Here are 10 things to do in Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. This beautiful place, high in the skies, is simply magical.
I’ve always imagined Costa Rica as the best place in the world to spot wildlife. So when we planned a trip there I did thorough research of which national park to visit. I had several to choose between, but these three were at the top of my list:
- Monteverde Cloud Forest (amazing diversity of flora and fauna)
- Manuel Antonio National Park (known as one of the most beautiful national parks in the world)
- Tortuguero National Park (the place to spot turtles)
Well, my favorite animal is the turtle so the Tortuguero National Park was my first choice. But – the season wasn’t right. Manuel Antonio is the smallest of the parks, and I had heard that Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was the best place to see animals. Plus, it was a cloud forest, which made it sound mysterious and adventurous.
That’s the one!
Rainforest versus jungle & cloud forest
Until I read up on it, I had no idea of the difference between a jungle, a cloud forest, and a rainforest – other than the latter must be extra rainy. Well, here’s a definition of the three:
A rainforest is a forest near the equator that gets a lot of rain. In a rainforest, all twelve months have a temperature of at least 18°C and 60 mm of rain.
A jungle is an area overgrown with dense, tangled vegetation like trees and plants – it’s the kind you need to cut through with a machete. Many jungles can be found in rainforests.
A cloud forest is located at a higher elevation and therefore it’s almost constantly covered by fog and mist. The trees in a cloud forest are shorter, more crooked, and typically covered in moss.
Monteverde’s three cloud forests
What most people don’t know is that Monteverde actually covers three cloud forest reserves: Children’s Eternal Rain Forest, Monteverde, and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Plus, then you have the different sections and towns. It definitely got me confused.
So you know what, let’s just quickly recap what the different areas cover:
The cloud forest:
- Monteverde: The name of the entire region (all three cloud forests + towns)
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve: The most popular cloud forest with the most animals
- Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve: The second cloud forest
- Children’s Eternal Rain Forest: The third cloud forest with a different climate (much drier)
- Selvatura Park: An adventure part of Monteverde with zip lining, hanging bridges, and other activities
- Finca Santa Maria: A private farm (finca) where you can do night tours
- Santa Elena: The most populated
- Cerro Plano: Mainly hotels
- San Gerardo
My advice if you only have one day in Monteverde? Go to Selvatura Park, where you’ll experience the mystical cloud forest and have an adventurous and fun day at the same time.
How long do you need in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica?
Most people stay 1-2 full days. We were there for two days and it was enough.
Where to eat
At a Soda restaurant, you’ll typically pay $3 for a local dish. Main courses in most budget restaurants cost around $9.
Entry to the cloud forest is free.
Where to stay
We stayed at Cabinas El Pueblo, a basic accommodation with free WIFI and a great breakfast, located in Monteverde.
How to get there
Monteverde is located roughly 2,5 hours drive from the capital, San José. It’s fairly easy to reach by bus from several of the main cities in Costa Rica.
Things to do in Monteverde Cloud Forest
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is located in mountainous northwestern Costa Rica and takes its name after the nearby town of Monteverde. It was founded in 1972 and consists of over 10,500 hectares (26,000 acres) of cloud forest. Monteverde (which means Green Mountain) houses 2.5% of worldwide biodiversity, and it’s one of the best examples of sustainable tourism that you can experience.
1. Hanging bridges in Selvatura Park
The hanging bridges in Selvatura Park were hands down the best experience in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The day we went there, it was so foggy that I almost couldn’t see anything. But I got a really good sense of what a cloud forest is.
The hanging bridges – or walkways – consist of 8 suspension bridges connected by 3 km trails. The bridges vary from 50m to 170m in length and 12m to 60m in height. At almost 1.5m wide, the bridge system is the sturdiest and widest in Costa Rica.
They were SO much fun to walk on. I couldn’t really see much other than the tree tops, but the sounds….! You hear crickets, insects buzzing, howler monkeys, birds. It’s so relaxing – except for the occasional screams and woohoo’ing coming from the nearby zip line.
2. Coffee tours
A more relaxed adventure in Monteverde is joining a coffee tour since Costa Rica is known all over the world for its rich coffee – and for good reason. The coffee literally tastes like chocolate. I’m not a coffee drinker, but this coffee? Loved it.
The El Trapiche Tour is the most popular coffee and sugar tour. I haven’t been on this tour myself, but if I went back to Monteverde, this is the tour I’d go with.
3. Monteverde night tour
Another fun, but also hair-raising adventure is a jungle night trek. This can be a great way to discover wildlife because most animals are more active at night. Since you’re out looking for animals, you’ll be in the jungle most of the time – meaning, you’ll walk in dense vegetation and not necessarily on a trail. You’ll get a torch and the guide is there. He knows all the sounds of the forest and animals so don’t worry about a jaguar suddenly showing up.
We saw frogs, a jungle fox, insects, a sloth (but very far away in the dark treetops), and a tarantula. If you don’t like spiders (I don’t either), tell this to the guide. He will make sure to tell you when you’re approaching one and then you can keep your distance.
Bring waterproof boots and rainwear (a rain poncho will also do fine). A typical tour lasts 2 hours.
4. Jungle walks and weird trees
Those trees. Man. I never thought I’d be terrified of a tree, but walking between those dense, mossy trees covered in thick white fog made me feel as if Predator was lurking in the mist. I’ve been to several rainforests in Malaysia, Thailand, and Mexico, but this cloud forest – wow. This was way cooler. Scarier, but definitely cooler.
Aside from the mossy trees, we also saw a smiling tree, created by nature. And then there were the parasite trees, they were really awesome. If you try to squeeze into one of them, make sure you can get out again.
And another thing I feel like pointing out: You never know what’s hiding inside those cracks. Just saying.
5. Swim in San Luis waterfall
Most known or touristy waterfalls have a “swimming forbidden” sign nearby. But at San Luis waterfall you can swim. The waterfall is located close by the entrance and the hike is easy. It costs $10 to enter, just make sure you’re visiting when there’s water in it (the rainy season).
6. Discover wildlife
Monteverde Cloud Forest is home to 100 species of mammals, 120 species of reptiles and amphibians, and more than 500 bird species.
But before you go to Monteverde expecting to see toucans, pythons, or poison dart frogs (they would be so cool to see!), you might want to adjust your expectations:
You’re not likely to see jaguars, ocelots, or – sorry to disappoint – poison dart frogs, although they do live there. If you’re looking for that kind of wildlife, you’re not going to find it here (you’re better off heading to Colombia or Honduras).
You are likely to see BIRDS. You’ll probably bump into hummingbirds, howler monkeys (maybe), and the occasional sloth, tarantula, or small snake. But it’s not like they’re all over the place.
7. Monteverde Serpentarium
You can find some of Costa Rica’s most intimidating animals, like snakes (non-venomous), frogs, toads, and lizards in the Serpentario de Monteverde. It’s located just 5 minutes from the center of Santa Elena and the ticket price is $15.
8. Zip lining
Ah, zip lining! The cloud forest of Monteverde basically invented zip lining, and it has to be the most adventurous way to experience the forest. Expect to pay around $86 per person.
9. A guided tour of Monteverde Cloud Forest
We did a guided tour through Monteverde, and although our guide was super enthusiastic and experienced, I’m ambivalent if it was worth it. When it comes down to it, a guide is really useful if you’d like to know about the cloud forest and birds. But other than that, well, I’ll let you decide for yourself:
10. Bird watching (find the Quetzal)
In 1983, a National Geographic article described Monteverde as the perfect place to see the Resplendent Quetzal – a beautiful and rare bird. Ever since it’s been a birdwatcher’s paradise. If you’re passionate about birds, you’d probably want to hire a guide.
You’ll also see hummingbirds, if not in the forest then at the entrance.
Finding the best guide in Monteverde
The guides in Monteverde are self-employed so you hire them directly. Either by finding them in advance or when you get there.
If you decide to go with a guide, I recommend Roy Porras. This is a man who loves his job and the cloud forest. Aside from being really nice and passionate, he knows his way around the forest and he’s good at explaining how everything works in this ecosystem.
Final verdict of Monteverde
The bad: To be honest, I expected something else from Monteverde – I had hoped to see more wildlife. Now I know that Monteverde is for bird lovers and not wildlife enthusiasts like myself. If you happen to see a sloth (like I did back at the hostel), great, but it’s not bound to happen. Monteverde is just not the best place to spot wildlife.
The good: Other than that, visiting a cloud forest is AMAZING and that alone is reason to go! Monteverde is such a cool place and I recommend it because it’s so unique. We had a really fun day at the hanging bridges, and being in a cloud forest is so different from any other rainforest I’ve been to. So YES, definitely go to Monteverde Cloud Forest to experience the misty jungle.
What to bring to the Cloud Forest
- Long pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt
- A warm sweater
- Insect repellent
- Hiking boots or shoes (preferably waterproof)
- Rain gear and/or a rain poncho
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