Aside from amazing beaches, Costa Rica is perhaps best known for its wealth of wildlife. Of the country’s many protected areas, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is both one of the most popular and most amazing. Covering over 10,500 hectares (26,000 acres) of Costa Rican Cloud Forest, the Monteverde Reserve consists of 6 distinct ecological zones, each with their own unique inhabitants. This lush, native forest boasts a high biodiversity, with over 2,500 plant species (including 500 orchid species – the most in a single place), 100 species of mammal, 400 bird species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species, and thousands of insects.
Hiking the Monteverde Cloud Forest
To protect this rich region, only about 3% of the Monteverde Reserve is open to the public, which still constitutes 13 km (8 miles) of hiking trails. In the park, you’re almost guaranteed to see white-faced and howler monkeys, paca and agouti (small rodent-like animals), and coati (think: skinny raccoons). The birds get even more attention, with numerous species of hummingbird, the Three-Wattled Bellbird, and most famously, the vibrantly colored Resplendent Quetzal all vying for attention.
Of Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve’s hiking trails, the two below are the best options depending on the amount of time you’d like to spend in the park.
The Long Loop
If you have a half day, and are up for several hours of hiking, the Long Loop is the way to go. This is a good choice for a hike if you have about a half day to spend exploring the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Starting on Sendero Bosque Nuboso (Cloud Forest Trail), this loop goes around the perimeter of the park, through thick cloud forest and up the mountaintops. After about an hour, you’ll reach the La Ventana (the Window) lookout, where you can see the Continental Divide before heading on to the Sendero Pantanoso (Marshy Trail) to Sendero El Rio (River Trail). This path is considered one of the best places to see the elusive Resplendent Quetzal since you spend quite a bit of time at canopy level.
The Short/Main Loop
If you don’t have as much time, the Main Loop only takes about 1.5 hours, which probably explains why it’s the most visited trail in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The wide Sendero Camino (Road Trail) leads to the famous hanging bridge, which takes you across a valley and above the canopy, offering one of the best panoramas in the entire park. From here, the Sendero Wilford Guindon will bring you back to the ranger station ranger station by taking, offering more opportunities to see the park’s amazing wildlife.
How do you get to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve?
From Santa Elena, head east past Hotel El Establo and to Cerro Plano. After the road turns to gravel, continue for about a kilometer until the road forks. Keep left and you’ll come to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve parking lot. There’s a big blue sign, you can’t miss it! It’s right across from the sign for Selina Monteverde. From the parking lot, a shuttle will bring you to the park entrance (the shuttle costs $5 round trip per person).
Shuttle to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
If you’re in Santa Elena, there is a shuttle bus that you can pre-book to bring you from the downtown to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This is a great option if you don’t want to drive and don’t mind following a schedule.
- The shuttle from Santa Elena downtown to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve departs at 7:00 AM, 8:00 AM, 10:30 AM and 1:30 PM.
- The shuttle from Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve to Santa Elena downtown departs at: 11:00 AM, 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM.
- The shuttle costs $3 USD per person one way. Round trip costs $5 USD per person.
Public Bus to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Even cheaper than the shuttle is the public bus.
- The bus from Santa Elena downtown to Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve departs at: 6:15 AM, 7:30 AM, 9:30 AM (high season only), 1:20 PM and 3:00 PM.
- The bus from Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve to Santa Elena downtown departs at: 6:00 AM, 8:30 AM (high season only), 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM.
- Costs 700 Costa Rican colones (about $1.20 USD) each way.
And if you’re coming from another city, we recommend taking a private car service like Daytrip, especially since they let you stop for sightseeing on the way!
How much does the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve cost?
For foreigners, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve costs $25 USD per person and $12 USD per child (ages 6 to 12). You can pay with cash (USD and Costa Rican Colones are accepted) and credit card.
When is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve open?
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is open everyday from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM.
Other things to do in Monteverde:
Birding in the Monteverde Cloud Forest
With 420 bird species, bird lovers visiting Costa Rica flock to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. There’s a hummingbird garden, and hundreds of exotic species flit from branch to branch or hop along the ground. The star of the show is the rare Resplendent Quetzal bird, which despite its vibrant colors can be notoriously difficult to spot. The Quetzal can only be found in the cloud forests of Central America, and Monteverde is considered the best place in the country to spot one, especially during their breeding season in April. Regarded by the Aztecs as a god, the Quetzal is notoriously flitty, so count yourself blessed if you spot one. Because of the park’s fame among birdwatchers, they even offer a guided birding tour, which is well worth it – the guides are knowledgeable, and with their experience can spot birds you likely wouldn’t have noticed.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Night Tour
For a completely different experience, you can sign up for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Night Tour. Lasting 2 hours, this guided hike is very different from the daytime experience. Armed with flashlights and a wealth of knowledge, the guides will point out the park’s nocturnal residents, which can be anything from sloths to snakes to armadillos, as well as day-time animals sleeping among the trees.
The night tour in Monteverde costs $29 per person, which includes transportation. You have to book in advance at https://cloudforestmonteverde.com/producto/night-tour/
Ziplining in Monteverde
Locals claim that the zip-line was invented at Monteverde as a way to deliver lunch to workers, and was then adapted into the thrill-ride used around the world. While the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve doesn’t have ziplines, several nearby adventure parks within the greater Monteverde National Park area do.
Selvatura Park and Sky Adventures Monteverde Park both offer ziplines courses, as well as bungee jumping, and a tarzan swing, all of which will have you flying over and through the beautiful cloud forest. But if you want the biggest and best, you want to head to 100% Aventura, which has a zipline canopy tour culminating in a 2 kilometer long superman zipline!