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Alajuela

This protection zone, situated on the Pacific and Caribbean slopes of the Tilarán Cordillera, is almost totally made up of two private reserves: the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, of 14,200 ha run by the Tropical Science Centre (TCC) and the Bosque Eterno de los Niños (Children’s Everlasting Forest) at 17,400 ha run by the Monteverde Conservationist Leage (MCL). The latter is the first in the world to be entirely acquired through donations from children in Sweden, the United States, England, Canada and Japan.

The two reserves have an elevation range of 660 m on the Caribbean slope rising to 1,859 m on the Cerro Sin Nombre (No Name Hill) on the continental side. The climate is very wet (over 3,000 mm per year), but the main feature of the forests in the highest parts of the two reserves is that they remain covered in cloud for most of the year, giving rise to a large diversity of mosses, livervorts, lichens and epiphytes that grow profusely on the trees. The most conspicuous trees include the guarumo (Cecropia polyphlebia), a species typical of high mountains in Costa Rica whose fruits attract birds and bats; the oak (Quercus), a large tree whose fruits or acorns are food for squirrels, agouties, peccaries and deer; the zapote (Pouteria viridis), the large seeds of which are frequently seen along the paths, and the wild fig (Ficus tuerckheimii).

One hundred species of mammals have been identified, including 40 bats. Some of the most numerous mammals include the fruit-eating bat (Artibeus toltecus), the almost completely black howler monkey (Alouatta palliata), the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), the black squirrel (Sciurus deppei) and the Mexican mouse (Peromyscus nudipes). As far as birds are concerned, 400 species, almost half of all those in the country, including the green kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana), the crested owl (Lophostrix cristata), the great green macaw (Ara ambigua), the solitary eagle (Harpyhaliaetus solitarius) and the quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), possibly the most beautiful bird on the continent and the most famous in the area. The 30 species of hummingbirds are the ones that most fascinate tourists who visit the reserves.

153 species of amphibians and reptiles have also been identified, including the glass frog (Centrolenella), boa (Boa constrictor), Central American coral snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus) and the highly poisonous fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper). The golden toad (Bufo periglenes), the best known and most studied endemic amphibian in the area, appears to have become extinct a few years ago. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve has a biological station with meeting rooms, laboratory, library, dining room, shop and dormitories. Access to this station is from San José along the Panamerican Highway, across the bridge over the Lagarto river to Santa Elena, and then to the Monteverde Station (172 km). The section from the Panamerican Highway to the station is a grit road that can be used all year round. Within the two reserves there are several paths, some with interpretation, leading to sites of scientific and scenic interest. One cloud-swathed path, for example, leads to La Ventana (The Window), on the continental side.

Buses run between San José and Monteverde and between Puntarenas and Santa Elena, and there is a taxi service from Santa Elena to the station. In the town of Santa Elena there are restaurants and markets, and in Monteverde there are hotels, boarding houses and a cheese factory. For more information and to book places in the station, call the TCC on 645-5122 or the MCL on 645-5003.

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