Releasing butterflies in Monteverde

We spent a month in Costa Rica, exploring the east of Sarapiqui, the north-west of Guanacaste and finally the south west of Quepos. On our drive from Guanacaste down to Quepos we decided to spend a few nights in Monteverde. I was really disappointed with the Cloud Forest and felt that it was excessively expensive for not a lot so we started searching for something a little off the track.

We are not huge fans of animals in captivity. In fact it’s not something we usually encourage or support however the Butterfly Garden in Monteverde describes itself as an educational garden featuring habitats with native butterflies. So we thought we’d pop along and check it out.

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The layout map from the Butterfly Garden in Monteverde

What is it?

Tucked into a quiet corner of Monteverde, sort of off the beaten track, the Butterfly Gardens aim to teach people about Cost Rica’s insects and arachnids.  They have over 30 species of butterflies in 4 different habitats and 20 species of live insects and arachnids within the nature centre.

If you didn’t already know, we are kind of in love with butterflies and insects so thought we’d head over to see what it was all about.

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One of the many butterflies on display

Hours

They are open 365 days of the year from 8:30am-4:00pm.

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White faced Cappucin monkeys in the trees above the Butterfly Gardens

Entrance rates

Prices below are in Colones but they also accept dollars. Payments is in cash only no credit cards!

We found every tourist activity in Costa Rica to be very expensive in comparison to other places in central America. 9000 colones is roughly £11/$15 so for a family of four this was not a cheap outing but it was certainly much cheaper than the Cloud Forest and the kids had a brilliant time. Sometimes you can’t put a price on learning through doing!

Adult 9000₡
Student 7000₡
Youth 7-18 6000₡
Child 4-6 4000₡
Child under 3 Free
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Touching a centipede

The Tour

Upon entrance, you’re not allowed to just wander around. Instead you’re included in a tour of the centre which is designed for your learning. Group sizes are limited to a maximum of ten people within the gardens.

The tours are approximately an hour in length (although I think we spent closer to two hours there) and include:

  • An introduction to Costa Rica’s buglife
  • An orientation of the Gardens
  • An up-close experience with a variety of insects and arachnids
  • A look at the rearing chamber, where caterpillars are becoming butterflies
  • A stroll through the 4 unique gardens, full of spectacular butterflies
  • A stop at the active leaf-cutter ant colony

The tours are available in either English or Spanish, although the owner speaks many other languages. The tours are mostly completed by volunteers though who stay at the centre for months at a time.

For us, we valued the tour with our guide who was knowledgeable and passionate about insects and shared that love with the kids. She was really happy to answer any of their questions and give them a hands-on experience of watching at close range.

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Leaf-mimic katydid

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Leaf-mimic katydid

Meeting the bugs

Inside the biodiversity learning centre are a number of insects, both alive and dead from Costa Rica. Some like the tarantula hawk wasp you definitely wouldn’t want to be touching (it has the most painful wasp sting in the world!) but others like the centipedes and giant cockroaches are harmless and friendly.

They’re taken out of their habitats and can be touched and watched. There’s nothing too gruesome and once you get over the squirmishness they’re actually quite fun to observe.

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Giant cockroach

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Giant cockroach

Rearing chambers

Within the learning center, is a viewing case where you can see the butterflies as they develop and emerge from their chrysalides.

We were given the opportunity to release two of the butterflies seen below into the garden which obviously we seized upon! It’s not every day you get to release newly hatched butterflies.

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Chrysalides

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One of the butterflies we released

The four gardens

The gardens are separated into four different areas and host a stunning array of local flowers, plants & trees and provide a natural habitat for the hundreds of butterflies that live there.  I had previously thought that many butterflies only had very short lifespans however we were taught that many live for up to five years.

We were fascinated to see the caterpillars on the trees starting the next cycle in the butterflies lives.

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In the garden

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From the gardens

Releasing butterflies

Releasing the butterflies was the highlight of the tour for us and it made the experience extra special for our two youngest kids.

Each child was able to release a butterfly and I’m a firm believer that these experiences with vulnerable and delicate creatures cements their humility and connection to the natural world. Their understanding of these creatures and how we must protect them increases with every encounter and we do need these creatures to survive!

Despite the butterflies being quite blandly coloured on the outside, each was a tantalising spread of colour diversity once they opened their wings.

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This one didn’t want to leave

Ants galore

Another exciting exhibit is the live leaf-cutter ant colony. Visitors can watch the ants scurry through a network of trails while carrying leaves to their nest, which will later be used for food.

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Another butterfly because those ants were too challenging to photograph.

Fancy volunteering?

The gardens ask for a 2 month volunteer or a longer internship. Here’s their post on WorkAway

Volunteers live in a eco bunkhouse or a tent. Our off grid ecohouse is run by a small solar panel. If you’re interested in seeing what it’s like, Christina volunteered there and wrote this blog.

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Next time you’re in Costa Rica you MUST visit the Butterfly Gardens. Pin this post so you don’t forget.

We spent 4 weeks in Costa Rica; on our drive from Guanacaste to Quepos we decided to spend a few nights in Monteverde where we visited the Butterfly Gardens.

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