costa rica
Monteverde

Monteverde is famous for its "cloud forests," shiny green forests cram-jammed with primeval plants and trees, where flecks of rain blanket the hillsides in a fine mist and clouds race across the sky at high speed. It takes a bit of doing to get to Monteverde, but it's well worth the effort, and a great spot for kids.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve - Here you'll find a dense highland forest with mosses, ferns and bromeliads and home to a wide variety of insects, animals and birds. The trails are self-guided or you can hire a guide. A guide can help kids spot hard-to-find animals and birds. Pick up trail maps from the Visitor Center, where you're sure to see bunches of hummingbirds zipping around.
Try the Cloud Forest Trail (Sendero Bosque Nuboso), less than 1.5 mile, or the River Trail (Sendero Rio) takes you to a waterfall. If you want a short loop, take the Eternal Forest Trail (Sendero Bosque Eterno), less than half a mile. Guided night tours are also available (truly magical) - ask at the Visitor Center for times. There are limits on the number of people in the forest at any one time, so reserve a time the day before.

Cheese Factory - On the road to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, stop off at the Monteverde Cheese Factory. In the observation room, watch workers in white gowns operating the cheese making equipment. Kids can buy different kinds of cheese from the factory, as well as ice cream cones in delicious flavors.

Bajo de Tigre Trail (Children's Eternal Rain Forest) - In 1987, Swedish school kids raised money to save the forest here in Montevede. Today the kids from all over the world contribute to the Children's Eternal Rain Forest (Bosque Eterno de los Ninos) which is now more than 50,000 acres.
The Bajo de Tigre Trail (off the road to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve) is perfect for families. A short, open trail, where you can see coati, bats, and perhaps a sloth or two, plus a nature center.
Sky Walk and Canopy Tour - Who wouldn't want to stand at eye level with moss-covered trees swaying in the wind, hundreds of feet above the canopy floor, or swish through the air above the birds! You can do both at Sky Walk and Sky Trek.
Sky Walk is a loop trail with six suspension bridges through the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, primary forest with an immense variety of vegetation. From the suspension bridge, stare down into a riot of giant ferns, colorful plants, clear streams trickling through the greenery far below. Take your time on the trails, it's such a rich environment, even the tree roots are fascinating. The suspension bridges are okay for toddlers - they are completely screened down low and have excellent hand rails.
Sky Trek is an exciting, exhilirating action-packed two hours. "It feels really safe, it feels like you're flying," said our kids. You put on a hard hat and gloves, strap on a harness, the harness is clipped to a pulley, you step off the platform and there you are, zipping along on a cable. Kids (8 and up) love the sensation of zooming through the trees. By the way, you can bail out after the first platform if the zip lines aren't for you - just take the Sky Walk instead.
Tip: Even in the dry season, it can be wet. Wear wind/water resistant jackets and long pants.
Ranario (The Frog Pond ) - The Ranario is a gem, a collection of frogs and toads in large terrariums. Check out the "hourglass frog" (frog with no trousers), "glass frog" (frog's body is translucent), "smoky jungle frog," "cane toad" (pretty gross), or "litter toad" (looks like a discarded leaf). The "blue jeans poison dart frog" or the "red and green poison dart frog" are barely an inch long, but they really stand out. The "gaudy leaf frog" is a fashion statement, with coral fingers and toes, blue legs, yellow and green stripes on the side. In addition to the frogs, there's "Fiona," a nice hairy tarantula that would eat the frogs if they let her out. A big hit with kids.
Monteverde Butterfly Garden (Jardin de Mariposas) - The Butterfly Garden is a chance to see the glorious butterflies of Costa Rica up close. As you walk through different habitats, you'll see the zingy "Halloween," black and yellow "Zebra Longwing," the "Owl," or "Floating Tiger" butterflies. In the Highlands enclosure, gorgeous "Blue Morpho" butterflies swoop and soar, landing on tropical plants, where even at rest, they shimmer in the sunlight. Added bonus, a leaf cutter nest.
Nighttime tours (Ecological Farm) - To see wildlife that comes out at night, take the nighttime tour at the Ecological Farm (Finca Ecologica), a private reserve. Call 645.5554 for information and reservations.
Horseback riding - Kids who love horses will want to explore Monteverde on horseback. On the trails you'll pass through forests lined with banana palms and fig trees, for views of the coast far in the distance. Meg's Stables has child sized saddles and gentle horses for kids. Call 645-5419 for reservations.
Monteverde to Arenal - If you are going from Monteverde to the Arenal area, consider the jeep plus boat option. It's a two hour jeep ride (on bumpy roads) through a green, hilly landscape to Lake Arenal. Then you take a half hour boat ride from one side of the lake to the other. The lake is ringed with mysterious, jungly vegetation, and the view of Arenal volcano is impressive.

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