Monteverde Costa Rica: Hiking The Mysterious Cloud Forest

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Exploring Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica

Everything drips. The mist is cool and heavy, dampening our faces with every step. This is what it’s like to explore Monteverde Cloud Forest in the heart of Costa Rica.

The sky overhead is long gone. The horizon is a distant memory. All around us, the forest fades in and out as a thick, glowing mist ebbs and flows.

Huge gnarled trees come into view, descending to ground level to become huge roots I couldn’t get my hands around, snaking across the forest floor like deep-sea cables.

We’re in Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, on the Sendero Del Rio trail, hiking deeper into this eerie half-light. Every surface is damp and slippery, and most are coated in thick green moss, decades in the making.

The mist shows no signs of burning away, even though the sun is getting higher in the sky. I have to remind myself why. We’re nearly 2 kilometres above sea level – and this isn’t mist, they’re clouds.

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Colorful Mushrooms in the Forest

Colorful Mushrooms in the Forest

Hiking In The Clouds

Midway along Costa Rica’s Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range, and a short distance away from the town of Monteverde, nature has been having the mother of all parties since the turn of the century.

Across 10,500 hectares (26,000 acres) of what was designated Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in 1972, the biodiversity is insane.

Costa Rica is famously rich with animal and plant life, due to its position on a land-bridge between huge continents and because of its tropical climate – but Monteverde turns it up to eleven.

On a short walk like the one my friend Abby and I are taking, it’s possible to see thousands of species of plant life (500 different kinds of orchids alone), hundreds of types of birds (including the famous Resplendent Quetzal), monkeys, and some of the weirdest and most wonderful-looking insects in the entire world.

Trees in Monteverde Costa Rica

Ancient Vine-Entangled Trees

Monteverde Waterfall Costa Rica

Small Waterfall in Monteverde

History Of Monteverde

Monteverde is well named (it means green mountain) – and since the 1960s, biologists from around the world have been transfixed by this incredible ecology, displaying unrivaled natural beauty and diversity.

It was created by a group of Quakers who fled the United States to avoid the Army draft.

The use of violence for political reasons clashed with their moral code & belief system, and Costa Rica had just abolished its military – and this quiet, lush corner of the country was perfect for them.

For the first ten years, the only visitors were scientists and bird-watchers.

Today it gets around 70,000 visitors a year – however we visted just before the rainy season kicks in, and there’s hardly anyone around.

With a bit of luck, the silence might coax some of the bigger animals out — monkeys are what we’re really hoping to see!

Jaguar Tracks Costa Rica

Big Cat Tracks in the Mud

Cyanide Poison Excreting Millipede

Cyanide Poison Excreting Millipede

Don’t Feed The Kitties!

However there are 6 different types of cats that live here too. Jaguars & Pumas are the largest. I reassure my friend Abby, who’s visiting from New Hampshire, that big cats don’t hunt humans on Sundays – and we both continue nervously through the trees.

Many of the trails in Monteverde are raised up on walkways made of concrete blocks or wood. They’ve been constructed like this to support the popularity of the park – and, of course, to keep your feet dry.

Every now and again, we discover paw-prints in the mud. Each track is about as big as a closed fist.

I wonder how fast those big cats move. Then I wonder how fast we move.

Clearly the reason we haven’t seen any monkeys is because these enormous cats have eaten them all. OK, why are we wandering alone through this forest again?

Monteverde Canopy Bridge

Monteverde Canopy Bridge

Beautiful Costa Rican Wilderness

Alas. After hours of hiking through wild-kitty territory, deep inside the drifting mists of Monteverde, and with rain clouds moving in, we decide to abandon our quest and go home not having seen a monkey.

With the rain drizzling down, we explored the rest of the park on our meandering way back to the main entrance. One big highlight was an incredible 300ft tall canopy suspension bridge through the clouds.

While the reserve lacked much visible mammal wildlife for our visit, the plant & insect diversity was incredible. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it.

This part of Costa Rica is a balm for the senses. It’s a beautiful, meditative way to spend a morning.

Here and there, splashes of color too: a blue bird glimpsed as it darts past, a bright red mushroom pokes out of the branch-strewn green forest floor.

Best Time To Visit Monteverde

Weather in Monteverde is generally cool and wet being so high in the mountains. Technically speaking, everyday can be rainy season in Costa Rica, and a downpour is always a possibility.

March and April are the hottest, driest months – although its high elevation means that Monteverde is always going to be cooler and wetter than average.

However, if you want to skip the crowds and see Monteverde as nature intended, the best time to visit is at the end of the dry season, when it’s still pleasant enough to go for a stroll, and all the tourists have gone home.

Monteverde Trails Costa Rica

Walking the Trails in Monteverde

How To Get There

From San José, your cheapest route north to Monteverde is by bus via Transmonteverde for about $6.

From Juan Santamaria Airport in Alajuela, the best place to catch the Monteverde Costa Rica bus is to take a taxi to the Villa Bonita bus station – otherwise, you’ll need to head into the city centre.

If you’re coming from the north (maybe from the Nicaraguan border), there are plentiful bus options from Liberia. The quickest route is to take three buses: Liberia to Canas, Canas to Tilaran, and Tilaran to Monteverde.

However, the most adventurous way to get there is to rent a car and drive (Costa Rican roads can be a bit scary). From San Jose the trip to Monteverde takes about 4 hours.

Plants in Monteverde Costa Rica

Colorful Plant Life

Where To Stay

For sheer convenience, the best place to stay should be in the nearby village of Santa Elena, around 5km from the entrance to the cloud forest itself. We chose the excellent Cabinas Vista Al Golfo.

If you’re wondering where to stay near Monteverde, here are my recommendations:

BUDGET
Monteverde Budget Hostel
Casa Tranquilo Hostel
Friendly staff, decent location and relaxed atmosphere. This hostel is an excellent base to explore the Monteverde area.

Check Prices / Read Reviews

BUDGET
Monteverde Budget hostel
Hostel Cattleya
Great kitchen, hot showers & not a party hostel. Owned by a very friendly couple who like to show guests around.

Check Prices / Read Reviews

MID-RANGE
Monteverde Mid Range Hotel
Cabinas Vista Al Golfo
Tasty breakfast, close to supermarket, and feels a bit like staying in a tree house.

Check Prices / Read Reviews

MID-RANGE
Monteverde Mid Range Hotel
Camino Verde B&B
Amazing deck views from above the trees! Clean, comfortable and great value.

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Frogs in Monteverde Costa Rica

Red Eye Tree Frog in Monteverde

Monteverde Costa Rica Tips

  • Take the bus into Monteverde from Santa Elena as early as possible. The reserve opens at 7AM and closes at 4pm. It’s your best bet for avoiding other tourists if you want to experience the silence of the cloud forest.
  • The entrance fee to Monteverde Costa Rica is $20 at the time of writing – you can pay in USD or the equivalent in Colones, and also by credit card.
  • Monteverde is an extremely wet and humid place. It can wreck havoc on cameras. I recommend taking some silica gel packs and a large plastic bag to help dry your gear out afterwards.
  • Zip line tours are very popular in Monteverde, and Costa Rica in general. Flying through the cloud forest high above the canopy is a great adrenaline rush!
  • If you like butterflies, make sure to stop in at the Monteverde Butterfly Garden to see over 30 different types, as well as a collection of spiders that call Costa Rica home.

No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a stop at Monteverde Cloud Forest, as you can see, there’s a good reason why it’s one of Costa Rica’s most popular natural attractions! ★

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EXTRA INFORMATION
Location: Monteverde, Costa Rica
Useful Notes: Take the first bus into the park early in the morning to avoid other tourists. You don’t need a guide, and the (public) trails are all well marked. However a guide might help with spotting animals who are well camouflaged (like sloths).
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Costa Rica
Suggested Reading: Monkeys Are Made Of Chocolate

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Tips for visiting Monteverde in Costa Rica. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about Monteverde cloud forest in Costa Rica? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

21 Comments

  1. I was there a few years ago and was lucky enough to see a Coati! The silence and the clouds/mist pouring off the sides of the mountains is great for the soul.

    1. No idea how long it was there, but looked pretty fresh to my untrained eye! While we didn’t see any big animals in Monteverde, the creepy atmosphere of the cloud forest was totally worth the trip.

  2. Hi mat !

    I am going next week to costa rica with my husband

    do you think i should wait until i am there to book the excursions or should i preboook them cheaper? because I am staying in a 5* Hotel but I dont want to pay for the extra charge the hotels usually charge for adventures

    Did u zipline? which one was your favorite?

  3. Hey Matt. we just spent 3 months in Costa Rica partially trying to get more travel under our belts but also partially trying to avoid the winter in Minnesota!! We loved it, our favorite was driving 100kms off road in the Guanacoste region and actually ending up where we planned! Safe Travels

  4. My friend and I went to Monteverde in January, definitely a great time to visit Costa Rica! The weather was gorgeous! We did not go to the popular cloud forrest, we hiked along other hanging bridges that were very similar (and cheaper). I 100% recommend Monteverde! Very cute little town with amazing people!

  5. That kitty print was no print that your black kitty Nightmare would make. Glad that you and Abby came home with all your important parts intact.

  6. Incredible monkey pictures. One in green and one in blue. The blue one seems to need some hair tonic. I bet offering a banana would make them tame.

  7. Epic post!! Two things:

    a) You left out the part that you left me on a ridge with a loaf of Bimbo Blanco bread and a can of police grade pepper spray in case your big kitty friends came to visit while you were gone. Your act was noble, to say the least: however, as I sat there for what felt like an eternity, wondering if I would ever make it home and what I would do if the giant kitty came to say hi, I clutched the pepper spray in one hand and rosary beads in the other…. I had done some research about the dangers in Monteverde- and, at the height of my senses and intense level of fear, I hear some bushes rustling and then- a COUGH- typical warning threat of a jaguar…. On the verge of tears, Matt makes his way around the bend…. I really wish Costa Rica had imported Depends at that moment!!!

    2) I know you have a hard time with the notion that we are brother and sister minus the DNA, but we can look past the blood relations and, although you are a Monk in training, I still refer to you as my brother.

  8. Can’t blame you for wanting to steal, sorry rescue, a cute little monkey and take it home. I love monkeys and have long wanted a monkey butler, sorry friend, to live with me. And Dr George Bananapants III? Awesome name.

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