An absolute must-visit for any travellers heading to Costa Rica – Monteverde Cloud Forest Nature Reserve completely blew me away. One of the wildest, purest landscapes I have been lucky enough to hike during five years of travel. Yes, Costa Rica is touristy, but it's easy to feel like you're the only traveller in the forest, lost somewhere high in the clouds. After exploring the hotter and more humid areas of the country, Monteverde was a sunny mountainous escape with fresh breezes of the crisp, clean air.
The sound of birdsong and the beating of a hummingbird's wings rang clear on the breeze. The damp earthy smell of the trails, the odd tree root stretching out across the path and the spray of raindrops as the trees moved in the breeze. This curiously misty canopy was the perfect place for animals to hide away, watching on as the travellers hiked the paths. Monteverde was a place I was dying to visit long before I ever set foot in Central America and it certainly didn't disappoint.
Why visit Monteverde Cloud Forest Nature Reserve?
There's a reason Monteverde is on every traveller's must-see list when they come to Costa Rica. Monteverde actually means Green Mountain – and it's a place that could easily inspire the myths and legends of days gone by. Stepping into the forest feels like stepping back into the Jurassic era. Witness trees that have stood for hundreds of years, vines and creepers inching their way along the branches. Moss growing on every surface, and every shade of green you can imagine, and more.
The fresh clean air clings to your lungs and your skin is damp from the second you enter the trees. On the forest floor are the remains of trees of times gone by, and yet they live on by fuelling the next generation of saplings. The Monteverde Cloud Forest, or Bosque Nuboso Monteverde as it is also known, is one of the most eco-diverse places I have ever visited. It has masses of wildlife in all shapes and sizes, from frogs, birds and insects, to snakes, monkeys, sloths and even cats! Although it's rare to see these. Birdwatchers flock to the area to spot and study unique species.
Visiting the Monteverde Cloud Forest Nature Reserve:
How to get there? Combining with other Costa Rica stops
If you're travelling from San José, getting to Monteverde is the cheapest and easiest. You can arrive by public bus, the most cost-efficient option and perfectly comfortable. The bus runs twice daily, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, and it takes around 4.5 hours. From San José, the bus leaves from the Downtown station, Terminal 7-10 and runs with Transmonteverde.
If you have visited nearby La Fortuna, you can get a shuttle to Monteverde, but not a direct bus. This is the route I took and the shuttle – which I booked via Selina Hostel for $26. These run at 8am and 2pm, and take around 3-4 hours to arrive. If you are travelling as a group, hiring a car may be the best option as splitting the cost gives you freedom and flexibility in your schedule, but on a budget.
When to visit? How long do I need?
It's important to remember that Costa Rica has a dry season (December to May) when prices are higher and attractions are busier. But this also means the best weather for hiking the Monteverde Cloud Forest and least rain. In the wet season (May to December), this is also possible, but the weather may be more unpredictable, and if rains are heavy, I imagine that some parts of the forest paths might be more slippery or even inaccessible. I visited at the beginning of March, and despite the weather being perfect, I found the park quiet and peaceful. It was easy to escape the tour groups and have whole trails to myself.
You can easily hike the entire Cloud Forest independently in one day, it took me from 9am until 2pm, others might be faster/slower. Or you can break up the trails across different days, but you will have to pay the entrance fee each time you enter. I recommend spending at least 2 full days in Monteverde – this gives you a day for the forest and a day to either enjoy the town, take a coffee tour or visit some of the other local attractions.
How much does it cost?
Entry to the Cloud Forest costs $26 per adult, this is payable in cash or by card. Discounts available for those with a student card, and the elderly/children.
Can I do a self-guided tour? Do I have to take a tour?
You DO NOT need to take a tour. It is entirely possible to visit Monteverde Cloud Forest independently and to self-guide the trails. The tours are expensive, noisy and do not spot many animals (this seems to be the big draw for taking a tour). Checking with people who took the tours, they said they spotted birds, frogs and insects – I saw all of these independently. I much preferred visiting independently because it meant I could enjoy the peace and quiet while visiting. Instead, I could hear the birdsong, the wind in the trees, and my own thoughts! If you do decide to do a tour, read the reviews and do your research before booking.
Shuttles/transport to the Monteverde Cloud Forest
There are various options available for getting to/from the nature reserve depending on your budget. Taxis are by far the most expensive and are not really necessary, but are an option if you prefer. I would really recommend either renting a car and driving yourself. However, please note the car park is quite a distance from the park entrance, so if you don't fancy the walk up the hill, you may want to rethink.
For those on a budget, I really recommend either taking the public bus or do what I did and book the shuttle. It costs $5 for a return ticket and they pick you up at your accommodation (you can choose to go at 7.30am, 8am or 9am) and then you can return at 11am, 2pm or 4pm. This worked perfectly for me and I went at 8am and returned on the 2pm bus, having seen everything at the park.
What to do at Monteverde Cloud Forest?
Which trails to hike?
Sendero Bosque Nuboso – Sendero La Ventana – Sendero Camino – Sendero Wilford Guindon (4km – easy)
The most popular hike, and one that is suitable for all abilities with the most to see, is just under 4km and can take a while to complete as there is so much to see! This route takes in some amazing natural sights, a nature trail, the Sendero La Ventana viewpoint over the Continental Divide, plus the hanging bridge, and more incredible nature on the way back. It follows the Sendero Bosque Nuboso trail towards Sendero La Ventana, then heads to Sendero Camino and finishing up with Sendero Wilford Guindon trail.
Sendero Tosi – Quebrada Cuecha – George Powell (3.3km – easy)
Each trail is different and has unique sights along the way, plus the ever changing landscape as you move between different altitudes and walk from below the clouds, to right above them. It's a crazy feeling to stand above the canopy, and then to move down into the dense forest. If you're feeling athletic – there's also an option to add an extra 3.3km hike to the waterfall, which is definitely worth seeing, and you can build in the Sendero Tosi, Quebrada Cuecha and George Powell routes.
Overall completing these routes took me around 3 hours – not because the hike is difficult but because there is SO much to see and I kept stopping to take photos. It's an incredible place so make sure you give yourself the time to enjoy it and to really spot the animals/nature.
Sendero Chomogo – Sendero Roble – Sendero Wilford Guindon (2.8km – steep/slippery)
If you still have energy after this and fancy more of a challenge – there's another hike that will expect a slightly higher fitness level. It's still suitable for all abilities if you have the time to go slower, but expect steeper inclines – both up and down – plus slippery steps. Make sure you wear proper shoes for this one and take your time, plus take plenty of water.
Please note the Sendero Chomogo – Sedero Roble route is not signposted once you are on it, so it can be difficult to judge how far you have gone. Just keep following the trail, it's not as far as you think, 2.8km total and that includes revisiting the hanging bridge and Wilford Guindon trail. Allow time for this trail, I completed it in 45 minutes, but I had to rush for my shuttle bus so I did it at high speed. It was still beautiful – and very different to hiking the other trails. The nature you see along the way is very different and more tropical jungle feel.
What sights to see?
The three main sights are the Sendero La Ventana (Continental Divide), the Hanging Bridge and the Waterfall. All of these are worth seeing and are highlights of the trails – easily combined into one hike. But there is also a lot to see on all of the trails along the way including spectacular views across the jungle/forest, into the canopy, spectacularly huge trees, vines and creepers, animals and much more. Don't rush your hikes, slow down and take in the view. Plus the slower and quieter you move, the more likely you are to see wildlife.
How hard are the hikes?
I have a high fitness level and love to hike so I found the paths pretty easy. Some were more difficult in places because they were steep or slippery, but generally they were all fairly easy and flat. The hardest one was the Sendero Chomogo – Sendero Roble hike because of the elevation and how steep/slippery it was. But anyone can do it, you just need to make sure you have the time to go slow and walk at a pace that works for you. But I saw kids and elderly people walking most of the trails with no issues – just remember to go prepared and wear appropriate clothing.
What should I wear/take with me?
Here is your packing list for Monteverde Cloud Forest Nature Reserve:
- Waterproof walking boots or trainers/sneakers you don't mind getting muddy
- Long pants/leggings
- Warm layer – hoodie or thin thermal layers – easy to layer up/down as conditions change
- Waterproof layer/coat – it can get VERY wet walking in a cloud
- Rucksack with waterproof layer/plastic bag to shelter items if it rains
- Enough water/snacks/picnic for the day, there's a restaurant but nowhere really to buy/fill up
- Insect repellent, sunscreen
- Camera/protection for camera (see below)
Tips for visiting photographers
It can get very damp, rainy and misty in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. If you are planning on taking expensive camera equipment with you – which you will definitely want in order to capture the beauty of the area. I really recommend making sure you have something to protect your gear with. While I visited, the weather was beautiful, so I found I was okay to just use my backpack and hands to shield my camera from the mist. However, I have heard it can get much worse – if this is the case when you visit, perhaps try lining your backpack/camera bag with a plastic bag if you don't have a waterproof cover for it.
Guide to Monteverde town:
My love of Monteverde didn't stop at the Cloud Forest, the town was a great place to spend a few days. I hadn't expected there to be much around but it proved to be a great little stop on my Costa Rican adventures. Though small, it has everything you need including supermarkets, great accommodations, a choice of international cuisine at the restaurants. There's a karaoke bar and another bar with live music each night, shops to browse, cafes, coffee tours and much more. I had a fab few days in the area and would really recommend a couple of days to really enjoy everything.
Best places to stay
A lot of the hostels in Monteverde appear incredibly basic and outdated. I had friends stay at others and they complained about them being dirty or having uncomfortable beds. If you want comfortable and quality hostels in Monteverde, I recommend trying the following two:
- Outbox Inn – I stayed at this brand new hostel and LOVED it. Super clean, huge and comfy beds, amazing staff, gorgeous light and airy rooms. Plus a restaurant with vegan/veggie options.
- Selina Monteverde – I didn't stay here but I really rate the Selina Hostels, they offer great services/extras, have great locations and offer a high quality of comfort while sticking to your budget
Monteverde Hotels & Apartments
If you're on holiday or have a bigger budget and prefer a private room/hotel, try the following options:
- Hotel Casa Madonna – spacious private rooms in a new hotel, breakfast included, close access to local attractions, located in the centre of town
- Apartamentos Lantana – if you're a family or group travelling, you might want more space/independence than a hotel allows. Why not try renting a 2 bed apartment for a few days so you have access to a kitchen/living area, within walking distance of the shops/supermarket/restaurants.
- Monteverde Lodge and Gardens – for a taste of luxury, stay at this gorgeous eco-space. With huge rooms overlooking the forest, a heated swimming pool and own restaurant, plus just 1km from the town centre.
Best places to eat
- Taco Taco Taqueria for delicious Mexican food and Margaritas that won't stretch your budget, including vegan/veggie options
- Sushi Neko for delicious, freshly made, sushi, including vegan/veggie options
- The Open Kitchen and The Tap House Bar – at Outbox Inn. Israeli and International food, vegan/veggie friendly.
Best things to do
- Take a coffee tour
- Go on a night tour of the Cloud Forest
- Join one of the many other tours including canopy tours and Adventure Parks
- Go to karaoke with the locals at Amigos
- Watch live painting or live jazz music at The Tap House Bar
- Visit the butterfly gardens
- Visit the Orchid Garden or Bat Jungle
- Relax and enjoy the sunshine – The Open Kitchen is a great place to work if you're a digital nomad!
Have you visited Monteverde Cloud Forest – would you like to?