Life In the Big Green Jolly

Embrace local. Explore often.

Embrace local.  Explore often.

Bird-watching at Curi-Cancha Reserve

Three-wattled bellbird sitting in a tree

“Where are you? Come on…”, David mutters as he spins in circles. “I hear you. WHERE are you?!”

With a low whoop, our guide plants his spotting scope to point at the three-wattled bellbird and waves us over.

“Look quickly before it moves”, he warns our group.

About the Curi-Cancha Reserve

The Curi-Cancha Reserve, also called the Reserva Curi-Cancha, is a 205-acre private forest reserve adjacent to Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica.   According to a guide, the name Curi-Cancha is derived from a Mayan or Incan phrase meaning “the temple of the study of flora and fauna”.

The reserve has three types of land – primary forest, secondary forest, and open pastures. These are defined as:

  • Primary forest: original jungle, dark and dense
  • Secondary forest: cleared land that is regrowing. Less dense than the primary forest; thus easier to spot wildlife in
  • Open pastures: leftover from cattle grazing days

Having both forest and pasture makes the reserve an excellent place for bird-watching and wildlife viewing.

You can hike the trails unguided or take a guided tour to maximize your chances of spotting birds and other wildlife. During the summer heat, it’s best to go early in the day for your comfort and to catch wildlife while they are active.

Getting There

It is super easy to get to and from the Curi-Cancha Reserve from Santa Elena, Costa Rica.

You can take a public bus from the town of Santa Elena for $1USD. Be sure to ask the driver to drop you at the Cheese Factory as this isn’t a regular stop.  

Or you can walk the 1.5 miles from Santa Elena.

I’d recommend taking the bus to the reserve and then walking back so you can explore more places on the way into town.

Trail beside road leading into Santa Elena
The “sidewalk” leading into the town of Santa Elena from Curi-Cancha Reserve

A guided tour at Curi Cancha Reserve

Given its reputation as “THE place to see Resplendent Quetzal”, consider hiring a guide to maximize your chances of seeing the birds.  

The entrance fee to the park is $20. A guided tour (tour size of 8) pre-booked through my hotel cost $35 and included the entrance fee to the park.

Our guide, David, was excellent.  He enthusiastically shared his plant knowledge and easily spotted many birds.  More than once, he took off running calling “Come quickly! Keep up!”.

Guide explaining trees
David – the best guide at Curi-Cancha

The guides working at the reserve are a collaborative group so they share locations of birds and animals with each other.  

Occasionally they also tease each other. At one point, our guide whipped his head around muttering “Where? Show yourself bird.” until he spotted another guide making the bird call and laughing at him.

guides with spotting scopes at Curi-Cancha Preserve
Friendly competition among the guides for the best viewing spot

With my guide’s help, I spotted:

Blue Striped hummingbird – one of 53 varieties of hummingbird found in Costa Rica.

Blue Striped Hummingbird

Blue Crown MotMot – it swings its long tail to distract predators.

bird - Blue mot mot - sitting in tree
Blue Motmot

Strangler Fig Tree (ficus).  This tree starts as an epiphyte and grows down from the top of a host tree. When it’s own roots reach the ground, it transitions into a normal tree.

Cecropia tree. Ants living in its hollow trunk are a defensive mechanism against sloth and porcupines. Anyone or any predator that touches the tree gets swarmed by ants. Another fine example of the typical advice in Costa Rica – “don’t touch the trees”.

Coati – an animal similar to a raccoon.

Piper augustum leaf – the white-faced monkey crushes the plant’s anise-scented leaves and rubs it all over its body as a bug repellent.

Mottled owls – they mate for life.

Mottled owls

Three-wattled bellbird – an impressive vocal range

Three-wattled bellbird

As you leave Curi-Cancha Reserve, be sure to stop at the ice cream shop located in the Monteverde Cheese Factory at the bottom of the entrance road.  A local recommended the Guabano flavored sherbet. I went with the chocolate ice cream instead and was not disappointed.

After your tour at Curi Cancha, stop by the Bat Jungle to watch Monteverde bats nursing baby bats and eating fruit.

To add to your Costa Rica fun, check out our 2-week itinerary.

Map of location of Santa Elena Costa Rica