Monteverde Nature Preserve
The Monteverde (Green Mountain) Nature Preserve is an excellent example of responsible, ecologically sound tourism in Costa Rica. The farm village also named Monteverde, located at 1,400 meters above sea level, was founded in 1951 by Quakers from the U.S. state of Alabama. In the ensuing years it became famous throughout Costa Rica. Four young men, who refused military service out of religious reasons, chose Costa Rica as their home in exile in 1949, following their release from prison. They chose the country because it had abolished its military in 1948. In 1951, they packed their few worldly goods into a truck and drove from Alabama to Monteverde. The trip took three months. They bought 1,500 hectares of inexpensive land, and with financial help from the native inhabitants they established a cheese factory called Productores de Monteverde, which now employs nearly 400 people and produces a ton of cheese every day. From the very beginning, the founders insisted that the Rio Guacimal, vital to their drinking water supply and necessary for the factory, be kept free of pollution. Although it had no official status, they treated the basin of the Rio Guacimal as if it were a nature preserve. Monteverde was made into a preserve thanks to a natural phenomenon. In 1964, scientists visiting the area discovered the very rare deaf and dumb brightly-colored "Golden Toad" at Monteverde. In 1972, they established a small wildlife refuge here. Three years later, with financial help from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the small park was expanded to include the basin of the Rio Guacimal. Today the Reserva Biol6gica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde covers 10,500 hectares. The preserve is privately owned but is administered by Costa Rica's center for tropical research. Its fame and the many possibilities for observing nature that it offers make it a very popular park, which attracts more than 30,000 visitors each year. Some 30 hotels and inns serve the park, but the preserve remains a peaceful, friendly and quiet place. In the evenings it is completely dead. Nonetheless, Monteverde remains a place of superlatives. The protected area reaches from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean and includes eight distinct ecological zones ranging from windswept scrubland to sunny tropical forests with towering trees. Swampy forest gives way to zones of philodendron, bamboo groves and fern thickets. The animals that inhabit Monteverde are equally varied: 100 species of mammal are found here, along with 400 bird species (above all toucans, hummingbirds and bellbirds), 1,200 amphibian and reptile species and 5,000 different kinds of insect. A visit to Monteverde is worth the effort for its wildcats alone. Jaguars, pumas, margays, jaguarundis and ocelots stalk the jungle but keep a safe distance from the tourist paths. Hiking trails (senderos) that wind through the rain forest are elevated in swampy places and covered by boardwalks, but waterproof boots or hightopped hiking shoes are recommended. No more than 120 people are allowed into the preserve at any one time. Sendero Chomogo leads up a steep hillside to a clearing with a view of the continental divide. On a clear day it is possible to see both oceans. The road leads downhill toward the Pacific for a short way before intersecting with the Sendero Rio, which returns to the starting point. The Sendero Bosque Nuboso winds through the upper reaches of the tropical rain forest. A brochure at the park entrance shows the way and helps with orientation. Hikes along the Sendero Tranquilo Reserva take three to four hours. These tours are only possible in the company of a guide, who assures that no more than six people are on any path at one time. The hike up the 1,842-meter-high Cerro Amigos rewards the effort on a clear day with a view of the Volcan Arenal, 20 kilometers away. The residents of Monteverde hold an annual music festival (between December and March) featuring a program of classical and jazz concerts. The best time to go, considering the annual rainfall of 2,500 mm which guarantees high humidity, is between December and April. Quetzals are usually to be seen in the higher elevations of the cloud forest between February and May, especially in the early evening hours following the sunset. Those who want to avoid crowds should visit Monteverde during the rainy season.
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