5 best things to do in the Monteverde cloud forest in Costa Rica


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I have always wondered what a cloud forest is. As I stood in the hazy greenery of Costa Rica’s cloud forests with clouds of clouds sweeping across my face, I finally understood. Here I was at a much higher altitude than a simple “normal” rainforest shrouded in low clouds and a lot of humidity.

Cloud forests, which really seem to touch the sky, make up only 1% of the world’s forest area, making it a rare ecosystem. Trailing foliage, colorful orchids, lush green vegetation and the sound of rare birds singing in the forest make this an exciting ecotourism destination. Think nature and adventure (if you have some common sense) and you’ll fall in love with Costa Rica’s incredible cloud forest, just like me.

How to get to the cloud forest of north-central Costa Rica

Your destination is the tourist center of Santa Elena. A lively village with all your needs, this is where you will stay and eat.

If you are driving the road to Monteverde is steep, full of potholes and unpaved. Drive slowly. I took the bus from San José, standing places only, and I remember the slow traffic winding along the road. I was thankful for not driving and was blown away by the magnificent views.

There are many private transfers, shared shuttles, and taxis available in Costa Rica. Monteverde is about a 4-5 hour drive from San José. If you are coming from Arenal, this is a 3 hour land trip or a 45 minute boat ride and a 1.5 hour land transfer. Public buses leave from San José and Puntarenas.

Pro tip: The average temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 60 degrees at night. Bring closed-toe hiking shoes, long pants and a jacket. If you are traveling during the rainy season (June to the end of October), be sure to pack rain gear and a waterproof backpack.

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1. Jungle Treks Beyond Your Imagination

There are two cloud forest reserves in Monteverde, Costa Rica. You might just have to visit both! There are regular shuttles from Santa Elena to the entrance to both reserves.

Monteverde Forest Reserve, one of Costa Rica’s Seven Wonders, spans an area of ​​35,000 acres and stands 4,663 feet above sea level. National Geographic once described it. as “the crown jewel of cloud forests”. Set out early in the morning (opening at 7 a.m.) to hike the 8 miles of well-marked and beautifully maintained trails. That way you’ll avoid the crowds (it’s, after all, a popular gem) and have a better chance of seeing birds and wildlife. You can also opt for a bilingual guided walking tour available at the entrance. It was with our guide that we saw our first resplendent quetzal. Keep your eyes open. There are over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles.

Pro tip: The entrance fee for foreigners is US $ 25.

The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Preserve is smaller at 756 acres and located at a higher elevation (5,250 feet). The community-managed Cloud Forest Reserve has 7.5 miles of well-maintained trails, is less traveled than the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and also offers spectacular scenery and biodiversity.

Pro tip: Entrance fees for foreigners are US $ 16.

Resplendent Quetzal in Costa Rica
Ondrej Prosicky / Shutterstock.com

2. The chance to see a resplendent quetzal

Even those who are not yet in the “I Love Birding” camp will be delighted to spot the Resplendent Quetzal. This splendid endangered bird is not called resplendent for nothing! The emerald green and blue feathers along with its red breast, yellow beak and elegant long turquoise tail feathers are breathtaking. No wonder it ranks among the most beautiful birds in the world.

The resplendent quetzal has been revered for centuries. It was an important symbol in Aztec and Mayan culture and is a symbol of kindness and light. It is also the national bird of Guatemala and represented on its flag and coat of arms.

We saw a resplendent quetzal on our guided tour of the Monteverde Forest Reserve and it was not a soon forgotten moment. With a flash of color, he came to perch on a mossy branch. Believe me, we were all out of breath as we were in awe.

A colorful parrot in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Photo credit: Tom Wuckovich

3. The incredible biodiversity

A visit to one of the cloud forest reserves mentioned above is not negotiable but, if you have the time, also visit the Curi Cancha reserve. It was a highlight of my trip to Monteverde. This is Monteverde, off the beaten track because there are so few people on the trails. The bird watching here is phenomenal. I honestly think the trip to the Curi Cancha reserve turned me into a bird watcher. My daughter and I went to explore on our own and saw an emerald toucanet and a blue crowned motmot with its amazing tail feathers hanging in the shape of a racket. And, incredibly, we did a silent sprint through the cloud forest behind a trail maintenance worker with a machete hanging from his waist when he told us he saw a resplendent quetzal further down the road. path. Bird watching. It can be a bit daring after all.

Read this article to learn more about bird watching in Costa Rica.

Zipline in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Photo credit: Tom Wuckovich

4. Addicted to adrenaline? Try Extreme Zip Lining in Monteverde

If you like extreme adventure (a bit more extreme than bird watching) then zip lining in Monteverde will be fun for you. The height and length of the lines will get your adrenaline pumping. Hovering like a bird over the cloud forest canopy is an incredible experience. Freedom and speed merge. It seems magical until a little fear sets in. At least for me. I would say this adventure is not for beginners. I panicked a bit, although I had already ziplined in the Costa Rican rainforest near Tamarindo. I completely lost my temper in the cloud forest, the only one in the group to do so. Luckily the guides were incredibly supportive and went down with me, right behind me actually, with their legs circling my knees. Clearly, my adventurous spirit has its limits!

If you’re brave enough and love the thrill of ziplining, here are three places to try for ziplining, bungee jumping, and jumping on a Tarzan swing!

The view from a bridge in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Photo credit: Tom Wuckovich

5. The spectacular views

The elevation of the cloud forest offers breathtaking views. The Cerro Plano viewpoint (Mirador Valle Escondido reserve) is a very accessible viewpoint and within walking distance of many hotels in Santa Elena. Sit on a bench and take in the views stretching over the mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Pro tip: Plan your walk to see a spectacular sunset, then head to Sabor Tico Restaurant to savor a typical Costa Rican meal.

Where to stay when visiting Costa Rica’s cloud forest reserves

There are plenty of places to stay. Here are some suggestions:

  • El Establo mountain hotel is just outside of Santa Elena. Its spacious rooms offer stunning views of the cloud forest.
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge. Do you like the cloud forest? This lodge is located in the corridor between the Monteverde Forest Reserve and the Santa Elena Forest Reserve.

Lush cloud forests are just one reason to visit beautiful Costa Rica:

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