Occupying the cool, mist-covered peaks of Costa Rica’s Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range lies the cloud forest oasis of Monteverde. The small town of Santa Elena is the area’s principal commercial center and tourist hub with a rich assortment of restaurants, art and souvenir shops, grocery stores, and urban amenities.
Surrounding the town along the winding mountain roads are what seems like countless ecolodges and hotels catering to visitors.
Monteverde, however, isn’t just famous for its rural charm. It is also home to the world-renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. One of the most biologically diverse regions in all of Central America.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was established in 1972. Its formation resulted from the joint efforts of local Quakers and scientists from the Tropical Science Center who wished to protect the area’s dwindling forests from logging and human encroachment. Only one percent of the world’s woodlands are cloud forests and harbor distinct life zones and habitats.
Nature’s biological bounty
Adding to the region’s profound ecological uniqueness is the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific hemispheres along the Tilarán continental divide. The rare combination of environmental factors that come together to form the subtropical environment of Monteverde makes it unlike anywhere else on earth.
Some 3,000 types of plants, over 120 reptiles and amphibians, and thousands of insects inhabit the park’s 10,500 hectares. In addition to over 100 animal species and 500 types of birds. Among the most exotic species are the Resplendent Quetzal, the three-wattled bellbird, monkeys, sloths, and all six cat species, including jaguars, jaguarundis, ocelots, pumas, oncillas, and margays.
Over the years, Monteverde has been joined by the community-operated Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, the Children’s Eternal Rainforest (Bosque Eterno de Los Ninos), and a host of private reserves. Most of which are set aside as the feature attractions of local ecolodges. Today, the area is considered a model pioneer of Costa Rica’s conservation and ecotourism efforts.
Things to do in Monteverde
There are several ways to experience Monteverde’s natural treasures. Hiking trails expertly wind through the mountainous terrain. And impressive skywalks, hanging bridges, and gondolas span the treetops—all of which offer visitors a unique opportunity to see and feel the cloud forest canopy up close.
Birding and night hikes in Monteverde provide an alternative glimpse of the region’s diurnal and nocturnal inhabitants. At the same time, horseback rides and canopy zipline tours offer a more exciting take on the surroundings.
Restricted mobility and disabled visitors need not miss the experience. Costa Rica’s tourism industry and the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), which oversees the park system, are taking strides to make the country’s most popular destinations and national parks more accessible.
Wheelchair-friendly activities in Monteverde, such as the Monteverde Rainforest Train and several ecolodges, offer wheelchair-accessible accommodations and activities.
Coffee and chocolate tours, Costa Rica
Visitors can also sample and learn about Costa Rica’s gastronomical superstars–coffee and chocolate–by visiting Monteverde producers. A handful of local growers give fun and informative tours of their plantations and processing facilities while selling their goods and souvenirs in the process.