Conditions worsen at Santa Elena Reserve
The day before I hiked Monteverde on a misty gray day, but conditions deteriorated when hiking Santa Elena Reserve. In the small town of Santa Elena the temperature was moderate and the sun even came out from time to time. This changed as we drove uphill to reach the cloud forest reserve.
Check out: Monteverde Rainforest photo essay
We stayed at La Colina Lodge, which is only 1 kilometer away from the Monteverde Cloud Forest. I reached this by foot in a matter of minutes. Santa Elena was at the other end the small community. We walked the 3 or 4 kilometers into town and grabbed a cab from the bus station. It is about 7 kilometers to the gate from town. We decided to cab it there and then walk back. The cab cost $6.00.
As we drove towards the park, we picked up elevation and the partly cloudy day turned into a misty rain. The wind had been blowing ever since we arrived, which is common in the area in December. The rain came down almost horizontally as it was carried down to earth by the strong gales. Fortunately, the wind would not be a big factor when we were hiking Santa Elena.
Santa Elena arrival
We got to the gate, and my friend Paul and I each paid $14.00 for the entrance fee. We got a map and asked the gate keeper for any tips on cool places. He pointed to one place that he said had a good lookout where you could see the Arenal Volcano, and then he added we would not be seeing it today. There was also a small waterfall. Other than that, it is all trees and plants.
The longest trail that looped around the reserve was closed. We came at the end of the rainy season, and I imagine the trail that was the most remote was probably in too bad a shape for hiking.
When hiking outdoors, the last type of weather you want to hike in is cool and rainy. Normally I would not be too enthused to hit the trail on such conditions, but we decided there were definitely some perks to visiting this beautiful place when it is raining. I was impressed with the green conditions at Monteverde the day before, but if possible, Santa Elena was even greener. Perhaps this was due to the fact it was raining or maybe because Santa Elena is a little higher it gets more moisture. I did not think it was possible to find a more lush jungle than Monteverde, but we were now hiking in one.
Hiking Santa Elena during rainy season an incredible experience
I am just going to throw out all the words to describe a green forest and get them out of the way. Santa Elena was verdant, lush, green, vibrant, moist, wet, rich, tropical, bursting with life, thick vegetation, and any other word or expression to let readers know how alive this forest was. I have been in many a tropical rainforest over the last several years, but I have never seen anything like Monteverde and then Santa Elena.
There are less than 10 miles of trail in the reserve, and the longest was closed, but when you are walking through vegetation that elicits all those descriptions of greenery noted above, the length of the trails are irrelevant. In fact, I think it is better to have a shorter trail system. You do not come to Santa Elena to walk 20 miles in one day.
To really enjoy the rainforest, it is best to walk slowly because wherever you look there is life. In fact, I had inner turmoil walking through the jungle because I wanted to see everything and was not sure if I should look up into the trees, look into the jungle, or look straight on the ground. This is why it is critical to take your time because there is so much to see.
When walking through the forest, I usually look in front of me and occasionally glance to the left and right of me into the woods. I rarely look up unless I hear or see an interesting bird. In the cloud forest, everything is worth checking out. Huge trees create canopies that create very little opportunity for the sun to filter through if it is a sunny day. Vines drape down and each tree hosts over 70 species of other plants including bromeliads, orchids, and ferns. Even the ground below your feet has something to look at as fungi, ferns, and other vegetation coat the ground.
Enjoying the Santa Elena flora
We did not see much animal life, which is not a surprise on a chilly rainy day. We did view a black guan in a tree. A guide came by with three hikers, and they gave us a tip on where to see monkeys, but we did not see them. Normally, I would be disappointed not to see animals in a jungle in Costa Rica, but there was enough flora to go around that we were fine without the fauna. In fact, you could say we were quite floored by the flora.
It was not a big surprise that we saw relatively few people on this somewhat dismal day. On the trail closest to the entrance we saw a few bird watchers, but once we ventured farther away, we were alone in the jungle for hours. After looping past the waterfall, we eventually wound are way back to the entrance.
We then hiked the 7 or so kilometers back into town, which was not too bad as it was mostly downhill. It was interesting because as we dropped in elevation coming down from the reserve, the sun started to mix with the fog creating multiple beautiful rainbows. Before heading back to our hotel, we had a couple of Imperials at Sabor Tica and warmed up a bit with some tasty Costa Rican rice and beans.
I definitely would be interested in coming back to the area during a warmer and drier period to see if more wildlife could be spotted, and I would love to have seen Arenal; however, I was pleased with our hike. I have never been in such a verdant, lush, green, vibrant, moist, wet, rich, tropical, bursting with life, thick vegetation, and any other word to express how amazing the plant life is in this reserve. I definitely would recommend coming here during the rainy season.
Tips and information for hiking Santa Elena
- Do I even need to say bring good rain gear
- The trails are not in as good of shape as Monteverde, but they are well maintained although a little wet. Hiking boots are recommended but you could get away with something less rugged
- Guides are not necessary for safety as the trails are well marked, but they are helpful in spotting wildlife
- They have a cafeteria inside Santa Elena serving breakfast and lunch
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