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Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve in Monteverde (Reserva Bosque Nuboso)

The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, or as the locals call it, La Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena, is an enchanting escape in the Monteverde area of Costa Rica. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a few hours or full day of hiking in unique cloud forest scenery.

This beautiful reserve boasts well-marked hiking trails, a 360° observation tower, and lush, dense vegetation that’s home to incredible wildlife.

Living here in Costa Rica, we’ve had the pleasure of exploring the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve multiple times. We love hiking and are somewhat of wildlife enthusiasts, so we’ve learned all the insider tips and tricks to make the most of your visit.

In this guide, I’ll share everything you need to know, from the best trails and what to wear, to the ideal times to visit and how to get there.

Current Costa Rica Travel Discounts

Let’s make your trip to Santa Elena Reserve a truly memorable adventure!

Santa Elena Reserve at a Glance

  • ⏰ The park is open daily from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM (last entry at 3:00 PM).
  • 🎟️ Admission is $18 USD for foreign adults, $7 USD for children aged 7-12, and free for children under 7.
  • 📍 Find the reserve on Google Maps here.
  • 🥾 Want to take a guided tour of the reserve? You can book that here.
  • ❓ If you are confused when looking this place up Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and La Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena are the same place.
  • ☁️ Most people refer to the downtown area as Monteverde, but Monteverde is actually the overall area. The downtown area with shops and hotels is technically called Santa Elena.

Background Info on the Reserve

santa elena reserve

The Santa Elena Reserve has a fascinating history that dates back to its establishment in 1989. This reserve was created with a dual purpose of protecting the cloud forest ecosystem and supporting local education and conservation efforts.

What makes it even more special is that it’s managed by the Santa Elena Technical Professional High School.

The story of Monteverde itself is equally interesting (in my opinion at least).

In the 1950s, a group of Quakers from the United States settled in Monteverde. They were drawn by Costa Rica’s commitment to peace and its abolition of the military.

These settlers played a crucial role in the early conservation efforts, recognizing the importance of preserving the region’s unique biodiversity.

Today, the Santa Elena Reserve covers 310 hectares and is a haven for nature enthusiasts. It’s home to a variety of flora and fauna, including over 400 bird species, 120 mammal species, and countless plant species.

Basically, it’s a cool place to visit for a unique cloud forest experience.

Planning Your Visit to the Reserve

santa elena reserve bench

Here is everything you need to know in order to have a smooth and enjoyable day at the reverse.

Driving Directions

Getting to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is somewhat of an adventure!

A 4×4 vehicle is recommended, especially during the wet season. However, you can still make the trip in a regular car if you drive carefully.

Just plug “Santa Elena Reserve” or “La Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena “into Google Maps or Waze, and you’ll be on your way.

The first time we visited we thought we were going the wrong way because the road out here seemed to be leading us to the middle of nowhere with nothing else around. We kept going though, and it turned out to be the right way.

You will eventually pass the parking lot for Salvatura Adventure Park. The parking lot for the reserve is just past the adventure park.

There is a free parking lot for guests to use. The Visitors Center is located next to the parking lot, but I don’t know how well they monitor parking lot activity. As always, just don’t leave anything of value in your car.

Need a rental car? We have partnered with our favorite local company, Adobe, to bring you a 10% discount plus other great perks.

Admission

Admission to the reserve is:

  • Adults: $18 USD
  • Children (ages 7-12): $7 USD
  • Children under 7: Free

You can pay in cash (USD or Costa Rican Colones) or by credit card.

I think this is a lot of money for taking a hike in the woods, but it’s good to note that the entrance fee goes towards maintaining the reserve as well as providing better education to local schools.

Opening Hours

The reserve welcomes visitors daily from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM, with the last entry at 3:00 PM.

Facilities

Santa Elena Reserve is equipped with a visitor center for maps and information, restrooms (which have always been clean and well-maintained when we’ve visited), a small cafe, and a gift shop.

What to Bring

Here are the things we always bring with us when hiking here.

  • Water Bottle: Stay hydrated, especially during hikes.
  • Snacks: Trail mix or energy bars are great for a quick energy boost.
  • Pocket Binoculars: Ideal for birdwatching.
  • A Dry Bag: We have this dry bag backpack and it is AWESOME for Costa Rica adventures.

It typically isn’t buggy here because the elevation is so high, so you normally don’t need bug spray. Depending on the time of year you might also want to bring sunblock.

What to Wear

Dressing appropriately is key to a comfortable and enjoyable visit:

  • Long Hiking Pants: Protects against insects and underbrush.
  • Closed-Toe Shoes: Essential for navigating the trails safely.
  • Moisture-Wicking Shirt: Keeps you comfortable and dry.
  • Rain Jacket: Even during the dry season, the cloud forest can be misty and wet.
  • A Breathable Hat: We have this one from Columbia which we love.

Note: Both times we have visited have been in peak rainy season. They had rubber boots available to rent at the front desk.

Check out our shoppable Monteverde packing list for more info

The Best Time of Year and Time of Day to Visit

I suggest visiting as early as possible in the morning as you can. Typically the wildlife is most active in the morning, there will be fewer visitors, and the rain usually increases in the afternoon.

As far as the best time of year, you really can’t go wrong at any time. From December through April you are more likely to have dry weather.

However, this is one place in which I actually enjoy the rain. This is a cloud forest, so rain definitely adds to the charm.

Amount of Time You Need

We typically spend about 3 to 4 hours here. However, we also have never eaten at the cafeteria here.

You could definitely spend a full day if you want to explore all the trails and stop for lunch at the cafe to break up your experience.

Booking a Guided Tour of the Reserve

sante elena cloud forest reserve

If you would prefer, you can book a guided tour of the reserve. This is great if you are interested in learning more about the park history, the flora and fauna, and possibly see wildlife up close.

The most affordable way to book a guided tour is directly through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve website.

In my opinion, their website is really not the best, but you should be able to at least figure out which tour you would like and be able to book it.

General Guided Tour

  • Duration: 2.5 hours
  • Group Size: Up to 10 people
  • Cost: $35 per person
  • Available at 7:30 AM, 9:15 AM, 11:30 AM, and 1:00 PM

Private Guided Tour

  • Duration: 2.5 hours
  • Group Size: 1-3 people
  • Cost: $150 for the group
  • Details: Enjoy a personalized tour tailored to your group’s interests and pace.

Specialized Guided Tour

  • Duration: 2.5 hours
  • Cost: $170 per group
  • Details: Focused on specific interests like bird watching, plant identification, or photography.

Special Experiences

  • Sounds of the Cloud Forest
    • Time: Starts at 4:40 PM
    • Cost: $30 per person
    • Details: A magical evening tour, experiencing the forest at sunset and into the night.
  • Coffee Among the Clouds
    • Time: Starts at 4:50 AM
    • Cost: $35 per person
    • Details: Begin your day with a sunrise tour and coffee at the observation tower.

Note: Reservation must be made at least one day in advance. Book your tour here.

The Hikes at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

sante elena cloud forest reserve

There are several trail options at the reserve. Just keep in mind that you are at a higher elevation here. You might find that you get out of breath faster than you are used to, so take it slow!

You will be given a map when you enter the park so that you can keep track of the trails you are on.

Here’s a closer look at the main trails you can explore:

Encantado Trail

  • Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Encantado Trail is perfect for those wanting a deep dive into the heart of the cloud forest without committing to a long hike. This trail takes you through dense, moss-covered trees and offers stunning views.

Youth Challenge Trail

  • Distance: 2.4 miles (3.8 km)
  • Difficulty: Challenging

For those looking for a bit more adventure, the Youth Challenge Trail lives up to its name. The trail is steep in sections, but I think the panoramic views and the sense of accomplishment make it worth it.

This trail has a great lookout tower. It is a bit freaky climbing up the tower, but it is worth it for the 360 degree view from the top. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Arenal Volcano. It is also so close to the nearby Salvature Eco Park that you can hear people zip-lining nearby.

Caño Negro Trail

  • Distance: 3.1 miles (5 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Caño Negro Trail is the longest trail, so it takes you deeper into the reserve. It’s less trafficked and offera a peaceful journey through the forest.

This a great trail for birdwatching and potentially spotting wildlife.

Del Bajo Trail

  • Distance: 1.5 miles (2.4 km)
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

The Del Bajo Trail meanders through beautiful forest scenery and is perfect for a leisurely hike. You’ll find plenty of rest spots along the way to just sit and soak in the sounds of the forest.

It’s a good option for families and those who want a more relaxed pace.

Sendero Bosque Nuboso (Cloud Forest Trail)

  • Distance: 0.6 miles (1 km)
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Cloud Forest Trail is the shortest and easiest trail, making it accessible to everyone. Despite its length, it offers a fantastic glimpse into the cloud forest’s unique ecosystem.

It’s a great option if you’re short on time or visiting with young children. The trail is well-marked and features interpretive signs to help you learn more about the flora and fauna you encounter.

Flora and Fauna

Here’s a peek at the flora and fauna you might encounter:

Flora

  • Epiphytes: These cool plants grow on other plants! Look out for orchids and bromeliads clinging to tree trunks and branches.
  • Orchids: With over 400 species, these beautiful flowers can be found in all sorts of hidden spots. Also, it is believed that Monteverde is home to the largest variety of orchids in the world.
  • Ferns and Mosses: The forest is like a green wonderland, with ferns and mosses carpeting the ground and trees, thriving in the misty, humid environment.
  • Towering Trees: Massive trees like the strangler fig dominate the canopy. These giants are home to countless other plants and are vital to the forest’s health.

Fauna

  • Birds: With over 400 species of birds here, you’re in for a treat. Listen for the calls of the Resplendent Quetzal, and keep your binoculars ready for hummingbirds, toucans, and many more.
  • Mammals: If you are very lucky you might spot coatis and agoutis scurrying through the underbrush.
  • Insects: The forest is filled with insects from colorful butterflies to fascinating beetles.

Santa Elena Reserve VS. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve in Monteverde (Reserva Bosque Nuboso)

Are you debating between hiking at the Santa Elena Reserve and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve? Both places have their charms.

In my opinion, Santa Elena Reserve is better for a more peaceful authentic experience. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is better for well-maintained trails and the hanging bridge.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is on the Pacific side of the divide and has a bit different flora and fauna than Santa Elena.

If you visit both, let us know which one you liked more!

We created a comparison chart to help you decide.

FeatureSanta Elena ReserveMonteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Size310 hectares4,500 hectares
Number of Trails5 main trails8 main trails
Total Trail Length12 km (7.5 mi)13 km (8 mi)
Crowd LevelsLess crowdedMore crowded
Main AttractionsObservation tower, dense vegetationHanging bridges, observation deck, waterfall
Wildlife ViewingCoatis, agoutis, monkeys, Resplendent QuetzalBirdwatching, more open spaces for wildlife viewing
Admission Fee$18 for adults, $7 for children$25 for adults, $12 for children
Guided ToursAvailable at 7:30 AM, 9:15 AM, 11:30 AM, and 1:00 PMMultiple daily tours available
Accessibility4×4 recommended, shuttle service availableEasily accessible by regular cars, more developed roads
Visitor FacilitiesSmall cafe, gift shop, restrooms, small visitor centerVisitor center, restrooms, gift shop, cafeteria

What to Do After Visiting the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve in Monteverde (Reserva Bosque Nuboso)

Go Ziplining

The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is located next to one of the most popular zip lining ;parks in Monteverde, Selvatura Adventure Park.

Here you can go zip lining, hike on hanging bridges, visit their butterfly garden, and explore their serpetarium.

Check out their website for tickets.

Take a Wildlife Night Tour

One of our favorite things to do in Monteverde is to take a wildlife night tour. This is the perfect way to see all the night active animals.

Check out our guide to Monteverde wildlife night tours for more info.

For more fun ideas check out our complete guide to the 25 best things to do in Monteverde

The Best Nearby Hotels and Restaurants

Here are our favorite nearby places to eat and spend the night.

Hotels in Monteverde

Find more amazing hotels in the area here

Restaurants in Monteverde

Check out our guide to the best restaurants in Monteverde for more info

Conclusion: Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve

Visiting the Santa Elena Reserve is a fun experience that will allow you to get a real taste of Costa Rica’s cloud forest.

From the best trails to hike, to what to pack and what to wear, we hope this guide helps you prepare for an unforgettable adventure.

If you have any questions or comments about the Santa Elena Reserve just leave them in the comment section below. We love to hear from you and are always happy to help you out!

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🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

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🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

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2 Comments

  1. We are planning a trip to Costa Rica next week (8/15/18- ) and have found your blog super helpful in planning our itinerary. I am a little concerned with the weather and rain. Do you think we will be ok in planning early morning adventures?

    1. Hi Andrea,
      Yes, usually early mornings are the past time to do things. You really can never be sure though, but mornings will likely be your best bet. Have a great trip and let us know if you have more questions!