Quetzel Hunting in Monteverde, Costa Rica

The first thing that comes to mind about Monteverde, is that the climate is very different to the other places we stayed at in Costa Rica. The name translates to Green Mountain, and at an elevation of 1330 metres, just 15 metres lower than the summit of Ben Nevis, the highest point in the whole of the UK, it was unsurprisingly very windy every evening, and generally a lot cooler and wetter than our previous experiences in the country.

Our journey there was another interesting one. On a map, La Fortuna, where we had travelled from, doesn’t appear to be very far from Monteverde. The only problem is there is a great big lake (Lake Arenal) between the two. This leaves you with a choice of two routes; either a long drive around the lake, and we already knew that not every road in Costa Rica is much more than a muddy rocky track, meaning that many road trips in the country take far longer than the distance would suggest. The alternative route, crossing the lake, is the one we chose, though when we arrived by minibus at the shores of the lake, we were a bit concerned about the mode of travel that appeared to be on offer.

Despite my Facebook posts possibly suggesting the opposite, we did not ride the bikes across the lake, in truth it was a leisurely, very pleasant boat ride which took around an hour. It did start to rain half way across which caused some panic with the crew members who frantically rushed everyone’s cases in from outside of the front of the boat. By the time we docked however it had started to clear up.

We were met by another minibus the other side, and a long drive still ensued due to the long and winding roads through the mountains. The transfer took around 4 hours in total, including a stop on the way at a very scenic viewpoint where we had our first glimpse on this trip of the Pacific ocean, across the Nicoya Peninsula.

Where we stayed

We stayed at Hostel Coati, again a great value for money accommodation, where we had the entire 3rd floor to ourselves, including a shared kitchen with nobody to share with and a private bathroom – fantastic 😊 Breakfast was also included which is always a bonus! One could complain the hostel was described as a Hotel on booking.com, in fact someone did complain and left immediately; for us however this really wasn’t a problem.

Our host here was a lovely man named Mauricio. We checked-in with him, we arranged our tours with him, and in the mornings it was he who cooked our breakfasts. He was very friendly and professional, and nothing seemed to be too much trouble for him. He phoned a friend to take us to a local park, for a very reasonable taxi fare, and despite the many hats he wore, and was permanently busy, he always had time for a chat, which was nearly always about football. His cafe was decorated with a lot of worldwide football paraphernalia, such as the scarves of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris St-Germain, but there was also room for his favourite Costa Rican team, L. D. Alajuelense. His team were at the time, clear at the top of their highest league, so of course he was happy to talk about them 😊

Sat out on the balcony one evening, I saw two agoutis in the car park opposite, we were just round the corner from an orchid garden, which meant we saw a few butterflies, and the nearby trees were always filled with beautiful birds.

The Town of Monteverde

Unlike La Fortuna, Monteverde is significantly smaller and more spread out. We booked very central accommodation near the bus station because we knew we would be leaving from there. The town is hilly and significantly cooler as you would expect at altitude. In terms of around town there are various restaurants, coffee shops, bars, a supermarket and a couple of ATMs. I had a bit of an unfortunate experience at Banco National when my card was swallowed up by the machine; luckily the ATM was attached to the bank which was open. After some spanish speaking practice and upon production of my passport for proof of my identity I was able to get it back.

We stopped at Bar Amigos which had nice food and played pool here as well which charged by the hour but was very reasonable (about $4 an hour). As much as we tried the con el pie above our balance was not that good! Definitely worth a visit here even if its just a quick pint.

Where We Visited

Curi-Cancha Reserve

The taxi driver took us to a local park called The Curi-Cancha Reserve. This was supposed to be our best chance to see Costa Rica’s most beautiful bird, The Resplendent Quetzal. To walk on our own was $20 each which was quite pricey, with a guide $45 each; as much as we would have liked a guide the budget couldn’t stretch that far.

We are very proud of the fact that every photo used in our blogs are our own, we use no filters and we do not do any ‘post-processing’. In other words, our pictures are not photoshopped. However, the Resplendent Quetzal is so beautiful I am tempted to share photos taken by our friends Bo and Kevin, after all the Quetzal does exist in Monteverde, and visiting here and finding one for yourself would be a very rewarding mission. Sadly although we heard one, we couldn’t find it despite our best efforts. This was despite going round with the Merlin bird app trying to play the noises to try and attract them.

Kevin and Bo’s own excellent blog can be found at https://slothwego.wixsite.com/my-site/blog and I’m sure their excellent photos of the Resplendent Quetzal will appear there soon.

Our walk around this fantastic park had highlights such as seeing our first (and only) Armadillo, our first sighting of a Coati (quickly followed by our second sighting, and the two had a scrap right in front of us) and we also saw another Agouti.

By far the biggest highlight though, was seeing large numbers of beautiful hummingbirds. The park cheated a bit by setting up hummingbird feeders containing a simple mixture of sugar and water, but we know they must have got the mixture just right because those birds loved it! For at least an hour we stood surrounded by hummingbirds, I think at least 20 of them buzzed around our heads, backwards and forwards to the various feeders. It was a great time to discover the slow motion feature on our smartphones, and we got some great videos and pictures of them all. Beautiful!

Despite not seeing the Quetzal it was a really great walk, we enjoyed it walking the paths and only saw one or two other people there as well. The trails are easy to follow (thanks to the map provided) and despite walking for over 3 hours we still didn’t cover all the walkways. There are some viewpoints and a river to explore as well as the paths and just at the end we saw some capuchin monkeys.

Night Tour at Kinkajoa

We took was a night trek with a company called Kinkajoa booked through our accommodation costing $30 each. This was a highly commercial company, and the tour had far too many people in attendance, staff and visitors, for our liking. In these COVID days it felt like the least safe activity we had done yet on this trip, so we were very careful to protect ourselves as much as possible with mask wearing, handwashing and keeping our distance from everyone else as much as we could.

The tour guides carried walkie talkies to inform others of what they had seen but there were several groups in attendance and we often spent time waiting for them or dodging them. It was an enjoyable tour in the end, and we managed to add a couple of creatures to our ‘Spotted in Costa Rica’ list. A magnificent specimen of an orange-kneed tarantula, and a scorpion which glowed under a black light.

Don Juan Coffee, Chocolate and Sugar Cane Tour

Another tour we did in Monteverde the Don Juan 3-in-1 tour, the three being coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane. We were transported to the site and were greeted by the owner himself Don Juan.

We were given quite an extensive tour of the coffee growing and producing elements; however, the chocolate and sugar cane elements are very brief, as if they were added on as an afterthought to pad out the tour. the natural ingredients for these things are definitely not grown commercially at this site. We got to grind coffee beans, sample coffee and learn about the roasting techniques. The tour was interactive in parts which made it more entertaining.

We both enjoyed it a little bit, but this is not a tour I would recommend personally. I considered it to be a complete tourist trap. Carol would disagree with this as she definitely enjoyed the coffee element but did agree that the chocolate and sugarcane parts weren’t worth the label of a 3 in 1 experience. The tour was not cheap ($35 each), had very many visitors, and I imagine made a great deal of money. We were given free coffee at the end and taken to a restaurant and souvenir shop where everything on offer was sold at very inflated prices.

My theory is that the coffee plantation was no longer financially viable, and Don Juan, the very pleasant elderly gentleman we had the pleasure to meet had the brilliant business idea to switch to tourism. My only disappointment was that some of that profit was from our money and if anyone reading this does ever visit Monteverde I would suggest you save your money on this one, and if you are interested in such things, try a different tour other than Don Juan’s. That said this was the recommended tour to us out of all of them so I can’t say whether the others would be an improvement.

Final Thoughts

Monteverde has something to offer everyone, from the zip-lining and Tarzan swinging thrillseekers to the nature lovers. You can do as little or as much as you like here and the nature is there for the finding. We particularly enjoyed Curi-Cancha as we did this at our own pace and not as part of a group. If visiting Costa Rica, Monteverde is a must see, and easily worth 3 or 4 days of your valuable time, and good luck with finding The Resplendent Quetzal!

Carol & Nigel xx

May 2021

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