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The Santa Elena Cloud Forest © Dirk van der Made/WikiCommons
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest © Dirk van der Made/WikiCommons
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The Top 10 Things to Do and See in Monteverde, Costa Rica

Picture of Jenn Parker
Updated: 12 June 2017
Cloud forests are rare ecosystems that occur in tropical and subtropical mountainous areas. The atmospheric conditions in Monteverde allow for this unique region to be consistently covered by clouds. Clouds envelop forests in a fog which rolls through the dense vegetation, covering everything in a blanket of dew. It is this wet blanket that promotes astonishing biodiversity, especially within the plant kingdom of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, and the Curi-Cancha Reserve.

Go bird watching

Monteverde is home to 400 species of birds, and the best place to go on a bird watching tour is the Curi-Cancha Reserve. On a professionally guided tour, you will have the opportunity to see some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful birds, including the keel-billed toucan, resplendent quetzal, orange-bellied trogon, and the blue-crowned motmot, as well as a variety of hummingbirds and other species.

Take a hike

While there are tons of great activities to do in Monteverde, just going for a simple hike through the cloud forest is spectacular in itself. There are numerous well-maintained and easy-to-walk trails throughout each of the reserves. Most trails range from one to three miles (one to five kilometres), and there are both self-guided and guided hiking tours available. Walking through the cloud forest is a magical experience.

Visit the frog pond

Frog and toad populations are on a worldwide decline. The Monteverde Frog Pond is an educational tour where you will get to see 25 different species of amphibians that are native to Costa Rica. You will learn all about their habitats, behaviors, diet, reproduction, and factors that threaten their population. A portion of the proceeds from your tour will go toward very necessary frog and toad research and conservation. The best time to take this tour is in the evening when the frogs and other amphibians are more active and vocal.

Spend time in a butterfly garden

The Monteverde Butterfly Gardens are a popular attraction located between the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. There are four different climate-controlled butterfly gardens, a medical plant garden, a biodiversity center, and a leaf-cutter ant terrarium. There are more than 50 species of butterflies from different areas and ecosystems in Costa Rica. The gardens offer a volunteer program for those looking for a more hands-on experience with the butterflies.

Admire the orchids

There are over 1,400 species of orchids growing in Costa Rica, and 500 of those species can be found in Monteverde. The Monteverde Orchid House has 426 species of orchids growing and on display. You can take a 30- to 60-minute tour through the gardens and learn all about the different species, where they are from, how they are cultivated, and how to grow your own at home. Being surrounded by so many beautiful orchids is something very special and memorable.

So many different types
So many different types | © Liz West/Flickr

Walk through the treetops

Walking the Selvatura treetop suspension bridges is an incredible way to experience the cloud forest. There are eight suspension bridges that are connected by walking trails. This bird’s eye view opportunity is a great way to see monkeys, sloths, birds, and beautiful plant life from above. This two-and-a-half hour leisurely nature walk is like walking through a beautiful forest fantasy. You will experience every shade of green, and breathe in the cleanest and freshest air.

Walk with the tops of the trees
Walk with the tops of the trees | ©Beatrice Murch/Flickr

Ride through the cloud forest

While horseback riding is not permitted in any of the reserves in Monteverde, there are plenty of great trails and tours through the cloud forest that fall outside of the protected reserves. This is a gentle and peaceful way to experience the green mountain forests while having the opportunity to see all kinds of wildlife and plantlife. This guided tour will be informative, fun, and awe-inspiringly beautiful.

Ride deep into the jungle
Ride deep into the jungle | © Scott Robinson/Flickr

Bask in the beauty of a giant waterfall

The San Luis waterfall is located on the outskirts of the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. There are several ways to get to this 330-foot (100-meter) high waterfall: you can hike (about three hours), ride a horse, or take a taxi to the San Luis research station and hike the final 45 minutes down. Once you make it to the waterfall, you can take a refreshing dip in the cold waterfall pool, have a picnic, or just admire the immense beauty of the falls and surrounding forest.

Venture into the forest at night

Around 80 percent of the animals in Monteverde are nocturnal. For this reason, a cloud forest night walk is an incredible way to experience the wonderful wildlife of the region. You will walk through the cloud forest with a professional guide who will point out all sorts of wildlife. Experiencing the forest this way offers a totally unique perspective. It is likely that you will see wildlife that you have never seen before and would not have the chance to see during the day.

Take a coffee, chocolate, and sugarcane tour

The Don Juan coffee, chocolate, and sugarcane tour is a delicious way to spend some time in Monteverde. On this tour, you will first learn all about Costa Rican coffee, then learn all about Costa Rican chocolate, and after a traditional oxcart ride, you will learn about sugarcane harvesting and the traditional way sugar is extracted from the sugarcane. You will also get to try a glass of sweet sugarcane juice and a cup of freshly brewed coffee from the plantation.