As I inhaled the crisp air heavy with moisture thoughts of wonder filled my mind. To be immersed in a spectacular rainforest bursting with exotic plants, elaborate flowers, and bizarre insects was a dream come true.
Taking my first steps along the soggy path lined with mighty trees reaching up towards the bright sky was otherworldly. Vines, bromeliads, and mosses clung to every inch of bark in an attempt to absorb precious sunshine.
Glistening water highlighted every detail as it fell from the canopy to the muddy ground below where my hiking boots traversed. Rays of golden light pierced through leaves of various greens as it would with the stained glass windows of a Gothic cathedral.
To behold Mother Earth's untouched Garden of Eden is a surreal experience. The beauty is magnified with the sounds of unique creatures and playful birds. Life is not only seen, but felt in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve of Costa Rica.
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
The reserve is located in Monteverde; a section of the Guanacaste Province. Most travelers stay in the town of Santa Elena to visit the area, especially the parks of Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and Curi-Cancha Reserve.
Operated by the Santa Elena Technical Professional High School, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is a non-profit project with over 300 hectares/741 acres of protected land. Visitors can hike approximately 12 km/7.5 mi of trails with breathtaking scenery.
Brad and I quietly walked the Sendero Caño Negro trial on the outer edge of the reserve. Even though the trail is only 3 mi/4.8 km, we took seven hours to complete it with our slow pace admiring the splendor of the forest. On a clear day it's possible to see Arenal Volcano from the viewpoint.
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve has four other trails to explore including Del Bajo (1.6 mi/2.6 km), Encantado (2.1 mi/3.4 km), Youth Challenge (0.9 mi/1.4 km), and Mundo Joven (0.3 mi/0.5 km). Keep an eye out for animals, lizards, frogs, birds, and insects!
Don't have a vehicle? No problem! Although there isn't a public bus to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, a private shuttle runs throughout the day. The hassle-free ride is affordable and convenient with door-to-door service.
Contact Transportes Alfaro via WhatsApp +506 8346 0748 to arrange transportation to the reserve with the schedule below. Tickets cost $6 USD per person roundtrip. You'll be issued a laminated voucher upon arrival to give to the driver later at pickup.
From Santa Elena
From Santa Elena Reserve
What to Expect Upon Arrival
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve provides a more intimate experience compared to the large crowds of Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. The narrow trails allow you to get up close to flora and fauna for an enriching rainforest adventure.
With an elevation of 1,600 m/5,250 ft, the weather can fluctuate in a matter of minutes. Bursts of rain are common in the chilly cloud forests, so prepare with adequate layers and a rain jacket. Brad and I were comfortable with our hiking shoes, pants, and sweatshirts.
Access to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is available every day, 7:00 AM-4:00 PM. Tickets cost $17 USD (9,750 CRC) per person via cash or credit card. Bring a copy of your passport, driver's license, or other valid picture ID.
Bathrooms are located at the main entrance nearby the restaurant. We decided to pack a lunch to enjoy along the trail. Please take out what you take in and leave no trace, including biodegradable food which can harm wildlife.
Bug repellent or sun protection isn't necessary with the high altitude and dense forest. Bring a rain cover for your backpack or waterproof bag to protect your belongings, especially electronics.
Take a picture of the trail map at the main entrance to use as a reference. Map placards are only located at trail junctions. Consider downloading Maps.me to know your exact position along the trails. You don't want to miss the shuttle!
Guided tours are available in English or Spanish with a reservation made at least one day in advance via email at [email protected] or phone +506 2645 5390. A tour is a great idea if you desire to learn more about the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve ecosystem.
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is the definition of a rainforest. This gorgeous area of Monteverde is a magical place to discover nature.
Leisurely hiking along the mesmerizing trails was like stepping into a fairytale. The land buzzes with life in every direction. Scattered roots, colorful blossoms, and curled ferns reached out as if to welcome me home.
Feeling the essence of this rainforest captivated my spirit unlike anywhere else in Central America. The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is a magnificent paradise not to be missed in Costa Rica!