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Monteverde (“Green Mountain”), is part of the steep Tilarán mountain range. !!
A colony of Quaker farmers from Alabama, searching for a more pacifistic environment, came to Costa Rica in 1951 just two years after it abolished its army. They set up dairy farms in Monteverde (“Green Mountain”)The community prospered when they developed a market for their excellent cheeses. Come here hungry – Productores de Monteverde Cheese Factory produces a ton of cheese a day.
The original settlers included forward-thinking pioneers who recognized the frailty of the environment and determined to preserve the Guacimal River at its source in the primary cloud forests.
By preventing development in their original 554-hectare/1,368-acre Bosque Eterno, the area remained pristine until the threat of homesteading in the surrounding forest forced further action.
Visiting scientists George and Harriet Powell teamed up with long-time resident Wilford Guindon to promote an “official” nature preserve. With the help of the Tropical Science Center, who now run and maintain it – it is not a national park – the Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Preserve (www.monteverdeinfo.com) became official in March, 1972.
The foggy forest (elevation 1,440 meters/4,662 feet) boasts six distinct ecological zones. Since its inception, the preserved region has grown rapidly – both in size and fame – and now covers 10,500 hectares and sees well over 50,000 visitors annually.
Bordered by the Santa Elena and Children’s rainforests, plus Arenal and San Ramón forests, the area is one of Costa Rica’s most important protected ecological zones. Entrance into the park is restricted to 150 people at any one time, which may mean a wait.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is a diverse biological wonderland that contains old-growth trees, favored habitat of the spectacular quetzal. But it is also home to 400 other kinds of birds, including 30 types of hummingbirds and such odd specimens as three-wattled bellbirds and bare-necked umbrella birds. Ground-dwelling residents include the powerful jaguar, the ocelot and the tapir, 2,500 species of plants (including 420 kinds of orchids) and 1,200 amphibian and reptile species.
Because there is so much to see, it’s best to have a guide who knows where to look for wildlife in the wild. Guided tours run about US $15 per person and night tours, when it’s not raining, start at 7 pm.
If you’re driving the Inter-American Highway there are two routes up the mountain. Both feature hard driving on rough roads – a conscious effort by the Monteverde community to slow development by jarring your kidneys.
The southern route from San José is just before the Río Lagarto Bridge at Km 149; look for a tiny sign on a bar to the right. There’s also a shortcut south of the Lagarto Bridge at Río Sardinal, which joins the Lagarto road, but this “shortcut” may sometimes take longer because the road is often in terrible shape.
The northern route is better marked and leaves the highway at the turn for Las Juntas. It’s a good road for a third of the way up the mountain, and then it deteriorates to be as bad as the other. Follow the sign in Juntas for San Rafael, not Los Dos.
Monteverde is two hours from the highway and about four hours from San José. If you have time, check out Las Juntas, once the gold-mining capital of Costa Rica. It has an Eco Museo outside town with trails leading to an old gold mine. Boston – yes
Boston – is a nearby town with an active gold-mining cooperative that you can visit. Call Mina Tours (. 506/662-0753) for an escorted tour.
Three rustic back country huts are available in Monteverde for just US $4 per night, plus the entrance fee for each day. It’s a five-hour hike to Eladios Hut (Portland Audubon Center), the largest of the three. La Leona Hut features an enchanting setting on the Río Peñas Blancas with a cable car upstream for crossings. It takes 3½ hours to reach. The closest, El Valle Hut, takes 2½ hours to reach.
Huts are rustic, with dorm bunk beds, water, propane and wood stoves, cooking pots and utensils, but no sheets or blankets. Bring food, candles, sleeping bags and toilet paper. Arrange with the visitor’s center.
TO GUIDE, OR NOT TO GUIDE?
SENDERO BOSQUE NUBOSO (Cloud Forest Trail)
EL CAMINO (The Road)
SENDERO PANTANOSO (Swamp Trail).
SENDERO RIO (River Trail)
SENDERO BOSQUE ETERNO (Eternal Forest Trail)
SENDERO GEORGE POWELL
SENDERO BRILLIANTE (Brilliant Trail)
SENDERO ROBLE (Tree Trail)
Live, Retire, Relocate to Costa Rica Book by Christopher Howard
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