Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is the country’s most popular tourist destination in the nation, second only to Manuel Antonio. In fact, so many people visit this natural wonder on any given day that some travelers and locals have taken to calling it the “Monteverde Crowd Forest”! Despite the crowds, the Monteverde Cloud Forest is so biodiverse and unusual that it is still well worth the trip for both experienced naturalists and first time visitors.
The tiny village of Monteverde was founded in 1951 by American Quakers who were looking for a place to farm that was free from the fear of constant warfare. They chose Costa Rica because the country had (and still has) no standing army.
At the base of the mountain, many brown fields once tilled by these early founders still remain. The settlers realized that the cloud forest above the fields and village was a special and rare place, so they set it aside as a protected area that is now formally known as the Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Reserve.
Cloud forests are formed when warm ocean breezes are pushed up a mountainside, forcing them to condense into clouds that hover close to the ground, providing ample moisture and a uniquely friendly environment for thousands of species of animals and plants.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest covers 25,688 acres and supports 400 species of birds, 100 species of animals, and over 2,500 species of rare plants, including 400 different kinds of orchids.
The atmosphere in the Monteverde Cloud Forest is so rich in moisture that the trees are draped with plants that take their nourishment directly from the air and need no root system. These rare rootless botanical species include bromeliads, ferns, and colorful orchards.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is also home to the rare quetzal, a robin-sized bird with brilliant plumage and a dramatic tail feathers (on the male only) that can reach up to two feet in length.
Entrance to the Monteverde Cloude Forest costs $12 for adults and $6 for students and children. The trails are well marked and heavily traveled, but despite the biodiversity of the place, it can be hard to spot a specific species without a guide.
Guided tours run around $15 and are well worth the splurge. A good plan is to book a guided tour first thing in the morning, then spend the afternoon wandering the trails alone. Both experiences are unforgettable.
Quetzals can be especially difficult to spot. The best times to find them are early to mid-morning during the months of February through April, which is also the mating season. Trails can be extremely muddy so ask about conditions before setting out. Rubber boots are available for rental on site for a modest fee.
Since only 120 people are allowed into the Monteverde Cloud Forest at one time, visitors sometimes have to wait their turn to enter. The information center offers lots of interesting books about the plant and animal species that live in the cloud forest, as well as colorful postcards and posters of quetzals, monkeys, orchids, and the famous golden toad (which, sadly, may have already become extinct).
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is not to be missed, no matter how crowded. Tickets and tour reservations can be purchased in advance at most of Costa Rica’s major hotels.