Its not every day that you get the opportunity to walk through a cloud forest, but for the second day in succession that was exactly what we were doing. After we’d seen our second snake we began to feel that it was a potentially dangerous activity, but spending 3 hours walking 6km of trails through the Santa Elena Cloud Forest was a beguiling experience.
There was less wildlife on display than we’d seen in Monteverde Cloud Forest, but imagine standing in a small clearing in the middle of a vast forest and being able to hear only the wind in the tree tops, the sound of bird song and absolutely nothing else. That’s why people come to this part of Costa Rica.
Reserva Santa Elena is on the other side of the Continental Divide from Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and while it is almost impossible to tell the difference unless you’re a trained naturalist it is home to numerous different species of flora and fauna. Not that we saw much of the latter.
The other thing missing from Reserva Santa Elena were the large number of people that you get in Monteverde Cloud Forest. Perhaps it is because Santa Elena is smaller and less well developed in terms of infrastructure, or perhaps it is because it is just that bit further away from the tourist facilities of the town, but Reserva Santa Elena receives only a tenth of the visitors that go to Monteverde Cloud Forest.
There are many tall ferns in the forest, these are incredibly slow growing and are a good indicator of a thriving primary forest. Some are 1500 years old, at least that what a guide told us. The forest is also home to hundreds (probably thousands) of varieties of orchid. We saw some lovely examples, including a tiny one that was growing on another plant.
Being deep inside the forest without any noise from the human world was fabulous, it is a place full of mystery. As we returned towards the visitor centre we left behind the mud trails we’d been walking for the previous three hours and found ourselves on gravel trails. Civilisation, or so we thought because at that moment a Black Guan, the biggest bird in the forest, decided to drop out of a tree and almost hit me on the head.
I’m not sure which one of us was most surprised or terrified, but my heart rate didn’t calm down for quite a while.