Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries on Earth. And one of the best ways to explore its natural heritage is by taking a road trip across some of the country’s National Parks. Driving in Costa Rica is easy and there is plenty to see along the way.
We rented a car at Liberia airport and set course for the Continental Divide for some wildlife watching in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
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Las Pumas Wildlife Rescue Center
We had half a day to get to Monteverde, so we took our time stopping first at Las Pumas Wildlife Rescue Center and then at a waterfall along the way for an afternoon swim.
Las Pumas was on our itinerary because it houses five out of six Costa Rica’s wild cats: Jaguar, Puma, Jaguarundi, Ocelot, and Margay. It was a good opportunity to have a close look at the cats since the chances of spotting most of them in the wild were pretty slim.
Inevitably, I fell in love with a margay that lounged in its enclosure in such a relaxed manner that it appeared to have melted down the branch it was lying on.
Back on the road we soon reached the foothills of Costa Rica’s continental divide and as the road started to climb the scenery began to change quite dramatically.
The rural countryside was replaced with lush green forest, cloaked in low hanging clouds and fog. The road clung to the sides of mountains and the edges of deep canyons where clouds hung below the level of the road. The air became much cooler, which was a welcome relief.
By the time we arrived in Monteverde, it was already dark. Thankfully the owner of the Airbnb cottage we rented – Casa Inspiracion, provided us with very detailed driving instructions, so we found the house reasonably quickly.
It was too late to go on a night walk and we opted for a quick dinner in town and a shopping trip to the local grocer for breakfast ingredients.
In the morning, following a delicious home-made breakfast we headed to Santa Elena Reserve for a hike in the cloud forest.
The scenery in the cloud forest was quite magic, though it wasn’t particularly cloudy. In fact, it happened to be such a clear day that we were lucky enough to get clear views of Arenal Volcano from the viewing platform, which doesn’t happen very often.
Wildlife, generally, is difficult to spot in the rainforest and not-surprisingly we didn’t see much. We heard a few birds, but the only one we actually saw was the Black Guan. Probably simply because it’s a very large bird and it makes a lot of noise.
Back at the visitor center, there is a video monitor that plays footage from the camera traps in the area and I was happy to see a puma selfie.
There are plenty of fun things to do in Monteverde, but since we only had one full day in the area, we concentrated on wildlife watching hotspots.
After a very late lunch, we headed to Monteverde Reserve, to the Hummingbird Gallery. We hoped to spot an Olingo, but it didn’t show.
The hummingbirds, however, were out in force. Being there in that tiny garden surrounded by dozens upon dozens of tiny brilliantly colored birds, that beat their wings too fast for a human eye to see, was absolutely awe-inspiring. We were surrounded by Violet saberwing, Green-crowned brilliant, Stripe-tailed hummingbird, Coppery-headed emerald, Purple-throated mountain gem, Steely-vented hummingbird, Green violet-ear and a few Bananaquits.
I would’ve liked to stay at the gallery longer to see what animals visit the feeders at night, but it was closing and we also had to rush to join the spotlighting walk that we booked with Kinkajou night walk outfit in town.
The night walk should’ve been the perfect opportunity for wildlife watching in Monteverde, but in reality, it was quite disappointing. The reserve was very crowded and the guides were uninterested. As a result, we only saw two mammals: Two-toed sloth and Dwarf Mexican hairy porcupine. We missed a Kinkajou because our guide chose to spend 20 minutes next to the resident tarantula.
Apart from mammals, we spotted a pair of Stripe sided palm pit vipers, an exquisite Eyelash viper, Speckled racer, Red-eyed stream frog, and Emerald tucanet, or rather a barely identifiable part of one.
The following morning we woke up to the views of a thick blanket of fog hanging low over the mountains. That was the weather much more typical of a cloud forest. Our drive down the mountain, on the way back to the Pacific coast, was interrupted by frequent stops to photograph or simply enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Species List Monteverde
You can take a day tour to Monteverde from San Jose or you can visit the park independently to allow yourself more time for exploration.
It is an easy 35km drive from San Jose. There is also a public bus service from San Jose to Santa Elena that departs twice a day (6.30am and 2.30pm). From Santa Elena you can take a taxi to the reserve.
Recommended Wildlife Guides
Check out the amazing wildlife we spotted on our trip to Costa Rica