The Famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Monteverde has several reserves to take in the area’s abundant nature, but one of the most popular is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde). This reserve offers a variety of trails and has several characteristics that make it unique. Most notably, it is positioned at the location of the Continental Divide where the Atlantic and Pacific slopes collide. The Reserve is also known for its red hanging bridge, which you see in all of the pictures. In this post, we’ll tell you what you need to know to plan your hike to this famous reserve, including ways to avoid the crowds.

 

Hanging Bridge at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

History of the Reserve

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was established in 1972 after a scientist named George Powell who was visiting the area became concerned about conserving Monteverde’s rich biodiversity. Settlers were moving into the forest, and widespread hunting was jeopardizing the rich flora and fauna. Determined to make a difference, Powell reached out to a local man named Wilford Guindon, one of the first Quakers to arrive in Monteverde. Together, the two promoted the establishment of a nature reserve, which came to fruition with the help of the Tropical Science Center.

The Reserve was started with a donation of 328 hectares (820 acres) of land. The Tropical Science Center quickly expanded that by soliciting donations from individuals and conservation organizations around the world. Included in the list of donors were some prominent names like the World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservancy, and International Council for Bird Preservation (BirdLife International). Over time, the Reserve was expanded with the help of Guindon and others to include adjoining areas that were being threatened by development. An interesting event happening in the background at this time was a 1977 BBC documentary. This film about Monteverde’s cloud forests dramatically increased interest in the region, and in particular, the preservation of tropical rainforests.

Today, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve encompasses an impressive 10,500 hectares (25,946 acres).

What You’ll See

Four different life zones exist on the massive property, each with a slightly different ecosystem. It is this diversity that draws so many different types of plants and wildlife. To get an idea, over 100 kinds of mammals, 500 birds, and 120 amphibians and reptiles can be found. In addition, the property hosts tens of thousands of insects and over 3,000 plants, including more than 500 species of orchid alone.

Some of the more common animals seen are white-faced and howler monkeys, paca and agouti (small rodent-like animals), and coati (similar to a raccoon). As we mentioned, bird species are numerous here as well. Hummingbirds are plentiful and you can also spot the Three-Wattled Bellbird. One of the biggest draws for birders, though, is the Resplendent Quetzal. This brightly colored bird with extraordinarily long tail feathers can be seen in only a few parts of Costa Rica. It spends much of the year in Monteverde but is easiest to spot in March and April during their breeding season.

Tip: To see the most, hire a guide. Although Monteverde is one of the most biodiverse areas of Costa Rica, wildlife is often hidden high in the canopy or in the shifting clouds. A good guide not only knows where to look, but also has a scope, allowing you to see things up in the trees.

 

White-faced Monkey at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
This white-faced monkey was very hard to spot, camouflaged in the thick canopy

 

Even with a guide, there is still a possibility that wildlife will remain mostly hidden at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Luckily, though, walking along the trails is a unique experience in itself due to the climate and landscape. The Reserve is at a very high altitude and you will often pass through thick clouds shifting in the wind. The trees and plant life are also unlike anywhere in Costa Rica. Thick moss and lichens cover every inch of bark and rock, and broad-leaf plants, vines, and bromeliads practically grow on top of one another.

 

Orchid at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
An orchid splashing color in Monteverde’s green forest

Trails

To protect the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve’s abundant flora and fauna, only a small portion (about 3%) of the property is open to the public. Still, the Reserve’s nine trails amount to 13 km (8 miles) of path to explore. Here is a link to the trail map.

There are several different options for hikes, but below we cover the two main loops.

Longer Loop

This is a good choice for a hike if you have about a half day to spend. The loop goes around the perimeter, starting on Sendero Bosque Nuboso (Cloud Forest Trail). Sendero Bosque Nuboso leads through thick cloud forest and is supposed to be one of the best places to spot the elusive Resplendant Queztal bird.

The trail ascends, and in about an hour, you will reach a lookout called La Ventana (the Window). Here, you will find a beautiful view of the Continental Divide, the point where the Atlantic and Pacific slopes converge. Seeing the moisture-rich trade winds of the Atlantic slope collide with warm air of the Pacific slope was one of the most memorable parts of our visit to the Reserve. Although the clouds were racing by, we managed to catch quick glimpses of the beautiful valley below.

 

View of the continental divide
View of the Continental Divide through a haze of clouds

 

From the viewpoint, you continue on Sendero Pantanoso (Marshy Trail) to Sendero El Rio (River Trail). This was our favorite part of the hike because the trail ran along a steep ridge, putting us at canopy level with many of the treetops. From this vantage point, it was a lot easier to see wildlife. Though it was still sometimes difficult to see through the thick haze, we did manage to spot a white-faced capuchin monkey, a mother and baby white-nosed coati, a gigantic snail, a small land crab, and lots of interesting insects, as well as several types of birds, including wrens, warblers, and thrushes.

Mid-way through Sendero El Rio is a short path that leads to a waterfall. It is small but still very pretty.

Plan on spending about a half day for the longer loop so that you can go slowly and look for birds and wildlife. The trails are well maintained, but still rustic in places. Conditions were moderate in difficulty with some steeper spots and rocks and roots to navigate.

Shorter/Main Loop

This is the most visited and busiest loop. Sendero Camino (Road Trail) is wide like a road and leads to the hanging bridge. After doing the long loop, we weren’t sure we wanted to do the main one, but were glad we did. The hanging bridge was really beautiful and worth the stop. From high atop the swaying bridge, we had an even better view of the overflowing canopy than we did on the River Trail.

 

Canopy View at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Looking down at the treetops from the hanging bridge

 

From the hanging bridge, you can connect back to the ranger station by taking Sendero Wilford Guindon, named after the prominent conservationist who helped found the Reserve. This trail is narrower and more scenic. On our visit, we saw some birds and a coati, which was a nice surprise.

The main loop takes about 1.5 hours. Sendero Camino is one of the easier trails in the Reserve. Sendero Wilford Guindon is more difficult, with some steps, so take Sendero Camino both ways if you’re looking for something easier.

Planning Your Visit

Hours

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is open daily from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission

Foreigners – $20. Citizens and residents – $7. Half-price for children six to 12. Children under six free. Discounts provided for students with valid ID. See the Reserve’s website for more information.

Guided Tours

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve offers a variety of guided tours, including a birdwatching tour, natural history tour, and night walk. Visit their website to make a reservation or for more information.

Cafeteria and Gift Shop

If you need a hot drink or snack, the Reserve has a restaurant and cafeteria. There is also a gift shop, which has some interesting souvenirs and a good assortment of nature guides.

When to Visit

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the busiest areas of protected land in town. It often gets busy, with busloads of visitors looking to discover the cloud forest. Avoid peak travel times like Christmas and New Years to avoid the biggest crowds. The rainy season, May to November, sees the fewest visitors. The rainiest month in Monteverde is October.

What to Wear/Pack

The average temperature in Monteverde is 65.8°F (18.8°C), and it often feels cooler due to the moisture. We recommend layers and lightweight long pants. A poncho or raincoat is also a necessity as rain is frequent in the cloud forest. For footwear, hiking boots or sturdy sneakers with good grips are best. If you are planning a long hike, it is also wise to invest in an inexpensive backpack cover in case of a heavy downpour. Check out our post on packing your daypack for more tips on what to bring.

 

Trail Conditions at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
A section of trail within the Reserve

 

Out of all the nature reserves in Monteverde, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of our favorites. The trails are not only scenic and rugged, but also offer interesting viewpoints. We enjoyed seeing the canopy from the hanging bridge and especially loved the view of the Continental Divide.

Have you visited one of Monteverde’s nature reserves? Share your experience below (Email subscribers, click here to post your comment online.)

Want more info for your trip to Monteverde? Check out these posts:

  • Monteverde: A Forest in the Clouds – Monteverde has a ton of options for hotels and activities. Our destination guide will help you figure out the best places to stay and things to do.
  • Costa Rica Rental Car Discount – The Monteverde-Santa Elena area is more spread out so it is nice to have a rental car to explore. Save on a sturdy 4×4 with our special discount.
  • Driving to Monteverde – Yes, you’ll need to take some dirt roads to get to Monteverde but most people find the drive to be manageable. Read our guide to learn the best routes and see videos of actual road conditions.

 

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39 Comments

  1. A really helpful & comprehensive preparation for our trip to Monteverde- thanks.
    As you hinted, wildlife may be sparse. We bagged a millipede, hummingbird and pheasant like bird. It occurred to me that given the proportion of the park not accessible to humans, no wonder the wildlife goes elsewhere.
    As you say; even without the wildlife it is an incredibly evocative place and the 2 hour trail we felt as though we’d got a good measure of it. We pitched up early afternoon in July wet season and was amazed we only saw 7 other people in there.

  2. Hi There
    We appreciate all your great advice.
    Our lodging is in La Fortuna Jan 1-5. We are a family of four with two teens. My question is: Can we take the boat across early in the morning (I think there is like a 7:30 am boat) and then somehow get to Monteverge (I think it’s around 1.5 hrs there) and see the rainforest/hanging bridge and then take the afternoon boat back? Is this possible to try? Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Jill, The van-boat-van option across Lake Arenal is about 3 hours each way so that’s too much travel time to do Monteverde as a day trip. Better to do an least an overnight or save it for another trip if you don’t have time in your itinerary.

  3. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    We will be in Costa Rica mid December through beginning of January (unfortunately the majority of my boyfriend’s holidays are fixed, so no other option than busy season… we will be arriving in Monteverde 16 December afternoon (coming from San José) and stay for 2 nights before heading to La fortuna. I was thinking about visiting the cloud forest on the 17th, will it already be super busy then? The next day, I’d like to do a hanging bridges tour, either Selvatura or Sky adventures, which one would you recommend? And I guess if we do this first thing in the morning, we have enough time to reach la fortuna before dark? We’ve rented a 4wd ?

    1. Hi Kelly, December 16-17 shouldn’t be too busy yet in Monteverde. It doesn’t get too crowded until right around Christmas usually and that’s well in advance of that so you should be fine. We’ll send you an email with our recommendation for where to do hanging bridges. And yes, if you do the tour first thing, you should have no problem getting to La Fortuna before dark. It’s about a 3.5-4 hour drive. Look for an email from us soon. Thanks!

  4. Hi Jenn and Matt! Great website! Thanks for all the work! I will be travelling with my parents (both 70+) and kids of 3 and 5 years of age. My wife does not think we should hike to the hanging bridges fearing that it is would be too much for my parents and the kids. What are your thoughts? Any suggestions for places to visit with seniors and kids?

    1. Hi Ben, If you do the right hanging bridges, they are a fantastic activity for older adults and young children. We have brought our son on them since he was first walking. We know of some great bridges in Monteverde/Santa Elena that are stable and don’t involve too much walking. Just contact us through our tour booking page if you’d like help arranging a tour.

      For your next question about a coffee tour, we know of several good options in the Monteverde area, one of which is particularly good for kids. We’d be happy to help with that too. Just shoot us an email via that page I referenced above.

  5. We (4 adults) will be visiting Monteverde Cloud Forest December 4,5 2018. We want to do a zip line tour and also hike in Monteverde or Curi Cancha or Santa Elena reserves. We have a rental car so we do not need transportation so we were hoping to just hire a guide at the entrance of one of the parks rather than do an organized tour. Are there guides available for hire at the entrances or can you recommend some? Which zip lining company do you recommend. Three of us speak only English, one is bilingual Spanish/English.

    1. Hi Glenda, We recommend the Curi Cancha or Monteverde Reserve hikes. It’s best to arrange for guides in advance, so that everything is set when you arrive and you are sure to have a reputable naturalist guide to go out with. We will send you an email with some tour companies that we recommend for this and the zip lining.

      1. Hi,

        I am going to Costa Rica next month and wanted to say thank you so much for all your information it is extremely helpful.

        I wanted to arrange the following and was wondering if you had any recommendations of which tours to use:

        Arenal – do we need a tour guide, should we do zip lining here of Moneterverde? We were going to go to La Fortuna Waterfall and Arenal National Park, is there anything else you advise?

        Monterverde – we wanted to do the hangning bridges and a canopy tour. Is there any you recommend please?

        Manuel Antonio – do you have any rafting recommendations or contacts?

        Uvita – we wanted to do a day trip diving to Cano islands – can you recommend any companies to book through? We really want to see the manta rays and other cool things.

        Thank you so much

  6. hi im planning a trip in end of january, coming to monteverde for a few hours en route from jaco to papagayo. was wondering the best way to experiance the cloud forest and some activities. i booked salvetura hanging bridge and zip line combo, but not sure if its as impressive as the biological reserve. let me kow what you think, thanx

    1. Hi David, First, make sure you have allowed yourself enough time so that you’re not driving after dark. We don’t usually recommend visiting Monteverde as a day trip since it’s a long drive due to rough roads, though they are improving the road right now. Selvatura’s hanging bridges are a great way to experience the cloud forest, but it is different than visiting one of the reserves, like the Monteverde Reserve. You will be deeper in the forest if you hike the Monteverde Reserve and the vantage point is different since the hanging bridges are at canopy level. The Monteverde Reserve is also at the point of the Continental Divide. If you change your mind and decide on the Monteverde Reserve, let us know if you’d like a recommendation for a guide. You can do the hike self-guided but will see more with an experienced naturalist guide.

  7. Would you be able to suggest some reputable naturalist guides that would be able to take a family of four on a hike of the cloud forest?

  8. Hi Jenn and Matt, love your site; so helpful. Can you give some recommendations for a guide for a hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest? Thank you!

      1. Hey, I would also be interested in a guide for a hike in the monteverde cloud forest! Could you send me some information?
        Thanks a lot,
        Maren

  9. Enjoying all the info on your site. We’d love recommendations for a family guide for Monteverde, we have ages 6 to 47 and also for ziplining for adrelaline seeking teenagers!
    Thank you!

  10. Hi, Leaving for CR next week. Do you know if the road from San Jose to Monte Verde is still under construction and we should take an alternate route? Thanks for all of your great info!

  11. Thanks for all of the wonderful and useful information on the website.

    We are a family staying by Tamarindo and would love to make a day trip to Monteverde later this week. A few questions:

    1. Google maps says the drive is ~ 3 to 3-1/2 hours (through Santa Cruz). Does this seem accurate?
    2. Is a day trip even recommended (we have no issues driving and leaving early)?
    3. We have a party of 6 (2 adults, 2 seniors (75+) and 2 kids (13 and 10) and wondered about your thoughts on a guided tour.
    4. Are the paths manageable for seniors?
    5. Is this (mid August) a good time of the year to go?

    Awesome job on the site… keep up the great work.

    Thanks so kindly!

    1. Hi PJ, Yes, that’s a good estimate for the drive from Tamarindo. The faster route is what Google has (Route 21 to 18).
      2. A day trip will be fine if you leave early. Just try to leave Monteverde in the early afternoon to avoid driving after dark (sunset is around 5:45 pm).
      3. We’ll email you now with some info on a guided tour that would be good for your whole group.
      4. It’s rainy season but usually it’s not too bad in the morning so as long as you get the hike in then, you should be ok.

  12. We are going to Monteverde tomorrow and I see that you might have good guide suggestions for the cloud forest reserve. Would love to get a few names if possible. Thanks

  13. HI there!

    Fantastic work you guys are doing. Thank you so much.

    We are a couple traveling on our honeymoon. We are Planing on staying in La Fortuna and Monteverde, around Dec. 9. Was wondering if we can get a recommendation for decent budget hotels in good location in both areas, as well as reputable shuttle services and guides for Volcano (Arenal) and cloud forest (Monteverde).
    We won’t be renting a car.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Daniel, Congrats on your upcoming marriage! We have hotel guides that you can check out for budget hotel recommendations – La Fortuna Hotel Guide and Monteverde Hotel Guide.

      We also offer a custom itinerary service where we can recommend hotels specifically based on your preferences and also help every step of the way with arranging tours and transportation. Here’s a link to our Custom itinerary page with more info. If you’d rather have help with only arranging guides and shuttles, just reply to this thread and we can send more information. It’s best if you have your lodging already secured and itinerary finalized so that we can give you the most accurate quotes. Thanks!

  14. We are staying in the La Fortuna area during Christmas week. Would Monteverde be too far for a day trip? Is it possible to get a guided tour which would pick us up at our hotel and return us there at the end of the day, as we may not have a car? Thank you!

    1. Hi Sheila, Due to travel time, we don’t recommend Monteverde as a day trip La Fortuna. It’s at least a few hours away so you really need at least one night, 2 is even better. Another option for somewhere closer is Bijagua, which has the awesome Rio Celeste Waterfall. The forest there is different than in La Fortuna- they have rainforest but also some cloud forest too. And it’s only a little over an hour away. Let us know if you need any help setting up a day trip there. We work with a great operator that does tours with transportation from Fortuna.

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