Travel Wildlife

How good is wildlife watching in Costa Rica’s Monteverde?

The area around Monteverde is classified as cloud forest as it is at such a high altitude that the tops of the trees are lost in the clouds. The MV Cloud Forest Biological Reserve claims to have 2.5% of the world’s precious diversity and 10% of its plant life is endemic to that area. When you get off the bus in the village there are people waiting to sell you their rooms.

A woman offered me a cheap room including breakfast so I went with her. I chilled out during the day and booked a night walk in the cloud forest for the evening. I attempted to start to read Crime and Punishment but it was a bit too heavy for me.

The LP says that on a bad day MV can feel like ‘Disneyland in Birkenstocks’, luckily, it was quite sedate when I visited and I didn’t find that to be the case. It is a concern that it could be a victim of its own success as there must be more tourists than residents at times.

In the evening I was picked up for my Santa Maria night safari. As soon as we got there we saw a racoon and various agoutis running about. This made me suspicious that they must be feeding them. The agouti is found all over Latin America from Northern Argentina to Mexico and can thrive in both wet and dry forest climates.

They are diurnal (most active in the day) but I’ve generally seen them at night both here and at the rescue centre. They are valuable as seed spreaders as they eat mostly fruit and seeds, they bury them as well which makes them a cross between a squirrel and a deer. They also bark like dogs and kick each other like hares. 

The Northern racoon of CR is slightly smaller than its North American counterpart and is known as mapache by the Tico population. It means ‘one who takes everything in its hands’. Interestingly enough, North American racoons have colonised Germany, starting from Berlin and there are now thousands of them.

They ride public transport in the capital city and there are known as ‘wash bears’ because they apparently like to ‘wash’ their food before they eat it. In reality, this behaviour is thought to come from their propensity for eating aquatic food and is a ‘fixed action pattern’ which will die out in time. The Whig Party in America used the racoon as an emblem and that is where the racist slur ‘coon’ comes from.

On the walk itself, I saw a spider and a snake – oh my! He must have shown us some plantlife as well but that escapes me. The snake was a fer-de-lance viper which is unsurprisingly venomous. Apparently, 50% of snakebites come from this bugger. Fer-de-lance means ‘spearhead’ in French. In CR they are known as ‘Terciopelo’ which means ‘velvet’. 

There are 71 species of snake in MV and I cannot recall what this one was. The spider was an orange-kneed tarantula and judging from my google image search which all the show the same spider in the same hole he must be the most famous spider in the world.

Tarantulas get a tough time as they are used in Chinese medicine and in Mexico people kill them using pesticides or by pouring petrol into their burrows.

I saw that someone on TripAdvisor described the tour as ‘average but fun overall’ which pretty much sums it up. My friend Joe from earlier in the trip hated the tour saying the only thing ‘I saw was a racoon and I have one of those living in my roof’. The TripAdvisor folk saw coatis and sloths so I guess its the luck of the draw like all wildlife spotting.

Unfortunately, I had to go to the capital of San Jose in order to get the bus to Nicaragua. I had successfully avoided for the whole time but I had to deal with it now.

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