A cloud forest is a high-elevation forest characterized by a persistent, canopy-level cloud cover. These clouds provide the forest with a continual supply of moisture, which supports the fantastic array of plants that live here.
Warm winds from the Atlantic Ocean sweep over the Continental Divide, cooling and condensing to form clouds as they rise. By the time they reach Santa Elena, the clouds are thick and filled with moisture. The forest is thus bathed in a constant supply of mist, which, over the course of a year, amounts to nearly twelve feet of rain.
Not surprisingly, the Monteverde cloud forest is abundant with vegetation. The competition for growing space is so intense that the trunks, branches and even roots of trees are almost entirely covered with other plants – epiphytes, lichens, liverworts, bryophytes, mosses and more. Strong winds and water-laden limbs often cause branches to break and fall to the ground. This not only creates light gaps in the canopy, but also provides the forest floor with added nutrients.
Not to be outdone, the insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and birds that live here can be found in fantastic numbers as well. Birds include the three-wattled bellbird, bare-necked umbrellabird, keel-billed toucan, long-tailed manakin, and resplendent quetzal. White-faced and howler monkeys reside here, as do jaguars, agouti, and the three-toed sloth.
The community of Santa Elena borders the Monteverde Conservation Area. Within this region, 310 hectares (765 acres) have been permanently leased by the Santa Elena community high school. The original vision was to use this land for agricultural research and education in Monteverde. However, the farming proved to be unsuccessful, and in 1989, the land was converted into a cloud forest reserve. Together with Youth Challenge International, a Canadian based non-profit organization, the community established an ecotourism reserve, which officially opened on March 1, 1992.
The reserve was created out of the community's desire to both preserve the cloud forest and use tourism as a means to benefit community development. Entrance fees go to protecting and managing the reserve, as well as providing higher quality education for the schools of Monteverde.
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve of Monteverde is one of the first community administered reserves in the country (in the sense that it is not a national park, but under the protection of the Arenal Conservation Area). It is an excellent example of what people can do to preserve — and learn from — the environment they live in.
Getting There: A shuttle can pick visitors up at their hotel and take them to and from the reserve. The shuttle costs $2 each way and requires reservations. Guests can make reservations by calling 2645-6332. The shuttle leaves at 6:30 AM, 8:30 AM, 10:30 AM and 12:30 PM. It returns at 11:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 3:00 PM and 4:00 PM.
· Hours: The trails are open from 7 AM to 4 PM daily.
· Guided Tours: Three-hour guided tours are available. For pricing and tour times, click the reservation link on the right.
· There is a restaurant and souvenir shop at the entrance.
· There are opportunities for both volunteering and researching at the reserve.
For an extra special experience, book a ‘Night Tour’ and see the denizens of Costa Rica’s rainforests who only come out after dusk...It’s easy when you treat yourself to transportation services to and from the safety and comfort of your hotel.