Central America

Costa Rica

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Santa Elena

When organising this trip I was constantly trying to get the price down and spent a while tussling with my tour operator about the choice of hotel to use here (thanks for being so patient, Carol!). They suggested the Arco Iris garni (this means it's a B&B, no restaurant or bar).

Sky Walk - head for heights? All things considered it was probably as good as it gets (and better than what I was suggesting) in this part of Costa Rica, high up in the cloud forest. No it's not foggy all the time, it's just high in altitude which was great because the temperature was more like an English summer's day. No sweating!

The downside was that there was nowhere to eat at the B&B itself, not even to have a quick drink before (or after) dinner so we took manager Robert's advice and tried Morphos restaurant in the town. This was a goldmine and quickly became a favourite of ours. The meals were reasonable (no way as cheap as Arenal, but still OK, about 2000 colones or less a meal, about 4 quid or 6 dollars) and very, very nice.

The waiters were accommodating with me practicing my Spanish, friendly and even accepted VISA cards. Except I had left mine in Arenal hadn't I? This is where I found out. So I paid in cash and backtracked where my VISA card was. Because the guys at Soda La Parada had forgotten to give me my card back, I asked Robert to phone them which he did and yes, they had it and were carefully looking after it. As my tour operator was not bringing anyone to Monteverde in the next 3 days the best they could offer was to collect it and hold it in San Jose for me. Better than nothing but inconvenient. Robert then said he knew of a horseback trek that was coming from Arenal the next day, and he would see if they could pick it up. Sounded like a bit of long shot to me, but various phone calls during the day and voila! he handed over my VISA card.

Just to show what a small world it is, the people running the horseback trek were the from the (British run) Internet cafe under Morphos restaurant! Thanks all round again folks, you really went above and beyond the call of customer care!

Things you ought to know about this place

1. Everyone does the Skywalk ($15) or Sky trek ($more) through the cloud forest. There is plenty of information on the Internet about these. Tip: don't do either in the lashing rain or you will feel as cold and wet as I did. Bring a poncho or borrow one from the centre (free use).

2. Visit the butterfly garden here in Santa Elena. Not only does it contain a guided tour of all the butterflies (and caterpillars) it also has an insect exhibition where you can touch and hold stick insects, elephant beatles, scorpions, tarantulas and much much more. OK, I was kidding. They don't let you hold the scorpion or the tarantula. We joined a small group of people from Holland. Inge the tour guide was also Dutch. But as we were English (and obviously could not speak Dutch) the whole tour was in perfect English. Hey, I speak German and Spanish. What would I want to speak Dutch for? Anyway, HIGHLY recommended.

3. Visit the frog exhibition (Ranarium). Guided tour with bilingual guide, really gives you information you never knew was so interesting. Easily walkable from town centre (but not if it's torrential mud, grab a 4x4 cab instead). Recommended.

4. You're in Monteverde Cloud Forest land so you might as well do the obligatory trek through that forest (cab ride away). We found it boring (no wildlife) even though we got there at 7am, and hard work with lots of up and down stepped pathways. Highlight was watching the humming birds at the feeders by the entrance and the Coati that came looking for food.

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