After a few days in civilization, we were ready to leave San Jose and get to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. At first, we had trouble finding a bus for the trip. We debated between taking the local bus or a tourist shuttle. The weeks around Christmas and New Year's are reeeeeeally busy in Costa Rica while locals and international visitors take their vacations. Local buses are definitely cheaper, but we were told they'd been sold out every day and that baggage theft was a real problem. Eventually we took the chickenshit route and booked a tourist shuttle. There are two main private companies that run tourist shuttles in Costa Rica: Gray Line and InterBus. They're definitely pricier than the local buses, but they have their perks. (1) You can book your ticket online ahead of time, guaranteeing yourself a seat, (2) They pick you up at your first hotel and drop you off at your destination hotel, (3) Baggage theft isn't a real problem. So we booked our shuttle ticket and traveled from San Jose to Monteverde.
We checked into our hostel, Pension Santa Elena, which ended up being my favorite hostel of the trip. We had a small, spotless room, but ended up spending a lot of time in the communal area downstairs. A handful of dogs and cats hold down the fort, the staff is super helpful, and the vibe of the whole place was great. I definitely recommend it.
We arrived in Monteverde/Santa Elena in the afternoon, so we booked a night hike for that evening. Many rain forests animals are nocturnal, and we read that this was one of the best ways to spot them. When we first drove up to the reserve, it didn't look too promising. There were dozens of people milling around, shining their flashlights and yelling. I assumed any animal in a 5-mile radius would be long gone, but I was 100% wrong. We hit the critter jackpot. Our guide was incredible -- he spotted animals by shining a flashlight into the forest and looking for the green reflection in their eyes. Right away, he spotted the reflecting eyes of a tiny spider 20 feet off the trail. That's when I knew we were in for a good 'un.
We trekked around the pitch-black rainforest for about two hours and saw SO MANY animals: a sloth, palm pit viper, orange-kneed turantual, gray fox, honey bear, katydids, etc. It was a wild experience -- there was no moon and the forest seethed with sounds. Our guide was an incredible naturalist and had an unbelievable knack for spotting things. The spookiest find was definitely the venomous palm pit viper, casually hanging out at eye level (!!!!!) It was the ultimate nature-nerd geek-out -- Jordan and I couldn't wipe the gigantic grins off our faces for hours afterwards. A+.