Expedition Diaries: The Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Photo © KIKE CALVO
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Photo © KIKE CALVO

This post is the first of Kike Calvo’s visual diary as a National Geographic Expert on the Lindblad Costa Rica-Panama Expedition aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion.

As we advance through a non-paved road uphill, the Costa Rican landscape starts to paint my pupils—we are heading to Monteverde. Before boarding the National Geographic Sea Lion, we will get the chance to explore a real cloud forest, which lays some dozens of miles ahead of us, making all us travelers anxious about the wonders that hide behind the lush vegetation.

“While visiting the cloud forest,” said National Geographic Lindblad Expedition Leader Gustavo Abarca, “it is overwhelming to imagine the complexity of the air plants and the ecological dynamics happening on the tree tops.”

As a photographer, I share my expertise and knowledge in a wide variety of adventures. On this occasion, I have joined Lindblad’s Costa Rica-Panama National Geographic Expedition.

“Monteverde’s philosophy is harmonious with conservation,” said Abarca. “The way of living of this community evolved with the conservation of its cloud foresst.

_KKC6801 - Version 2
Glasswing Butterfly. © KIKE CALVO

Visiting the Gardens

Early morning takes us to the hanging bridges and an opportunity to photograph and enjoy the canopy at an unusual level. We spend the day under a beautiful Costa Rican sky. I am happily surprised with our visit to the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens. It is strange how our curiosity for creatures grows exponentially when we get the chance to hear well-prepared presentations on certain subjects on location. The location presents a truly great opportunity to capture the beauty of butterflies.

“The glasswing butterflies are missing many of the powdery scales that usually cover the wing of a butterfly,” explains David Makynen, co-owner of the gardens, which are also known as the Monteverde Jardín de Mariposas. “This is because they hide in the under-story of a forest where being colorful makes you a meal. Being clear makes it hard for a butterfly to find a girlfriend! They get smelly to get the ladies. Males can be found in giant groups where they and their ‘wing-men’ lure in the ladies with their pheromones.”

Hercules Beetle. Photo © KIKE CALVO

Hercules Beetle

“A show stopper is our Hercules Beetle, Harold,” explains Bryna Belisle, co-owner of the gardens. “He has got a giant clamp on the front of his face that he uses to fight off rivaling males by picking them up and throwing them! Sometimes the victor is seen flying away with the female in his horns.”

The staff at the gardens spends every day getting people excited about bugs. “Visitors from all over the world, and local school kids alike have an amazing time exploring our gardens and seeing live bugs up close,” said Belisle. “Everyone who leaves likes bugs at least a little bit more than when they arrived! The tour leaves them with an appreciation of why there is so much diversity in the shape and color of butterflies.”

Lindblad naturalist and photo instructor José Calvo lives in the tropics and spends a lot of time in the lowlands of Costa Rica. “It never ceases to impress me when I visit the mountains of Monteverde,” he said. “Monteverde is truly an oasis! Pretty much everybody here is a lover of nature and living an outdoor lifestyle. Whenever I leave I always think about when I’ll have the opportunity to come back.”

Follow Kike Calvo on FacebookTwitterWebTumblrLinkedIn or Instagram.


Learn more:

Monteverde Birds: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species of Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest (Pocket Naturalist Guide Series)

The Complete Guide to Rearing the Eastern Hercules Beetle

National Geographic Traveler: Panama, 2nd edition

National Geographic: Panama Wild: Rain Forest of Life [VHS]

National Geographic Traveler: Costa Rica, 4th Edition

Costa Rica Adventure Travel Map (Trails Illustrated)

5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!) (National Geographic Kids)

Tropical Montane Cloud Forests: Science for Conservation and Management (International Hydrology Series)

Cloud Forest (Classic, Nature, Penguin)

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Award-winning photographer, journalist, and author Kike Calvo (pronounced key-keh) specializes in culture and environment. He has been on assignment in more than 90 countries, working on stories ranging from belugas in the Arctic to traditional Hmong costumes in Laos. Kike is pioneering in using small unmanned aerial systems to produce aerial photography as art, and as a tool for research and conservation. He is also known for his iconic photographic project, World of Dances, on the intersection of dance, nature, and architecture. His work has been published in National Geographic, New York Times, Time, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair, among others. Kike teaches photography workshops and has been a guest lecturer at leading institutions like the School of Visual Arts and Yale University. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic blog Voices. He has authored nine books, including Drones for Conservation; So You Want to Create Maps Using Drones?; Staten Island: A Visual Journey to the Lighthouse at the End of the World; and Habitats, with forewords by David Doubilet and Jean-Michel Cousteau. Kike’s images have been exhibited around the world, and are represented by the National Geographic Image Collection. Kike was born in Spain and is based in New York. When he is not on assignment, he is making gazpacho following his grandmother’s Andalusian recipe. You can travel to Colombia with Kike: www.colombiaphotoexpeditions.com