The Best Things to Do in Costa Rica’s Magic Cloud Forest

Michael Catford

Australia

Green. I don’t know if I truly understood what that colour was until I arrived in Costa Rica, a nation wedged between Nicaragua and Panama in the very centre of Central America.

Beaches, forests, wildlife, and fun come together in Costa Rica to form what the locals call pura vida. Life is more balanced here: clocks aren’t watched as closely, smiles are in generous supply, and there’s no shame in sitting back and watching the world go by. 

No place better encapsulates the pure life than the area of Monteverde in the country’s mountainous centre. A four hour bus ride north of San Jose, you’ll find the famous Costa Rican cloud forests, so named for the omnipresent, low-slung clouds (or more accurately, high-slung hills), which see the forest enveloped in a near-constant fog. Thanks to the moisture delivered by these clouds, this part of the country is somehow even greener than the rest. We’re talking lime on jade on olive on avocado. I’m running out of synonyms for green here so I hope you get the point.

Plants being the first link in the food chain, the wealth of flora begets an equally impressive array of fauna. Toucans, hummingbirds, sloths, jaguars, tree snakes, and morpho butterflies are some of the main events.

Added to the beauty and the wildlife, Monteverde also has a reputation as the adventure capital of the country. Tourism being Costa Rica’s biggest earner, the locals have dreamed up more ways to experience the magnificence of the cloud forest than you can poke a stick at. And, having spent a week in the area, I had the opportunity to try most of them. My stick got pretty worn out.

How should you experience the greenery of Monteverde? Let’s take a look.

Fly through the skies on a zipline

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Monteverde, Costa Rica. aventuracanopytour.com

Costa Rica is perhaps most famous for its ziplines, and Monteverde is the cable capital of the world’s cable capital. Here, you’ll find Latin America’s longest single zipline, Costa Rica’s longest zipline course, and a unique example that sends tourists superman style straight through a tunnel.  Adrenaline junkies will be in heaven.

Our fave: The two superman ziplines at 100% Aventura Adventure Park were incredible. At 1.6 km (1 mi) long and extraordinarily high, the first one that you’ll take is officially the longest zipline in Central America and offers adrenaline and spectacular views in equal measure.

Swing from vine to vine

Another one for those who enjoy exploring the forest in a more extreme fashion, a number of adventure parks offer what they call the Tarzan swing. That name might be a bit of a misnomer, as rather than swinging from vine to vine like the guy in the loin cloth, you’re instead clipped onto a bungee rope before being sent into freefall from an elevated platform. The rope, anchored a stone’s throw away, eventually catches you and sends you swinging through the trees, hopefully with your eyes open so you can take in the views.

Our fave: While 100% Aventura’s Tarzan swing might be higher, the swing at Monteverde Extremo Park has a floor that collapses out from under you. This increases the adrenaline for thrill seekers, and ensures the more hesitant Tarzans don’t chicken out.

Take an extreme buggy ride

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Monteverde, Costa Rica. monteverdetourscr.com

You’ll be able to check out more of the forest (and quicker) by rolling on wheels, although it’ll be in a somewhat less tranquil way to see the sights. Most of the adventure parks offer extreme buggy rides, or you can rent a four wheeler and stick to the public roads, getting to spots that are too far to walk to or too difficult to drive a normal car to.

Our fave:I rented a four wheeler and made my way up Cerro Amigos, a mountain peak that offers amazing views of the town and surrounding forests. You can hike this trail, although it’ll take a few hours and the incline should be taken into account before you choose to either ride or walk up it. It is steep.

Walk the line on a suspension bridge

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Monteverde, Costa Rica.

For every mountain peak in Monteverde, there’s a gaping gorge and these valleys are home to the greatest concentration of wildlife in the forest. The Costa Ricans have sniffed an opportunity and taken it with both hands, erecting some stunning suspension bridges that allow you to see all the forest floor action from above.

Our fave The hanging bridges of Selvatura Adventure Park were the pick of the bunch. You’ll need to have a sharp eye to catch the wildlife, but that just makes it all the more exciting when you find it. And I’d highly recommend paying an extra $5 to visit the hummingbird garden at the end. If you place your hand close enough to the feeders the little guys will perch right on it!

Hop on a horse

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Monteverde, Costa Rica. horsetrekmonteverde.com

The best way to see animals is from the back of an animal. I’ve got no doubt that someone has said that before, I just don’t know who. Horse riding is a popular pastime in Monteverde, as evidenced by the groups of saddled gringos forever trotting the main roads. While experience is helpful, it’s certainly not a must – you can rest assured the gentle beasts have done this a thousand times before.

Our fave: We’ve heard a constant stream of praise for Horse Trek Monteverde, who offer everything from two hour tours to eight day treks.

Climb to the top of a fig tree

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Monteverde, Costa Rica. treetopclimbingmonteverde.com

Monteverde is home to some seriously impressive timber. Ancient, gigantic ficus (fig) trees are unique in that their trunks are hollow – so hollow, in fact, that you can get inside and use the lattice of roots and branches to climb all the way to the top. You can then jump out of the trunk and stroll across the treetops on specially designed walkways for some of the very best views of the forest.

Our fave: Carefully curated tours like that offered by Treetop Climbing Monteverde are great, but I’d instead recommend enjoying Mother Nature’s work as she made it. There’s a small forest on the edge of town that features a number of stunning ficus trees, two of which you can climb from the inside, popping your head out 30m above the ground. Unsafe? Perhaps. Unforgettable? Definitely. They’re a bit of a local secret and don’t appear on Google Maps, so I’ve taken the liberty of dropping a pin for you!

Hike above the clouds

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Monteverde, Costa Rica.

There’s something magical about hiking in a cloud forest. There’s an almost eerie silence, broken by the odd tweet of a bird, creak of a tree, or babble of a brook. Perfectly manicured path aside, it’s as if you’ve found yourself back in hunter gatherer times, prowling the jungle in search of food. There are a wealth of hiking trails that wind through the forest, and the cool mountain air and beautiful surroundings make it easy to forget that you’re exercising.

Our fave: The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Cheaper and less touristy than the more renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, you’ll be able to wander through the forest largely alone, increasing your likelihood of seeing something special.

Green. A colour to describe both the forest and the faces of your friends when they see you climbing, sliding, rolling, riding, and jumping through Monteverde’s lush vegetation. The beauty of this place is incredible, and deserves to be seen from every angle.