The bulk of the Monteverde region’s cloud forests are contained in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The most popular reserve of the region and one of the world’s first ecotourism destinations. One of Costa Rica’s most popular, seeing some 70,000 visitors a year. Founded in 1972, the reserve comprises six ecological zones, 90 percent of which are virgin forest. The reserve’s over six miles of diverse and well-maintained trails allow visitors to explore just a fraction of the nearly 26,000 total acres. Located along the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range. It is uniquely positioned on both the Pacific and Atlantic slopes of the Continental Divide—which also means the reserve is much cooler, windier, and wetter than visitors expect.
A collision of moist winds from the Continental Divide blankets the plants of the Monteverde Cloud Forest’s upper canopy in a perpetual mist of nutrients, allowing for the astounding biodiversity found there: some 2,500 plant species; over 100 mammal species; 120 reptile and amphibian species; 400 bird species, including the resplendent quetzal for which the reserve is famous; a plethora of insects, including 500 kinds of butterflies; and other wildlife.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve also features a serpentarium with several varieties of snakes; a frog pond that exhibits amphibian species like the poison dart frog; a live bat exhibit; an insect exhibit; a butterfly garden; a short-stay aquarium where captive amphibians stay for a week; as well as a lodge that hosts 47 visitors, a small restaurant, an information center and a gift shop.
Guided bird-watching tours, horseback tours, and a Monteverde Cheese Factory tour can also be arranged. Besides trails, there are suspension bridges and zip lines that run through the reserve. Navigate the cloud forest on your own or enjoy the company of a knowledgeable guide. The reserve limits visitors to 250 at a time, so early visitors are granted the greatest chance of spotting wildlife.
Though best known for its cloud forest reserves, Costa Rica’s Monteverde region actually encompasses a much larger stretch. From the Cordillera de Tilarán in the northeast to Guanacaste’s low hills in the west, the land is dotted with Swiss-style farms, tropical botanical gardens, and small villages.
The village of Monteverde, after which the reserve is named, is a Quaker settlement where dairy farming remains the staple of the economy today. Neighboring Santa Elena has most of the area’s amenities and affordable accommodations and its own cloud forest reserve, with over seven miles of trails. Though less popular than Monteverde Cloud Forest, the cloud forest habitat that Reserva Santa Elena protects is very similar, as is its wildlife (including quetzals), which you might have more luck spotting because of the smaller crowds. Weather permitting, you can even see the Arenal Volcano from here.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Essential Information
Reasons to Visit
- Family Travel
- Multisport Adventures
- Nature & Wildlife
- 2 nights
When to Visit
- Good: September-October
- Better: May-August / November
- Best: December-April