Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Last Updated: Apr 05, 2013
One of the most spectacular nature reserves in the Americas, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is located high along the continental divide, split between the Pacific and Caribbean sides. Exposed to both eastern and western weather patterns, the reserve experiences very unique weather conditions year-round -- moisture from the Caribbean, blocked by warm air from the Pacific, creates the cloudy, misty conditions necessary for the cloud forest's many epiphytes and other plant life. In addition to its weather, the park's varied elevations provide ideal conditions for the forest's many animal species.
Location : Monteverde; 110 miles north of San Jose
Altitude : 4,662 feet above sea level
Area : 26,000 acres
Hours : 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Telephone : 2645-5122
Entrance Fee : $17.00
First-time visitors will quickly see that the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve looks like a forest took a bath in green plant life – grandiose branches drip with up to 400 species of mosses, lichens, bromeliads, orchids and other epiphytes. In addition to more than 3000 plant species, the reserve’s changing elevations, which create four distinct climate zones, house 120 mammal species, 130 amphibian and reptile species, more than 400 bird species and 500 orchid species.
Trees that are exposed to the persistent winds at higher elevations are often stunted and form what is known as an elfin forest. With contorted branches bent over from the perpetual winds and covered in mosses, algae and other epiphytes, the trees all appear to grow in one particular direction: the direction of the wind. Lost hikers can find their bearings in this way: winds blow predominately from the north Atlantic slope.
In addition to hiking and wildlife watching, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve lures some of the world’s most avid birders. More than half of Costa Rica’s bird species are found here, including the resplendent quetzal, three-wattled bellbirds, black guans, bare-necked umbrella birds, hummingbirds, and golden-browed chlorophonia and other tanangers (more than 30 species in the Monteverde area). The best time for bird watching is during the dry season (December to April), though many birds are spotted year-round.
Note: To protect the cloud forest’s fragile ecological balance, visitors to the Monteverde Biological Reserve are limited to 160 at any given time. From December through April, this limit fills up fast – your best bet is to arrive by 9 a.m.
In the early 1950’s, nine American Quaker families moved to Monteverde, lured by the area’s beauty and Costa Rica’s recent army disbandment. Together, they purchased almost 3,500 acres, immediately reserving one-third for a wildlife refuge.
By 1972, squatters threatened the reserve’s boundaries. To protect their park, Monteverde’s residents secured the aid of the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund, soon purchasing additional acreage. They named it the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and the Tropical Science Center began to administer the park in 1975.
The Monteverde Conservation League formed in 1986 to purchase more land. In 1988, the organization began the International Children’s Rainforest project, which has raised money for the reserve ever since. With the help of children from around the world, the Monteverde Cloud Forest has increased in size to over 26,000 acres. Together with several other forests in the area, it forms almost 70,000 acres of privately owned cloud forest.
Average Temperature: 59 to 77° F
Annual Rainfall: 117 inches (9.75 feet) – Keep in mind that the cloud forest is often cloudy, humid, rainy and misty.
Hiking and wildlife watching are the reserve’s most popular and fulfilling activities. Rustic camping is possible at any of the three small shelters within the reserve – each has cooking supplies, a propane stove, potable water and showers.
Flora & Fauna:
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is incredibly diverse – within its acres, scientists estimate that the park houses more than 3000 plant species, 120 mammal species, 130 amphibian and reptile species, more than 400 bird species and 500 orchid species. Hikers and wildlife watchers often report sightings of Baird’s tapir, capuchin monkeys, three-toed sloths, coatimundi, howler monkeys and agouti. Less-common sightings include jaguars and ocelots.
A ranger station offers reserve maps, information and reservations for guided tours. A gift shop and restaurant sit adjacent to the reserve’s ranger station. Inside the park, three backcountry shelters offer camping facilities with cooking supplies, potable water and showers. Dormitories are also available; the reserve has 43 bunk beds and both private and shared bathrooms.
Guests can partake in guided natural history tours and night hikes in either English or Spanish with prior reservation. All tours begin at the visitor’s center with a slide show and educational videos.
Nine well-maintained trails cover more than eight miles of hiking. For day hikes, the popular Triangle (El Triangulo) – a trail trinity that includes parts of the Cloud Forest Trail (Sendero Bosque Nuboso), the Road Trail (El Camino) and the Swamp Trail (Sendero Pantanoso) – is the best bet, offering 2.2 miles of easy hiking. For additional treks, try the beautiful Chomogo Trail (1.2 miles), a steep climb, and the Shining Trail (Sendero Brillante), which offers an aerial view of the forest below. In addition, a 330-foot long suspension bridge hangs close to the ranger station, giving even the most novice hikers a chance to experience the cloud forest canopy.
More substantial hikes are possible, though hikers should consult park rangers about trail conditions, difficulties and camping availability. A detailed map is provided upon entrance to the park.
From Santa Elena, head east along the paved road, passing first through Cerro Plano and then onto a winding dirt-and-gravel road that heads up the mountain. After passing the Monteverde Cheese Factory, look for signs to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve (Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde). The road ends at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.
Public buses ($2; 45 minutes) leave Santa Elena for the reserve at 6:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. everyday. A taxi from Santa Elena downtown costs about $8 one-way.