Northern Region: Monteverde, Maleku Reserve and Caño Negro

Mist covers the town and the forest while tiny droplets of water merge with the sun’s rays to form magnificent rainbows set in the backdrop of the sky …

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the best natural reserves in the world, with thousands of species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects and plants. Monteverde was founded by Quakers from Alabama in the early 1950’s.

Monteverde is one of Costa Rica’s main tourist attractions, and there is plenty to be seen, both in the reserve and in the quiet nearby town of Santa Elena.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve protect the same rich ecosystems of the cloud forest in separate areas. Hiking is popular, and trails are well-kept. The Monteverde Reserve has three rustic shelters inside the protected area. This is a great option to spend a night close to the jungle.

The Children’s Eternal Forest, located 4 miles from Santa Elena, is Costa Rica’s largest private reserve in the country. Panoramic views of Arenal Volcano may be seen on clear days.

Options for observing flora and fauna include the Serpentario (snake observatory), the Butterfly Garden, the Orchid Garden and the Frog Pond.

The Frog Pond’s mission is to reveal the beauty of amphibians, as well as shed light on the important role they play in various ecosystems. Guided tours through terrariums offer models of the natural habitat of many fascinating creatures. Tours are offered both day and night, enabling visitors to witness wildlife habits as their surroundings change throughout the day. More than 20 species of frogs and other amphibians can be viewed from safely behind glassed walls.

Other activities include the Sky Trek, a secure system of trails and zip lines similar to canopy tours; the Ecological Farm and the Monteverde Cheese Factory.

Maleku Indigenous Reserve

Although the Costa Rican culture hasn’t retained many indigenous characteristics found in other Central American countries, the country was home to important native groups before the arrival of the European colonists. Yet, remaining descendants of the original inhabitants of Costa Rica continue to protect their way of life, traditions, languages and culture.

The largest remaining indigenous group is found in the Marauchietene Indigenous Reserve, in Guatuso. The reserve is an example of how communities can retain their ethnic heritage and still maintain contact with the rest of the population. Some 600 people from the Maleku tribe live on the reserve, residing in three main Palenques (similar to districts).

The Tonjibe Palenque is the most organized, and strives to promote knowledge of the indigenous way of life, including their religious practices, plantation methods and traditional medicine. The project is called Eco-Aventura Maleku, and offers visitors a typical lunch, a representation of one religious ceremony, a guided tour through the trails of their farm, a visit to a ranch, and plenty of handicrafts made by community residents.

Visitors are shown the traditional use of medicinal plants and indigenous social organization, and residents are more than willing to answer questions.

According to project coordinator Dagoberto Elizondo, the Malekus wish to convey a message to the world. That message states that we as humans should enjoy and benefit from nature, but we also have a responsibility to protect it. Human survival depends on it.

“Maleku, Maleku nane” (I am the Maleku people), “and I turn my face to Mother Earth because I need her protection,” refrains one of their ceremonial songs.

Caño Negro

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge protects 24,552 acres of damp and hot tropical forest. It is one of the most important wetlands in the world, officially recognized since 1991 as a wetland of international importance. The Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge and Río Frío are humid areas considered to be among the richest in biological diversity in Costa Rica. The area is home to a great variety of flora and fauna, as well as many migratory and endangered species. It is a bird-watchers paradise.

Among the most-sighted birds are the roseate spoonbill, wood stork, neo-tropic cormorant, white ibis, boat-billed heron, great egret, kingfisher and sparrow hawk. The area is also the habitat of the largest bird in Central America, the endangered Jabirus (Jabiru mycteria). Other animal species include the white-face and spider monkeys, reptiles such as lizards, turtles, caymans and iguanas, mammals like sloths, ocelots, tapirs, white-tailed deer and bats. Common wetland flora includes water lilies and the holillo palm.

The journey begins at about 6.25 miles from the Nicaraguan border. Caño Negro village is a two-hour boat ride from the refuge’s northern entrance. During the rainy season, the Río Frío floods a large part of the refuge, creating a lake that helps maintain the region’s ecosystem.

It is also one of the top three fresh-water spots for fishing tarpon, which usually resides in the ocean. The river is also good for fishing guapote (rainbow bass), gaspar (alligator gar) and other fish. Sportfishing is popular, competing with other well-known sportfishing regions, such as Tortuguero, in the Caribbean .

The wetland’s tranquility provides optimal conditions for spotting wildlife. Caño Negro is one of the best places to see wildlife in its natural habitat.

Travel Tips

While the climate varies throughout the day at Monteverde, it is mostly cool, so a waterproof jacket and some warm clothes are ideal, in addition to shorts, t-shirts, a flashlight and hiking shoes.

The town of Guatuso is about one-and-a-half hours from La Fortuna. Trips to the Maleku Reserve can be arranged at La Fortuna.

The Caño Negro refuge is located 131 miles from San José, in the lowlands of Los Chiles and Guatuso. The park is accessible all year-round, but a four-wheel-drive vehicle is needed during the rainy season. During the rainy months, the best way to visit the refuge is by boat or kayak. During the dry season, the best way to view wildlife (especially birds) is by kayak, hiking or horseback riding.

Previous Northern Region: La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano, Río Celeste and Venado Caves
Next Central Valley: Downtown San Jose
Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips

No matter how beautiful a destination may be, it needs easy access and be reachable within the limitations of an average vacation period. Costa Rica is only two and a half hours away from Miami!