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Costa Rica: Puntarenas – Monteverde; ziplines and hanging bridges

The mountainous jungles of Monteverde are beautiful and verdent and ideal for exploring from the rainforest's canopy, either from the famous hanging bridges or by high adrenaline ziplines

Until recently, little was known about life on the tops of tropical forests, as it was nearly impossible to get so high. Early explorers used ropes and pulleys or ladders carved into tree trunks to make their way up. Today, biologists explore the forest canopy using towers, suspension bridges and construction cranes.

Biologists now know that about 90 per cent of all organisms in a rainforest are found in the canopy. The sun that barely reaches the forest floor strikes treetops with full force, fueling the photosynthesis that eventually results in leaves, fruit and seeds. Since there’s a bounty of good food way up there, animals abound in the canopy as well.

Today, the trail systems through the rainforests of Monteverde include bridges that span canyons and drainages and bring visitors face to face with the upper level of the Monteverde rainforest canopy.

Selvatura

The road to Selvatura is rough and pot-holed, whilst we could have taken a shared bus ride there we opted to take our small Kia compact along for the ride. It was raining heavily, not unusual for this area, which made it all the more exciting – but not so much that we needed a 4×4 vehicle.

The rain was steady, not a downpour, and as is the case in Costa Rica it was a warm rain, not like we’d be experiencing back home, where it had been snowing heavily. 

The plan for the day had been to start with ziplining before heading out onto the trails and the hanging bridges. 

To be honest, I am not very adventurous when it comes to things like ziplining, and the prospect of doing this in the rain was not appealing. On the other hand, Karen is very much up for anything, so I headed off for the dryness of the cafe, while Karen headed out into the jungle all harnassed up.

 A couple of hours later she returned, slightly bedraggled but with a big smile on her face. She had loved it, the only thing that had caused her some concern was the jungle swing, which she did, and thought that it was the highlight of the tour! After listening to her tales I was sorry that I hadn’t overcome my fears to do the zipline course.

After her zip-lining adventure, Karen needed to dry out and get warm, so soup and coffee were the order of the day. Refreshed, we decided to head out on the trails and check out the hanging bridges. I had been wary of the zip-lines, and as I don’t have much of a head for heights I was also concerned about how I would find the hanging bridges. Luckily, they are very sturdy and there is not much sway as you cross them. 

The Treetop Walkway is a peaceful 1.9-mile trail through the cloud forest combining forest trails interconnected with 8 bridges ranging from 170 ft up to an amazing 560 ft in length. You can take this trail as a self-guided tour or with a guide. We decided to take the trail without a guide, but if you want to learn more about the forest and spot wildlife then it would be a good idea to travel with a guide.

The trail itself is wide and mostly level, so it is an easy hike. The rain forest itself is stunning; thick and verdant. Occasionally, there was a break in the forest and you would get beautiful views across a valley. The best views were undoubtedly from the hanging bridges as they crossed the canyons.

The thick rain forest that lines the trail
The throngs emerging from a fern
Crossing a hanging bridge
Its a long way down!
The longest hanging bridge in Selvatura Adventure Park
A large caterpillar on the trail

There are other things to do in Selvatura Adventure Park, including a butterfly park, a reptile and amphibian exhibition and a sloth sanctuary. We decided not to do these, but you could easily take a whole day exploring Selvatura. There are packages available that cover all the options for the various tours.

Planning your visit to Selvatura

Access to the 1968 Trail is about 25 minutes from La Fortuna on the western side of the volcano. From the downtown, you take Route 142 west towards Lake Arenal and then a left onto the dirt road leading to Arenal Volcano National Park and El Castillo. About 1.25 km (3/4 of a mile) down the road, you will find the visitors’ center and parking area for the 1968 Trail. The property is marked with a big sign on the left so you can’t miss it.

Address: 
Website:https://selvatura.com/
Telephone:T: +506 4001 7899
Hours: Open daily from 7 am – 4 pm
Fees:There are number of package options depending how much you want to do.

What to Wear/Bring

  • closed-toed shoes
  • rain jacket:
  • long pants
  • hat
  • sunscreen and sunglasses.
Tours
We decided to do the hike without a guide. The trail is well marked so you won’t get lost.
 
The advantage of a guided tour is that most will pick you up from your hotel and you will have someone with local knowledge to tell you about the history of the region and point our fauna and flora that you would likely miss – unless you are an expert!

Planning your trip to Monteverde

Santa Elena is about 140km (about 90 miles) from the capital San Jose and about 115km (70 miles) from Liberia. A shared ride will cost around $65 from San Jose & Liberia and will take about 4 hours. If you rent a car it will take about 3 hours. The roads approaching Monteverde from the west and south are paved and good from the west of the town.

We travelled from east, coming from La Fortuna / Arenal. As the crows flies they are close, but due to the mountains and the lake the journey by road is about 115km (70 miles) and takes 3 hours. One way of doing this is to take a ride to Arenal Lake from La Fortuna take a ferry across the lake and take a ride to Monteverde. The ferry is foot passengers only. This shared ride service starts at about $35.

We had a rental car so drove ourselves from La Fortuna. This route takes you north along highway 142 which follows the shoreline, offering tantalising views of the lake from time to time. After about and hour or so after leaving La Fortuna, you will arrive at the small town of Nuevo Arenal, which is a good pitstop if you are looking for somewhere to eat. 

Continuing on from Nuevo Arenal you’ll eventually reach the northern reach of Arenal Lake and start heading west. At the town of Tilarán we left the 142 and joined the 145. Up to this point I had thought the stories of the huge potholes and unpaved roads were tales from a time past, but over the next hour or so we realised that they are still very much a hazard. When I could take the time to not pay attention to the road, the countryside was amazing. We had climbed into the mountains. The road was extremely rough, but not something we hadn’t seen before. 

A lot of people recommend renting a 4×4 vehicle when travelling this part of the country. This is good advice, especially in the rainy season. We went in December so the main rains had stopped and did the whole journey in a little Kia sedan and made it through without incidence! Just think about your personal comfort on driving on unpaved roads with deep potholes.

Best time to visit Monteverde

Just like the rest of Costa Rica, Monteverde has a dry season (December to May, when prices tend to be higher and crowds bigger) and a wet season (May to December). Here, though, the terms are relative. Because the park is in a cloud forest, the mountaintop reserves and the twin towns below them are often enveloped in a hybrid of wind, rain, and fog, which forms when warm air blows in from the ocean and rises up to the summits of the Tilaráns. The months between August and November are particularly rainy,

Other things to do whilst in Monteverde

1. HIKE IN THE CLOUD FORESTS

The small town of La Fortuna, Costa Rica once again sits at the base of Arenal Volcano. A massive eruption in 1968 wipded out the town of La Fortuna, along with two neighboring towns. The town rebuilt, tapping into the underground river that was now being geothermally heated by the volcano to create dozens of natural hot springs in La Fortuna.

The hot springs in La Fortuna range from luxury to completely free.

2. VISIT A COFFEE PLANTATION

Touring the jungle in Arenal is one of the most popular things to go in the area. Mistico Hanging bridges allows you walk through the canopy of the the beautiful Costa Rican rainforest. 

The 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) hanging bridges trail has 10 regular bridges and 6 hanging ones with the tallest standing at 148 feet. The bridges allow for spectacular views of the rain forest and Arenal Volcano.

The hanging bridges trail is extremely well maintained and the bridges are in excellent shape so this is a hike for all ages. It is not too difficult: no steep hills and not many steps.

Where to stay in Monteverde

1. JAGUARUNDI LODGGE

During our stay in Monteverde we stayed at Jaguarundi Lodge, which is located outside the main town area of the small town of Santa Elena, the gateway to the cloud forests, but is close to the central bus station and a small shopping mall that has a supermarket, a bank, shops and some cafes and restaurants.
From Jaguarundi it is only a short drive to Monteverde Cloud forest and other attractions.

2. RAINBOW VALLEY LODGE COSTA RICA

This hotel has some of the best mountain views in Monteverde. There’s free WIFI, lush gardens, a scenic terrace, laundry facilities, free parking, and a tour booking desk. There’s an airport shuttle, family-style rooms, currency exchange, library, and bicycle hire.

3. CHIRA GLAMPING MONTEVERDE

This dome, luxury tent gets you as close to the forest as possible while still living lavishly. There is free WIFI, free parking, and a terrace overlooking the rainforest. There’s an outdoor fireplace, outdoor furniture, BBQ facilities, and a shuttle service. There’s an on-site hot tub, champagne/wine for purchase, and board games.

Each unit has an outdoor area and garden. Some units come equip with a dining area and/or a balcony. Guests will have a private bathroom with a shower, and access to an outdoor kitchen with a stove top, toaster, and fridge. 

This glamping property is located 1.4 miles from Sky Adventures Monteverde, and 2.2 miles from Selvatura Adventure Park. It’s 1.9 miles from Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.

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