Monteverde and Santa Elena: The Magical Cloud Forest

Author: Jorge Chavarría

Jorge defines himself as a Business Coach in progress, now working as a travel agency manager, his passion is to make businesses strive.

Category: Facts

Date: June 10, 2021

An explanation of the region, the forests and its parks

Monteverde is usually a top choice for tourists and researchers for several reasons, like the adventurous attractions, the relaxation of the jungle or the vast biodiversity and endemic species. 

The simple truth is that Monteverde is a paradise, and it was voted as one of the seven wonders of Costa Rica because of its overwhelming presence of nature. 

The tricky part is when visitors find lodging in Santa Elena, Los Llanos, Cañitas or Monteverde, and they wonder exactly where these places are.  Are they considered to be in Monteverde? Where is Santa Elena? What’s the difference between the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve?  What is the difference between the town of Monteverde, the town of Santa Elena, the reserves, the parks, and is it Monteverde or Monte Verde? These are very common questions this article will answer.

The Region

Literally “Green Mountain”, its official name is Monte Verde, and it is one of sixteen districts within the county of Puntarenas which is in the province of Puntarenas (the province and the county have the same name in this case).  This district of Monte Verde includes the towns of Santa Elena, Monte Verde, Cerro Plano, Cuesta Blanca, La Lindora, Los Llanos and San Luis.  Quite soon, Monteverde will become its own county.  

The Monte Verde district borders the districts of Quebrada Grande, Tronadora and Sierra in the Province of Guanacaste; and the district of Peñas Blancas in the province of Alajuela.  In this unique location (touching the provinces of Guanacaste, Alajuela and Puntarenas), Monte Verde boasts about 35,000 hectares (85,000 acres) of protected forest.  See for yourself in the image below!

On this map, you’ll see the darker green part on the right side is protected and is for research only (deep jungle). The tourist attractions, parks and lodging are on the lighter green part of the map.  Don’t get us wrong though: it’s all forest!  (Not just the darker green part.)  

The lighter green part of the image is mainly the tourist destination called Monteverde (now one word). As a region, Monteverde has attractions and businesses in the several towns mentioned above (Santa Elena, Monte Verde, Cerro Plano, Cuesta Blanca, La Lindora, Los Llanos, San Luis, and several other outlying communities).  Thus, tourism benefits more than 20 communities directly or indirectly.

Santa Elena is in the middle of that light green area, and it’s the main town of the Monteverde region. From Santa Elena, most attractions and activities are within a 25 min drive. The blue dot is where Pasión Costa Rica is located, and where we have a lodging option for you:

  • Casita Meg: this fully accessible, freestanding small house has a fully equipped kitchen, bathroom with hot shower, washer and dryer, 50Mbps fiber optics Wi-Fi, living room with HD Cable (IPTV), dining table, desk, sofa, bedroom with queen size bed, closet, and more.

The Forest

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is the top of the mountain range “Cordillera de Tilarán”, with elevations from 1400m to 1800m above sea level (4,583-5,905ft). It straddles the Continental Divide, meaning that Monteverde consists of both the Pacific and the Atlantic side of the mountains and receives a mix of cold and hot winds that results in considerable fog. That fast-moving fog sometimes is called “horizontal rain” or “mist.”  This constant mist creates perfect conditions for an incredible amount of forest life.

The lower parts of the forest have elevations from 800m to 1500m above sea level (2,625-4,921ft) and represent different microclimates and life zones.  For example, some days these forests behave like rain forests, other days as dry forest, and yet others as cloud forest.  The result is that Monteverde enjoys 50% of Costa Rica’s biodiversity and 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity.

The Reserves

Referring again to the darker green area on the right hand side of the map, this area is made mostly of three reserves: the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.  The Children’s Eternal Rainforest is the biggest forest reserve in the area (and, actually, it’s the biggest private reserve in Costa Rica), but it doesn’t have a ton of tourist accessible cloud forest.  You can, however, enjoy exquisite forest walks at the Bajo del Tigre entrance to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, found right in Monteverde.

The Monteverde and Santa Elena Reserves are basically the same cloud forest accessed from different angles: one from the Caribbean/Atlantic side, and the other from the Pacific side. The Santa Elena Reserve is said to be a bit more humid and a little bit higher than the Monteverde Reserve. Besides these reserves, you can also experience the cloud forest through  ziplines and hanging bridges of Selvatura or Sky Adventures, both of which are close to the Santa Elena Reserve.

Lower in elevation than the reserves mentioned above, other trails such as the Curi-Cancha Reserve, Bajo del Tigre (a trail in the Children’s Eternal Rainforest,) the Ecological Sanctuary, Wildlife Refuge, Aguti Reserve and others are also part of the general Monteverde area and are home to tons of flora and fauna.

So which is the best reserve to visit in Monteverde? Well, think of them like books.  All the parks and reserves are different books to read, and everyone has their favorites.  For example, for a night walk, our favorite trail is the Wildlife Refuge.  For cloud forest tours, we prefer guided walks with our guides at the SkyWalk Hanging Bridges. It’s like “2-in-1” in that you are visiting the cloud forest and enjoying hanging bridges in the treetop canopy all at the same time.

The Magic

The forest is like a fantasy book: full of stories, knowledge and magic. In order to get the most out of that reading, it’s best to do guided walks (or guided tours) These are the main types of guided tours we provide:

Birdwatching Tour

An approximately 4hr early morning tour with a specialized guide, this tour can be tailored to your level of birding (complete beginner to advanced). *We don’t suggest going before 6:30am due to our high elevations and lower temperatures than, for example, hot coastal areas. 

Natural History Walk

Our signature tour, this is a half day or full day tour great for everyone. It describes the flora and fauna of the chosen park or reserve and includes learning about the history and culture of the town and of Costa Rica. It lasts about 3hr.

Night Walk Tour

Kind of like a Natural History Walk at night, this tour takes place in a transitional forest (slightly lower in elevation than “cloud forest,”) with high chances of seeing wildlife. It lasts about 2hr.

The Extra Mile

Pasión Costa Rica is not just a guided walk tour operator. We also offer other travel services. And as our name says, we love Costa Rica and are very passionate about sharing this with you. So we can help you with your guided walk as well as transport and other tour itineraries all over Costa Rica. Contact us by phone or WhatsApp at country code 506, number 2645-9948 (+506-2645-9948).  We’re also available by email at [email protected].

1 Comment

  1. Dana Houston Jackson

    Would like help with travel plans for 3 – 2 parents and 1 18 year old boy. Would like to visit from Kansas City, airport code MCI traveling out of the US May 26th or 27th and staying 1 week total. We would like zip lining (for 2), hiking and all other adventures the area brings.


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