Home to nearly half of Costa Rica’s biodiversity, Monteverde is a bucket list destination for nature lovers. More than 400 species of birds, 650 species of butterflies, 120 species of mammals, 100 species of reptiles, and 60 species of amphibians reside here. So, in addition to the possibility of spotting the iconic resplendent quetzal, you have the chance to encounter other cloud forest creatures such as coatis, sloths, butterflies, monkeys, and more.
Monteverde is a year-round destination, but the weather is drier from December to April, potentially giving you slightly drier trails, a bit less fog, and a better chance of seeing views of Arenal Volcano. Of course, all the moisture keeps the cloud forest lush and creates that misty magic the cloud forest it's named for, so don't be afraid to visit during the "green" season—just come prepared with proper footwear and your rain gear (more suggestions on seasons and what to pack below).
There are several nature reserves in the area, so if you're unsure how to choose, check out our suggestions below to help you find the one that's right for you.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
The well-maintained trails, potential wildlife sightings, and on-site facilities—including a café, restaurant, gift shop, and restrooms—make this reserve a great choice for families and tour groups. As such, this is the most visited reserve in the area, so it tends to feel busier. (If you prefer something further off the beaten path, skip to our other recommended cloud forest experiences below.)
Birdwatchers also flock to this reserve in search of the resplendent quetzal, an endangered bird that can only be found in its natural habitat in the cloud forests of Central America and Mexico. You may also spot hummingbirds, grey-throated leaftossers, and the Chiriquí quail-dove, among others.
When you enter the reserve, the staff will tell you which trail to start with, based on capacity. After walking the initially assigned trail, you can explore any trail you prefer. The eight-mile network of trails is well-marked with signage in Spanish and English. Some sections are steep and include stairs so take your time, as it can be slippery. You can experience most of the reserve in about four hours or less. A few highlights you can expect to find here include:
- View of the Continental Divide. Take the Sendero Bosque Nuboso, a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) trail with an elevation gain of about 200 feet (65 meters), to the La Ventana trail for a view of the Continental Divide—the "backbone" that runs down the middle of the continent, where the Pacific and Caribbean sides converge. Depending on your pace and how many stops you make, this trail will take about an hour and a half to complete.
- Hanging bridge. At 300 feet (91 meters), this isn't the highest or largest hanging bridge in Monteverde, but it's beautiful nonetheless, with views of the lush valley and a variety of orchids, ferns, mosses, and more. And given its smaller size, this is one of the more manageable hanging bridges in Monteverde for those hesitant about heights. From the visitors’ center, take the Sendero Camino to the Sendero Puente to reach the hanging bridge. Or, if you've already made your way to La Ventana, you can take Sendero Camino to Sendero Roble and then Sendero Puente to reach the bridge. After crossing the bridge, you can continue to Sendero Wilford Guindon and then Sendero Tosi will bring you back to the visitors' center or the waterfall.
- Waterfall. After you check out the hanging bridge, you can take Sendero Tosi toward Sendero Cuecha, which will bring you to a waterfall. You can then return to the visitors' center via either Sendero Cuencha or Tosi, or continue on to explore Sendero El Rio along the Quebrada Cuecha ravine.
- Swamp forest. The aptly named Sendero Pantanoso ("Swamp Trail") passes through a swamp forest and includes the only conifer trees in the reserve. This 1-mile (1.6-km) trail can be completed in about an hour and links up with several of the other trails, so you can choose which route you'd like to hike to reach it and to return to the visitors' center.
How to visit: Tickets are available online or on-site; advance reservations are recommended so you can skip the line and save time. With your one-day pass, you can exit and re-enter the park multiple times throughout the day. The best way to experience the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is with a naturalist guide. Contact a kimkim specialist to book a guided group or private tour, such as the Birdwatching in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve experience. It's also possible to book an after-hours guided night walk in Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve for a chance to see some nocturnal wildlife.
How to get there: Transportation is typically included on a guided tour. If you are driving yourself, once in Monteverde town, you'll find the official parking lot in front of the Selina Hotel. From the lot, take a short shuttle ride to the reserve. When you're ready to leave the reserve, ask the staff at the gift shop to call the shuttle for you. It's possible to park on the road outside the park, but not recommended as there is no security monitoring the road, and it's very narrow, so there is a risk of a break-in or an accident if your vehicle is hit by passing vehicles.
- Cost: $25-165 (ranging from self-guided entrance fee to guided tours); $5 for parking
- Open daily from 7 am to 4 pm
- Trail maps and restroom available at the entrance
- On-site restaurant and café serves locally-sourced food and can cater to dietary needs with advance notice
- Revenue supports conservation efforts
Let kimkim help organize your Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve experience.
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
At about 5,250 feet (1,600 meters) above sea level and covering 765 acres (310 hectares), the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is smaller, foggier, and wetter than the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve so it's ideal for those that want a quintessential cloud forest experience—enveloped in the clouds, without the crowds.
Ample moisture makes the forest a vibrant green, dense with ferns, mosses, and other vegetation that create an otherworldly atmosphere. Trails are well-marked and not steep but they are often muddy and speckled with fallen leaves, so they can get slippery. With three main lookout points within the reserve (Observation Deck, Observation Tower, and Caño Negro Viewpoint), Santa Elena Cloud Forest is your best bet for views of Arenal Volcano on a clear day.
Bordering the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve naturally shares much of the same flora and fauna, including three-toed sloths, howler monkeys, agoutis, and more. At the Orchid Garden located next to the reception, you will find a variety of species of orchids all in one place. Sant Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is also an excellent place for birding, and you may catch a glimpse of the three-wattled bellbird, long-tailed manakin, keel-billed toucan, and many others. The resplendent quetzal is less common here, but that makes a sighting that much more special.
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve has 7.5 miles (12 km) of trails and viewpoints, so hikes here tend to be longer than those found in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, and you could fill a whole day exploring the trails here. But if you only have a half day and need to choose, consider the Sendero Youth Challenge and the Sendero Encantado for a taste of the typical cloud forest biodiversity and a chance to climb up the observation tower on the Youth Challenge Trail. On a clear day, from the top of the Observation Tower, you may see mountains, lakes, and other volcanic structures in the distance, such as Arenal Volcano, Lake Arenal, Rincon de la Vieja, Tenorio, Miravalles, Cerro Chato, and Cerro Pelado. But even if the volcano views evade you, the sight of the canopy draped in misty clouds is worth the climb up the stairs.
You can navigate the trails on your own, but we recommend a guided tour such as the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve Hike for the best chance to see and learn more about the reserve and its inhabitants.
Santa Elena also offers several unique experiences that set it apart from other reserves in the region:
- Self-guided shinrinyoku ("forest bathing" ): You will find signage with "invitations" on the Del Bajo Trail to guide you on a mindful, meditative experience in the cloud forest.
- Coffee in the Clouds Tour: Take a guided tour to the Observation Tower and enjoy the sunrise with coffee and pastries. Tours are at 4:50 am Friday through Monday and must be booked in advance.
- Sounds of the Cloud Forest Tour: Take a guided forest tour and experience sunset from the Observation Tower. Available daily at 4:30 pm and must be booked in advance.
How to visit: Tickets are available for purchase in advance online or on-site on arrival. Guided tours must be reserved at least one day in advance and can be booked via your kimkim specialist. During the rainy season, it can be really wet so it's best to visit this reserve in the dry season. Even in the dry season, you can still experience the cloud forest here and possibly even a rain shower, so do come prepared with rain gear.
How to get there: Guided tours typically include transportation. If you are self-driving, you'll find the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve located 4 miles (6.4 km) from the center of Santa Elena town. The drive from town takes about 25 minutes, and you will pass by Sky Adventures and Selvatura Park. As some of the road is unpaved, we recommend a vehicle with high ground clearance. Alternatively, you can book the reserve's shuttle in advance. The shuttle transports visitors from their hotel in town to the reserve and costs $2 each way. Reservations are required.
- Cost: $16-165 (ranging from self-guided entrance fee to guided tours); parking is free
- Open daily from 7 am to 3 pm
- Trail maps and restrooms available at the entrance
- There is a 525-yard (.5-km), concrete handicap-accessible trail with the option to borrow a “Joëlette” (one-wheeled, all-terrain wheelchair)
- Single-use plastics are prohibited
- Cafeteria and gift shop on site. Food is not allowed on the trails—it must be consumed in the restaurant or at the tables next to the parking lot
- Revenue supports the protection and management of the reserve as well as education for local schools
Let kimkim help organize your Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve experience.
This private wildlife refuge located about .5 miles (.8 km) from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is noticeably less dense than other reserves in the region as a large portion was once pastureland that is now in the midst of regrowth, thanks to conservation efforts. The wide and well-maintained trails and manicured gardens are easy to navigate, but can feel a bit less "wild." The upside is that areas of lower vegetation density in Curi-Cancha Reserve mean less foliage to hide the wildlife, and the flowering bushes attract a variety of hummingbirds (including the green-crowned brilliant) and butterflies. So this reserve is well-suited to birdwatchers, travelers looking to escape the crowds, families with a range of ages and energy levels, and others that prefer shorter, casual walks rather than more technical hikes.
There are seven interconnected trails covering about 4.3 miles (7 km) of this 205-acre (83 hectares) property. The Alondra Trail, with its many open areas and a hummingbird feeder at the end, is a great choice for bird lovers. Plenty of birds frequent the Leo Trail as well, and you can also experience the cloud forest and a Continental Divide viewpoint (not as spectacular as the one at Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, but beautiful nonetheless!). The Leo Trail is .9 miles (1.5 km) and while it has some slight elevation changes, it is considered easy to moderate.
Birds are not the only thing to see at Curi-Cancha reserve; sightings may also include coati, armadillo, two-toed sloths, and three species of monkeys: spider monkey, mantled howler, and white-faced capuchin.
We recommend booking a guided tour for a deeper experience of the Curi-Cancha Reserve. Various options are available, including a Private Half-day Birdwatching Tour in Curi-Cancha Reserve, natural history tours, night walks, and tailor-made private tours.
How to visit: Tickets can be purchased online or in person. The reserve limits entrance to 50 visitors per day, so reservations are strongly recommended. For guided tours, advance purchase is required and can be reserved with your kimkim specialist. Visitors must show ID for admission.
How to get there: Once in Monteverde, you will find the entrance to Curi-Cancha Reserve at the end of Lowther Road, past the Monteverde Cheese Factory.
- Cost: $20-155 (ranging from self-guided entrance fee to guided tours)
- Free parking available on-site. No guards are monitoring the lot, so it's best not to leave valuables in the car
- Open daily from 7 am to 3 pm
- Restrooms available at the entrance and at the last meeting point of the Alondra Trail and main road, near the rest area
- Not wheelchair accessible but electric golf cart available for private tour, if needed
- Binoculars available for rent
- There are no restaurants or cafes inside the reserve
- Revenue supports conservation efforts
Let kimkim help organize your Curi-Cancha Reserve experience.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Children’s Eternal Rainforest
The Children's Eternal Rainforest is the largest private reserve in Costa Rica, one of the richest places on the planet in terms of biodiversity, and the Bajo del Tigre section of this reserve is just a mile from the cloud forest in Monteverde. So, although it's not a cloud forest, we're including it because it is worth a visit if you're looking for a quieter and slightly drier (great for those that struggle with the humidity) place to hike or if you're interested in seeing the contrast with the cloud forest.
If your priority is wildlife spotting with minimal effort, this may not be the place for you. Although the 55,800-acre (22,581-hectare) reserve is home to a variety of butterflies, birds, a long list of endangered and endemic species, and all of Costa Rica's wild felines (including the jaguar), the creatures here have plenty of room to roam, so they may not always be close to the trails or easy to find in the thick vegetation.
Contrary to the reserve's name, not all of the trails are suited to children; some are quite steep. The name is a nod to its origins: The Children's Eternal Rainforest began as an initiative started by students in Sweden in the 1980s. They set out to protect a piece of rainforest and successfully attracted support and funding from other people and organizations in 44 countries worldwide. The reserve is now managed by the Monteverde Conservation League, a Costa Rican non-profit organization.
There are several ways to experience the Children's Eternal Rainforest. Here are some suggestions:
- Bajo del Tigre. This section of the forest has some kid-friendly trails and excellent facilities including a visitors' center (where you can also find a nice viewpoint that's extra special at sunset), an interpretive center, and a gift shop, making it a great fit for families. The eight trails here are well-marked and short—there are about 2.3 miles (3.7 km) of trails, and the longest is about .5 miles (.8 km). Trails are ranked from easy to difficult, so travelers with small children can opt for the kid-friendly routes, such as the Sendero de Los Niños (Children's Trail), which is mostly flat and includes signage with information about the flora and fauna along the trail. The Bajo del Tigre section of the reserve is the closest to Monteverde so the majority of guided tours in the Children's Eternal Rainforest take place here. We recommend a guided night hike in the Children’s Eternal Rainforest for the unique opportunity to see nocturnal wildlife.
- Pocosol Field Station. A one-hour drive from La Fortuna or 40 minutes from La Tigra de San Carlos (four-wheel drive vehicle is a must for both routes. Do not use Waze or Google Maps; follow the signs for Pocosol), Pocosol Station offers more than 6 miles (9.7 km) of trails and access to a waterfall, lake, and boiling mud pits. It's also home to endemic wildlife, so keep an eye out for forest creatures, including the rare bare-necked umbrellabird. Reservations are strongly recommended for self-guided hikes and are required for guided tours.
- San Gerardo Station. If you're interested in hiking farther off the beaten path, consider San Gerardo Station. Although this station is located in the Children's Eternal Rainforest, access is via a 2-mile (3.2-km) hike from Santa Elena Reserve that should take about 1.5 hours. The hike can be muddy and steep in spots. Still, you’ll be rewarded with potential wildlife sightings, views of Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal from the station, and access to nearly 4.5 miles (7.2 km) of trails in primary and secondary rainforests. Guided hikes are available and must be booked in advance.
How to visit: We highly recommend a guided tour for this dense forest where an extra set of highly trained eyes can help you spot wildlife in this dense forest. Plan ahead; reservations are required for guided tours and can be booked with your kimkim specialist.
How to get there: The Children's Eternal Rainforest is large, with several distinct sections available to visitors. The easiest way to explore from Monteverde is the Bajo del Tigre section. You can reach the main office entrance on Bajo del Tigre Road (off Route 620 from the Santa Elena town center). While it may be possible to walk from town, we recommend self-drive, taxi, or, if you book a guided tour, ask if hotel pick-up is included.
- Cost: $15-150 (ranging from self-guided entrance fee to guided tours)
- Opening hours vary by section. Bajo del Tigre is open daily from 8 am to 4:30 pm. Pocosol and San Gerardo trails are open daily from 7 am to 4 pm
- Free parking is available at Bajo del Tigre Reserve and Pocosol Station. However, no guards moniter the lots so we recommended not leaving valuables in the car. Parking for San Gerardo is at the Santa Elena Reserve. If you are planning to leave your car there, inform the staff, so they don't report it
- Restrooms are available at the entrance of Bajo del Tigre Reserve and on-site at San Gerardo Station and Pocosol Station. There is also a restroom at Santa Elena Reserve (the trailhead for San Gerardo); if you use this one, we recommend leaving a $1 donation to the reserve
- There are no restaurants or cafes inside Bajo del Tigre Reserve. Pocosol Station and San Gerardo Station serve three meals per day to lodge guests (advance reservations required)
- Revenue supports conservation efforts
Let kimkim help organize your Children’s Eternal Rainforest experience.
Sky Adventures Monteverde Park
Monteverde is considered the birthplace of ziplining canopy tours, so while we highly recommend taking time to enjoy the cloud forest on foot, we also suggest experiencing it from above at Sky Adventures Monteverde Park. This aerial amusement park is a fun option for adventurous travelers, families, and groups. As the name says, the focus here is on activities that are primarily up off the ground, so its not suited to travelers with a serious fear of heights.
All trails are very well-marked and maintained, and safety equipment is provided. Gondolas and hanging bridges create an elevated adventure amid the treetops, and ziplines send you soaring over canyons and the forest canopy.
There are several tours to choose from.
- The Sky Trek tour starts with a gondola ride up to the viewpoint followed by ziplining down seven cables, varying in length and height.
- The Arboreal Tree Climbing Park, a circuit of four tree climbs of varying levels of difficulty and heights up to 66 feet (20 meters), is suited to those that like a physical challenge while exploring the forest from bottom to top.
- Travelers that prefer a slower pace will enjoy Sky Walk, the most mellow of the tours that includes a guided hike along the trails and across the suspension bridges, with stops to spot and discuss the local flora and fauna.
For tips on how to choose the best ziplining experience in Monteverde, check out this article.
How to visit: Reservations are required, so book in advance with your kimkim specialist.
How to get there: The park is located about 10 minutes northeast of Santa Elena town. For kimkim travelers, a shuttle service to and from the park is included.
- Cost: $41-105 (depending on which tour you choose); parking free on-site
- Open daily from 8 am to 5 pm
- Age, weight, and health requirements vary depending on the activity; inquire with your kimkim specialist prior to booking
- Restrooms, restaurant, and gift shop on site
- GoPro rentals available
Let kimkim help organize your Sky Adventures Monteverde Park experience.
Cloud Forest Night Tour
About 80 percent of Monteverde's wildlife is nocturnal, so a guided night hike through the forest affords you the best chance of encountering its inhabitants. An after-dark hike is a worthwhile experience on its own, but the possibility of seeing armadillos, a variety of reptiles, tarantulas, sloths, monkeys, and more while immersing in the unique sounds of the forest makes the adventure even more exciting.
There are lots of things crawling and slithering at night so this hike is best for travelers who are comfortable in the dark and eager to encounter (not avoid!) wildlife. Given the later start time and the need to navigate the trail safely and quietly at night for the best experience, some night hikes may not be suitable for babies and small children. Check out our article about How to Choose the Best Night Walk in Monteverde for more details, or contact a kimkim specialist to discuss.
- Cost: $23-75 (depending on which tour you choose)
- Start times vary but tend to be after 5 pm
- Guided night hikes are available in Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, Curi-Cancha Reserve, and the Children's Eternal Rainforest
- Must be booked in advance
When should you visit?
The best time of year to visit Monteverde depends on your budget and interests. While Monteverde is considered a year-round destination, the weather is drier from December to April. But that also means that those months are peak for tourism so you certainly won't be alone and prices tend to be higher. If you'd like decent weather and fewer crowds, consider May or November, the shoulder months. Birders hoping to see the resplendent quetzal may prefer the breeding season (February-July).
The best time of day for a cloud forest experience in Monteverde is ideally either in the early morning when some of the cloud forest's inhabitants—especially several species of birds—are starting their day, or after dark when the nocturnal animals are active.
What should you bring?
Monteverde is best experienced outdoors, so plan to be outside—rain or shine. Depending on the time of year, temperatures can range from the high 50s (Fahrenheit) at night to the 80s during the day. Your packing list should include:
- Hiking boots
- Quick dry clothing
- Rain jacket
- Sunscreen/sun protection
- Bug repellent
- Binoculars for wildlife viewing (if you book a guided tour, ask if they provide binoculars or spotting scopes)
- Daypack (and waterproof cover) to carry essentials while hiking
- Reusable water bottle to avoid single-use plastic bottles
- Light jacket or sweater for evenings