Even though Monteverde is a remote destination, hundreds of thousands of tourists still visit each year. In fact, during the height of the dry season, its parks and reserves can become quite crowded, often with busloads of people filling the trails. These crowds can certainly take away from the cloud forest experience. But don’t worry, there are quieter options available. One is the Curi-Cancha Reserve. This private reserve limits the number of people to just 50 at one time. In this post, we’ll cover the Curi-Cancha Reserve and share our experience hiking and birdwatching there.
About the Reserve
The Curi-Cancha Reserve is a relatively small preservation of 205 acres (83 hectares). It has about 3.25 miles (5.2 km) of trails that cut through a portion of the property. The reserve sits at some of the highest elevations in Monteverde, between 4,750 and 5,300 feet (1,450 and 1,615 meters). About half of the land is primary forest and the other half is secondary forest. There are also some cleared areas with flowering and fruiting plants. All combined, this diversity of habitats makes Curi Cancha an excellent place for birding.
As we mentioned above, one of the best things about Curi Cancha is that it limits the number of visitors to 50 at once. This not only makes your experience on the trails more enjoyable, but also helps to not impact the ecosystem. Less people also means that it is easier to spot wildlife. Even with the limits though, sometimes groups do visit the reserve. On our hike, we briefly passed a party of about 15.
The Curi-Cancha Reserve has a network of nine short trails. The longest is only about 1 mile (1.5 km), but since the trails lead into one another, you can combine several and hike for about a half day. There are also many cut-through paths that allow you to quickly go from one area to the next without having to hike the whole trail. This makes it ideal for families with young kids or hikers who may get tired part way through.
Click here to see a trail map.
Overall, the conditions throughout Curi Cancha are easy to moderate and the trails are very well maintained. On a few of the farther-reaching trails, there are some short sections that are a bit more steep and slippery, but nothing too treacherous. The climate on the trails also differs. Sometimes you will be hiking through thicker forest where it is darker, damper, and feels cooler. At other times, you will pass through open areas or gardens where the sun is shining, making it a bit hot. For this reason, we recommend wearing layers, especially a waterproof one like a light rain jacket. See our Planning Your Visit section, below, for more tips on what to bring.
Guided Tour vs. Self-Guided Tour
Guided tours are available through Curi Cancha. We recommend getting a guide to see the most, since it can be hard to spot wildlife in the dense cover. Birds, especially, tend to be high up in the canopy of mature trees and out of sight. Guides are a good resource because they know where to look and also have powerful scopes so that you can see an animal that is far away. In addition, a good guide is extremely knowledgeable about the flora and fauna and will teach you something new no matter your knowledge-base. See our Planning Your Visit section, below, for more information on guided tours.
If you have already taken a guided tour in Monteverde, it is easy to do the reserve self-guided as well. This is what we decided to do since we have been hiking in Monteverde several times. When you arrive at Curi Cancha, the person at reception will give you a map and help you choose the best route for your particular group. We had our son with us, who was five months old at the time, so they helped us choose a combination of trails that would take a few hours max. You can also mention to them if you are hoping to see anything in particular, like the Resplendent Quetzal, a highly sought-after bird with beautiful tail feathers.
What You’ll See
From a wildlife-viewing, or specifically bird-watching, point of view, the fact that Curi Cancha has a diversity of habitats is key. That’s because many species prefer transition zones and forest edges. This allows them to stay hidden in the thicker forest at times and to go gather food from the open areas when it is safe.
To further enhance these habits, the staff at Curi Cancha has strategically planted many flowering and fruiting plants in the open areas. Right at the cross section of several trails, for example, is a resting garden with hummingbird feeders and flowering hedges. Just below that is a long tunnel of thicket that you can walk through. In the short time that we spent in these two areas, we identified about 15 different bird species. Some of the more interesting kinds we saw included the White-eared Ground Sparrow, Slate-throated Redstart, and Chestnut-capped Brush-finch. There were also lots of hummingbirds visiting the feeders, including some Costa Rica endemics like the Coppery-headed Emerald and Magenta-throated Woodstar. If you are a birder, you’ll be happy to know that about 250 species of birds have been identified in the reserve.
In the more heavily forested sections of Curi Cancha, we didn’t see nearly as many birds, but we did see a few cool ones. Those included the Long-tailed Manakin, Emerald Toucanet, Three-waddled Bell Bird, and a Black Guan. We saw more wildlife in these sections though, including a few agouti, some variegated squirrels, and a troop of white-faced monkeys.
The flora along the trails is also magnificent, especially in those virgin areas of primary forest. Looking up through the tall canopy and seeing how much life is growing on each tree is pretty outstanding. It’s really what the cloud forest is all about.
Planning Your Visit
Because Curi Cancha limits the number of people that can enter at one time, we recommend contacting them to make a reservation. This applies to both guided and self-guided tours. At certain times of year like the rainy season, this may not be necessary, but it is worth checking if you only have a few days in Monteverde.
Curi Cancha has a few different guided tours, including a general group tour, birdwatching tour, and privately guided tour (each is 3-5 hrs. depending on the tour and is offered three times per day). They also have a night walk, which is very popular. Prices start at $29. Contact Curi Cancha directly through their website for more information.
$14 Adults, $10 Children 6 and over.
General Admission Hours
7:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
What to Wear/Bring
Dress in layers. We recommend lightweight long pants and a long-sleeved shirt with a lighter shirt underneath. Also bring a raincoat as it rains frequently in the cloud forest. For footwear, hiking boots or sturdy sneakers with good grips are best.
If you have a camera that you don’t want to get wet, either pack a plastic bag to wrap around it or use a rain cover. Backpack covers are also a good idea to have on hand. And if you’re interested in birding, you can rent binoculars through Curi Cancha for $10 a day. If you would rather have your own, lightweight ones are good for travel, but for the best performance, you’ll need something heavier. We really like our Steiners because they perform well and are rainproof, which is important for Costa Rica.
From Santa Elena, take the main road leading to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Immediately before the Monteverde Cheese Factory, take a left and follow the dirt road for a few minutes to Curi Cancha.
We have hiked most of the reserves in Monteverde and each one has been a different experience. The Curi-Cancha Reserve was definitely superior to others as far as birdwatching goes. And, with less crowds, the overall experience was really enjoyable.
Have a question about Curi Cancha or want to share your experience visiting? Leave us a comment below (Email subscribers, click here to post your comment online).
Looking for More Information about Monteverde? Check out these posts:
- Driving to Monteverde: Best Routes and Road Conditions – Driving to Monteverde from La Fortuna/Arenal or the Pacific Coast? This post will let you know what to expect on the two most common routes. Includes some short videos too!
- Monteverde Hotel Guide – For such a small and remote place, Monteverde sure does have a ton of lodging options. If you’re overwhelmed by the choices, check out our picks in this simple hotel guide.
- Monteverde: A Forest in the Clouds – Learn more about Monteverde’s moss-covered forests, quaint town, and stunning reserves in this post.