68Costa Rica's location directly on the Tropic of Cancer, combined with a mountainous central ridge, creates the perfect conditions for cloudforest. Such ecosystems are created when warm, moist air is driven upwards to cooler elevations. Since cool air holds less moisture, the excess humidity forms tiny droplets, mist and clouds. This persistent and frequent low-level cloud cover forms a unique environment, which is a haven for rare flowers and provides ideal growing conditions for hundreds of species of tree, epiphyte and moss. Costa Rica's cloudforests are renowned for their rich and varied birdlife, which is the principle reason to visit for most people. In fact, nearly 500 species of bird are thought to inhabit the reserves throughout the country, the most sought after of which is the resplendent quetzal, usually seen between January and April. If your interests are broader then carefully selecting the reserve you visit can open up many more opportunities including strolls along hanging walkways through the treetop canopies, zip-lining tours, visiting snake or butterfly farms, fishing or night walks. Our specialists have extensively researched the country's better-known reserves as well as those a little more off the beaten track, enabling them to select the best region to suit your interests, timeframe and budget.Monteverde Cloudforest ReserveCosta Rica's best known cloudforest reserve, Monteverde straddles the central mountain ridge. Popular due to its proximity to Arenal Volcano it can be reached via a scenic crossing of Lake Arenal followed by a road journey. There are now two reserves, the original Monteverde Reserve and the newer Santa Elena Reserve. The former is the last sizeable pocket of primary cloudforest in Central America and supports six different ecosystems. Within its borders are an estimated 2,500 species of plant, around 500 of which are orchid, 490 species of butterfly and over 400 species of bird. It is a fabulous place for walking, especially in the morning when shrouds of mist drape the forests and the birdlife is at its most active. Adrenaline junkies will love flying through the forest along a system of zip-wires and walking along elevated walkways through the canopy. For slower paced excursions, there are hummingbird gardens where feeders attract dozens of different species of this delicate bird. Butterfly, snake and frog gardens also showcase the diversity of these species in the region.Santa Elena Cloudforest ReserveSanta Elena is the quieter reserve with over 13 kilometres of trails, two viewpoints overlooking the vast forest canopy (you can see Arenal Volcano on a clear day) and an observation tower. This reserve is an excellent option for those who are after a more tranquil experience of walking through the forest, which resounds with a vast array of bird calls. Hotel Belmar, near MonteverdeThe family-run Hotel Belmar is comprised of two buildings constructed in the style of a Swiss chalet. The hotel is extremely warm and welcoming, has its own nature trail and benefits from beautiful views. There are 28 great value rooms in total as well as a small outdoor Jacuzzi and restaurant.Resplendent quetzalCloudforests of Costa RicaWalking in the Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve
www.audleytravel.com/costarica l 01993 838 665 l Costa Rica 69El Silencio Lodge, near Bajos del ToroDantica Cloudforest Lodge, San Gerardo de DotaViolet sabrewing, MonteverdeZip-lining, MonteverdeSavegre River, San Gerardo de DotaVilla Blanca, near San Ramón El Establo, near MonteverdeEl Establo is a family-owned hotel with 155 tastefully decorated rooms. All are well equipped with modern facilities. Whilst not the most characterful of hotels, it does boast large living rooms, two restaurants, a solar heated pool (the only one in the Monteverde region), Jacuzzi, spa, private cloudforest trails and on site zip-lines. Rooms enjoy an elevated position on the hillside with excellent views down to the Nicoya Peninsula and gorgeous sunsets on clear days. The hotel is well placed, equidistant between the Monteverde and Santa Elena cloudforest reserves.San RamónSan Ramón is well known in Costa Rica for its tight knit community which has been home to three former presidents. Rolling hills and pastures give way to pristine tropical cloudforest in the highlands, noted for their variety of epiphytes, mosses and over 225 species of bird, including the colourful long-tailed resplendent quetzal. This remote pocket of cloudforest, combined with a location that is one hour from the international airport, creates a hidden gem for visitors wanting to experience this unique ecosystem. Villa Blanca, near San RamónVilla Blanca is located high above San Ramón in the beautiful Los Angeles Cloudforest Reserve - a private reserve belonging to the property. Scattered throughout the landscaped gardens are a total of 35 'casitas', spacious adobe style bungalows with terracotta roofs. Each is cosy and smartly presented with a fireplace or terrace and en suite bathrooms. The property also has an excellent spa and the restaurant boasts views to Arenal on clear days. It is possible to arrange zip-lining, horse riding and various guided walks from the hotel.Bajos del ToroHidden in Costa Rica's central volcanic region, Bajos del Toro is a small, relatively unknown town, around 90 minutes by road from San José. It is surrounded by lush foliage full of tumbling waterfalls and hundreds of species of bird, butterfly and plant. This area is an excellent option for those who want to relax and appreciate the 'silence' of nature. Whilst birdwatching and activity options are a touch more limited here, it is a picturesque area to escape the crowds and stay in a beautiful lodge, enjoy easy walks or simply relax. El Silencio Lodge, near Bajos del ToroEl Silencio Lodge is an eco-friendly sanctuary in the heart of the cloudforest. It is tucked deep inside a private reserve with gently flowing streams and hidden waterfalls. There are 16 luxurious suites, each with a private outdoor Jacuzzi and balcony. The chef serves up delicious organic creations and the wonderful spa offers a variety of treatments to help you unwind. The property has some fabulous walking trails through the forest to view the birdlife. This is a truly peaceful hideaway, yet very accessible, being close to San José and within easy reach of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí and Arenal.San Gerardo de DotaThe sleepy hamlet of San Gerardo de Dota is a tiny farming community that sits in the narrow valley of the Savegre River, three hours' drive south of San José. It is particularly well known amongst the world's birdwatching community. Those who visit are rewarded with year-round sightings of the resplendent quetzal as well as a number of other bird species including tanagers, woodpeckers and hummingbirds. The Los Quetzales National Park located here is a much quieter alternative to other areas of cloudforest in Costa Rica. Besides being a paradise for nature lovers and hikers, the Savegre River is an excellent place to undertake a spot of trout fishing. Dantica Cloudforest Lodge, San Gerardo de DotaThis small lodge offers eight simple bungalows dotted around a pretty garden with stunning views of the dense cloudforest. All rooms benefit from a private terrace, huge floor to ceiling windows and a Jacuzzi, mini bar and portable heaters for the cool evenings. Located inside the private Los Santos Forest Reserve with its five kilometres of walking trails, Dantica is also the closest accommodation to the Los Quetzales National Park.