In Monteverde Cloud Forest you will experience something that you will probably not experience anywhere else in the world. You are on a plateau, on top of a mountain. On one side the sun shines and it is pleasantly warm. Sure, you see some clusters of fog blowing your way, but you don’t feel the wind. Then you turn around and walk to the other side of the plateau. The wind here is strong, there is plenty of rain and you will get soaking wet. You look again at the place you just came from; the sun still shines there. The distance: only ten meters.
The famous Monteverde Cloud Forst in Costa Rica is a special destination and actually a must if your travel to Costa Rica. The plateau is just a small moment of many moments; the area has an enormous variety in flora and fauna and every step you take is one in overwhelming nature. But what makes this area so special?
Is Monteverde Cloud Forest worth visiting?
This is the largest cloud forest in the world and therefore a unique part of the world. You could see this forest as the meeting between air currents from the Caribbean on the one hand and the Pacific on the other. The real difference with a rainforest, however, is in the height: the forest is located at more than 1440 meters above sea level, which releases different forces than in a rainforest.
A cloud forest is special; only four percent of all forest worldwide is cloud forest. Monteverde occupies two of that four percent. The flora and fauna here are abundantly represented, but fragile. The centuries-old trees are large, wide, and covered with a good layer of moss. Nature is lush, green, dense. Your clothes will get wet here, also if it is not raining.
What animals live in Monteverde Cloud Forest?
Hundreds of bird species, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects and many more plants and trees: this is the home to an enormous amount of life. A small summary of what you might find here:
- 400 bird species, including 30 species of hummingbirds. Think of the extremely rare quetzal, the toucan and various parrots.
- 100 mammals, such as howler monkeys and capuchins, deer, tapirs and sloths.
- 1200 species of amphibians and reptiles, such as toads, frogs, poisonous and non-venomous snakes
- 2500 kinds of plants – many tens of thousands of species of insects.
The nice thing is that this flora and fauna can not only be found in the park, but also in the surrounding area. My guide Carlos and I walked around his accommodation for a long time and we spotted many birds, including the toucan and the parrot.
At the entrance to the park is a coffee shop with a hummingbird garden, where many species of a variety of colors sniff their food. Incidentally, this is the only place where you are guaranteed to see animals; in the park itself, you have to be really lucky. I myself have seen a tapir, the quetzal, and of course the hummingbirds, but I noticed that during the day it can be quite quiet in the park. No twittering of birds, no rustling in the bushes, at most the wind that blows through the age-old trees. Night trips are offered for the nocturnal animals.
The best time to visit is in the dry season, from December to March. Outside those months it is a lot rainier. The advantage is that it is a lot quieter there; in that regard, the choice is entirely yours.
The village of Santa Elena is the best place to start. Here is a bus station, restaurants, hotels and a bank for your colones or dollars. Multiple websites will recommend you the Tree House Restaurante. I skipped this one because it was crowded and not attractive for me.
You would do well to book a tour to the park here, where a private tour is recommended. After all, in groups, the chance of spotting wildlife is smaller and the advantage is that your guide can really show you the birds and give you more information about other unique flora and fauna of the area.
I myself booked two nights at Casa Copalchi. An independent house with a kitchenette and several rooms, which is run by Carlos and his wife. And this former biologist is probably the best guide imaginable in Monteverde and really worth the colones or dollars. He knows a lot about the area, has a keen eye, sees a lot, and speaks several languages, including English.
How do you get to Monteverde?
This famous cloud forest in Costa Rica is located about 140 kilometers from the capital San José. That seems close, but it is still a long journey through the mountains. The region can be reached by car or by public transport, which is preferable by car. I myself went by bus and that is quite a distance. It is best to go to Terminal 7-10 from San José Airport. Every day a bus leaves from here at 6:30 in the morning and at 14:30 in the afternoon directly to the place and this travel takes about five hours. This one costs about six dollars. Pay attention to yourself and your belongings, this terminal is not without danger.
However, visiting Costa Rica without a car is not recommended. Public transport gives you hardly any freedom of movement. Renting a car gives you much more freedom to visit everything. The drive to Santa Elena is already one of amazing views over the landscape. On clear days you can even see the Gulf of Nicoya from the mountains.
There are two parks here: the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Santa Elena Reserve. The first is bigger and there is more to see, but it also attracts more tourists. The second is smaller and quieter, which may increase the chance of seeing animals a bit. I myself choose the bigger one and when I was there I saw hardly any people.
Things to Do in Monteverde
From Santa Elena there are buses to the parks and that will cost you about $1.50. A taxi costs about ten dollars. Walking is also possible, then you lose about an hour, but this is free and you already walk through the beautiful nature.
The entrance fee to the reserve itself is $22 at the time of writing, which is really worth it because the park is huge and impressive. Santa Elena Reserve is slightly cheaper, namely 12 dollars. Of course, you can take long walks in both parks. There are several routes, which are well maintained. I limit myself to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve:
- Sendero Bosque Nuboso (Cloud Forest Trail) of 1.9 kilometers
- El Camino (The Road) of 2 kilometers
- Sendero Pantanoso (Swamp Trail) of 1.5 kilometers
- Sendero El Río (River Trail) of 1.9 kilometers
This is a cloud forest, which means that it is very humid and that it can rain well. Be sure to bring warm clothes and good shoes, as the trails can of course be muddy. During your route, you will find suspension bridges and ziplines (passable for free), so there is also some spectacle in this otherwise quiet but incredible nature reserve.
For a brisk, beautiful nature walk, Monteverde is a highly recommended part of your Costa Rica trip. Two or three days is really more than enough for this area, after one afternoon of walking you have seen most of it. From here you can continue to Nicaragua, or to other beautiful nature reserves in the wider area. I myself took the bus to the touristic paradise of Manuel Antonio. How I did that, I’ll tell you in that blog.
Steven van Beek (’81) is a Dutch guy, living in Mexico City. I constantly find hidden places in Mexico and share this with you. I love to travel and discover beautiful places. Do you join me? Follow me on social media!