on the size and location of the butterfly.
What’s the buzz?
After we left the butterflies, we started on the trail toward the Cloud Forest and stopped to say a quick “hello” (or “hola”) in this case to the hundreds of hummingbirds that were buzzing around some delicious looking feeders. If you’ve ever tried to snap a picture of a hummingbird (many of which can be found in the Cloud Forest), you know just how frustrating it can be! Fortunately, thanks to the set-up these guys had going, we were able to get up close and personal with one of the smallest birds in the world.
Could fact about hummingbirds? They are the only birds in the world that can fly backwards! Who knew?
A walk in the clouds
After we left the hummingbirds, we headed towards “The Sky Walk“; a series of suspended suspension bridges that would act as our trail through part of the world renowned cloud forest. There were six bridges in total, distancing a total of 2.5km (not including off-bridge walking), the longest of which spanned 984 feet.
According to the website, the Forest Reserve, established in 1972 currently covers over 35,089 acres and is home to over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles, tens of thousands of inspect species, over 2,500 varieties of plans of which more than 420 are orchids alone. That’s a lot of life for one forest!
What scared me most was the prospect of snakes hanging down from the trees or slithering out under our feet. The forest is home to a number of poisonous snakes, some of whose bite requires hospitalization within an hour of the bite. With the nearest hospital a helicopter ride away, we were all on our guard.
We also learned, halfway through our hike, that the forest is one of the few remaining habitats of 6 species of the cat family – including jaguars! Where was that on the brochure? The other cats roaming around, according to the Reserve website include: ocelots, pumas, oncillas, margays, three-wattled bellbird and resplendent quetzal and jaguarundis (but since we had no idea what those were, they didn’t scare us as much).
Fortunately, the only wildlife we saw on our walk were a few little monkeys, two caterpillars, a beetle and some stunning flora! It’s not uncommon; forest creatures are pretty good at blending in. That being said, I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be around for sunset!