I discovered one thrill after another during a recent visit to the Costa Rican cloud forest called Monteverde. In fact I found five of them in this green lush garden set high in the mountains of Costa Rica, where clouds slide by overhead and drop a cooling mist.It’s a fertile place, climbing to the sky and plunging to rivers murmuring below us. The loud scream of the howler monkeys interrupts the chirp of bird and the swish of wind rushing through the trees.
1. Walk through the Monteverde Cloud Preserve
Take a walk with a knowledgeable guide, through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, nearly a mile above sea level, for the opportunity to see monkeys and brightly colored quetzals, orchids tiny as the tip of your little finger and strangler ficus trees that tower over the paths. Our wonderful guide Oscar showed us where the forest was being renewed through conservation practices. And he was absolutely delighted to point out a bright blue and red quetzal couple building its nest, a baby spider monkey peeking out from the protection of its mother, and a howler monkey who stubbornly kept its back to us. Not every visitor gets to see them, he said.
2. Have some coffee
After a morning in that oasis we spent the afternoon on a family farm. El Trapiche grows all the things I need to live: coffee, sugar, and chocolate. (Chocolate is a new venture for them.) During the tour of the farm, we stopped in the sheds where coffee and chocolate are roasted and ground and saw sugar cane being boiled for sugar. We even were able to stir the hot syrup to crystallize it into a sweet, almost fruity, brown sugar. I thought this might be a gimmicky tour but in truth I learned a lot about my favorite foods. We even saw a double rainbow as a gentle mist enveloped us.
As thrilling as all that was, we saved our heart-pounding for the next day at Selvatura Park, an 850-acre section of the cloud forest. Strapped into a harness, we took a zip line canopy tour with 17 zip lines, the longest about 1,000 meters (that’s more than a half mile) that stretched high above the canopy. With guides confident and calm, I lost my fear — even as the adrenalin coursed through my veins with each new zip line. I know how birds must feel soaring over the trees, the wind trying to shove me in a different direction as the next stopping point nears VERY quickly. I forgot to breathe but I did remember to look down and see the trees.
The views were tremendous but each leg of the tour went by so quickly I was glad for the swinging bridges walk that followed. Next time I’ll train for the steep inclines of this walk but I was awed with this green and fertile place. Like Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, this forest is protected, which enabled us to experience an ecosystem unlike any we had experienced before. We heard howler monkeys and the chirps of birds above us, the murmur of a river rushing far underneath us. As beautiful as it was, we felt we should have had a guide as good as Oscar to really see the forest (and the trees.) Combine the two tours with lunch at Selvatura’s cafe for a wonderful day.
Selvatura also has butterfly and hummingbird gardens, a herpetarium, hotel and a gift shop. Zip-liners can also buy photos of their flight through the trees. Of course, we bought them.
Whatever you do, enjoy this moment. I let go my fears and flew. I paused when the hill got steep and heard a howler monkey. I took a breath and found my thrill in Costa Rica. ¡Pura vida!
ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman
(except photo of me. That’s courtesy Selvatura Park.)