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Monteverde, Costa Rica is a small town in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, located in the Cordillera de Tilarán. Roughly a four hour drive from the Central Valley, Monteverde is considered a major ecotourism destination in Costa Rica. The area is host to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and numerous other reserves, which draw considerable numbers of tourists and naturalists.
National Geographic has called the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve "the jewel in the crown of cloud forest reserves".  Newsweek has declared Monteverde the world's #14 Place to Remember Before it Disappears." By popular vote in Costa Rica, Monteverde was enshrined as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Costa Rica, along with Isla del Coco, Volcán Arenal, Cerro Chirripó, Río Celeste, Tortuguero, and Volcán Poás.
This article deals with Monteverde and its surrounding zone. This includes the larger town and tourism hub Santa Elena, as well as the nearby cluster of homes and businesses known as Cerro Plano, along with numerous reserves and attractions on the periphery of the town.
Resting roughly at 1,400 metres (4,600 ft) above sea level, Monteverde is misty, humid, and windy, with a mean annual temperature of 18 °C (64 °F) (Nadkarni 2000: 17). Annual rainfall averages around 3,000 millimetres (118 in). Humidity oscillates between 74% and 97% (Nadkarni 2000: 34).
Various pre-Columbian artifacts testify to the longtime occupancy of the Monteverde region by a small population of Clovis Native Americans, who once farmed in villages circa 3000 BC. Between roughly 3300 BC to 2000 BC, the nearby tribes of the Arenal area experienced a population decline. These nearby tribes re-established villages in the region between 2000 BC to 500 BC. Agriculture intensified in the 500 BC to AD 300 period, with chiefdom societies replacing small tribal societies. Intense deforestation accompanied horticulture, and stone foundations dating to this period can be found. Jade objects became prominent characteristics of these villages. From AD 300 to 800, complex chiefdoms supplanted simpler chiefdoms and more intricate villages appear, with cemeteries, public squares, gold-work and inter-tribal trade and conflict. Around 1300, a general decline in population occurred, possibly due to Arenal Volcano's increased activity.:408-409
When the Spanish arrived in 1502, Costa Rica endured two generations of warfare. Nationwide indigenous populations fell from an estimated 400,000 to 80,000 within little more than 50 years. However, unlike Costa Rica's neighbors, Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica did not seem to harbor too much gold for the Spanish (even though gold mining in Costa Rica is a full-time occupation for some), and so the country was less ravished by colonization than other Latin American countries.
In the first three decades of the 20th century, Creole populations arrived in small numbers to what is now called Monteverde. Many were employed by, or provided services to the employees of, the Guacimal gold mines. Many settled the nearby lower, warmer valley of San Luis.:353
What is now considered Monteverde was founded by Quakers from the United States whose pacifist values led them to defy the American draft during the Korean War. The majority of the group hailed from Fairhope, Alabama, and it included people who were not Quakers but pacifists and conscientious objectors. The spokesman of the group was Hubert Mendenhall, a dairyman who had visited Costa Rica in 1949 after joining a farmer's tour. These Quakers and pacifists chose Monteverde for its cool climate, which would facilitate dairy farming, and due to Costa Rica's non-violent, army-free constitution. Mendenhall noted that the soil was fertile and the people were friendly as well. The Quakers stewarded and farmed a large tract of land, which they eventually set aside for conservation. This reserve, which was named the Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde (Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve), has become a major tourist attraction.
On March 8, 2005, a group of three armed Nicaraguan men raided and attempted to rob the Monteverde branch of the state National Bank (Banco Nacional). A guard killed two of the armed men. However, the other one held all the people inside the bank hostage for 28 hours. The police intervened in the situation. A senior police officer was killed during an attempt to end the siege. Nine civilians died and only one of the attackers survived. This event raised tensions between Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans nationwide and prompted use of higher security in many national banks.
In recent years rapidly increasing numbers of tourists has brought a sizeable influx of Costa Ricans into the area. Now, an estimated 250,000 tourists visit Monteverde a year. Improved goods and services, including partially paved roads, have arrived in recent years. In 2007, Costa Ricans voted Monteverde one of Costa Rica's Seven Wonders, along with Isla del Coco, Tortuguero, Arenal Volcano, Cerro Chirripó, Rio Celeste and Poás Volcano.
As in the majority of Costa Rica, the official and most-spoken language is Spanish. However, due to the presence of Quakers and 3 schools taught at least partially in English, one can expect a fair deal of bilingual Costa Ricans. Hotels and hostels as well as restaurants will have either English menus or staff who can speak English due to the large number of tourists from English speaking countries.
The population of the town of Monteverde has between 250 to 750 residents, of whom about 50 are Quaker. The more developed Costa Rican-dominated town of Santa Elena has 6,500 permanent residents as of the most recent census.
There are several public schools in the area, including the Escuela Santa Elena, the Escuela Cerro Plano and the Escuela San Luis. The Colegio San Rafael and Colegio Técnico Professional (also known as the Colegio Santa Elena) are responsible for the majority of secondary education in the area.
Private education is fairly robust in the Monteverde region. The majority of North Americans and a considerable number of Costa Ricans are enrolled in private schools.
In 1951, the Quakers constructed a Quaker Meeting hall, which served as a general store and classrooms. This became known as Monteverde Friends School (MFS) and has since grown over the years to a Pre-K through 12 fully bilingual program. The school has limited its enrollment to 120 students in order to maintain the intimacy and high quality of a small-school learning environment. The majority of students at the school are Costa Rican, and a
A larger and fully bilingual (English/Spanish) institution, Cloud Forest School, the "Centro de Educación Creativa" or Cloud Forest School (CFS) began in 1991 as a parent-run kindergarten for 30 local students. In the 20 years since its inception it has since expanded to an enrollment of roughly 200 students from Pre-K through 11th grade, over 90% of whom are Costa Ricans. The CFS is fully accredited by the government of Costa Rica and over 50% of its graduates go on to university.
The small private Adventist school, the Escuela Adventista, is also bilingual.
While there are no institutions of higher education in Monteverde, the area is home to a considerable number of local and foreign undergraduate and graduate students drawn to international study abroad programs furnished by Monteverde Institute, EAP, CIEE, and the University of Georgia (see below). Monteverde is also home to a substantial number of foreign-born scientists. Most residents of Monteverde pursue higher education in the Central Valley at institutions such as the University of Costa Rica.
Agriculture has long been the main source of income and sustenance for both Costa Ricans and Quakers in Monteverde. The original Creole populations were restrained by poor infrastructure, and relied mostly on subsistence agriculture. Initially they hunted tapirs, deer, pacas, monkeys, and birds, but diminished those populations and turned to pigs, corn, beans, vegetables, fruits, herbs and livestock. In the 1950s, both Quakers and Costa Ricans produced garlic, beef, flax, and homestead cheese. The Quakers took advantages of the infrastructure improvements of the 1960s and exported cheese and beef to the rest of the country. However, due to overgrazing, the dairy industry declined in the 1970s. This led the population to turn to coffee. In the mid-1990s, coffee farmers were receiving the highest prices in the world for their coffee beans. In the mid-1990s 210 families were contributing milk to the local dairy factory, with a revenue of $5.2 million.:400-405
Tourism is a growing sector in Monteverde's economy. Having grown from less than a hundred yearly visitors in 1975 to around 50,000 in the mid-1990s to 250,000 in recent years, much of the economy is becoming increasingly dependent on tourism. An increase in hotels, taxis, guides, and other tourist-geared services have appeared since the early 1990s. Two bilingual schools have been founded to provide the English essential for catering to Monteverde's many visitors.:360
Due to the acclaimed rain forests and cloud forests in the greater Monteverde area, Monteverde has become a major part of the Costa Rican tourist trail - despite difficult access. It was recently voted one of the "7 Wonders of Costa Rica" by the Costa Rican newspaper La Nación. Of Monteverde's total 250,000 annual tourists, around 70,000 tourists visit the reserve.
The bulk of Monteverde's rain forest and cloud forest can be found in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a private nature reserve created in 1972 by scientist George Powell and Quaker Wilford Guindon. The area around the park entrance is the most visited, though camping deep in the reserve is possible with reservations. Nine main trails, which total 13 km, are well-kept and easy to access. The reserve features a large network of less accessible trails and a number of rustic research stations, two of which house 10 persons each, as well as one research station that can house as many as 43 persons, though these can now only be used by researchers.
To the West of the town of Monteverde lies the Bosque Eterno de los Niños conservation area, a project funded by schools and children from all over the world. The Bosque Eterno is the largest preserve in the area with 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres). Most of the Bosque Eterno lands surround the Bosque Nuboso lands to the North, East, and South of the smaller Bosque Noboso preserve. Bajo del Tigre, a small section of the Bosque Eterno de los Niños, is known for birdwatching and night hikes.
Still farther north, past Santa Elena, is the Reserva Santa Elena. This area is visited less frequently by tourists than the Monteverde Reserve, but offers a rustic station and views of Arenal Volcano.
Arguably the main attraction of Monteverde, the massive 10,500-hectare (26,000-acre) Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve draws 70,000 tourists a year.
It is known as the site with the largest number of orchids in the world, with 34 of its 500 species newly discovered. Over 60 species of amphibians, including the extinct Monteverde-endemic golden toad, have been found in Monteverde. This area is also a stop for 91 species of migratory birds. The famed quetzal resides here seasonally. The mammals of Monteverde include representatives from both North and South America as endemic species. The mammalian fauna of the region includes six species of marsupials, three muskrats, at least 58 bats, three primates, seven edentates, two rabbits, one ground hog, three species of squirrels, one species of spiny mouse, at least 15 species of long-tailed rats and mice (family Muridae); one species of porcupine, one species of agouti, one paca, two canids, five mustelids, four species of procyonids, six species of felines, two species of wild pigs, two species of deer, and one tapir.
The University of Georgia owns and manages a 155-acre satellite campus in the heart of the Monteverde region. Collectively the operation is known as UGA Costa Rica, its focus being the operation of numerous study abroad programs, ecological and forestry research, as well as ecotourism via its on-campus lodging, the Ecolodge San Luis. Additionally, UGA Costa Rica is responsible for various conservation and sustainability initiatives in the San Luis Valley, namely its UGA-sponsored Carbon Offset Program and its reforestation efforts throughout the Pájaro Campana Biological Corridor.
In terms of nature-related attractions, Monteverde boasts a modest array of businesses. There are several serpentariums, insect museums, butterfly gardens and other zoological attractions in the area. A surge in these types of attractions has occurred within the last five years. Zip lines and suspension bridges through surrounding forest have also become popular. Other activities include horseback riding and mountain biking. The town of Santa Elena also includes several bars and over two dozen restaurants providing everything from typical Costa Rican food to more conventional fare, such as pizza and fried chicken.
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