Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica: Detailed Guide for First Timers
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, officially named the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve (or ‘Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde’ in Spanish), is amongst the best things to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
Hike through the misty rainforest, spot exotic birds and wildlife, stand at the top of the continental divide and enjoy a day in one of the top cloud forests in Costa Rica. A top destination for naturalists due to more than 500 bird species, countless flora, fauna, reptiles and mammals, it’s a dream come true for seekers of nature and tranquillity.
My number one recommendation is to hire a naturalist guide to explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Yes, you absolutely can visit the rainforest unguided, no problem, but it will likely mean you won’t spot as many birds, wildlife and insects tucked up in the Monteverde canopy.
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YOu can also experience the Monteverde Cloud Forest through a unique Monteverde Night Walk where 80% of Monteverde’s wildlife comes to life.
If you are looking to experience the best hanging bridges Monteverde has to offer, I would recommend neighbouring Selvatura Adventure Park instead, which boasts 8 long suspension bridges. While this top Costa Rica cloud forest has a single red hanging bridge, it’s not why most visitors carve out time to see this part of the mysteriously shrouded Monteverde Cloud Forest Costa Rica.
This guide to Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve will give you all the lowdown on the best way to get to Monteverde park, the best time to visit, what amenities are available at the Monteverde Costa Rica cloud forest, what to expect on your visit and where to stay in Monteverde.
Monteverde Quick Guide
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BEST MONTEVERDE HOTELS
Luxury | Hotel Belmar
Unique | Chira Glamping
Midrange | Valle Escondido Hotel
Economy | Eddy’s Place
Hostel |Selina Monteverde
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BEST MONTEVERDE GUIDED TOURS
Monteverde Cloud Forest Tour
Selvatura Adventure Park Ziplining Tour
Monteverde Rainforest Night Walk
Don Juan Coffee Tour
El Tigre Waterfalls Tour
About the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve
Originally an 820-acre reserve in 1972, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve is now a whopping 35,089 acres. With help from the Tropical Science Centre, scientist George Powell and local Wilford Guidon established the nature reserve in an attempt to quash damage to the flora and fauna due to hunting in the region.
With the continued growth of the biological preserve over the years due to donations by well-known organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the International Council for Bird Preservation, it is now one of the top cloud forests of Costa Rica. In 1977, it made its debut on the world stage via a BBC documentary which increased the popularity of the region, almost overnight.
The Costa Rica Monteverde Cloud Forest is unique in a sense because of its location perched atop the continental divide. The continental divide is a geographical boundary, or line, that marks the boundary between two hydrographic watersheds.
In layman’s terms, when standing at the continental divide viewpoint in the Monteverde rainforest preserve, water on your lefthand side will run into the Atlantic Ocean, and water that falls on your right-hand side will run into the Pacific Ocean.
Visiting the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a highlight on the ultimate 10 days Costa Rica itinerary.
Monteverde Cloud Forest vs Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve
I think it’s important to note that the Monteverde Cloud Forest is not the same as the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest, however mistakenly used, is a term for the entirety of the rainforest surrounding the rural community of Monteverde and the town of Santa Elena. This term loosely encompasses other reserves like the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, the Curi Cancha Reserve, and the Children’s Eternal Forest, amongst others.
The Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Reserve is a specific paid entry area that attracts visitors every year because of its plethora of birdlife and wildlife.
Where is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
The Cloud Forest Monteverde Costa Rica is located on the northern edge of the Puntarenas Province and is a 3.3 mile (5.3km) distance or 15-minute drive southeast of the town of Santa Elena Costa Rica.
Click on the Cloud Forest Costa Rica Monteverde map below to interact with Google Maps and find your ideal route to visit the Monte Verde Cloud Forest. Alternatively, read on about the best ways to get to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica.
How to Get to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
By Rental Car
You can reach the Monteverde Reserve within a 15-minute drive by rental car.
I use Discover Cars for all of my car rentals within Costa Rica and around the world. I like that Discover Cars compares local and international companies to find you the best deal. And since exploring Monteverde is best done by rental car, reserve early!
NOTE | Monteverde region and the town of Santa Elena have no rental car companies. So make sure to pick up your rental car in San Jose, Liberia or La Fortuna.
Check Prices + Availability on Costa Rica Rental Cars
Enter ‘Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve’ or ‘Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde’ into Google Maps (or Waze) to find the best route to get there.
Otherwise, follow Route 620 heading southeast out of Santa Elena town centre for 3.3 miles until you reach the parking lot of the Monteverde Forest Preserve on the righthand side of the road across from Selina Monteverde.
TIP | A 4×4 vehicle is not required to make this trip, although I would recommend a rental car with high clearance.
If you find yourself without a rental car, you can take the bus from the town centre of Santa Elena. You can catch the bus in front of the Banco Nacional at 6:15AM, 7:20AM and 1:15PM.
When returning from the Monteverde cloud rainforest Costa Rica, buses depart at 11:30AM, 2PM and 4PM.
The Santa Elena to Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve is $1.20USD each way, 800 CRC paid in cash.
If you do not have access to a rental car, you can visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve via taxi. Take a taxi from the official Santa Elena taxi stand, or ask your hotel reception to call a taxi for hotel pickup. The minimum cost is $1.5 USD and most trips range from $2-15 USD with Monteverde and the cloud forests region. Taxi fares are only accepted in cash.
NOTE | Santa Elena town offers two types of taxis, the official red taxis and the pirate taxis. Both are safe to take, just make sure to ask to finalize the price before getting in.
If you happen to be staying at Selina Monteverde, or any Monteverde hotel further up Route 620, you can walk to the entrance of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. I stayed at Selina and made the gradually inclining walk to the entrance in about 20 minutes.
Best Monteverde Cloud Forest
Amongst the top Monteverde activities, a visit to see the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve is a must-do when in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Tour
To get the most from this activity, I suggest taking a Monteverde Canopy Tour of the Monteverde Reserve.
The knowledgeable naturalist guide will point out birds, wildlife and insects that you otherwise may miss. And, since the number one draw for birders to the Monteverde Cloud Forest is spotting a Resplendent Quetzal, a guide can help you do that, too!
NOTE | Of course, with any natural attraction, the amount of wildlife, birdlife and insects you see is not controllable by your guide.
NOTE | This tour does not include the entrance fee for the park, just access to a naturalist guide
The Best Naturalist Guide for Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Monteverde Night Walk
For something a bit exciting, opt for a Monteverde Night Tour of the cloud forest. Since 80% of Monteverde’s wildlife comes out at night, this is a unique chance to witness the marvel of the Costa Rica rainforest.
Take a Night Walk through the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Best Time to Visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Time of Year
Monteverde can be visited all year round but experiences the highest heat (about 32°C) in the summer months between June and August and the most rain in September through December. But because the Monteverde region is essentially a large living and breathing rainforest, you will experience rainfall all year round.
It rained for most of the time on my visit to the Biological Preserve in mid-March.
NOTE | The main pathway in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve is dirt. So, if it’s raining, you will likely be slogging through some mud. Wear shoes you don’t mind getting dirty.
High season in Monteverde is January through March with the height of tourism settling in the month of January each year. This is when hotel and flight prices will be at its peak.
Time of Day
As one of the top activities for what to do in Monteverde Costa Rica, you will find visitors in the park at all times of the day. If you are going unguided, arrive at the park at 7AM when the park opens. Since most guided tours start at 7:30AM, this will help you beat the crowds. Plus, as the day goes on, the weather will become more erratic and you may lose any views you would otherwise get.
Also, shortly after the park opens, a line will form in front of the ticket office that will remain throughout the day. It can take upwards of 20 minutes to get through.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Hours
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve is open 7AM – 4PM daily.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Entrance Fee
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve entrance fee is $25USD per person, unguided.
If you are a student, you may be eligible for a 50% discount on admission, so make sure to bring proof! Children under 6 are free.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve Amenities
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve has all the conveniences of a popular attraction. Read on to see what to expect on your visit to the park:
There are two parking options available to you, one that is official and one that is not official.
You can choose to park at the official Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve paid parking lot across the street from Selina and take the shuttle to the entrance or drive to the entrance and park on the side of the road (unofficial parking).
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Parking is $5USD per car.
If you are arriving at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve early in the morning when the park opens, my recommendation would be to keep driving and find a spot on the side of the road before the entrance.
NOTE | If you do decide to park on the side of the road near the entrance, make sure to hide all valuables and lock all your doors!
The onsite restaurant called Cafe Colibri is located right next to the Hummingbird Gallery, making a trip well worth it. Enjoy a cup of Costa Rican coffee and a pastry after your hike through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve surrounded by flitting hummingbirds.
Cafe Colibri is open 9AM – 5PM daily.
If you are looking for a full meal, Raices Restaurante offers traditional Costa Rican cuisine and is located in the reception centre.
Raices Restaurante is open 7AM – 9PM daily.
Restrooms can be found free of charge in the reception hall located across from the ticket centre.
NOTE | There are no washrooms past the entrance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, so make sure to go before your hike.
You have two opportunities for shopping on your visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
Firstly, you can stop at the Monteverde Hummingbird Gallery, located beside Cafe Colibri on the lefthand side of the road before the ticket centre and up a few stairs. Here you will find beautiful artworks and handicrafts by locals while admiring the hummingbirds just outside the door.
The Monteverde Hummingbird Gallery is open 8:30AM – 5PM daily.
Secondly, you can opt to purchase souvenirs and trinkets from the main gift shop in the reception hall just past the ticket booth.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Trails
While only about 3% of the entirety of the Monteverde Cloud Forest is open to the public, you can find 9 trails of varying difficulties and durations at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, equalling approximately 8 miles (13km) of trails to enjoy.
Most Popular Trails
Okay, you have two options when it comes to taking the short loop at Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve.
But first, let’s get the lay of the land. If you take a peek at the map above, you will notice the trail called Sendero Camino (literal translation ‘the road’). This is the main trail of the park and can be classified as a wide and large dirt path running through the rainforest.
This is where most people will travel to and from the observation deck if they are looking for easy difficulty and the shortest duration.
The Sendero Camino also gets the muddiest when it rains as it doesn’t have the gravel barrier like most other trails do, so make sure to bring hiking boots or shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. The Sendero Camino runs 1.2 miles (2km) in length with only a slight elevation, making it the easiest trail in the park.
We took the Sendero Camino on the way back from the observation deck and saw many groups of people bird-watching along the way.
Sendero Bosque Nuboso
Second, you will notice Sendero Bosque Nuboso on the bottom of the map which is considered the prettiest trail in Monteverde Park. This was my favourite trail and the one we took on the way to the La Ventana observation deck. I would highly recommend taking this trail at the start of your Monteverde hike, whether you choose to do the long or short loop.
The trail here winds through misty dense rainforest, with so many opportunities to see insects and wildlife. I saw a white-nosed coati (like a raccoon) and an agouti (a large rodent-type animal).
The Sendero Bosque Nuboso is 1.2 miles (1.9km) long with an elevation gain of 213ft. Most of the trail is gradual ebbs and flows with the last portion, just before the observation deck, being where you will see most of the elevation gain and steepest part of the trail.
Literally translated to ‘swampy path’, the Sendero Pantanoso will be one of the main trails along the longer loop through the Monteverde Cloud Forest. The trail runs 1 mile (1.6km) long with an elevation gain of 131ft and links the La Ventana observation deck with the Sendero El Rio.
The Sendero Pantanoso follows the line of the continental divide northwards and you can expect to see a few flowers, including magnolias, and conifer trees along the way. The trail takes 1.25 hours to complete.
Sendero El Rio
Translated to ‘river trail’, the Sendero El Rio connects the Sendero Pantanoso to the main ranger center along the long loop. The Sendero El Rio runs along the Quebrada Cuecha and is 1.2 miles (1.9km) in length with an elevation gain of 213ft. The trail will take approximately 1.5 hours to complete depending on your fitness level.
Once the Sendero El Rio verges with the Sendero Cuecha on the last part of the trail, you can take a small detour to see the waterfall (definitely do this!).
Recommended Short Trail Loop Options
The Bosque Nuboso + Camino Loop
If you are short on time but still want to hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, you can start your journey on the Sendero Bosque Nuboso. Take the 1.2-mile trail to the observation deck where you will get a chance to see the clouds rolling by over the continental divide.
Then, make your way back via the Sendero Camino. A 1.3-mile trail leading straight to the ranger centre.
The shortest and easiest trail will take roughly 1.5 hours to complete.
This is the loop we took. In my opinion, it’s worth getting off the beaten path of the Sendero Camino and taking a bit longer journey. The Sendero Camino was wide and muddy, and we didn’t see much. The Sendero Bosque Nuboso was magical.
The Bosque Nuboso, Hanging Bridge + Waterfall Loop
While this trail takes a bit longer, at roughly 2 hours, you get to see the famous red hanging bridge and the waterfall. Plus, get off the beaten path of the Sendero Camino.
- Take Sendero Bosque Nuboso
- Check out La Ventana (observation deck)
- Return on the Sendero Camino
- Turn right onto Sendero Wilford Guindon
- Cross the Hanging Bridge
- Turn Right onto Sendero Tosi
- Merge with Sendero Cuecha
- See the Waterfall
- Turn around and follow Sendero Cuecha back to Ranger Centre
Recommended Long Trail Loop
If you are an avid hiker and have half a day to enjoy the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, you can opt to take the longer trail loop.
Start your adventure on the scenic Sendero Bosque Nuboso until you reach the La Ventana observation deck. After learning about the continental divide and witnessing the fast-moving clouds, you can turn right and follow the Sendero Pantanoso for 1 mile. Just after the 1-mile mark, the trail will converge into the Sendero El Rio for the second half of the long trail loop.
Take the small devour to see the waterfall and continue on the Sendero Cuecha to meet back at the visitor centre.
The long trail loop takes roughly 3.5 hours to complete and is considered easy to moderate difficulty.
Best Trail for Bird Watching
The main bird-watching trail, and where I saw the most groups crowded around a naturalist guide looking up at the Monteverde canopy was along the Sendero Camino. I definitely saw quite a bit of birdlife along this trail including a large parrot.
If you are visiting to catch a glimpse of the coveted Resplendent Quetzal, make sure to take the Sendero Bosque Nuboso trail either to or from the observation deck.
Try hiking in Rio Celeste Park, Selvatura Park and Tortuga Island
The Hanging Bridge
While I definitely wouldn’t recommend visiting the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve if you are looking for a fun hanging bridges experience, the park definitely does boast one red hanging bridge worth seeing. The Monteverde Cloud Forest hanging bridge is 300 ft above ground with great views of the rainforest canopy.
I personally loved the Mistico Hanging Bridges in La Fortuna
Other Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Trails
- Length: 1.1 miles (1.8km)
- Elevation Gain: 492ft
- Time to Complete: 1.25 hours
- Length: 0.2 miles (0.3km)
- Elevation Gain: 49ft
- Time to Complete: 10 minutes
Sendero George Powell
- Length: 0.1 mile (0.2km)
- Elevation Gain: 66ft
- Time to Complete: 10 minutes
- Length: 0.4 miles (0.6km)
- Time to Complete: 20 minutes
Monteverde Cloud Forest Animals
Within the 25,098 acres of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, there are eight ecosystems atop the continental divide. With over 500 bird species, 100 species of mammals, including six cat species, and over 1,000 amphibian, insect and reptile species, it’s no wonder visitors flock here every year.
While only roughly 3% of the entire cloud forest is open to the public, you can still spot a few Monteverde Cloud Forest animals in the park, making it worth a visit. Common animals to see in Monteverde park:
- White-nosed Coati
- Agouti & Paca
- White-faced monkeys
- Howler monkeys
- Replendent Quetzal (very elusive!)
- Frogs, snakes & insects
NOTE | Nature is beautiful and unexpected. So, I think it’s important to note that you are not guaranteed any sightings on your visit to the biological preserve. While I do hope you get to see some interesting birdlife, wildlife and insects, you may see none at all! That is the nature of nature.
Rules While in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve
What makes the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve so special is its pureness and preservation of its natural habitat. In order to keep the park in good shape and to make the most of your visit, there are a few rules you should follow while inside the property:
- Always stay on the trails
- No flash photography
- Do not collect samples of animals or plants
- No littering
- Avoid loud noises and keep your voice down
- No smoking on the reserve or within the premises
What to Bring to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
It was very damp on my visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. And this is something you can expect all your long so come prepared! Yes, you will need either hiking boots or sturdy shoes that are willing to get dirty, as the main trail can be muddy most of the day.
I also packed my water-resistant day bag with my reusable water bottle and my camera equipment. You definitely want to bring a rain jacket with you, as well.
Because the cloud forest can be cooler than most places in Costa Rica, I would recommend wearing long pants and a long shirt for your visit. This will mean you don’t have to wear mosquito repellent on your visit either. If you opt for shorts, please bring mosquito repellent with you.
RAIN JACKET | Because Costa Rica is covered in rainforest, that means the weather can be pretty unpredictable. Make sure to bring a hooded rain jacket with you that can pack up small in your day bag just in case. I definitely used mine.
WATER RESISTANT DAYPACK | Costa Rica is a wealth of adventure and with that comes multiple day trips or days spent in and out of your rental car. Make sure to have a water resistant daypack that can carry your water bottle, snacks, mosquito repellent and sunscreen.
PURIFYING REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE | I travel full time, so I’ve seen the devastation single-use plastic can have on our environment. Once I purchased this purifying reusable water bottle, I never looked back. It’s super stylish and you can recharge it through USB!
SUNSCREEN | Y’all, the sun is HOT in Costa Rica as the country is located close to the equator. Make sure to throw on some sunscreen even if it’s cloudy out. That’s what it gets you. There are some great reef-safe sunscreens out there nowadays, so let’s protect our ocean life!
MOSQUITO REPELLENT | Yup, there are mosquitos in the rainforest, who would have thunk. I like to use a more natural mosquito repellent.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodging
Okay, let’s take a look at where to stay in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The town of Santa Elena and the surrounding hills are the best base for your adventures in the Monteverde region and offer something for everyone. You can expect quaint rainforest cabins to luxury resorts nestled in the hills.
No matter where you stay in Monteverde, you can reach the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve within a 15-20 minute drive.
The Best Hotels in Monteverde: Detailed Guide
Travel Insurance for Monteverde
Monteverde Costa Rica is known for nature adventures, and with that, comes the risk of fall, injury or accident. Don’t be left with huge hospital bills and protect yourself with the right travel insurance.
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Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Conclusion
There you have it, my detailed guide to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. One of my favourite things to do in Monteverde for its serenity and multiple interesting trails. The wildlife was so beautiful too! Make sure to check out the Hummingbird Cafe before leaving and keep an eye out for the Resplendent Quetzal.
Happy travels in Costa Rica!