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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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:
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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