• Canopy walkway, Costa Rica

Highlights and main attractions of Monteverde & Santa Elena Cloud Forests

Forming part of the central highlands, an expanse of undulating countryside that spreads as far east as Volcan Arenal to the lowlands of Guanacaste in the west, the luscious and fertile hill country of this region makes it one of Costa Rica’s most enticing for walking, hiking and exploring its natural world highlights. The corridor of settlements that comprises Monteverde and Santa Elena is surrounded by a swathe of famous cloud forests, which generally sit at an altitude of around 1500 metres above sea level and protect a variety of flora and fauna within the spectacular two reserves of the region.

The towns of Santa Elena and Monteverde form two of the most populated areas of the highlands and are the starting points for visits into the two main reserves, the original Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve which was established in 1954 by Quakers and the more recently formed Santa Elena Rainforest Reserve in 1992. Both are models for environmental sustainability and eco-tourism, and heading en route to Monteverde via steep and snaking dirt roads from the international highway, one almost feels as though tourism has not reached these lofty parts, but both Santa Elena and Monteverde are excellent centres with spectacular settings and wide-ranging facilities.

Some of the most enticing areas in Costa Rica for hiking and exploring.


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Macaw, Costa Rica

Our favourite spots and activities

The cloud forest environment is caused at mountain level when warm, wetter air rolls in off the ocean, subsequently rising and cooling to form a blanket of mist that eerily swirls the mountain tops.  It is within the reserves that protect these forests that the majority of attractions lie. Covering an area of 25,000 acres that encompass six different ecosystems or 'life zones', the Monteverde Reserve is the last vestige of primary cloud forest remaining in Central America and contains approximately 2500 species of plants including hanging vines, mosses and 400 orchid types, over 100 mammal species including marsupials, shrews, bats and primates, around 490 butterfly species and 400 bird species, including the famed quetzal. Santa Elena Reserve is slightly higher in elevation but with similar range of biodiversity and proceeds from the reserve are put back into managing it and the community that preserves it.

Most of the forest explorations are on foot, on horseback or by 4WD accompanied by naturalist guides and with binoculars to help spot some of the more elusive birdlife. There are also some incredible zip lining canopy adventures to be enjoyed or you can take a night trail from your lodge to spot nocturnal species including the sloth. Within the towns, there are frog gardens and butterfly houses to enable viewing of some of the rarer and more nocturnal creatures.

Immersed in the nature of the region, the El Sapo Dorado Hotel enjoys 5 kilometres of self-guided trails to enjoy as well as other activities organised from the lodge itself.


Contact one of our Destination Specialists to start planning your journey to Costa Rica. Please note we recommend a budget of from £4,500 / $6,000 USD per person for our style of trip to this destination.

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