Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Adventure

Walk in the clouds and volunteer at a nature school in Costa Rica’s tropical rainforests.


Costa Rica offers unbeatable opportunities for a family vacation in a tropical paradise that’s also kind to the environment. More than any other Central American country, Costa Rica is all about being “green,” with plenty of choices when it comes to sustainable tourism. While there are many destinations in Costa Rica that offer a green experience, few do it as well as the misty village of Monteverde, where I lived for seven months while working for the Centro de Educación Creativa (CEC).

Cloud Forest

Tucked northwest of the Costa Rican capital of San José, in a mountainside cloud forest, Monteverde is a small town surrounded by three large natural reserves: the Children’s Eternal Rainforest Reserve, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and the Santa Elena Reserve. These misty regions are the habitats of creatures such as the three-toed sloth, the blue morpho butterfly, howler monkeys, resplendent quetzals, jaguars and more than 400 species of birds. Monteverde and its surrounding area has long been a place where biologists and nature lovers have come together in admiration of this unique ecosystem.

Jungle Hikes

Families with older children can spend a day hiking in one of the reserves, where orchids and curly vines dangle from branches, and the chit-chat of bird calls fill the air. The easiest hike is in Bajo del Tigre, which is a flora-filled trek through the Children’s Eternal Rainforest Reserve, one of the largest in the area. In addition, Bajo del Tigre is geared towards families, with an interactive kid’s center at the trailhead. No entrance fee is required, but donations are accepted at the reception center.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is the centerpiece of the zone, offering many trails and guided tours both during the day and at night. A nocturnal tour is an unconventional and fantastic way to see wildlife. Walkers are equipped with flashlights, and move quietly through the forest with a guide who points out critters. Silence is important on this hike, and it also requires staying up late, making it an exciting outing for families with kids 6 years and up.

More adventurous families may enjoy hiking into the Monteverde reserve and spending a night or two at a refugio, or forest shelter. Families interested in this rustic experience need to plan ahead. Passes must be requested from reserve officials and a small fee paid for use of the reserve’s services.

Reserve officials can also help with maps and routes. As far as what to bring, it’s a good idea to pack light and bring food that doesn’t require cooking. The Santa Elena market has all the staples needed for a day or two in the forest. Remember that Monteverde is in a cloud forest, and there’s always a chance of rain or heavy mist, so bring appropriate gear. This hike cannot be done in the rainy season (May-Dec.), as the trails are far too muddy. Make the trip in the dry season and carry a rain jacket and layered clothing. Reserve entrance fees start at $15 per person, $7.50 for students with IDs and $6.50 for children. Night walks start at $15. Reserve online at Tel. 011-506-645-5122.

Volunteering as a Family

The Creative Education Center (CEC) is a wonderful place to visit and get involved as a family. A bilingual-environmental school, the CEC teaches K-12 subjects with a focus on sustainability. Students at the CEC study the basics, but also learn how to re-plant depleted forests, build trails, spot wildlife and compost. The school is open to families who want to come and help out, for either short or long stays.

University of Missouri, St. Louis Professor Martille Elias, a former CEC intern and a mother of two, said she would love to take her children to Monteverde. “I want my children to understand how precious and fragile the earth is, and I think the CEC would be the perfect environment for them to explore these concepts,” Elias said. Parents and children can volunteer with organic gardening, reforestation and trail maintenance. Volunteer application fee is $50. Program fee is $161 per person, per week with homestay, $70 per week without homestay. See for more information.

Where to Stay

There are two options for setting up a base to explore the cloud forest. The first is obviously the village of Monteverde, which is near the natural reserves and has some wonderful hotels: Hotel Belmar (beside the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve), Hotel Finca Valverde (offering private cabins) and the Trapp Family Lodge (the lodge closest to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve).

The second option is to stay in Santa Elena, which is a town within walking distance of Monteverde. The nice thing about staying in Santa Elena is having easy access to the Internet, groceries, a bank and even a few taxis (4x4 trucks). Santa Elena is between the Monteverde and Santa Elena reserves and is where visitors arrive if coming into town by bus from the capital. Hotel Las Orquídeas and Ecolodge Arco Iris are two hotel possibilities within Santa Elena. 

Destinations: Costa Rica, Monteverde, Santa Elena

Themes: Ecotourism, Family Travel, Experiential Travel

Activities: Hiking

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