Location 6: Monteverde (Costa Rica)
Cloud forest, Resplendant Quetzal, hummingbirds.
Play Costa Rica Birdwatching Bingo as you explore.
Monteverde is (slightly confusingly) the name of the general area, the town at its centre and one of the local nature reserves. The famous photographs of the cloud forest are from the cloudy days when it looks its best.
It is at an elevation of approximately 1,500m which means it is colder than lowland Costa Rica. This can make it very pleasant for those not used to the high temperatures in the rest of the country. However, this also means that there is less wildlife to see relative to lower elevations.
This is a popular place with general tourists which means accommodation is easy to find. In the evenings I met many disappointed general tourists who thought they would see more wildlife, but by getting up early and exploring away from the main trails I still managed to see plenty.
There are vast tracts of protected forest in the Monteverde area and the local organisations are described as international pioneers in conservation. However, visitors do not have access to most of the protected forest so it is important to manage your expectations.
- Site 1: Curi-Cancha In my opinion the best reserve at Monteverde in terms of variety. (GPS coords 10.3049N 84.8092W)
- Site 2: Santa Elena A stunning cloud forest experience. (GPS coords 10.3435N 84.7963W)
- Site 3: Monteverde Reserve Famous, but perhaps not as good as some of the other local reserves. (GPS coords 10.3026N 84.7956W)
- Site 4: Walk to the TV Transmitters An adventurous walk to get to know this location better. (GPS coords 10.3111N 84.8134W)
- Site 5: Bajo del Tigre Trails Set of trails through the forest. (GPS coords 10.3057N 84.8117W)
- Birds Seen in 1 Week at Monteverde (Winter)
This information is a summary only and times/routes may have changed.
If you are coming by public transport and following one of my recommended itineraries you will probably need to catch a bus to Puntarenas and then change to catch the bus to Monteverde. The Monteverde bus can be caught from the road outside the bus station with approximately 3 buses a day. While waiting 2 hours for my connection I watched Sandwich Terns feeding over the sea around the cruise ship pier and pelicans flying past. The bus company that operates this route seems to have minimal advertising/timetable information, however there was a sign on the bus-stop and a telephone number (645 5159).
If you are coming from Arenal without a hire car then you can take the "bus-ferry-bus" that goes across the lake. Additionally, many operators will upgrade this to include a visit to Cano Negro. In 2017 this cost approximately $30 direct or $80 via Cano Negro.
There is a bus to the Santa Elena reserve that departs regularly from the centre of the town of Monteverde. I chose to walk back after visiting Santa Elena and I saw some good birds by doing this. If you take the bus to Santa Elena you can see how far it is and therefore decide if you want to walk back!
To travel towards Monteverde Reserve there are regular buses that you can easily find out about from your accommodation or from the information centre in the middle of town. I found that the Monteverde Reserve was realistic to walk to in the morning; although I am a fairly keen walker! Definitely the Curi-Cancha Reserve, Bajo del Tigre Trails and the TV Transmitter walk are possible for a lot of people without relying on the bus.
If you want to take taxis the shorter distances mean they are more affordable however the buses are incredibly good and the drivers are very used to tourists so it feels easy.
This is a Crested Guan with its crest down.
Birds of Monteverde
- possible birds: 156 species (of which 52 are likely)
- birds possible at this location but not in many other places in Costa Rica: (1 species) Canivet's Emerald (Chlorostilbon canivetii)
- resident birds: 122 (in addition there are 14 passage, 20 winter and 0 summer)
- birds seen on 1 week research trip (winter): 84 species
- birds most often seen on 1 week research trip (winter): (starting with most common) Common Bush-Tanager (Chlorospingus ophthalmicus) 14x3 (m6), Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) 10x6 (m30), Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) 9x2 (m2), Gray-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucophrys) 8x2 (m2), Three-striped Warbler (Basileuterus tristriatus) 8x2 (m3), Spangle-cheeked Tanager (Tangara dowii) 8x2 (m3), Slate-throated Redstart (Myioborus miniatus) 7x2 (m2), Yellowish Flycatcher (Empidonax flavescens) 6x1 (m1), Black-faced Solitaire (Myadestes melanops) 6x1 (m1), Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 5x1 (m1), Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis) 5x2 (m3), Brown Jay (Cyanocorax morio) 5x3 (m4), Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus fuscater) 5x1 (m1), Emerald Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus prasinus) 4x2 (m2), Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) 4x2 (m2), Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) 3x2 (m3), King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) 3x3 (m6), Blue-crowned Motmot (Momotus momota) 3x1 (m1), Spotted Barbtail (Premnoplex brunnescens) 3x1 (m1), Tufted Flycatcher (Mitrephanes phaeocercus) 3x2 (m3), Plain Wren (Thryothorus modestus) 3x1 (m1), Tennessee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina) 3x1 (m1), Golden-crowned Warbler (Basileuterus culicivorus) 3x1 (m1), Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala) 3x2 (m2), Yellow-faced Grassquit (Tiaris olivaceus) 3x2 (m2), Chestnut-capped Brush Finch (Arremon brunneinucha) 3x2 (m2)
- average birds seen in 1 day (winter): 24 species
Monteverde is very commercialised and I am a bit unsure of places like this: I always think that there must be better birdwatching off the beaten track. However, my experience of Monteverde is that despite the commercialisation it is still amazing for keen birdwatchers. The commercialisation seems to be mainly driven by the local wildlife conservation organisations having learnt how to attract tourists and make money. Whilst the reserves might seem to charge a lot, the money is going to conservation and that seems to me to be a good thing. Accommodation, food and transport were still similar prices to the rest of the country.
If you choose to walk between the local sites (or if you have a hire car and do some stop-offs while driving around) there are more birdwatching opportunities along the rural roads. For example, I got some excellent views of tanagers and hummingbirds while walking back from San Elena.
The town of Monteverde is not too heavily developed and shares many of the birds you would expect in open areas. If you are keen on seeing parrots/parakeets I recommend getting up early and having an explore from your accommodation before breakfast (assuming you are not up early exploring elsewhere which is possibly a better idea anyway) as I found this to be the best time to identify them before they get more flighty and difficult to see.
Black-faced Solitaire sound like a rusty hinge.
One of the main bird songs to listen out for in the forests is the Black-faced Solitaire: it sounds like a rusty hinge and I heard it throughout the Monteverde area. They are seen at low/middle heights in the trees. I found the sound difficult to locate and I always saw Black-faced Solitaires because they moved and I never managed to track them down from their call.
Generally, the forests at Monteverde have more birds than higher in the mountains/volcanoes and fewer birds than in the lowlands. This is not a surprise: forests become less productive the higher the elevation. Compared to the lowlands the plants grow more slowly (partly because it is colder) and so there is less food for the insects and fewer birds to eat the insects. For birdwatchers, the lower productivity of the forest means that it is harder to see birds: Monteverde is a famous place for birds but it is important to manage your expectations compared to lower-elevation places elsewhere in Costa Rica.
This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on June 2017.
Even more articles including detailed site descriptions, illustrated wildlife-watching activities, self-guided walks, itinerary recommendations, birdwatching overviews and mammal-watching overviews are available in the premium eBooks.