Guide to Monteverde’s Magical Cloud Forests
Costa Rica?s magical cloud forests are among the country?s top 3 destinations and, as such, receive a hefty number of tourists every year. More than a deterrent, this highlights the fact that when it comes to amazing landscapes, an abundance of wildlife and a crazy array of super fun activities, Monteverde is one of the country?s top spots. The region?s prominence has spawned an eco-tourism scene that is out of this word: stunning lodges, excellent restaurants (serving up some of the best fresh produce in the country), exceptional coffee and a myriad of unique experiences are on offer. This is among the most fertile corners of Costa Rica, where agriculture is prime and unspoiled, and where wildlife and wilderness thrive with abandon. One of Costa Rica?s Seven Wonders as voted by visitors and a priceless natural treasure no visitor should miss experiencing.
In the refreshing cloud forests of Monteverde, you?ll discover a truly magical world, where an impressive array of hummingbirds, many of them endemic, fly about in a flurry. The cloud forests here are also home to pumas, sloths, porcupines, coatis, exotic frogs, spiders and snakes galore not to mention the elusive and beautiful Resplendent Quetzal among hundreds of exotic birds. All up, Monteverde is home to more than 400 distinct species of birds, 100+ reptiles and amphibians and thousands of unique flora species. Some animals are easier to spot than others but with a local wildlife guide, plenty of time and patience (not to mention a night-time wildlife watching excursion) you can be handsomely rewarded.
Where is the Monteverde Cloud Forest?
The forests in the clouds are on the highlands about 3 hrs north of San Jose, the capital. The sheer proximity to the city means this is a popular spot for day-trippers and extended vacationers alike, the winding road upwards providing exceptional views of the lowlands and a wonderful change in scenery. Whilst a day-trip could certainly deliver some experiences, it simply wouldn?t do this place justice to just ?see it? for a few hours. For a truly immersive Monteverde experience, you?ll want to spend a few days here, lost in these ethereal forests, discovering her stunning hidden treasures. There?s a lot to see and even more to do in Monteverde, whether bird-spotting, zip-lining, hiking or wildlife-chasing. The average elevation in Monteverde is 4,600 feet so expect the temps to be lower than on the coastline. Monteverde always offers a wonderful reprieve on a scorching summer day.
How was Monteverde created?
The reserve was founded by a Quaker group from the US who migrated here in the 1950s. Some 11 families left the US after becoming disillusioned with their country?s wars, enticed to Costa Rica due, primarily, to the country?s lack of military ambition. They wanted to live in peace and, in Costa Rica, they found the paradise they were searching for. The group purchased a large area of land and set it aside for protection, in what is now the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, one of three reserves in the area. Biologists have been coming to Monteverde for over half a century, firstly attracted by the English-speaking communities which welcomed them and, thereafter, by the astonishing biodiversity they discovered.
What is the climate like in Monteverde?
This being a tropical cloud forest, you can expect rain on most afternoons and certainly cloud cover of an early morning (and late afternoon). The humidity is what keeps everything so luscious and fertile and what gives the forest its mystical atmosphere. Rains here can be intense but short-lived and usually occur in the early afternoon. The best time to hike in Monteverde is in the morning, right after your delicious local breakfast.
What?s there to do in Monteverde?
Cloud Forest Walks: Monteverde boasts a variety of walking trails, offered from three distinct nature reserves. The most popular of this is undoubtedly the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, its well-kept trails (over 8 miles in total) waterfalls, startling views and hanging bridges attracting groups of all ages. You don?t necessarily need a local guide to walk the trails in any of the parks but it does help to have a trained eye spot even the tiniest creatures which can sometimes be the most fascinating. This is particularly true for families whose children get very excited about any animal spotted and love learning more about the ecosystems they are visiting by asking questions to knowledgeable guides. You can pick up a trail map when you purchase your entry ticket.
Wildlife Refuge: The Monteverde Wildlife Refuge ? in Santa Elena ? is a haven for protected species and the fantastic guided night walks are among the best in the country. A very magical experience by all who have been lucky enough to attend and an unmissable experience for wildlife lovers. The guides at the refuge are super enthusiastic, knowledgeable and very entertaining, offering unique tours of their very precious corner of Monteverde. Not to be missed! If travelling with kids, also include a visit to the Bat Jungle, a wonderful animal refuge offering guided tours and feeding shows. One of the most educational spots in Monteverde.
Cheese Tasting: The Monteverde Cheese Factory was one of the first farming experiments started by the initial Quaker inhabitants of the region and has become a local icon. The home-made ice-creams are about as popular as the quetzals in these parts, yet their creamy cheeses and yogurts also shouldn?t be missed. The cheese factory is just a couple of miles south of the Bat Jungle.
Active pursuits: Eco-tourism and adventure go hand-in-hand in Costa Rica and never is this more evident than when visiting Monteverde. The cloud forests are here to be traversed on thrilling zip-lines and it is here that you?ll find the longest zip-line route in the country (over 5,000 feet of flying adrenaline-rush!) and aerial adventures for adults and children alike. There?s a mountain of fun to be had here, whether on foot, on horseback or by mountain bike. An adventure-filled day spent canyoning and canopy swinging in Monteverde really is one of the best Costa Rica experiences of all.
Insider Tips for Monteverde Visits
- You?ll definitely want to be wearing good hiking shoes when walking the trails here. Routes are well-kept but the nature of the ecosystem means they are sometimes steep and slippery.
- Wear long pants and always pack a waterproof jacket, no matter how clear it seems in the morning
- Head off early for your walk to miss the crowds. Your chances of spotting wildlife are greater when there are fewer people about. Remember to keep quiet as you walk, wildlife startles easily.
- For the greatest convenience if traveling independently, plan to stay on the charming town of Santa Elena, where you?ll have everything at your fingertips. Lodges and B&Bs here are rustic and less luxurious than those found along the coast but the lack of over-development really is a huge part of Monteverde?s appeal. Our personal recommendation is the Monteverde Lodge and Gardens, an absolute haven of tranquility, replete with wildlife and offering amazing culinary delights. You can read more about it, right here.
- Quetzals breed and are seen in greater numbers between February and July. If your aim is to spot this resplendent bird, plan to travel to Monteverde during this period.
- You can expect to eat really well in Monteverde ? not only does the area boast a healthy expat community thanks to its Quakers origins but it is also a very popular tourist spot AND a region renowned for its high-quality fresh produce. It?s a win-win for foodies! Amazing organic restaurants as well as pizzerias, sodas and international joints offering all sorts of cuisines to suit every taste.
- Monteverde is colder and rainier than most other parts of Costa Rica and, no matter what time of year you do visit, you should always expect some rain. The first four months of the year are the driest and warmest ? although a light spring shower in the early afternoon is still common. This means, however, that you can skip downright deluges which can make hiking trails very slippery.
At Costa Rica Rios, we are famous for our adventure-filled vacation tours, be they for families, groups of friends or honeymooning couples. We not only offer tours in different locations throughout the country but we also organize bespoke tours, whereby you tell us what you want to do, where you want to go and how much you?d like to spend and we do our best to bring it all together and plan your absolute Costa Rica trip of a lifetime.
Contact us today how we can combine a visit to Monteverde on your next adventure vacation in Costa Rica.