Montaverde Cloud Forest and a Night Walk

So when I awoke, we were docked in Puerto Caldera, the location of our disembarkation.  Because I was continuing on through Costa Rica with my own guides and drivers, I was off the boat first with two other couples.  We were driven to the port entrance where we met our drivers and by 8:15 a.m., I was on the road to Montaverde, a region in the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range best known for the Montaverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve as well as a handful of other cloud forests, adventure parks (zip line and hanging bridges), butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens and cacao and coffee farms.  I was planning on doing some hiking through the two cloud forests and maybe the zip line.  The trip into the mountains would take about an hour and a half.

View from the road to Montaverde

Anyway, as we left the port, we passed a gaggle of food stands along the beach before taking a right inland bypassing the town of Punta Arenas.  Before I knew it, we we were heading up into the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range.  As we climbed, the wind picked up and although it remained sunny, the temperature was definitely dropping.  The best part of the drive were the views, which were absolutely magnificent.  In one direction there were beautiful green mountainsides and in the other direction there were green valleys rolling towards the Pacific Ocean.  The worst part of the drive: the road.  It was brutal.  Narrow, bumpy and filled with potholes.  In fact, I think the potholes outnumbered the paved parts of the road.  Not good!

So by the time we reached the town of Santa Elena, the region’s main town, we were at 4,662 feet.  It was still quite warm, but very, very windy.  Just 10 minutes past Santa Elena and up a further hill, we reached the Hidden Canopy Treehouse hotel, my home for the next three nights.  And all I can say is WOW!  The place far exceeded the pictures.  It was spectacular, with gorgeous views to the Pacific, a lovely hummingbird garden and Jenn, the proprietor who was the epitome of the hostess with the mostess.

My treehouse
My treehouse veranda

On my arrival, Jenn brought me some tea, gave me an introduction to the area and then escorted me to my treehouse.  It was simply beautiful.  Wooden floors.  Peaked ceiling.  Huge windows overlooking the forest.  And an outdoor closed in veranda.  It was perfect.

Now I was supposed to do a night walk in the cloud forest (trying to conquer my fear of all things creepy crawly), but by early afternoon the clouds had rolled in and it had begun to rain.  And then it really began to rain.  I mean sideways torrential, wind wiping rain.  This continued on through the remainder of the day so I ended up moving the night walking tour to the next night, grabbed some dinner at the local restaurant with a couple from England and called it a night.  I was really tired and needed some rest before my morning hike the next day in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

I woke up a couple times during the night and it was really raining, but by 6:30 when I got up, it was clear skies and warm.  YAY!

Painted keelback snake

My guide, Felix, met me at 7:30 and we were off driving through the little town of Santa Elena around a series of curves and then up into the hills to the entrance of the Montaverde Cloud Forest Reserve for a 2 ½ hour hike.  Once we had our admission tickets (admission is limited to 300 people) we began our hike up a small hill and had no sooner set off than Felix was stopping me to point out a painted keelback snake wound around a tree branch.  Felix advised that it was harmless, but nevertheless I kept my distance.

We continued on through the dense forest as Felix talked about the variety of vegetation, the old growth forest and the second generation forest.  At one point, Felix handed me his flashlight and told me to point it into a hole in the ground … ugh I could make out the black and orange markings of an “orange kneed tarantula”.  I shudder just typing that.  Ugh.

The cloud forest
The Gallery Forest

We continued on as Felix pointed out trees that produced fruit that were eaten by monkeys and large birds and before I knew it we had reached the Gallery Forest and a magnificent waterfall.  We spent a few minutes here admiring the gorgeous canopy of trees before reversing course and beginning our hike back.

Now so far, the pickings had been slim, but that was about to change.  We ran into a guide who told us they had spotted the resplendent quetzal, a magnificent multicoloured bird (greens, blues, reds, yellows) near the avocado trees.  Apparently the quetzal loves avocados, eating the avocado whole before regurgitating the large seed.

So we set off up the hill listening for the bird’s distinctive chirp.  We eventually ran into a tour group and they had just spotted the bird on a branch high up in the trees.  Felix set up his scope and had soon zeroed in on the bird.  I was able to pick it up with my camera on zoom.  Felix said it was a juvenile, and it was indeed magnificent.

And just as suddenly as we spotted the bird, the quetzal flew off.

Male Quetzal

We continued walking and Felix suddenly stopped and asked “do you hear that”?  It was a funny chirping noise.  Another quetzal.  Felix scanned the trees and almost immediately spotted the bird.  And this one would not sit still.  It flitted from tree to tree to tree an would not sit still long enough.  Finally, though, our patience was rewarded.  We were able to get a good shot of the quetzal … a male.  Soon at least twenty people were standing around trying to get a look at the bird.  Felix and I had our pictures and moved on.

Female Quetzal

As we walked, yet another juvenile quetzal came into view and to round out the pictures, we spotted a female quetzal, which has shorter tailfeathers.  Felix said that the bird is very, very elusive and to see four in one day is unheard of.  Yay for us!

And as if that wasn’t enough, as we walked, an avocado pit fell out of nowhere.  Felix picked it up.  It was warm.  The quetzal had regurgitated the pit and dropped it as it flew overhead.  Very cool.

Black faced solitaire

We continued our walk back to the entrance to the cloud forest and on the way, encountered a black faced solitaire and a purple throated mountain-gem hummingbird in her nest.  In addition, we heard a multitude of birds in the trees, but could never get a read on them.  No matter, the walk had been fabulous.

White nosed coti
Hummingbird garden

After we exited the forest, we walked across the road to a hummingbird garden where we saw some beautiful hummingbirds flitting around.  And as we watched the hummingbirds, a white nosed coati decided to make an appearance.  The animal looks a bit like a raccoon and is in fact related.

So after the morning hike, I ended up wandering around Santa Elena for a bit before returning to my treehouse for the afternoon.

Sunset from the Hidden Canopy Treehouse

Around 5:00, I headed to the sunroom to watch the sunset and enjoy the hotel’s complimentary happy hour before heading out at 6:00 for a two hour night walk with my guide Lorenzo.  Now I had a lot of trepidation about this walk because creepy crawly things that come out at night are not in my idea of a good time.  However, I could not have been more wrong about the hike.  It turned out to be a lot more about looking at animals that come out at night or spotting animals and birds sleeping.

As we set off in Santa Maria park, I was given a flash light to help me walk the paths while my guide had not only a high powered scope, but a high powered flash light.  And the way the guides are able to spot something is by sweeping the trees and brush with the flashlight looking to pick up the glow of the eyes.  As we walked, we immediately encountered a sleeping white faced monkey.  Unfortunately, the monkey was so far up the tree it was impossible to take a picture.

Rhinoceros katydid
Waking stick bug

We next encountered a rhinoceros katydid (a large green bug) and a walking stick (another bug that looked like a stick).  However, the next animal we spotted was the highlight of the night, a kinkajou, which zipped across one branch in a tree before running back on a lower branch.  (A kinkajou is a cross between a bear and a monkey and is also known as a honey bear.)  Apparently seeing a kinkajou is very rare so yay for us!

As we walked along up and down the hilly path, crickets chirped and the wind blew, but the moon was out so it made it a tad brighter.  We approached a creek and my guide’s eagle eye spotted a red eyed frog followed by … ugh a green viper wrapped around a tree.

All around us we could see other hikers and guides with ever present flashlights lighting up the trees.  And it was another guide who pointed out to us a sleeping toucan (or at least trying to sleep).  When I took at look at it through the lense, its eyes were open.  We also saw a sleeping green toucan and a number of different species of birds curled up on branches asleep for the night.

Sleeping sloth

The other highlight of the night was finding a sleeping sloth.  Unfortunately, the sloth had its back to us, but it was close enough that I was able to get a shot of its backside.  I guess that’s something.

Leaf cutter ant hill

As we began our trek back to the entrance we encountered a huge leaf cutter ant hill, which turned out to be home base.  I had seen these leaf cutter ants throughout the trip and always wondered where the heck they were going and now I had my answer.  It was unbelievable how big the ant hill was.

By 8:00 p.m. we were back at the entrance and I was headed back to my treehouse.  It had been a really enjoyable evening walk and the cherry on top was … no spiders!  Tomorrow it’s all about birds.

Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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