All in all, one of the best parts of our Nicaragua trip turned out to be our stay at Montibelli. This 400-acre private family-owned reserve has become a model for sustainable agriculture and ecotourism. The reserve is beautiful, and even in the dry season it was green and cool. It felt like an oasis coming from Managua.
|Our nice little casita and deck.|
Montibelli used to be a coffee plantation, and a small part of the reserve is still in production for shade-grown coffee, but the majority of the land is being allowed to revegetate to its natural state in order to benefit neotropical migrant birds and other wildlife. Just today I received the latest issue of Audubon Magazine, which has a feature article on Nicaragua's small coffee fincas (farms):
“A shade-coffee canopy with diverse tree species provides very high-quality habitat for many bird species, both native and migrants,” says Robert Rice, a researcher with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. Coffee plantations with a diverse canopy cover of greater than 40 percent are second only to undisturbed forest in terms of bird species richness.It is humbling to think about how important places like Montibelli are to Wyoming summer species, such as the yellow warbler. In fact, it's an odd feeling seeing a yellow warbler in a mango tree. At home I often see them along the river near my house, but perched in willows and cottonwood trees. Seeing our Wyoming birds in their winter habitat, it's easy to get the connection between place.
The reserve has its own fruit and vegetable production. Pineapple, passion fruit, cactus fruit (Pitahaya), lemon, bananas, squash, and other food is grown within part of the reserve. Therefore the meals served are very fresh and the coffee was excellent, of course. For dinner one night we had delicious homemade squash soup.
There are several paths for hiking - ranging from 30 minutes to 2 1/2 hours. Guides are provided by the reserve; in fact you are required to walk with one. Without a doubt, this enhances your enjoyment of Montibelli as the guides are very knowledgeable. If you visit Chocoyero-El Brujo Natural Reserve, which is right down the road, a guide from Montibelli will also accompany you. Again, the guides are great and will point out things you might otherwise miss.
|Early am bird walk with our guide Alejandro, walking through plantains.|
I liked everything about our stay here ~ the beautiful setting, the basic but pretty accommodations, the helpful staff, the good food, the knowledgeable guides, the efficient driver that Montibelli arranged for us, and the ease of contacting them and their help with planning our trip. It is an easy place to take kids, especially if they are easily entertained by the great outdoors! And most of all, even though we weren't there at the best time of year for birdwatching, it was still really good.
|Always zip your bags in the tropics.We found this little guy in my suitcase.|
|Playing with an orphaned squirrel.|
If traveling on your own, it seems like this would be a little hard to find unless you are familiar with the area. See vianica.com for directions. Also see sustainabletrip.org for more information.
Our bird list:
Long Tailed Manakin
Black Headed Trogon
Turquoise Browed Motmot
Blue Crowned Motmot
Orange Chinned Parakeet
Clay Colored Robin
Clay Colored Wren
Barred Antshrike (way cool!)
Cicadas in the morning.
Do-Over Scoop: I highly recommend a visit to Montibelli. It is so close to Managua but it seems a world away. I would spend at least two nights and one full day on the reserve, relaxing at the cabin during the heat of the day and going on am and pm bird walks. Be sure to spend a full afternoon or full morning at nearby El Chocoyero. The guides at Montibelli will take you to where the parakeets are roosting or nesting.