Central America #7: Monteverde, Costa Rica -tree-lining and cloud forests

Monteverde was to be my last stop in Costa Rica as a mere week there had blown heavily into my budget. The country has amazing natural views, really nice people and great food if you’re a fan of rice and beans, but the prices are without doubt a little steep for the average backpacker. Amenities like food, beers and public transport are a touch more expensive than in most Central American countries, but what get you most are the prices of tourism itself. Any national park costs anywhere up to 15 USD a hit and extreme sports are also on the costly side too. I’d invested 100 USD in a white-water rafting trip, which I had rather enjoyed, and many people had talked about a tree zip-lining activity as being the highlight of Monteverde, so that was to be my main priority in what would be a brief stay in the town.

The views of  Lake Arenal on the roughly three-hour trip from La Fortuna to Monteverde were breathtaking, even if the road there was a very rocky one. Still in tow with my newly-made French buddies, the hire-car’s GPS had vehemently suggested a different route, but we instead followed road signs. Her worried cries in French reminded me of the message that Jack and company picked up on the transistor in the early series of Lost, but I hoped we wouldn’t bump into any Others that would do us harm.

We arrived at dark and after driving around for a while, decided upon Sloth Backpackers as I’d seen it on one of the booking sites the night before. There were no dorms, but we paid 45 USD for a triple in what was a very pink and feminine room probably designated as a love chamber under normal circumstances. But then the set of bunk beds wouldn’t fit into the equation. On second thoughts, it was probably just a very pretty family room. We went for a few beers in a bar built into a tree, creatively named Treehouse, before taking a relatively early nightcap.

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A beer in the treehouse with the French lads

I must note that due to being at quite an altitude Monteverde was the first place where I had actually felt anything like low temperatures, but despite a few shivers I was thankful to be able to use the thick coat I had brought with me, as it had been proving rather a nuisance when packing my relatively small backpack and I feared it would be of no use throughout the trip.

The next day I did the zip-lining for 50 USD with Xtreme Tours and was picked up at 8am and taken to their site. I bumped into a guy I had met in La Fortuna and he kindly took some pictures of me with a couple of very friendly toucans that were chilling out near reception, again staying away from national parks where they are so often sought out.

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A toucan and I

The zip-lining itself included 14 lines, some of them longer than others, though the highlights were the Superman, where you are placed on the wire in the position of our blue and red clad friend, and the Tarzan Swing, where you are attached to a rope and pushed off a steep drop. The former was great for the views you get below of the incredibly green forest, whereas the latter really gives you that stomach-in-mouth sensation and caused screams or groans among everyone who did it. The whole thing was perfectly safe, and thankfully the safety briefings were to the point.

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Tree-lining

On the same day I managed to squeeze in a trip to Santa Elena Nature Reserve, which is less-frequented and cheaper (12 USD at the time of writing as opposed to 20 for the Monteverde equivalent), and not so far away, as Santa Elena and Monteverde are adjoined. A bus organised through the hostel took us there for 4USD return at 12.30pm and would come to pick us up at 4pm.

Upon arriving, we opted for the longer trail which took us around about two and a half hours. The trails in Costa Rica are extremely well-maintained and there is no way of getting lost (which is very possible in Nicaragua), though it did take us quite a while to find the viewpoint, which involved climbing up a very slippery set of metal rungs. On the day it was very wet and cloudy, which I suppose is to be expected in a cloud forest due to the proximity to the clouds, so I couldn’t see anything other than green trees and mist from the lookout. The weather conditions also meant a return for my binbagesque green poncho, which stopped me getting soaked. The wild animals stayed out of sight on this particular day, apart from a bunch of skunks we saw in the car park.

The next day I would need to catch a bus 4.20am so I had a quiet night in the hostel, except when a huge retired French party were a little impatient and didn’t let me finish cooking before setting about dominating the kitchen. That apart, the rest of my express trip to Monteverde passed incident-free. I’d certainly enjoyed the tree zip-lining due to the adrenaline hit and spectacular views it provided, though I was a little disappointed at the cloud forest, because although it’s interesting, once you’ve been to other cloud forests like I had on previous trips, the subsequent ones aren’t particularly mind-blowing. Then again, when traveling you try to do as many things as possible and I quite enjoy hiking, so the visit certainly wasn’t wasted.

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