The Secret of Costa Rica’s Hidden Cloud Forests

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, in Costa Rica, is a unique experience
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, in Costa Rica, is a unique experience | © Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Cassam Looch
Social Editor24 March 2021

Up in the hilltops of Costa Rica, where humidity levels often reach 100 percent, dense rainforests turn into a spellbinding natural phenomenon that only a few intrepid travelers get to experience for themselves. Sometimes known as water forests, these woodland areas, characterized by low-level cloud cover, are home to some of the best places to stay in the world – and you can book your place with Culture Trip.

Cloud forests aren’t unique to Costa Rica. These unusually formed areas are found in several tropical climates where a small band of elevation meets a specific set of atmospheric conditions, resulting in a persistent fog at a lower level than usual. These areas are also known as mossy forests, elfin forests, montane thickets and dwarf cloud forests – although the term “cloud forest” has become the most widely used.

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  • The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve covers more than 10,000ha (24,710 acres) | © Stefano Paterna / Alamy Stock Photo

    Sunlight rarely penetrates the canopy, so the air remains thick with moisture at all times. The unique conditions differ from regular rainforests, and as such, they’re something avid travelers want to experience to complete their nature bucket lists. Official records show that there are more than 700 cloud forests around the world, spread across 59 countries. However, the best examples are found in Central and South America, with Costa Rica’s famed conservation efforts allowing you the chance to not only see the forests but also stay in one overnight.

    The central highlands of Monteverde are home to remarkable cloud forests, where the hazy conditions take on a dreamlike quality. The area has a wide variety of hotels and places to stay away from the treeline, but to experience something truly special, you’ll want to head to one of the outstanding properties below, surrounded by nature.

    Walking through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve feels like stepping into a dream | © adrian hepworth / Alamy Stock Photo

    This region is one of the most scenic in the already lush country. Mountains and volcanoes give sweeping views of the surroundings, with coffee plantations at lower levels also providing a great experience for caffeine lovers. The elevated slopes allow for several cloud forests to emerge in Monteverde, with the crown jewel being the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve – regarded as the best in the world. If you’re after a slightly different experience, then head back down to Santa Elena, a small village with galleries, hotels and reminders of the modern world.

    El Establo Mountain Hotel

    Hotel
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    Courtesy of El Establo Mountain Hotel / Expedia

    Stay a little closer to the clouds at this hotel, perfect for adventurous types who want to try a bit of everything. You’re close enough to the forests if you would like to go hiking through the trees, but you can also experience ziplining across the canopies and an indulgent chocolate wrap at the on-site spa.

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    Monteverde Lodge and Gardens

    Hotel
    Monteverde-Lodge-&-Gardens
    Courtesy of Monteverde Lodge and Gardens / Expedia

    Wedged between downtown Monteverde and the dense rainforests in the hills, this property is an excellent way to acclimatize yourself to your new surroundings without jumping in at the deep end. The bedrooms let you see into the forest from the comfort of your private balcony, while the restaurant and butterfly garden remind you that you’re not quite back to basics just yet.

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    Cloud Forest Lodge

    Hotel
    Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge
    Courtesy of Cloud Forest Lodge / Expedia

    The name says it all here, with sustainability and environmental conservation paramount to the operation of this quiet retreat in the heart of the cloud forest. The native motmot bird is easy to spot here; it’s something of an emblem for the region, often vying with the quetzal for the top spot among the twitching community. Local dishes make great use of various herbs you can find growing in the area, but you’ll want to spend most of your time outside with your head quite literally in the clouds.

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    These recommendations were updated on March 24, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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