Full details coming soon!
Full details coming soon!
Full details coming soon!
Full details coming soon!
Day four of our honeymoon was our last full day in Monteverde. We slowed the pace down a bit and spent a fair amount of time relaxing at the lodge after our morning trek to Curi-Cancha.
Curi-Cancha Refugio de Vida Silvestre
We enjoyed our guide Dennis so much at the monteverde preserve that we requested him from our concierge service for our morning tour at Curi Cancha. This preserve wasn't technically in the cloud forest but it had a greater diversity of habitat types which is always helpful for finding different types of birds and animals. We got our first good looks at the Agoutis, they're a type of rodent but on the same level of cuteness as a squirrel. To me, they look like they're walking on high heels. We didn't find any monkeys until we left curi cancha and stopped at a roadside cafe. They were all over. It was a smart move by our guide, who was also entertaining some less passionate travelers.
Trees and fungi at Curi-Cancha. Not photo'd were the swarm of army ants that we came across on a trail, after suddenly realizing we had ants on our legs. Our guide told us how the ants roam the forest floor, pretty much devouring everything in their path. The birds tend to follow the swarms around to take advantage of the fleeing insects. Later at the lodge I found some really long trails of leaf cutter ants.
Some bird highlights from Curi Cancha were parrots, several hummingbirds, Elegant Euphonia, Mottled Owls, Collared Trogon, and Northern Emerald-Toucanet. I also got my lifer Golden-winged Warbler, something that is a possible find in some parts of Texas during migration.
I did some birding back at the lodge as well spotting a zone-tailed hawk and a good look at the Chestnut-capped Warbler.
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner at the Lodge
All of our meals at the Monteverde Lodge were stellar. Except one. Jess and I were excited for our last dinner at the lodge, I had decided on an eggplant dish and Jess wanted a steak. Jess was complimenting my Spanish, how I had exceeded her expectations and how comfortable I seemed to be when I spoke it, correctly or incorrectly. Well maybe I had let it get to my head because I decided to order of the Spanish menu which was completely separate, albeit identical, to the English Menu. To our dismay, I accidently ordered the sea bass instead of the steak for Jess. Neither of us really liked it but I owned my mistake. The eggplant wasn't our favorite either. Every other meal was rather exceptional in large part to the dining atmosphere and wonderful staff.
Sky Adventures - Sky Walk & Sky Tram
Even with Jess's former zipline career, extreme adventure activities were off limits for our trip because Jess was about 33 weeks pregnant. This made the Sky Adventures hanging bridges and tram sound like a great alternative. We got shuttled to the property and were the first ones on the trail through a series of 6 suspended bridges. Thanks to our great introduction to Monteverde birding the day before, I was on the top of my game for finding and identifying birds. I was solid on the trails but not so much on the bridges, they were SHAKY! I think Jess had to constantly resist the urge to shake and wobble the bridge, which wasn't a laughing matter for me. By the end I got fairly comfortable but the longest bridge was 774 feet across and having to pass strangers was scary - just having to go completely to one side of the bridge when I wanted to stay put right in the middle.
The tram was like a closed ski lift and is mainly used to get all of the zippers to the top of the mountain who then proceed to zipline down back down. Fortunately for us, they have an option to tram up, take a look around the top of the mountain, and take the tram back down. There was a tall observation tower at the very top which offered some pretty expansive views but it did start to get a little windy and I quickly felt like I was starting to exceed my capacity for heights and exposure.
These first photos are of us!
The hanging bridges and observation tower offered many more vistas than normally found throughout the forest habitats.
Before I unload all the bird photos, there were some good looks at other critters and fungi. I got my first good looks at a coati in the parking lot!! They're like raccoons, but cuter and not nocturnal.
Last but not least, the birds from our hanging bridges hike! When reviewing my photos back home I found 4 or 5 more "lifers" (birds observed for the first time in my life) that I had misidentified in the field and ended up being new species that hadn't been reported or documented by me on any of my lists throughout the trip. It was nice to get some looks and photos of birds that I had only heard the day before.
Exploring the lodge and a stroll through town
After the hanging bridges we went back to the lodge to relax around the gardens. Jess had an artistic vision of looking into this big agave-type plant a la Alice in Wonderland but we just ended up laughing at how silly they came out and how far from her vision they were. We also had a close encounter with the resident coati that transformed Jess into a stereotypical Aussie in the Outback.
Impromptu maternity shoot with my beautiful wife and baby mama! I think I captured Jess's post-massage energy pretty well :D
Tuesday evening we walked down to Santa Elena, about a 10 minute walk from the lodge, to do some shopping and have dinner. We found some fun murals and got a few souvenirs for ourselves and family. Dinner was good, we sat on the patio at a restaurant that only had 5 tables. We felt fortunate to just walk up and get a table because we watched countless people get turned away or get a 30 minute wait because they were full.
After dinner we walked back up to the lodge and while we were passing through the driveway something flew straight towards Jess and spooked her pretty good. I was pretty sure it was an owl so we grabbed my camera, got a pair of flashlights from reception, and went back to find it. And we did! A beautiful mottled owl. Jess held the flashlights while I took the photos. We make a great team. After the owl we spent some time in the gardens doing our own DIY night tour which resulted in plenty of frogs, sleeping birds (a toucanet!), and a big ol' huntsman spider. That wrapped another amazing day in Costa Rica!
Our Honeymoon Adventure
Jess and I got married in the park next to our home on September 26, 2021 with a small group of friends and family. We waited until Jess's winter break from school to embark on a to-be unforgettable honeymoon adventure, even knowing Jess would be 33 weeks pregnant!
Our original plan was Hawaii but we were getting mixed signals about the state's readiness for tourism and hostility from the locals. The next idea came from Jess's brother and sister-in-law, Harrison and Linda, who enjoyed their honeymoon in Costa Rica eight years ago and had a great time.
I personally did not know what Costa Rica had to offer. I didn't even start looking at what birds we could expect to find until two weeks before our trip. All I knew was that I wanted an eco-lodge/resort type of experience and to explore the cloud forests and tropical jungle habitats. Jess and I agreed that because we see enough of the Pacific coast during our family visits to Santa Barbara, California we would focus on the unique cloud forests found in Costa Rica which are vastly unlike anything to be found in the United States.
Our flight to Costa Rica began on Saturday evening (12/18) in Austin and arrived to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) in the early morning on Sunday 12/19. Our layover was delayed a couple hours while waiting for the flight crew to arrive from another plane and we didn't arrive at SJO until around 3 AM. We caught a cab to an airbnb and crashed out. We were both quite frazzled by the rough, sleepless, flights and barely avoided a snafu in finding our airbnb.
We did our best to catch some sleep and woke up with a little time to compose ourselves before our private shuttle to Monteverde arrived at 11:30. Jess wanted to see the neighborhood we were in, in Alajuela, and stop by a bakery so we went for a short walk only to find the bakery closed and settled for a corner store bottle of water. We walked around a little more, thought about seeing what the town square looked like but the constant BRAP of autos and motorbikes, and limited crosswalks and narrow sidewalks had us turn back to our tiny airbnb refuge. We caught our ride in a nice SUV, spoke a little Spanish, and immediately began to feel our tensions wane as we approached the countryside. The route to Monteverde wasn't too crazy, I was worried about road conditions all throughout the trip, which influenced our decision to not to rent a car, but getting to Monteverde would have been doable. It's a 2.5 - 3 hour drive depending on traffic. We went from about 3,000 ft up to 4,200 ft along some impressive and steep jungle terrain.
Monteverde Lodge and Gardens
Our accommodations for the next four nights were at Monteverde Lodge and Gardens, an eco-lodge in Santa Elena/Monteverde right on the edge of a large forest and within a 10-min walk to the town center. We had a forest-view balcony, impressive trails and gardens to explore, a fantastic restaurant, and AMAZING staff. Our whole experience in Costa Rica was really underscored by the exceptional accommodations we had here at the lodge. From the concierge services to the restaurant staff who all knew us by name, and the beautiful facilities (and birds!), we were in heaven. After putting our bags down our first order of business was a lunch snack, followed by a walk around the garden, enjoying the sunset from our balcony, and getting cleaned up to enjoy one of many delicious dinners to come.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve
We scheduled three days worth of activities with the lodge staff and started things with a bang, a guided tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. Before departing, we had room service breakfast and kicked off our day of birding with some Brown-hooded Parrots seen from our balcony.
The Monteverde Preserve is known for its cloud forest habitat and staggering diversity of plants and animals. Cloud forests occur at high elevations and typically receive more condensation from clouds than actual precipitation. Climate change is a threat to this unique habitat by increasing the temperature and rainfall in the forest.
While I was busy carrying around a 500mm camera lens to take photos of birds, Jess captured the grandeur of the forest at all scales. Massive trees tower over the forest floor and each one, its own little universe of diverse plants and animals. Each tree can host over 70 different other plant species, like various bromeliads, and thousands of individual plants.
Our guide, Dennis, was a very enthusiastic local and naturalist who was even more of a birder than I am. He lead us through a network of trails in search of the Resplendent Quetzal (which we never managed to find on the whole trip) and pointed out the sights and sounds of all manners of plants and wildlife. One of the highlights was the haunting calls of a Howler Monkey which greatly made up for the poor looks we got. Getting photos and good looks were a bit of a challenge overall due to the dark damp environment. A number of birds were only ever heard.
After hiking through the trails for a few hours we were delighted by a completely different experience. The Hummingbird Gallery. It's basically a gift shop at the entrance to the preserve with constantly maintained hummingbird feeders providing front row views of STUNNING hummingbirds. Shooting hummingbirds at a feeder is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel so I mainly focused on birds perching in the surrounding shrubbery. These birds let you get within a foot or two and it's quite an experience.
Finca Ecológica - San Luis
After our guided walk through the Monteverde Preserve, Dennis offered to extend our tour with a private trip to the nearby Finca Ecológica in San Luis, a place with a known Ornate Hawk-Eagle nest. We walked the grounds of the farm (Finca) which had a dramatic bluff over the river, fruit set out for birds, sugarcane and banana/plantain fields, and a "restaurant" where the owner served us a typical Costa Rican lunch. Did I mention monkeys? There were White-faced Capuchin Monkeys munching on sugarcane. We had the whole place to ourselves and had a much better time getting good looks at all of the birds we were finding. It was a really nice experience to have what felt like a very local and authentic experience.
The "bird feeder", a platform with fresh fruit, was amazing. We saw dozens of birds the moment we stepped out of the car, one of our favorites being the Northern Emerald-Toucanet. There were also crazy birds like the King Vulture flying over, and birds just out of this world like the Montezuma Oropendola, Long-tailed Manakin, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, and of course the Ornate Hawk-Eagles. Jess, in her amazing ways, spotted a perched Ornate Hawk-Eagle from the parking lot (and far from the nest) giving us nice looks at both birds in the breeding pair.
After Finca Ecológica we kept driving down the river valley to make a big loop back to our lodge in Santa Elena/Monteverde. We birded the whole way and racked up even more great birds like the Masked Tityra, Common Tody-Flycatcher, and Squirrel Cuckoo. Pulling over in the middle of a winding mountain road almost seems normal in Costa Rica. Our guide didn't hesitate to stop for any possible glimpse of a cool bird.
Refugio de Vida Silvestre - Night Tour
We hadn't planned for the whole second half of the day to be dedicated to birding because we had already booked a night tour of the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge. This is a popular place for night tours to find snakes, frogs, mammals, and a whole host of other critters. We saw three types of snakes, several sleepy snory birds, and a furry blob that we are told was the back of a sleeping sloth. The snakes hang in the trees, motionless, waiting for a possible meal and it's amazing the guides can find them. The birds and frogs are a little easier to find, which we would go on to find several of our own at the lodge on another night. Highlights were the Eyelash Viper and Keel-billed Toucan.
An incredible first day with 77 species of birds (65 lifers) and all kinds of other amazing views, plants, and wildlife, was topped off with a great dinner at the lodge and a surprise from the kitchen staff. The server took our photo and told us to say "Pura Vida!" which is why we have such funny expressions on our faces :)
The full list of birds seen and photographed can be viewed in this eBird trip report.