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Monteverde

 

Perhaps it’s the rugged dirt road, or maybe it’s because it’s perched up high in the cloud forest, with difficult access. It’s likely that it has something to do with the amount of biological diversity that thrives here, or it might just be that the colorful, friendly and warmly inviting locals are what make Monteverde a tropical utopia. All those reasons give Monteverde, Costa Rica a magnetic pull, continually drawing in a flow of visitors with its intense, mysterious tropical charm.  

Straddling the continental divide at 1440 meters (or 4662 feet), Monteverde, meaning “green mountain,” is often a day trip for folks visiting Santa Elena, but staying in Monteverde is perhaps the best way to see and experience the true essence of the town, which was founded in 1951 by a group of Quakers from North America. It is reported that this group was jailed for dodging the Korean War draft, and after their release they sought out a place to live which would cultivate peace and harmony: they found Monteverde. Back then, their goal was to buy land in Monteverde and clear some forest for daily farming. Soon after, it was realized that the forest cover was essential to protecting the locality and so 541-hectares were set aside for preservation.

In 1972, after studying birds in the cloud forest, George Powell, along with Monteverde resident Wilford Guidon, came together to create a reserve by adding 328 more hectares to the 541 already owned by the Quakers, and the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve was founded. With the preserve soon came a science observatory which soon hosted researchers from around the world studying the high biological diversity of plants and animals. Today, the Preserve covers 10,500 hectares, with 90 percent of it virgin forest, contains over 2,500 plant species—including 420 different kinds of orchids—100 species of mammals, 400 bird species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species and thousands of insects. With such a global presence in science community, residents found a way to incorporate the biological treasures and fame with its goal of a healthy self-governed community devoted to sustainable living practices.

As the visitors came so did the concept of eco-tourism, which Monteverde nearly conceptualized. A few eco-tourism snobs today will say Monteverde is a has been, considering the village saw a heyday in the early 1990s, when its popularity boosted it into the spotlight, only making it more popular. Other visitors will say it’s a nice town, but that there is nothing too exceptional to do, considering that the more exciting stuff happens down the road at Volcan Arenal, and others will say its too filled with travelers who want to go, just to say they’ve been. But the real Monteverde isn’t a place to discover, it’s a place to experience and the real experience of Monteverde is seeped in the town itself and the people who live there.

Since the village of Monteverde focuses on building and sustaining a strong community within itself and visitors, residents are extremely friendly, hospitable, honest and well-educated. Call it the Quaker influence, but locals want to share their town with you, and learn about yours, treating you as if you are long-lost family. To get a real glimpse of Monteverde, stay with a local family in their home and participate in community events as they do. A homestay always gives you insight to the culture you are visiting. Volunteer, even for a day, at the town’s school, or with one of the social organizations around town. Make sure to check out or even take a course at the Monteverde Institute (MVI), a community organization founded in 1986 by residents and visitors as a member-governed, Costa Rican non-profit educational association. The MVI is focused on the geographical, social and cultural reality of Monteverde communities. Its purpose is to incorporate community service at all levels.

To explore the cloud forest, you’ll need a trained guide, preferably one from a research station or a local that is a member of the Monteverde Guides Association, an organization that trains guides without any economic interests. Without an expert, you are likely to only see insects and hummingbirds, but a guide will be able to take you further into the cloud forest, off the well-worn trails to see howler monkeys and sloths. They’ll be able to school you in the large varieties of hummingbirds and medicinal plants as well.

Whatever reason compels you to visit Monteverde, remember that to understand Monteverde is to understand the people of this unique town. Monteverdians love their town so much, that visitors should feel lucky that they even let tourists in, but then again if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be the friendly, easy-going folks they naturally are. So, in a way, you can’t really be upset that residents have yet to approve paved roads, connecting it to the Panamerican Highway. It’s still a bumpy, dusty and scary two-hour ride up to the mountains. While no roads means no economic development, Monteverdians don’t seem too concerned, and why should they? For centuries people have naturally felt the town’s radiating charm and come looking for the peace they are likely to find.



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