Monteverde Costarica
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Information on the best Monteverde hotels, cloud forest reserves and activities
Monteverde Cloud Forest and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves - Facts & History

The two Cloud Forest Reserves, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the Santa Elena Reserve in Costa Rica are located in the cordillera of Tilarán on the Costa Rican side of the Continental Divide. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is very unique in that it is situated on BOTH the Pacific and Atlantic slopes of the Continental Divide.

On the Caribbean side, the cloud forest begins at an elevation of about 1,300 meters. It peaks at the top of the Cerro Amigos Mountain at 1,842 meters and then reaches down the Pacific slope to around 1,500 meters.

Trees grow from 30 to 40 meters high. The trees which are located at high elevations in Monteverde are stunted by the exposure to constant winds. They grow to heights of 5 to 10 meters, forming an elfin cloud forest where the legendary "golden toad" once lived. Sadly, the golden toad has not been spotted since 1987 as is believed to be extinct.

Monteverde's Cloud Forest Reserves have thousands of species of plants, of which there are around 800 species of epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants), including 450 kinds of orchids. Trees are covered with mosses, bromeliads, and ferns creating a green collage which is why locals gave it the name " Green Mountain ".

There are more than 425 species of birds, thousands of species of insects, and innumerable plants, reptiles and mammals, including jaguars, tapirs, agoutis, coatis, toucans, sloths, howler monkeys, poison dart frogs, tarantulas, and the famous resplendent quetzal. 

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: Settled by North American Quakers in the early 1950's, the mountain dairy community of Monteverde has become a veritable ecotourist Mecca due to the presence of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (a private reserve owned and operated by the Tropical Science Center ).

Established in 1972, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve protects the habitat for one of the world's most handsomely plumaged birds -- the Resplendent Quetzal. Noted for their shimmering green and red colors and the elongated tail of the adult males, quetzals are seasonally abundant in the reserve and surrounding areas (December through August). Additionally, many other bird and mammal species can also be seen with relative ease throughout the year including: the Emerald Toucanet, Collared Redstart, Blue-crowned Motmot, Black Guan, Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth, Kinkajou, and half a dozen or more species of dazzling hummingbirds. However, the chance to walk through this enchanted, mist-enshrouded environment and admire the epiphyte-laden vegetation of the cloud forest is worth the visit alone.

A diverse and well-maintained trail system allows visitors to explore a small percentage of the reserve's total 11,000 ha. without feeling crowded.

The hummingbird show at the Hummingbird Gallery (on the left just before the reserve parking lot) is free and nothing short of amazing. At least six species can be seen in a ten or fifteen minute viewing span on any day of the year, but you can easily find yourself lingering a lot longer as these feathered fireballs zip back and forth between the feeders and frequently hover just inches away from you.

Climate: Monteverde residents refer to three seasons: dry, wet, and misty. The misty season (mid-November through February) is actually the first half of the dry season in Costa Rica and is characterized by wind-driven clouds that bathe the forest, and frequently the community, in mists as they are blown across the ridge top from the Atlantic side of the country. A poncho is definitely recommended during this portion of the year, while an umbrella should do fine for the afternoon rains that typically fall from May through November. Sweaters will handle the evening chill on almost any night of the year. Daytime temperatures vary with cloud cover and wind conditions, so layers are the best suggestion, but on calm, sunny day shorts and shirt sleeves would be suitable.

History: Looking for an alternative to the increasingly militaristic U.S. society, a group of 44 Quakers from Fairhope , Alabama pulled up stakes in 1950 and came to Costa Rica -- a nation which had taken the bold measure of abolishing its armed forces two years earlier in 1948. After visiting a number of highland areas the length of the country (climates unaffected by many of the more troublesome tropical diseases that were still a problem in the lowlands at the time), the group decided to settle in Monteverde and purchased 3,000 acres of land near the top of the ridge overlooking the Gulf of Nicoya below. To support themselves with something more than mere subsistence farming, they formed a cooperative cheese factory to take advantage of the excellent natural conditions for dairy farming, but nearly impossible conditions for transporting fresh milk to the San José market. Today, Monteverde cheese is renowned throughout Costa Rica and is also exported.

Santa Elena Reserve : In response to the growing numbers of visitors to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, this reserve was created in the early 1990's, just a few kilometers to the northwest along the same mountain chain. The cloud forest habitat that it protects is quite similar to that found at the neighboring reserve, as is the associated wildlife, including Resplendent Quetzals.

One unique possibility at the Santa Elena Reserve, if the clouds permit, is to view Arenal Volcano (most active volcano in Costa Rica ). Even though the volcano is some 20 kilometers distant from the view points, it is still an imposing spectacle.

The Santa Elena Reserve


Located high on the Caribbean slopes of the Cordillera de Tilarán (5, 000 feet, 1,500 m), the Continental Divide of Costa Rica, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the first community managed reserves in the country. With the help of Youth Challenge International, a Canadian Non-profit Organization, the Costa Rican government, and the Santa Elena Community, the Reserve officially opened in March 1992.

The philosophy of the Reserve is unique in that long term sustainability is not only a concern of the Reserve, but of the community as a whole. Proceeds from entrance fees, guided tours and the souvenir shop are either reinvested in the management of the reserve or are channeled to a local high school to help upgrade technology, and fund courses in environmental education, biology, agriculture, languages and tourism. In using the Reserve as a natural classroom, students and teachers harness an unlimited educational resource that can be used for anything from studying tropical plant ecology to leading tours.


The Santa Elena Reserve comprises an area of 310 hectare or 765 acres, and together with the Children's Eternal Rainforest, the Arenal Conservation Area and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve constitute a contiguous conservation area of approximately 28,000 hectares or 69,000 acres. Plans are underway to raise funds to buy and restore adjacent farmlands for future inclusion into the Santa Elena Reserve. Conservation efforts in the area are concentrating on establishing forest corridors radiating from the central conservation area down to lower altitudes as many of the forest fauna, such as the Resplendent Quetzal, American Pumas, Jaguars, Ocelots, and Red Brocket Deer require large territories in which to forage and breed.

HOURS and FEES: 7 AM to 4 PM daily. COST: US $10 adults, $6.0 for students with ID & children 7 and over, free for kids 6 and under. The reserve has a cafeteria, souvenir shop and gallery with the same hours. There are no restrooms on the trails but there ones located at the entrance .

Guided Tours : Guided tours are offered at 7:30AM or 11:30AM every day. Your hotel can make reservations for you. The tour lasts about 3 hours and is $15.00 PP in addition to the entrance fee. See Guided Tours

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was established in 1972 and has been managed by the CCT ( Tropical Science Center ). The Monteverde reserve was created thanks to the influence of the Quaker community that settled in Monteverde in the decade of the 50´s. In order for them to preserve the natural springs as their water source they kept untouched the surrounding forest. Years past and other organizations such as the Monteverde Conservation League started to add land to the already preserved forest with the Children's Eternal Rain forest program, which involves children from all around the world raising/donating money to buy and protect more land. The "Bajo del Tigre" trails in Monteverde are part of this conservation project. If you are a wildlife lover, we highly recommend getting up early in the morning and visiting the parks, because this is the time when most birds and mammals feed. Parks open at 7:00am but in some cases you might be let in earlier if you have previously arranged a tour with one of the naturalist guides of the guide association of Monteverde.

The spectacular Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Feels like walking in a grandiose green Cathedral. Wind-sculptured elfin woodlands on the exposed ridges are spectacularly dwarfed, whereas protected cove Monteverde rainforests have majestically tall trees festooned with orchids, bromeliads, ferns, vines, and mosses.

Poorly drained areas support swamp forests while parts of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, dissected by deep gorges, have numerous crystal clear streams tumbling over rapids and waterfalls. The variable climate and large altitudinal gradient has helped produce an extremely high biodiversity. Spectacular wildlife includes the Jaguar, Ocelot, Baird´s Tapir, Three-wattled Bellbird, Bare necked Umbrella bird and the famous elusive Resplendent Quetzal.


In 1962 several scientists, former employees of the InterAmerican Agricultural Sciences Institute (IICA) decided to establish a private association dedicated to knowledge regarding the ecologically rational use of tropical resources.

These pioneers were Dr. Leslie R. Holdridge, botanist and forester; Dr. Robert Hunter, phyto-physiologist; and Dr Joseph Tosi, Geographer and ecologist. They were later joined by Dr. Carlos Lankester, English orchideologist; Mr. Frank Jirik Olsen, founder of KATIVO S.A., Dr. Fernando Castañeda V., main chemist at KATIVO, and Wesley Kerper, a North American businessman. In 1963 two distinguished scientists joined the TSC: Dr. Alexander Skutch and Rafael Lucas Rodríguez, biologist and professor at the University of Costa Rica .

Monteverde (more information on the history of the Monteverde Preserve)

Private Preserves

In 1964, in the absence of national park areas, (more information about TSC contributions) the TSC decided to establish a system of private biological preserves, at the same time that important researchers, distinguished biologists and conservation specialists were joining the Center. Among the first preserves that were established was La Selva (actually owned by the Organization for Tropical Studies -OTS), followed by Palo Verde in the Guanacaste Province and Rincón de Osa- later known as Corcovado National Park- in the peninsula of the same name.

Third Stage

Presently, after almost forty years of existence, the TSC is entering a third stage of development. Leadership of the organization is being passed on to highly motivated, skilled, younger professionals formed within the organization and willing to reach for higher scientific goals, with the purpose of supporting the harmonious development of the natural and social environment.

After the Preserve's creation, the Tropical Science Center continued to secure the financial and human resources necessary to expand, consolidate, and properly protect and manage the non-profit Rainforest Preserve's current 10,500 hectares.

LOCATION: 6 Km (3.6 Mi) SE of Santa Elena, Monteverde. See Monteverde map

TO REACH THE RESERVE: If you have a vehicle you can drive to the reserve from your hotel. Your hotel can provide information or a map. Also a public bus leaves from across the street from the Banco Nacional in Santa Elena, Monteverde each hour starting at 6:00AM daily with the last bus leaving at 1:15PM and costs $1.50 per person. Returns from the reserve every hour starting at 9:45Am , with the last one leaving the reserve at 4:00PM . You can stop the bus and board anywhere along the road between the Village of Santa Elena & the entrance of the Monteverde Reserve, just wave the driver. Or take a local taxi from all hotels who will call one for you.

HOURS and FEES: 7 AM to 4 PM daily. COST: US $13 adults, $6.50 for students with ID & children 6 and over, free for kids 5 and under. The reserve has a cafeteria, souvenir shop and gallery with the same hours. There are no restrooms on the trails but very nice ones at the entrance .

GUIDED TOURS : Semi-Private group tours (maximum of 8) are available for $15 pp and last about 3 hours in English or Spanish which is in addition to the reserve entrance fee. Private tours are also offered. Click here for more info or reservations

Nature Trails

The Preserve has 13 kilometers of paths and trails open to daily visitors in an area called The Triangle. This area covers 2% of the Preserve. The paths start at the entrance of the Preserve. Two trails to the north and west of the Triangle lead to the shelters in the cloud forest and may be used under special circumstances.

In order to minimize the impact to the delicate and diverse life zones in the Preserve, and maximize the quality of the visit for the tourists, the TSC has defined a policy of limiting the number of people who can use the paths and trails at the same time. Use of the paths cannot be reserved; instead visitors have access to them on a first-come, first-serve basis. Those who arrive once the limit has been reached, have to wait 15 to 45 minutes until those on the paths return to the entrance of the Preserve. Visitors, who have reservations for the guided tours with guides from the Preserve, have guaranteed entrance to the paths. Since paths and trails are often wet and muddy, visitors may want to rent rubber boots in the reception area. .

The longest walks extend beyond the Triangle area and require overnight stays in the shelters within the Preserve, therefore they are not recommended for un-experienced hikers. Those who wish to take long hikes may contract an experienced guide by contacting the Preserve for additional information and a list of guides. Hikers who go beyond the Triangle are advised to carry sufficient water and food, matches (resistant to humidity), a compass, rope, flashlight, extra batteries, warm clothing, first aid kit, rain gear and a pocket knife, as minimum equipment. In order to minimize the possibility of getting lost, it is best not to walk alone. Please register at the reception desk, indicating your intended hike.

Descriptions of the Paths.

River Path

1.9 kilometers, with a differential elevation of 65 meters. Walking time: 1 hour, one way.

This path extends along the Cuecha Creek with a short detour towards the Waterfall, a triple fall at .5 miles from the entrance to the Preserve. Towards the entrance of the path there are lauracea trees that provide fruit to the Queztal bird; also observable is secondary forest. Near the Waterfall there are Zapote trees with buttressed roots. Towards the end tapir hoof prints are often visible.

Wilford Guindon Trail

1.1 kilometers. 40 meters elevation, and 1 hour one-way walking distance.

This is a recently designed path named after one of the founders of the Preserve, a local pioneer Quaker. The path connects the Chomogo and Roble paths, by way of the Elevated Bridge , a structure of 100 meters length, from which it is possible to observe the abundanceof epiphytes on the forest canopy. The path is undulated and it traverses primary forest typical of the Preserve.

El Roble Path
1 kilometer in distance with an elevation of 89 meters. The walking distance one way is one-half hour.

This path is located at .8 kilometers from the intersection of Bosque Eterno and Chomogo paths. It connects Chomogo and Bridge Paths (or Wilford Guindon) with El Camino. As the path leads down to the El Camino, it is possible to see both Pacific and Atlantic watersheds.

George Powell Path
One-tenth of a kilometer, with an elevation of 20 metes and a one-way walking distance of 10 minutes.

This short path of gentle slope was named after one of the founders of the Preserve. It traverses a secondary growth forest.


Bosque Eterno Path

.6 kilometers and 35 meters of elevation, it takes 20 minutes to walk this path one way.

This is a very short but lovely path situated between Chomogo and River paths, where you can find good examples of strangler fig trees.

Chomogo Path

1.8 kilometer and an elevation of 150 meters, it takes 1 hour and fifteen minutes to walk it one way.

The Chomogo Path has existed since the foundation of the Preserve. It is the path with the highest elevation in the Triangle, reaching up to 5,510 feet (1680 meters), above sea level. The oaks, bamboo, and heliconia plants (Heliconia monteverdis) are common at the higher altitudes. Tapir hoof prints are observable along the path. There are many examples of two types of orchids: the Stenorrynchos and the plant known as "sensual lips". The path goes uphill to a clearing on the continental divide that offers a clear view of the Pacific Watershed at the junction of the Rio and Pantanoso paths. Some of the forests here are secondary growth. Along the first kilometer of the path, the trees have been labeled with identifying information. At the reception center visitors can obtain guides to the trees in the Preserve.

El Camino Path
2 kilometers, with an elevation of 45 meters. The walking distance is 1 hour one-way.

This gravel road leads to the beautiful Peñas Blancas Valley . Since this path has more overhead clearing than others, it allows sunlight to penetrate and attract butterflies. It is also a good route to observe birds.

Cloudforest Path
This path is a good area to observe the legendary resplendent Quetzal, especially during the mating season, in April and May. It is also a place to observe strangler figs. Along a segment of the path, there is an area of secondary forest growth. Some clearings have bamboo trees. Also perceptible is the change in humidity as you walk along the paths. As you reach the Continental Divide, the changes in vegetation, humidity and temperature become more noticeable. This path has educational stops along the way that correspond to a Natural History self-guide pamphlet, which can be obtained in the reception area
Pantanoso Path
1.6 kilometers with a diferential in elevation of 40 meters and a walking distance one-way of 1 hour and 15 minutes.

This path traverses a swampy forest, a more dense and humid area than any other within the Triangle. Due to its high altitude, (it crosses the Continental Divide) the strong winds tear the trees down, creating many clearings in the forest. Here you will find magnolia plants, raised-root plants and Podocarpus, the only native conniferous tree found in the Preserve. The path has a raised wooden walkway.

Brilliant Path
0.3 kilometers, an elevation of 30 meters and a 10 minute walking distance.

Starting at the intersection between El Camino and Pantanoso, this path goes along the Continental Divide to the La Ventana, a place with a panoramic view of the elfin forest on the Atlantic watershed. Visitors should take notice that this path becomes a restricted trail requiring a special permit beyond the site of La Ventana.

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