Where to see Costa Rica's wildlife:
On the higher slopes of the cordilleras the forests are cool and moist. The tropical air condenses to form mists that shroud the trees for at least part of each day, creating the conditions for orchids, bromeliads, mosses and lichens to festoon the branches. Tree ferns are common.
Such ‘cloud forests’ support many of the plants and animals that are found in lowland rainforest, but they also harbour some unique species.
Among the birds, many of the most colourful tanagers only inhabit cloud forests, along with the most spectacular bird of the neotropics, the Resplendent Quetzal.
There are four key places were you can experience cloud forest in Costa Rica. Monteverde is the most famous and has grown correspondingly popular. If you prefer your natural history in tranquillity we recommend San Gerardo de Dota, Bajos del Toro or Los Angeles.
Monteverde was founded in the late 1950s by Quakers from Alabama escaping the draft. It is perched high on the Atlantic slope of the Cordillera de Tilarán, northwest of San José, sheltered from constant strong winds.
A bone-shaking, deliberately unpaved road winds up to it from the Pan American Highway. The settlers cleared the forest on the lower slopes for grazing but visiting biologists found the cloud forest above the community rich in flora and fauna and in 1972 a private reserve was created to protect the watershed and its remaining habitat; contiguous reserves have been added protecting the Santa Elena Cloud Forest and most recently a Children’s Everlasting Forest.
There are several lodges and small hotels to choose from › More.
The settlement of Santa Elena, which serves the Monteverde Reserve, is a disorderly assortment of lodges and ‘eco experiences’.
Access to the forest is highly commercialised, with marketing that draws tens of thousands of visitors each year.
There are guided nature walks into the Monteverde Reserve and a ‘Sky Walk’ along a network of seven high suspension bridges and trails with fascinating opportunities to see the forest at different levels.
There is a hummingbird gallery, a butterfly garden, a serpentarium and an orchid garden.
‘Sky Trek’ is the longest and highest canopy tour.
Compared to the full-on experience of Monteverde, San Gerardo de Dota is the Garden of Eden–a quiet forested valley alive with streams that tumble down from the mountains.
If you are lucky enough to visit when the sun is shining the valley seems truly charmed, as though you have stepped into the pages of a fairy tale.
This is the most reliable place in Costa Rica to see the Resplendent Quetzal. As sightings are easiest in the morning when the weather is finest it is best to stay overnight.
There are three nice lodges that also offer horse-riding, hiking and fishing.
San Gerardo de Dota is not far below the highest point in Costa Rica, the highlands of Cerro de la Muerte, so can be cold at night.
The small farming village of Bajos del Toro is noteworthy for the delightful cloud forest lodge of Bosque de Paz, within a 700ha private reserve of cloud forest rising up behind it on the Cordillera Central.
Alternatively you can stay at El Silencio a relatively new upmarket mountain retreat and spa near the village.
The quiet cloud forest of Los Angeles on the edge of the Central Valley is not far from the pleasant mountain town of San Ramón.
The place to stay here is Villa Blanca, with a short trail near the lodge that provides a taste of the cloud forest.
During March the lodge provides transport to a neighbouring reserve for the chance to see quetzals.
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