The North American Rocky Mountain Cordillera extends, as part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, through Costa Rica from northwest to southeast. The Continental Divide roughly bisects the northern half of Costa Rica north of the Central Valley and San Jose into east and west, with accordingly contrasting windward/Caribbean/tropical-wet and leeward/Pacific/tropical-dry climate and biomes. These rugged mountains are interspersed with several, active stratovolcanoes and a number of smaller cinder cones, as well as numerous thermal hot springs.
The sharply contrasting environmental gradients are evident in the seminal “Holdridge Life Zones” seen as one ascends, summits, and descends these mountain ranges. Within the span of a few hours’ drive or hiking, one can go from lush tropical lowlands, steaming rain forests through cloud forests and cool, montane (nearly subalpine/krummholz) forests, and back down through tropical dry forests, savannahs and mangroves.
Human settlements, land use, and adaptations curiously mirror these life zones and interact and feedback upon them. Lowland plains, llaneros, host extensive agriculture, such as banana and, recently, pineapple plantains. On foothills to the west, extensive clearing has deforested areas in pursuit of grazing livestock and coffee farms. Much of the cordillera, however, is so rugged that there remain extensive natural areas which have been preserved, such as Monteverde Cloud Forest and Bosque Eterno de los Ninos.
Abundant and diverse fauna and flora inhabit these topographic niches, including numerous rare, neotropical species. With luck, a guide, binoculars, and patience you may be able to spot a jaguar or a resplendent Quetzal. As with elsewhere in the tropics, be careful what you touch and where you step!
Birders working their life lists spend days or weeks in search, and you may realize why once you see one yourself….the Resplendent Quetzal.
Much of the cordillera has been deforested, especially the western slopes, where grazing threatens soil erosion and land is prized for crop production on fertile, volcanic soils.
Costa Rica grows some of the best coffee in the world. You realize this quickly, but you have a lot more info to share with your friends and family after what we learn about “fair trade” and “organic” coffee. Besides your taste buds and wallet, keep your eyes, ears and minds open, folks.
Not too far away, Volcan Arenal is one of the more active volcanoes in the region, sometimes sporting a smoky crater or lava flows.
The Monteverde area is also famed for various aventuras, ranging from the extreme bungee-jumping, to adrenaline-raising zip-lining, to sedate rain forest canopy walkways. Cheese factory, hummingbirds galore, and herpetofauna and a hike to the Continental Divide are also in close striking distance. What do Quakers have to do with Monteverde?… Don’t google it, come find out for yourself!