The Monteverde Cloud forest is a lush, verdant environment, teeming with wildlife. Situated high up in the Costa Rican Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range it also straddles the continental divide*. The high altitude, which makes it a cloud forest as opposed to a rain forest which exists mostly at sea level, keeps it cool and misty, but we were fortunate in enjoying reasonably clear skies and good visibility during our visit.
On our first day we arrived at the Reserve at 07.00 to find it was already bustling with busloads of fellow tourists. We followed our tour guide along forest trails for a couple of hours, marvelling at towering trees with their mossy trunks and trailing creepers, and glossy-leaved plants with bright red and pink blooms.We could hear the "squeaky door" song of the Three Wattled Bellbird and the tantalising yet somewhat wistful cry of the Resplendent Quetzal bird yet we did not managed to catch so much as a glimpse of either.
As we passed small groups of Americans excitedly gathered around their official forest guides with their scopes trained on various creatures around them, we soon realised that our tour guide, who had accompanied us throughout our tour of Costa Rica, was not an expert in this forest (he had even forgotten to bring his binoculars!) The locals know the various habitat in which the animals and birds are most likely to appear – they are, after all, creatures of habit – and the fruits that are most likely to attract them. Furthermore, our group of 17 was far too large: if our guide had spotted anything of interest, it would have been long gone by the time those of us bringing up the rear had reached it. Those at the front reassured us that we had missed nothing. I have to admit we felt somewhat short-changed.
Back at the entrance car park, whilst waiting for our driver to extract our bus from deep within a forest of coaches, we spent some time observing the delightful, jewel-coloured humming birds at the nectar feeding station. Chatting with some of the local guides, we found that although we could not now fit in a private tour, if we returned to the carpark at 06.30 the following morning, before the hoards arrived, we would be bound to see the Quetzal bird which always visited around that time!
The following morning at 06.00 a group of us keen photographers set off for the steep 3 km walk up the road from the hotel to the reserve's carpark. Sure enough, the beautiful Resplendent Quetzal (female) put in an appearance. She was very colourful, and although she did not have the long green feathers of the male, her appearance made our effort worthwhile. We were then further rewarded by a family of white-faced coatis who made a quick tour of the carpark before disappearing into the trees as the coaches and busses began trundling up the road. My companions rushed back for breakfast but I stayed behind, observing, and being buzzed by, the hummingbirds as I tried to photograph them without including the red plastic feeders. It was amazing to see their long tube-like tongues flickering into the nectar.
Reluctantly, had to return to the hotel as we were due to check out and travel to visit a coffee plantation before moving down the coast to our Pacific Beach Extension in the Manuel Antonio Park. All-in-all, the Monteverde cloud forest is a lovely place with beautiful wildlife but I'd recommend taking a small group tour with a local expert to maximise the experience.
The term "Continental Divide" was used a great deal by our guide as he pointed at the scudding clouds above us but remained a mystery to us until we returned home and discovered it is the drainage divide on a continent such that the drainage basin on one side of the divide feeds into one ocean or sea, (in this case the Caribbean) and the basin on the other side either feeds into a different ocean or sea, (the Pacific).