Santa Elena (Monteverde)

Our first stop in Costa Rica! We arrived at the San José airport on the night of Thursday, February 21, and spent the night in a small hotel in Alajuela near the airport. The next day we took a shuttle bus to Santa Elena, in the Monteverde area. This wasn’t completely straightforward because they hadn’t told us that we would have to change buses at a restaurant on the Transamerican Highway, but it all worked out and we arrived there about noon.

Santa Elena was a small town but very busy, with restaurants and hostels and tourist shops all crammed into a two-block area. After scouting out the various lunch spots we chose a small but busy taqueria called “Taco Taco”. Their meals were very yummy and filling.

We were staying at the Arco Iris hotel, right in the middle of town. Our “room” was actually a little cabin at the bottom of a hill at the edge of the hotel grounds. That afternoon we just relaxed around the hotel, not doing much of anything. The sky was blue and the temperature was perfect with a light breeze. Every so often bits of cloud from the top of the mountains would drift over, sprinkling us with a very fine mist.

Saturday morning we were up early again, this time to go on a guided tour of the Curi-Cancha Wildlife Reserve. Luckily for us there was another couple from the hotel who were also going on the tour, so we shared a taxi to the reserve. We were met there by our guide, Greivin, and the rest of the group. There were eight of us and after the preliminary introduction we headed up into the reserve. The lower part of the reserve was fields which had been farm land owned by the Quakers who developed the area in the 1950’s. Now it belongs to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which is a UNESCO World Biosphere area.

There were several groups starting out at the same time, and the guides all worked together and communicated their interesting findings to each other. One of the first findings of the morning was a female Resplendent Quetzal in a big tree in one of these fields. It was a bit chaotic then because everybody wanted to see the quetzal, but that didn’t last long. Soon somebody spotted a male on the other side of the tree, so we spent quite a while photographing him and generally admiring his long tail and brightly coloured plumage.

Greivin was a very knowledgeable guide with a good command of English, so the morning went by quickly. We saw a couple of Black Guans flapping about in the trees, and then stopped at some hummingbird feeders in an open area. Besides the six species of hummingbird which we saw there, there were quite a lot of other species in the area. After that we went up a trail into the rainforest. It was hard to see wildlife there, but Greivin had staked out a two-toed sloth and a female Purple-throated Mountain-gem (hummingbird) sitting on a nest. We would never have seen those things on our own.

At the top of the trail we climbed up to a place with a view over the Continental Divide, except that we were blasted by wind and rain coming up from the Caribbean and there was no view. On the way down Greivin had us wait on the trail while he clambered down the hill a bit and set up his scope so that we could look at a roosting Bare-shanked Screech-Owl. Absolutely no way would we have found this bird! The whole tour took about four hours and was worth every penny of the $40 we paid for it.

We decided to walk back to Santa Elena, guessing it was only about 3 kilometres. We stopped at the cheese factory where we watched them making the cheese, a local white specialty cheese called Monte. Then we stopped at the Women’s Arts Cooperative store. We didn’t buy anything there but we did have lunch at their little cafe in the back of the store. If we hadn’t asked Greivin about walking back, we would not have realized that there was a café back there. Both of us had arroz con pollo, which came with a small salad and a drink.

Farther along we stopped at Don Juan’s coffee and chocolate shop and tried their handmade chocolates, then headed back to our hotel room to rest.

Tomorrow we leave Santa Elena and travel onwards to Arenal.

Next: Ferry to Arenal

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