The Monteverde Cloud Forest is a traveller's favourite in Costa Rica. The misty mountains and lush jungles will wash away any stress from the previous days of travel in the Central American country! The peacefulness in the cloud forest is a stark contrast to Costa Rica's beaches and busy cities that you're going to love.
Costa Rica is a tiny country, but I was shocked to find out that it's home to 5% of the world's biodiversity! The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a unique ecosystem that encompasses over 26,000 acres of land, and exploring it is one of the top things to do in Costa Rica.
I can remember the blue skies of Santa Elena, the town right before you reach Monteverde, and as I drove to the cloud forest, watching the white cast roll in over the treetops was like watching magic.
The cloud cover casts a mystical feeling that can only be experienced in a few places in the world. Since then, I've been hooked, and I'm so excited to help you experience the whimsical world of the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
This guide has everything you need to swing from the treetops, spot some sloths, and drink some of the best coffee in the world. So, let's get to it!
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is absolutely worth visiting, as the earth is rapidly changing due to climate change; you never know how long you'll be able to experience incredible biodiverse areas like Monteverde, so the time is now!
You may hear a lot about the roughness of the dirt road getting to Monteverde, but it's really not that bad. Another concern I've heard is, "Isn't it the same as Arenal National Park?"
Well, Arenal is stunning, don't get me wrong; honestly, I think you should go to both. But Monteverde's unique flora and fauna make it well worth visiting.
From the low-hanging mist to the easy birdwatching and all the adventures you can have, it really needs to be at the top of your list for your Costa Rica trip.
But if you're still unsure, I know by the end of this guide, you'll be booking your ticket to Costa Rica asap with the Monteverde Cloud Forest as a must-see.
Okay, so a few things. There is Monteverde town, which is what the Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve was named after. Personally, the town isn't that great, the only reason you would go to the town is to experience the reserve and the other attractions nearby.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is located in the Cordillera de Tilaran mountain range in Costa Rica. It's known for its high biodiversity and unique environment, as it sits at an altitude of 1,500 to 1,900 meters.
Because of this elevation and constant humidity, a cloud of mist sits on top of the forest, making it otherworldly and one-of-a-kind. I can remember arriving and feeling a bit like I was in a Jurassic Park movie, but without all the dinosaurs, ha! I can't even imagine how it would look sunny here. The cloud is what makes it feel so special.
Fun fact: Out of all the forests in the world, only 1% are considered to be cloud forests, so it really is a special place.
One thing that I found awesome about misty days is it's the perfect climate for birds to thrive. I wasn't big into bird watching, but after a birding tour in the Monteverde park, wow, I get the hype. There are around 500 species of birds living within the reserve alone—that's more than the entire United States! So, if you're into birding, you're about to have one heck of a time here.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest consists of four different life zones, and each has a unique ecosystem. It's honestly wild when you think about it. It's the incredible diversity that attracts a wide variety of plants and wildlife!
Just imagine—you can find over 100 types of mammals, 500 birds, and 120 amphibians and reptiles here. And that's not all! The reserve is also home to tens of thousands of insects and over 3,000 plants, including more than 500 species of orchids alone. Seriously, what is this place?
The conservationists have done an incredible job of integrating tourism without deforestation, and it's amazing to see how the earth and humans can live in harmony when there is a conscious effort to do so!
Visitors can come and learn about the local wildlife, observe the beautiful flora and fauna in their natural habitat while exploring the forest's intricate network of trails, or even experience the thrilling zip-line tours through the reserve all while feeling good about being a responsible traveller.
You can visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve on your own or as part of an organised tour. It's open every day from 7 am-4 pm. For foreigners, it costs $25 a person, and it's definitely the most popular thing to do in Monteverde.
If you decide to go on your own, here are some of the best hiking trails within the forest. And if you're hoping to spot some animals, try to go earlier in the morning; this is when they're most active.
The Nuboso trail was my favourite route in the reserve. It's only about two km, and you'll make your way up about 65 meters to stand at the Continental Divide. It's crazy to feel the air shift up here from the Pacific to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. It's like you can smell the salt in the air as soon as you get to the top.
It only takes about an hour and a half, and you'll get to see a lot of greenery, cross a suspension bridge, and hopefully see a few scurrying animals.
The Cloud Forest Trail is the longest hike in the reserve. It's 5.8 km and has an elevation gain of 280 meters, but I'd say it's relatively easy if you're in shape. You'll pass some amazing waterfalls with tons of different species around and get to watch the clouds race by you from the lookout points.
If you want something easy but pretty (me! I want something easy and pretty, ha), then check out the El Rio trail. It's about 2 km long and runs along the Quebrada Cuecha river.
You'll hop your way over streams and use bridges to get to a small waterfall. It's a great introductory trail to the Cloud Forest Reserve, and you don't have to worry about getting stuck in slippery mud or climbing up steep inclines.
If you've had enough of hiking, there are a few other activities you can do at Monteverde.
Just about everyone I met while in Costa Rica was raving about their ziplining tour in Monteverde. To fly high over the treeline, zipping in and out of the clouds, it's one of the best things to do in Monteverde.
I went on this tour, and it was 2 1/2 hours of pure adrenaline and fun. Flying through the trees was an absolute blast, and the Tarzan swing might be one of the coolest things I did while in Costa Rica. To have the fresh air in your face and your throat hurting from screaming and laughing. I can't recommend this activity enough!
I've mentioned birding a few times, and that's because the Monteverde Cloud Forest is seriously one of the best places to spot unique birds. Of course, if you're more familiar with birding, you can bring your binoculars and head out into the reserve on your own.
But if you're like me and have no idea what you're looking for or at, you gotta join one of the tours. The guides are so knowledgeable, and it's like they have a gadget eye because how in the world they saw some of these birds from a distance, I don't know.
During a tour, you can expect to see exotic Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Emerald Toucanets, Resplendent Quetzals, Fronted and White Parakeets, and even some Spider Monkeys hopping around in the trees.
I am coffee-obsessed and not in the "don't talk to me before I have my coffee" kind of way. But I love the rich aromas of coffee and the feeling of having a warm cup in the morning while sitting outside. And you don't just get that feeling with Folgers. So, I'm always on the lookout for some good coffee beans.
I found exactly that on this Coffee, Chocolate, and Sugar Cane tour. The tour will take you through the three different processes of harvesting the beans, cacao, and sugar cane. Then (my favorite part), you get to sample the finished product. Costa Rica has some of the best coffee and chocolate in the world, and after this tour, I'm sure you'll be purchasing some to take home.
When to go can be a bit tricky, mostly because there is no definitive answer.
Technically the dry season in Costa Rica is from December to April, but honestly, you'll most likely see rain in Monteverde. I mean, with a cloud hanging over the mountains 90% of the time—it's going to rain at least once.
There is also a wind that comes in from North America during the dry season that can make ziplining a no-go on a few of the days.
And if you go during the rainy season, well, it could be raining for a few hours every day. But it typically clears long enough to head into the forest, walk the hanging bridges, and zipline through the canopies.
What I recommend is going during the transition months from either rainy to dry or from dry to rainy. These fall around May and November, and it's also the least crowded. This will give you the best chance of having a day without rain, and the winds will either be dying down, or they haven't picked up.
It's also a great time to explore the rest of Costa Rica because it won't be crazy hot or raining cats and dogs!
Getting to Monteverde Cloud Forest is pretty straightforward, just be aware that the road is not the best.
I highly recommend renting a car. You don't need a 4x4 or anything special. The roads are good enough to drive yourself all around the country.
If you're coming from the airport, it's about a 3 1/2 hour drive. A lot of people stay in Santa Elena and then drive to the Cloud Forest Reserve. It's only about 10 minutes away. And since you have your own car, you'll have the flexibility of exploring the area and visiting the other attractions.
The public transportation works great if you're coming from San Jose or somewhere close by. It's just not as flexible as having a car of your own. You can take a bus to Santa Elena from San Jose (it's about 4 1/2 - 5 hours), then take another 10-minute bus ride from there to the reserve.
The buses leave Santa Elena at 6:00 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. and only cost $1. Buses can pick you up from anywhere within the triangle of downtown Santa Elena and along the road through Cerro Plano on their way to the Monteverde Cloud Reserve.
Grabbing a taxi is always an option. It's just a little more expensive (or a lot more expensive if you're coming from San Jose). You can either flag one down or have your hotel call you a taxi. Make sure to negotiate a price before getting in. From Santa Elena, it should only cost $10.
When visiting the Monteverde Cloud Reserve, most people opt to stay in Santa Elena, which is just about a 10-minute drive away. You could stay in Monteverde, but it's a tiny town and doesn't have as many options when it comes to accommodation and food.
Santa Elena is perfect for a night or two as it has some delicious bakeries and dinner spots.
For a warm welcome to Costa Rica, stay at the Camino Verde B&B Monteverde Costa Rica for epic views of the cloud forest from your private terrace. Waking up here is a dream!
Here are two of my must-eats in Santa Elena
San Lucas Tree Top Dining: It's a high-end restaurant that gives each of its dinner guests a glass box to enjoy insane views of the treetops while eating a 5-star dinner. You must have reservations. It's super small. So make sure to call as soon as you have your trip booked.
Orchid Cafe: This cafe became my go-to. It's perfect for a coffee and brunch. The menu is full of typical Costa Rican food, as well as a few crepes and smoothie bowls. You can also get a traditional coffee, which is made on the fire. It's so good!
The most important thing isn't really when to go. It's just making sure you are prepared for whatever the weather could bring. So here is my list of must-haves.
Long sleeve t-shirt
Short sleeve t-shirt
Some people (like me) opt for tennis shoes, but after it's rained, the trails can get really muddy, which had me slipping and sliding everywhere. So now I recommend bringing a pair of waterproof hiking boots.
The weather can also change in the blink of an eye here, so it's good to have something that will keep you dry and warm when the rain comes and something breathable when it doesn't.
After a few days in Monteverde, you can either head to La Fortuna to explore Arenal Volcano or head down to the coast for some surfing and beach days.
Monteverde is in the centre of the north, so you really can go any which way to explore the rest of the county, and it won't take you long to get there.
Planning a trip to Costa Rica? Check out our 10-day itinerary.
Last Updated 16 October 2023