Before we even arrived in Monteverde we had already made a lengthy list of what we wanted to fit into our week-long stay there. While discussing how to fit everything in, it became clear that Lauren wanted to go horseback riding more than Bryan did, and he wanted to fly through the air on a zipline more than she did. This actually was a blessing in disguise because after spending all of our time together for the past 5 weeks, we both needed a day to ourselves. But before we split up we decided to visit the hanging bridges because Bryan recalled from his previous trip here that they were a memorable experience and something unique to this area.
Hanging Bridges at Selvatura
There are also hanging bridges in the La Fortuna/Arenal area, but we figured if your going to do it might as well be in the cloud forest, one of natures most scarce types of forests. All of our research and conversations pointed us toward Selvatura because it is the only park located in the Santa Elena reserve which implied it was our best chance to see some wildlife. We listened to the recommendations and went there for the hanging bridges and Bryan did his ziplining there too because of a package deal they offered.
We started the morning very optimistic from all of the bird calls we were hearing with high hopes to see the elusive Quetzal bird. The hanging bridges offered a very unique perspective of the forest and we enjoyed walking above the canopy scouting for wildlife and soaking in the view of the clouds rolling over the tree tops. Bridge after bridge we continued hearing a lot of different bird calls and even some distant howler monkeys, but sadly we hardly saw any wildlife during our time there.
Perhaps we had built our expectations too high, but honestly it was a bit of a disappointment to us. Especially when looking back at how much wildlife we were surrounded by in the Puerto Viejo area plus the fact that the Monteverde area is known for it’s tremendous biodiversity. In hindsight I think we should have instead visited the actual Monteverde cloud forest reserve. There are no hanging bridges in the Monteverde cloud forest reserve, but I remember from my family trip years ago there are trails to hike and you get a splendid view of the Arenal volcano in the distance across the lake. However, I would still recommend Selvatura as the best hanging bridges in the area because they are located in the Santa Elena reserve so perhaps we were just unlucky with our visit.
The day after exploring the hanging bridges Bryan returned to Selvatura for the zipline tour while Lauren went horseback riding…
Horseback Riding Through Monteverde
Our hostel helped me book with Horse Trek Monteverde. They called Marvin and handed the phone over to me. I told him which day I’d like to ride and my level of comfort with horseback riding. He told me because it was low season, I was the only one signed up for the ride at that moment. We also agreed to do the ride first thing in the morning as there would be less chance of rain. I have ridden previously at summer camp and was comfortable with trotting, cantering, and maybe even thought I could warm up to try a small jump or two.
The morning of the ride, Bryan and I woke up early and had breakfast. By 8 am I was standing outside our hostel for Marvin to pick me up. It was not too long when I saw an old pickup truck rumble up and stop at our hostel. The driver had a friendly smile on his face and asked, “Are you Lauren?” I said, “Yes” and hopped in the truck. Off we went to the ranch. Marvin told me about the ranch and his work with horses. He trains horses to “dance” and showed me a few videos of his horses. They basically did a high-step tap-dance, but it was really fascinating to watch. He hopes to enter some competitions soon.
Once we pulled up to the ranch, he showed me his horses. They all looked happy and well fed. It surprised me how close he would walk by the rear of the horses. I told him I was always taught to not approach horses so closely from behind as they could kick you. He laughed and went up to a horse and hugged its rear leg. He told me his horses were very well trained and very comfortable with human contact. He then had me do the same thing. I was hesitant but did it without getting kicked in the face. Woohoo!
Afterwards, he showed me how to ride “Western style” as I had been taught a different way of holding the reins. He saddled up his horse and mounted. With the reins in one hand he showed me by simply moving that hand forward would signal the horse to move forward into a trot. Moving the hand to the right signaled the horse to go right. Move your hand to the left and the horse goes left. Pulling back the reins slightly signals the horse to stop. And you know what? It worked when I did it too! My horse was gorgeous and nuzzled me right away. I mounted and off we went! We proceeded to ride about 4 hours through the cloud forest mountainside and passing by coffee farms and gorgeous countryside. He seemed to know everyone in town as he passed he waved and said some sort of greeting to them and they laughed and said something back. We visited his favorite place for breakfast and ate some delicious Gallo Pinto. I practiced a lot of Spanish—I think it was entertaining to him how terrible I was and how quickly I forgot the words he was trying to teach me. We did a little galloping, which was of course my favorite part, but it was scary to do with only one hand on the reins! It was a fantastic ride and I thoroughly enjoyed the nature and Marvin was the best tour guide of the area. I practiced trotting with no hands, and when we got back he even let me try riding bareback on another one of his horses!
I had a great time with Marvin. It’s clear how much he cares for his horses. They are all not only well-trained, but well taken care of and not overworked in the least. I would suggest anyone looking to do some horseback riding in Monteverde to go with Marvin at Horse Trek Monteverde. He will cater the ride to your skill level, and you will see a side of Monteverde that few tourists get a chance to see.
Ziplines at Selvatura
I still remember my first zip line experience when I was growing up, the thrill of flying through the air and the ever-present fear of losing your grip and falling off. In the morning when the shuttle picked me up at our hostel I was excited knowing Selvatura had some of the longest ziplines around, but I had no idea what was in store for me. I do not recall the exact number of ziplines, but I know it was over a dozen and all of them were longer than any I had been on before. There were two lines in particular that stand out in my memory because they were over half a mile in length and hundreds of feet above the forest floor! I can’t even begin to describe to you the amazing feeling of soaring like a bird over the forest canopy which is why I took video of it to share!
But first before we get to the climatic final zipline of the day I want to share the one and only bad experience of the day which came as quite a surprise to me. I think it was zipline number 7 or 8, about a 1,000-foot-long zipline, when about half way I made eye contact with a large bug flying directly toward me. In the split second that I saw the bug it was already too late, it had decided to kamikaze my eyeball. If you want to experience this for yourself just stick our head out of your car window while going about 30mph, don’t blink and wait for impact! It was not pleasant, and I one-eyed-cried my way down the next three ziplines. Luckily, I had brought my sunglasses along with me which provided me some relief from the wind while my eye recuperated. So moral of the story is to wear your sunglasses from the start if you go ziplining!
Now when I signed up for the package deal of the hanging bridges and zipline combo I didn’t even realize it came with the superman harness for the final zipline which normally costs a little extra. They only do the superman on the last and longest zipline of the tour. This one is a kilometer in length and hundreds of feet above the forest floor. If this was not included in my package deal there is a slim chance I would have ponied up the dough to do it for just one zipline. I am so glad it was included in my package deal because it was by far the highlight of the whole day and is 1000% worth the extra cost (~$10). The superman harness is what truly gives you the feeling like you are flying over the canopy which makes it absolutely breathtaking. The footage in the video above is from my superman experience and hopefully does what my words cannot, to give you a sense of what it feels like to soar over the canopy.
I did also get so see some wildlife while on my zipline canopy tour, but it was not from soaring through the canopy, it was along the few walks through the forest from station to station. The wildlife I got so see made Lauren very jealous because it was the bird we had spent much of the day on the hanging bridges searching for. We had also searched for this same bird during our hike on the Quetzal trail in Boquete, Panama. I finally got to see the infamous Quetzal bird and from a very close distance! Unfortunately, all I had with me was the GoPro which is only a wide angle camera so I was not able to surprise my lovely wife with a great picture, but at least 50% of us got to see one 😊.
Hiking in the Children's Eternal Rainforest
The last bit of fun we had while in Monteverde was exploring another free trail, which are hard to find here! This particular trail I found on my new favorite app (maps.me) which is an offline searchable mapping app that lets you download an entire city or country. So, I saw this trail on maps.me and thought hey lets just go check it out and see where it leads, and so we did! Lauren did not question me much about the trail before we set out which is a mistake she likely will not make again. When we got to the trailhead it took some convincing for Lauren to get comfortable with the idea of going down a trail we didn’t really know anything about. While walking down this trail through the Costa Rican jungle where we have seen nor heard anyone else, I also had some unsettling thoughts creep into my mind after hearing new and explainable noises coming from the forest. I prayed that we didn’t see any eyes staring out at us from the depths of the jungle, since you know, there are wild cats around these parts. We didn’t know much about where the trail led except to a waterfall icon in the app and what appeared to be a ranger/research station much deeper in the woods. We were also tied to the shuttle schedule and had about 2 hours to explore the trail so we kept our heading for that waterfall. Along the way we saw some beautiful sights like the cover photo of this blog post and several of the butterflies that we had seen in the gardens a few days ago. The steep and muddy trail descended pretty much the whole way we hiked out. After about an hour and fifteen minutes of hiking out we had still not made it to the waterfall and had a very simple decision to make. Turn back to catch the last shuttle back or continue to see the waterfall and spend the night in the jungle. We did it to ourselves again somehow, but this time it was not mother nature making us scramble back to the start of our hike, it was our blunder of not keeping better watch of the time. However, mother nature did not give us any aid on the way back when the skies opened up on us. Luckily, we came prepared with our rain jackets, as we always did in Monteverde. It was a muddy race back to the start with a 45 minute steady uphill climb ahead of us. Fortunately, we made it back with time to spare and agreed that next time we will do a little more research before setting out on a hike through a tropical forest.