The bulk of the Monteverde region’s cloud forests are contained in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the most popular reserve of the region, which is one of the world’s first ecotourism destinations as well as one of Costa Rica’s most popular, seeing some 70,000 visitors a year. Founded in 1972, the reserve comprises 6 ecological zones, 90% of which are virgin forest, the reserve’s more than 6 miles of diverse and well-maintained trails allowing visitors to explore just a fraction of the nearly 26,000 total acres. Located along the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range, it is uniquely positioned on both the Pacific and Atlantic slopes of the Continental Divide – which also means the reserve is much cooler, windy and wet than visitors expect. A collision of moist winds from the Continental Divide blankets the plants that grow at the cloud forest’s upper canopy in a perpetual mist of nutrients, allowing for the astounding biodiversity found there that includes some 2,500 plant species covering its every inch; over 100 mammals species; 120 reptilian and amphibian species; 400 birds species including Resplendent Quetzals, for which the reserve is famous; a plethora of insects including 500 kinds of butterflies; and other wildlife. The reserve also features a serpentarium with several varieties of snakes; a frog pond that exhibits amphibian species like the poison dart frog; a live bat exhibit; an insect exhibit; a butterfly garden; a short-stay aquarium where captive amphibians stay for a week; as well as a lodge that hosts 47 visitors, a small restaurant, information center and a gift shop. Guided birdwatching tours, horseback tours, and a Monteverde Cheese Factory tour can also be arranged. In addition to trails, there are also suspension bridges and zip-lines that run through the reserve. Navigate the cloud forest on your own or enjoy the company of a knowledgeable guide. Limited to 250 visitors at a time, early visitors to the reserve are granted the greatest chance of spotting wildlife.
Though best known for its cloud forest reserves, Costa Rica’s Monteverde region actually encompasses a much larger stretch. From the Cordillera de Tilarán in the northeast to Guanacaste’s low hills in the west, the land is dotted with Swiss-style farms, tropical botanical gardens and small villages. The village of Monteverde, after which the reserve is named, is a Quaker settlement where dairy farming remains the staple of the economy today. Neighboring town Santa Elena has the majority of the area’s amenities and affordable accommodation as well as its own cloud forest reserve, with over 7 miles of trails. Though less popular than Monteverde, the cloud forest habitat that Reserva Santa Elena protects is very similar as well as its wildlife (including Resplendent Quetzals), which you might have more luck spotting due to the smaller crowd. Weather permitting, you can even see the Arenal Volcano from here.