This Costa Rica Region Has One of the Few Cloud Forests Left in the World — How to Plan a Perfect Visit

Visitors to Monteverde, Costa Rica, can expect stunning eco-resorts, treetop dining, and incredible wildlife.

<p>Adrian Rudd/Travel + Leisure</p>

Adrian Rudd/Travel + Leisure

Monteverde is a haven for ecotourism on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast — even its name in Spanish means "green mountain." Home to thousands of plants and more than 400 bird species, like the elusive quetzal and blue wing-tipped scarlet macaw, the region inspires immersion into its varied topography and wildlife. The biggest attraction, Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, is home to half of the country's flora and fauna, drawing more than 70,000 annual travelers to its mist-tinged mountains.

"Monteverde has one of the few cloud forests left in the world, as they are one of the first forests to disappear due to global warming," said Rodrigo Valverde, co-founder of Costa Rica Sky Adventures. "It [contains] 2.5 percent of all the world's biodiversity, which makes it one of the few places in the world where you can see the most exuberant flora and fauna."

Check into Hotel Belmar, located in the cloud forest and one of the country’s first eco-friendly properties. Or, settle in the commercial center of Santa Elena and enjoy organic cocktails with zero waste — including frozen avocado pits for ice cubes — at Natu speakeasy. No matter what you choose, you’ll be close to nature and captivating adventures.

Monteverde, Costa Rica

  • Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve contains flora, fauna, and a variety of mammals that draw visitors from around the world.

  • Situated in the mountains of Monteverde on nine acres of cloud forest, Hotel Belmar is an eco-hotel with nine rooms and incredible views.

  • Enjoy craft beers like seltzers and lagers at the casual, popular Monteverde Brewing Co.

  • Try the nine-course tasting menu in your own treetop pod with the San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience.

  • Observe more than 14 hummingbird species set over 1,200 acres at Selvatura Hummingbird Garden.

<p>Courtesy of Hotel Belmar</p>

Courtesy of Hotel Belmar

Best Hotels & Resorts

Monteverde Lodge & Gardens

Located just 15 minutes from the cloud forest, this 31-room lodge offers accommodations with private balconies overlooking the grounds teeming with flora and jungle-covered hillsides. Rooms feature high ceilings and bathrooms include solar-heated hot water. The main pool is surrounded by lush vegetation and there are a number of walking trails on the property. The on-site restaurant, El Jardin, features dishes like spicy red curry soup with local root vegetables, sea bass, and a separate, plant-based menu.

Hotel Belmar

Voted by Travel + Leisure readers as one of their 10 favorite resorts in Central America, this rustic luxury property is situated on the dewy mountainside of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Guests can enjoy an on-site brewery and juice bar, as well as Restaurante Celajes. Known for its eco-friendly approach, Hotel Belmar sources produce for its restaurant from the on-site organic garden and uses solar panels to harness renewable energy.

El Establo

Set on a 150-acre farm, El Establo is a family-owned hotel with amenities such as a swimming pool, spa, game room, restaurants, and bars. Categories among its 155 rooms include honeymoon and family suites featuring private balconies with views of the Gulf of Nicoya. Guests can enjoy a number of excursions from the hotel, including canopy tours and night walks through the nearby Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Chira Glamping

For a glamping experience in the heart of the cloud forest, check into Chira, which features five tents, four honeymoon suites, and a family suite — all with handcrafted furnishings and terraces. The hotel’s restaurant, San Lucas, offers a special treetop dining experience that includes nine courses celebrating various regions in Costa Rica.

<p>Jess Macdonald/Travel + Leisure</p>

Jess Macdonald/Travel + Leisure

Best Things to Do

Visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Step into an oasis that contains six ecological zones, 120 mammal species, and thousands of plants at Monteverde Cloud Forest. The 26,000-acre forest offers activities like bird-watching, canopy tours, and zip lining. "In addition to the cloud forest, there are four more private reserves that share the same type of forest. There are also activities connecting with nature such as hanging bridges, zip lines, cable cars, night tours, cultural tours, and many types of hotels according to the budgets of each tourist," said Valverde.

See the Selvatura Hummingbird Garden.

Observe 14 different hummingbird species among 1,200 acres of protected cloud forest at Selvatura Park. Other family-friendly activities at the park include the Tarzan swing, canopy tours, and eight hanging bridges. Selvatura Park also has a butterfly garden with guides that take visitors through one of the world’s largest living butterfly exhibits.

Hike in the Children's Eternal Rainforest.

This 57,000-acre private nature reserve is the largest in Costa Rica and home to endangered species like jaguars and green-eyed frogs. Also known as BEN, after the Spanish phrase "Bosque Eterno de los Niños," the Children's Eternal Rainforest is a true testimony to biodiversity and the importance of conservation.

Shop at Cooperativa de Artesanas de Santa Elena.

A driving force behind empowering women in Costa Rica, Cooperativa de Artesanas de Santa Elena (or CASEM) is an artisan co-op full of locally made crafts, including handbags, wood carvings, and decorative wall hangings. CASEM offers employment opportunities and training to local women.

Take a coffee tour.

Costa Rica produces some of the highest quality coffee in the world, and Monteverde offers a number of experiences to get up close and personal with the farming and roasting of beans. Café Monteverde’s farm and roastery tour includes information on every stage of coffee farming. Visitors can also stop by at any time for a to-go cup.

<p>Manuel ROMARIS/Getty Images</p>

Manuel ROMARIS/Getty Images

Best Restaurants

San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience

Enjoy nine courses on timber-built platforms suspended above a glowing rain forest with the San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience. With a focus on local ingredients from different regions in Costa Rica, nightly menus are a surprise specially curated by the chefs. Pescetarian, vegan, and vegetarian options are also available. It’s advised to make reservations in advance, and the entire experience takes 2.5 hours.

Restaurante Celajes

Located at Hotel Belmar, Restaurante Celajes features balconies overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a menu that utilizes the property’s organic farm to create inventive cocktails and food like smoked trout salad and ribs in tamarind sauce. When you’re done eating, head over to the property’s craft brewery to try an artisanal ale that includes water sourced from the springs of the cloud forest.

La Cuchara de la Abuela

Support local women chefs at La Cuchara de la Abuela, located inside the artisanal co-op Cooperativa de Artesanas de Santa Elena. Don’t miss the handmade corn tortilla and traditional dishes like gallo pinto (beans and rice) and casado con chuleta (pork cutlet served with cheese, fried plantain, sour cream, and tortillas).

<p>DmitriyBurlakov/Getty Images</p>

DmitriyBurlakov/Getty Images

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Monteverde is during the dry season between December and April, when temperate climates make for great trekking and sightseeing. The rainy season typically falls between June and October, but showers are a possibility year-round. Due to its altitude, Monteverde is chilly and misty on most nights, so pack warmer clothing for the evening. For incredible sunsets and flourishing green landscapes, plan a visit from May to November.

How to Get to There

Monteverde is about a three-hour drive from the capital of San José and roughly halfway between San José and Liberia airports. Most travelers fly into San José's Juan Santamaría International Airport. From there, you can take a shuttle, private transfer, or rent a car, though you should be prepared for winding hills and windy conditions when visiting between November and March.

How to Get Around

The town of Santa Elena and Monteverde are easily explored on foot. However, all major activities, as well as the cloud forest reserves and hiking trails, are further away and best accessed by car. Some hotels in town provide free transportation for tours and into the park, but having a car will certainly give you more freedom to explore the area at your own pace.

Car Rental

There are no car rental spots in Monteverde, so visitors should rent a vehicle at the airport before arriving. Companies such as Avis Costa Rica and Enterprise are readily available, and reservations can be made in advance online.

Public Transportation

The only public transportation company in Monteverde is TransMonteverde, which operates routes to San José and Puntarenas. Fares generally cost less than $8 USD for the longest routes, with public transportation to the Monteverde Cloud Forest available for just $1 USD. Transportation is provided for excursions to other attractions and tours, but advance reservations are generally necessary. Taxis are also a reliable and readily available transportation service in the area. Websites like Explore Monteverde can help you navigate the region. 

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