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Costa Rica Update #5: Por Las Nubes

Posted by kevinwolz on June 19, 2011

Latest destination? The clouds. More specifically, the famed cloud forest of Monteverde. Tropical cloud forest is probably what you think of when someone mentions the “rainforest,” complete with clouds, rain, countless animals, and eternal green. Monteverde’s cloud forest contains a whopping “100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, tens of thousands of insect species, and over 2,500 varieties of plants, 420 of which are orchids alone” ( Incredible! I have been waiting for this trip for a LONG time.

After several weekends of traveling, I think I finally achieved optimal travel efficiency this weekend, both in time and money. I only had two full days to explore everything that Monteverde has offer, so I was going non-stop the whole weekend. Traveling solo for this trip probably helped in this as well (my friends wanted to stay home and chill this weekend…but as you probably already know, that is quite hard for me to do).

I spent a total of $215 this weekend, which, in my opinion, is pretty darn good for all that I did.  This includes all travel to/from my house, transport within Monteverde, food, hostel, and all activities. It becomes even more impressive when you see that I dropped $50 on ziplining and the suspended bridges alone. Other activities include tours of the Monteverde Cheese Factory, Serpentario, Ranario, World of Insects, Orchid Garden, a night hike through the forest, a 3-hour guided hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and several hours of solo hiking in the Reserve. Yes, all that for that price and in two days. The trick is taking a $5 bus ride to stay in a $7 per night hostel (breakfast included) and eat $5 worth of PB&J over the course of the weekend, not to mention some great student discounts.

Hiking in the Cloud Forest Reserve was by far my favorite part of the weekend (big surprise). The highlight of the hike was seeing the Resplendent Quetzal, Costa Rica’s most famous (and craziest looking) bird. Supposedly only about 20% of visitors get the chance to view this magnificent creature, so I guess I really lucked out. After the guided hike, I hiked alone for a few hours up to the continental divide, which had the most incredible view of the surrounding forest (and clouds).

Ziplining was every bit as awesome as I have heard it hyped up to be. I handled the heights better than expected and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of flying through the canopy. The longest line was an incredible 1 kilometer (5/8 mile) long! The best part was the unique view of the forest that is impossible to get any other way.

The Cheese Factory was interesting more for its history than for the actual cheese-making process, which I was already familiar with. The factory was founded in 1953 by a group of about 10 Quakers who had fled the U.S. several years before to escape the Korean War draft that violated their pacifist religion. Their group first founded the town of Monteverde (very few Ticos there before them) and then the factory a few years later. Monteverde is now a thriving Quaker-Tico mixed community and the factory is the second largest cheese producer in the country, selling several million dollars worth every year.

The rest of the weekend’s activities can be described as semi-zoo-like attractions that serve to “concentrate” certain flora or fauna (e.g. snakes, frogs, or orchids) for optimal viewing. The experience is not natural or “wild” by any means, but is still a great way to see the wildlife that you were not lucky enough to see in the park and, from what I could observe, seemed to operate responsibly and sustainably.

Over all, I had such a great weekend and saw some of most amazing biology in the world. Now I head back home for two days and then off to Cerro Chirripó, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica!

On a side note, here’s a quick lesson in exactly how small the world is. While in the Monteverde Reserve, I met a lot of people. Three of those people just so happened to go to the University of Illinois. Okay, no big deal right? There’s 40,000 students in C-U! Right, but the first of these Illini just so happened to have a very close common friend (we knew each other’s name, but had never met in person before). The second person works in the College of Engineering (again, while we didn’t know each other specifically, we work with all the same people). Finally, the most ironic encounter was with a grad student that works under the same biology professor that I will work under in the fall…in fact, the SAME grad student who I will be working with in Panama two months from now! So there you go…a life lesson: if you ever want some strange encounters, head for the continental divide.




2 Responses to “Costa Rica Update #5: Por Las Nubes”

  1. Joan said

    I was anxiously awaiting this blog and not disappointed!
    Flowers were amazing! Snakes, cenitpede and
    tarantula…..Yikes! Happy to hear you did the ziplining.
    Can’t wait to hear about THAT! i DID see the world’s smallest orchid. Amazing. You did the right thing by going out to see what you did. What a wonderful experience for you and you will never, ever forget it!


  2. Dale & Joyce said

    Kevin, this was fascinating, not sure about walking alone at night in the forest. Except for that part would have loved to go along on this trip. Sounds wonderful! Enjoy and stay safe, can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.
    Grampa and Gramma

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