Costa Rica Travel News – A trip to Monteverde can be a little overwhelming – there are so many amazing places to go and things to see that, unless you’ve got a full fortnight available, you just can’t fit it all in. You’ve got to prioritise. Having visited recently, I can think of a couple of things which you shouldn’t even question putting on your list. Right near the top should be the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens.
The Gardens themselves have been open for over 20 years, and are run by Bryna Belisle and David Makynen. Not even the most sceptical “I-don’t-like-creepy-crawlies” type visitor can question their passion and enthusiasm for their work.
One of the most striking things about the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens is the thought and effort that’s put into making the tour as memorable and accurate as possible. All tours last around an hour and 15 minutes and they begin with a look at some of the Gardens’ captive insects and arachnids. Ever wanted to get right up close with a tarantula? Now’s your chance! They also have a couple of bark scorpions, a male Hercules beetle and some incredible stick insects for you to look at. Most of these creatures are used to being handled so don’t worry if your guide reaches in and picks up the resident dung beetles to give you a closer look.
All tours are offered in Spanish or English, and in special cases (by appointment only), Bryna will give tours in French. Throughout the year, the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens takes on interns for periods of 2-3 months, giving students or recent graduates the chance to get involved with a great family business and to educate visitors on how important and fascinating bugs can be.
After a wander around the first room, answering any questions you might have, your guide will walk you to the rearing chamber where all the chrysalises are kept. If you’re lucky, you might even see a butterfly emerging from one! It’s incredible being able to see a natural process which we don’t often get to witness.
If you’re not such a fan of beetles and arachnids, don’t worry, because this is the end. After this point, the majority of the tour focuses on Lepidoptera (or butterflies, to you and me!), and it’ll introduce you to four very different environments from around Costa Rica, and the creatures which inhabit them. These are: Low Elevation (beach-style habitat), Above Canopy and Below Canopy (both neo-tropical forest), and the Local Monteverde environment (cloud forest). The gardens follow in that order in a circular tour of the grounds and give visitors the opportunity to understand how complex Costa Rica’s ecosystem and butterfly population is. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable and full of facts – did you know that Postman Butterflies (Heliconius melpomene) are believed to follow a particular pattern when they fly through a familiar environment, and will only go to certain flowers?
Photography is permitted throughout the whole tour, so this is great for any budding macro photographers wanting to get that perfect shot! As with all good visits, the circle conveniently ends in the gift shop. But this doesn’t even feel like a standard gift shop – a lot of the products in there are cute souvenirs that you really want to buy as memories of the visit. That’s even more valid when you learn that the gift shop is not for profit; instead, Bryna and David use all the money taken from it, as well as gratefully received donations, to fund various projects and to buy equipment such as binoculars. Currently, they’re working on providing a series of after-school science programs for the local community, with the first educating interested kids about birds, and the second focusing on bugs.
A lot of what the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens are about is education. Bryna herself says that if they can convince a few more people to change their thoughts about bugs (despite years of being told to hate them) and if they can promote a “little less bug squishing in the world”, then their job is done.
Come and learn about the empowering sex life of a female praying mantis, marvel at glasswing butterflies’ translucent wings and try and spot the difference between a twig and a stick insect.
The Gardens are open from 8.30am-4.00pm, 365 days a year, and unless you’re a huge group don’t worry about booking a tour. Just come along and they’ll set you up with a guide. Adult tickets are $15, student tickets are $10 and children aged 4-6 pay just $5. For Costa Rican nationals, entrance is $8.
To find out more or to get in touch with Bryna or David, go to: www. monteverdebutterflygarden.com
Photos and Article by Leah Hendre