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Costa Rica: Puntarenas – Monteverde Cloud Forest

The Monteverde Cloud Forest was established in 1972 by a coalition of scientists from the Tropical Science Center ( and Quakers from the local community to protect one of the last tracts of pristine Cloud Forest in Central America

The Monteverde region of Costa Rica sits in the central mountains along the country’s continental divide. 

Situated at 4,662 ft (1,440 m) above sea level, Monteverde, Costa Rica is a lot like the United States’ Pacific Northwest region — evergreen due to the precipitation and moisture-filled clouds which hover over the horizon on an almost daily basis.

Monteverde’s cloud forests are the byproduct of fog (a thick, low-hanging cloud) tangling amongst the leaves and branches of the forest canopy. When these water-based clouds come into contact with solid plant material, the plant absorbs what it needs and the remaining water condenses and drips down — layer by layer, organism by organism — until it reaches the forest floor.

There are a few cloud forest preserves that you can easily reach from Santa Elena / Monteverde, including the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Preserve and the Bosque Eterno de los Ninos.

Sadly, we only had time to visit one of the preserves, so we decided to check out the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preseserve

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve is vast, covering 10,500 hectares (25,946 acres). Only around 3% is accessible to visitors in order to preserve the flora and fauna. Still, there are 13km (8-miles) of trails to explore this unique ecosystem which is divided into four different life zones. It is this diversity that draws so many different types of plants and wildlife. To get an idea, over 100 kinds of mammals, 500 birds, and 120 amphibians and reptiles can be found. In addition, the property hosts tens of thousands of insects and over 3,000 plants, including more than 500 species of orchids alone.

It was grey and a bit cool (which was nice) as we set off from our hotel in Santa Elena to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. The journey was only about 5-miles along a paved road. We parked our car and caught the shuttle bus to the entrance to the preserve.

At the visitor centre, we paid for entry to the preserve. There were options to join guided tours, including bird watching and night tours. We might have been tempted to join the bird watching tour (we’re not really birders) but we were in the wrong season for spotting the bird I would be most interested in seeing, the marvellously named Resplendent Quetzal, one of the most beautiful birds in the world.

So.we decided to head out onto the trails on our lonesomes. There is a network of trails that lead through the preserve. We decided to take a circular hike following the Sendero Camino on the way out and the Sendero Nuboso on the way back.

The start of the trails at Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve

The trails are extremely well marked and maintained. There are no obstacles, at least along most of the Sendero Camino. It was a little squishy in places due to the rain, but nothing too challenging, even with young children and a pushchair.

As you might expect the forest is thick and the biodiversity is amazing. We did hear the sounds of many birds along the way, but the forest is thick so we didn’t see a whole lot (this is where a guide would have come in handy!). What impressed us was the scale of some of the trees and plants. Some of the ferns were the size of trees, and their fronds reached above our heads, and the sun illuminated them from behind. Lovely! 

The weather was still overcast and a mist filled the forest – what else would you expect in a cloud forest? 

Dense rain forest
The ferns grow extremely large in the cloud forest
A mist filling the trails of the Monteverde preserve
Moss covered tree in Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

At the end of the Sendero Camino, you reach the edge of the cloud forest and the land drops away sharply to the valley floor below. On a clear day, the views must be spectacular, but for us, all we could do was stare in the mist and imagine what was beyond! We had moderated our expectations because the mist is normal for the area, so turned around and headed back.

The Sendero Nuboso trail is a narrower and twisty trail. We liked this more. Also, the weather had perked up. 

The total distance we covered was about 4km (2.5-miles) and it took us around 90-minutes to cover with a few stops on the way. 

Back at the visitor centre, if you need refreshing there is Raíces, a restaurant serving traditional Costa Rican food. Or, you can call into the preserve gift shop and pick up some mementoes.

Some where out there is a view
The Sendero Nuboso is a more interesting trail with some crossing of streams

Planning your visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve is only a few miles from the centre of Santa Elena. A lot of people decide to park on the side of the road to save the parking fee of $5.00 and walk to the preserve. The road is quite narrow so parking your car here is a risk, as is walking on the road itself. Also, as the day goes on you end up further and further away, so it could be quite a trek to reach the preserve.

In our opinion, the $5.00 parking is a good option. The fee also includes a free shuttle from the parking lot to the preserve. Beware that this parking lot can get full in the high season.

Address: 8633+3P3, Carr. a Reserva de Monteverde, Provincia de Puntarenas, Monteverde
Website: https://cloudforestmonteverde.com/
Telephone: T: +506 2645 5122
Hours: Open daily from 8 am – 5 pm (Last Entrance at 4:00 pm)
Fees: Adults: $25.00
Students / Children: $12.00
Parking $5.00

What to Wear/Bring

  • closed toed shoes
  • rain jacket:
  • waterproof backpack or a rain cover
  • long pants
  • hat
  • scunscreen and sunglasses.
Tours
We decided to do the hike without a guide. The trail is well marked so you won’t get lost.
 
The advantage of a guided tour is that most will pick you up from your hotel and you will have someone with local knowledge to tell you about the history of the region and point our fauna and flora that you would likely miss – unless you are an expert!
 
 

Planning your trip to Monteverde

Santa Elena is about 140km (about 90 miles) from the capital San Jose and about 115km (70 miles) from Liberia. A shared ride will cost around $65 from San Jose & Liberia and will take about 4 hours. If you rent a car it will take about 3 hours. The roads approaching Monteverde are paved and good from the west of the town.

We travelled from east, coming from La Fortuna / Arenal. As the crows flies they are close, but due to the mountains and the lake the journey by road is about 115km (70 miles) and takes 3 hours. One way of doing this is to take a ride to Arenal Lake from La Fortuna take a ferry across the lake and take a ride to Monteverde. The ferry is foot passengers only. This shared ride service starts at about $35.

We had a rental car so drove ourselves from La Fortuna. This route takes you north along highway 142 which follows the shoreline, offering tantalising views of the lake from time to time. After about and hour or so after leaving La Fortuna, you will arrive at the small town of Nuevo Arenal, which is a good pitstop if you are looking for somewhere to eat. 

Continuing on from Nuevo Arenal you’ll eventually reach the northern reach of Arenal Lake and start heading west. At the town of Tilarán we left the 142 and joined the 145. Up to this point I had thought the stories of the huge potholes and unpaved roads were tales from a time past, but over the next hour or so we realised that they are still very much a hazard. When I could take the time to not pay attention to the road, the countryside was amazing. We had climbed into the mountains. The road was extremely rough, but not something we hadn’t seen before. 

A lot of people recommend renting a 4×4 vehicle when travelling this part of the country. This is good advice, especially in the rainy season. We went in December so the main rains had stopped and did the whole journey in a little Kia sedan and made it through without incidence! Just think about your personal comfort on driving on unpaved roads with deep potholes.

Best time to visit Monteverde

Just like the rest of Costa Rica, Monteverde has a dry season (December to May, when prices tend to be higher and crowds bigger) and a wet season (May to December). Here, though, the terms are relative. Because the park is in a cloud forest, the mountaintop reserves and the twin towns below them are often enveloped in a hybrid of wind, rain, and fog, which forms when warm air blows in from the ocean and rises up to the summits of the Tilaráns. The months between August and November are particularly rainy,

Other things to do whilst in Monteverde

La Fortuna is an excellent home base to explore the surrounding natural attractions and is known as the adventure capital of Costa Rica. 

Here are some ideas of things to do during your stay in La Fortuna.

1. HANGING BRIDGES & ZIPLINING

Monteverde owes a large part of its popularity to the hanging bridges in the cloud forest. Get up high in the forest canopy by way of these bridges which range up to 800 feet long and 2400 feet in altitude (240 meters to 730 metres). The two adventure parks in Monteverde; Skyadventures and Selvatura have trails through the jungle with a series of hanging bridges. We chose to do the trails at Selvatura, which has  8 bridges ranging from 170 to 560 feet offering absolutely incredible views of the cloud forest because that park is very high in elevation (higher than all other parks).

If you are looking for something to get the adrenalin pumping then ziplining is a great option. After all, Monteverde was the birthplace of commercial ziplining. Both the adventure parks mentioned above have excellent ziplining courses and additional adventure activities.

2. VISIT A COFFEE PLANTATION

Touring the jungle in Arenal is one of the most popular things to go in the area. Mistico Hanging bridges allows you walk through the canopy of the the beautiful Costa Rican rainforest. 

The 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) hanging bridges trail has 10 regular bridges and 6 hanging ones with the tallest standing at 148 feet. The bridges allow for spectacular views of the rain forest and Arenal Volcano.

The hanging bridges trail is extremely well maintained and the bridges are in excellent shape so this is a hike for all ages. It is not too difficult: no steep hills and not many steps.

Where to stay in Monteverde

1. JAGUARUNDI LODGGE

During our stay in Monteverde we stayed at Jaguarundi Lodge, which is located outside the main town area of the small town of Santa Elena, the gateway to the cloud forests, but is close to the central bus station and a small shopping mall that has a supermarket, a bank, shops and some cafes and restaurants.
From Jaguarundi it is only a short drive to Monteverde Cloud forest and other attractions.

2. RAINBOW VALLEY LODGE COSTA RICA

This hotel has some of the best mountain views in Monteverde. There’s free WIFI, lush gardens, a scenic terrace, laundry facilities, free parking, and a tour booking desk. There’s an airport shuttle, family-style rooms, currency exchange, library, and bicycle hire.

3. CHIRA GLAMPING MONTEVERDE

This dome, luxury tent gets you as close to the forest as possible while still living lavishly. There is free WIFI, free parking, and a terrace overlooking the rainforest. There’s an outdoor fireplace, outdoor furniture, BBQ facilities, and a shuttle service. There’s an on-site hot tub, champagne/wine for purchase, and board games.

Each unit has an outdoor area and garden. Some units come equip with a dining area and/or a balcony. Guests will have a private bathroom with a shower, and access to an outdoor kitchen with a stove top, toaster, and fridge. 

This glamping property is located 1.4 miles from Sky Adventures Monteverde, and 2.2 miles from Selvatura Adventure Park. It’s 1.9 miles from Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.

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