When we planned our trip to Monteverde in March, we knew we had one main goal in mind: to see a Resplendant Quetzal. It is a very unique bird that people from all over the world visit Monteverde specifically to see. Luckily for us, our Airbnb hosts were local naturalist guides and had been seeing Quetzals almost every day! They advised us that the best place to see them is Curi-Cancha Reserve.
We went to Curi-Cancha Reserve twice with our hosts and thanks to them, we saw 5 Resplendant Quetzals! If you’re an avid birdwatcher (Costa Rica has over 800 species of birds so you’re going to the right country), then you have to visit Curi-Cancha Reserve. We saw so many birds there and the trails are very well maintained, excellent for wildlife lovers itching to get the photo of their favorite bird.
Read on to see photos of the animals we saw and tips for visiting!
Hiking and Birdwatching at Curi-Cancha Reserve
Curi-Cancha Reserve became an official wildlife refuge in 1997 and has been welcoming tourists since 2011. It protects 83 hectares (205 acres) of virgin rain forest, open pastures and secondary growth forests. Over 200 species of birds have been spotted in Curi-Cancha making it a must for bird lovers.
It’s an excellent place to visit in Monteverde to get away from crowds as it’s not quite as popular as the cloud forest reserves. There was a period of time when it was just Yeison and I with 5 Resplendant Quetzals, there wasn’t a single human being around for 30 minutes!
Location and Directions
From Santa Elena town, head east towards the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The road will soon turn to gravel a little after the El Establo Hotel and continue on this road for a few minutes. You will see a large sign on your left saying Curi-Cancha Reserve, turn left onto this road and drive another minute. It’s 300 meters northeast of the Monteverde Cheese Factory.
You can find Curi-Cancha Reserve on Waze. The road is unpaved (much like many of the roads in Monteverde). Read our guide about road conditions in Monteverde.
Hours and Entrance Fee
Curi-Cancha Reserve is open 7 AM – 3 PM, 5:40 PM – 7:30 PM every day for self guided tours. The entrance fee for foreigners is $15.
Map of the Reserve
You can pick up a map at the entrance office.
As you can see, the trails are not very long and they have plenty of services with a bathroom inside the reserve, rest areas and viewpoints. We didn’t have time to hike the entire reserve, we walked the trails mostly around the rest area (we were so excited to see the Quetzals).
Here are some photos of the trails in the Curi-Cancha Reserve so you can see how they are.
The trails are very well maintained and outlined with excellent signage so they’re great for people of all ages, however there isn’t a handicap trail. To hike the entire reserve at a leisurely pace may take you most of the day, especially if you’re stopping to see wildlife and taking pictures. There is a nice viewpoint of the Continental divide from the Puma Trail.
We saw a handful of birds in the Curi-Cancha Reserve. There is a hummingbird garden where you can see a bunch of beautiful hummingbirds (many of which are only found up in the cloud forests) and this area is great for spotting others. Just at this area, we saw Keel-billed Toucans, Orioles and others. I got to check so many birds off my list!
During the morning walk, there was only one other group in the reserve.
Though birds are the main animals to see in Curi-Cancha Reserve, you can also see Spider Monkeys (we saw two), Coatis, 2 toed sloths, kinkajous and Agoutis. What animals you see depend on the time of day you go and how lucky you are 🙂
The Resplendant Quetzals
We saw the Resplendant Quetzals in a huge avocado trail by the Alondra Trail, not far from the main entrance of the reserve. We went at 7:30 AM and it wasn’t long until a Quetzal showed up!
We spent a couple of hours filming and photographing the birds and saw 5 total. March is their mating season so we could hear the males chirping and see them flying around each other to compete for the females who were perched nearby watching the show. We saw a couple of them eating avocados, but most of the time, they were just chilling up in the tree.
And here is a short video of us at Curi-Cancha Reserve with some close ups of the Resplendant Quetzal.
Pssst…. watch the video in HD or 4k if you have a 4k screen!
Here is a photo of the avocado tree we saw them in. I hope you see them too when you visit!
It is kind of hard to see them if they are perched really far into the tree but luckily, they were perched on fairly open branches and we got an excellent view of them. Keep your eyes open at this tree because the color of their wings when they fly is spectacular. The green really shines in the light!
Tips for Visiting Curi-Cancha Reserve
- There is a large parking lot with plenty of space. There isn’t anything else nearby so there isn’t a flow of people except for those visiting but still, make sure not to leave any valuables in the car and lock your doors.
- You can visit the Reserve on a guided tour or do it by yourself. The schedule for a guided morning tour is 8 AM and 1 PM (3 hours), a night tour is 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM and bird watching is 6:30 AM to 11 AM. To take a tour, you must make previous reservations either with Curi-Cancha or with a tour company and it costs around $35 depending on the tour.
- I highly recommend going on a tour to Curi-Cancha Reserve. You can perfectly do a self guided walk but trust me, you won’t see 80% of the animals you would if you had a guide. And guides have long telescopes so you can see the animals up close and use your cell phone to take photos through the telescope.
- I recommend wearing closed toed hiking shoes, long light pants (shorts are OK in dry season) and a light jacket. Because Monteverde is high in elevation, it can get very cold when it’s windy or raining.
- Bring water, a hat and sunscreen. They don’t have a cafeteria so bring snacks in case you get hungry.
- Temperatures in dry season are in the mid to high 70’s, rainy season is often in the 60’s to low 70’s and colder if it rains. If you’re going in the afternoon or taking a night tour, I strongly recommend bringing a warm jacket and rain coat.
- If you’re visiting in rainy season, it’s best to go in the morning for least chances of rain but still bring waterproof equipment (you never know with tropical weather). Read our rainy season packing list.
- Bird watches can rent binoculars for $10 at the entrance office.
- If you want to get photos, you need a telephoto lens, some of those birds are SUPER far away. I used my Canon 100-400 mm with a Canon 80D (I would have loved to use my 5d Mark III but I wanted more reach and the light was beautiful). I saw some people with the Sigma 150-600 mm and the hardcore wildlife photographers had prime lens like 600 and 800 mm. A tripod is also a MUST. It’s hard to get sharp photos of birds handheld, especially if you’re carrying a telephoto lens and a tripod enabled us to get awesome photos and videos. I used a Zomei Carbon Fiber Tripod (I actually wish I brought my other Zomei tripod that’s heavier because it was a super windy day and I needed more weight) with a gimbal tripod head for more control and smooth movement. Yeison had his Manfrotto video tripod.
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Check out these posts for things to do in Monteverde!
Selvatura Park (ziplining, hanging bridges, butterfly/hummingbird garden, insect/reptile exhibit)
Sky Adventures (aerial tram, ziplining, hanging bridges)