Spotting Wildlife in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica

Before you plan a trip to Monteverde, check out our guide to Monteverde Cloud Forest animals and where to see them.

Costa Rica‘s Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a magical forest of thick, lush green vegetation shrouded in mist. The forest is so thick you almost never see the ground. Everywhere, the tree trunks are covered with vines snaking their way up towards the sun. And shaggy mossy tendrils of old man’s beard hang off the branches.

This lush vegetation hides an extraordinary diversity of wildlife. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a great place to see some of Costa Rica’s rainforest animals, from the country’s most famous bird – Resplendent quetzal to sloths and porcupines to frogs, vipers and bird-eating spiders.

Monteverde Cloud Forest mossy trail

READ MORE: 25 Landmarks in Costa Rica to Add to Your Bucket List

One thing to keep in mind when planning a trip to Monteverde is that while most of Costa Rica enjoys a balmy tropical climate, Monteverde is located at the top of Costa Rica’s Continental Divide at 1,500 meters of elevation, and it gets quite cold, especially in the evenings.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

A cloud forest is a fascinating, almost mystical environment. So here are some facts about these misty forests.

What is a cloud forest?

A cloud forest is a tropical or subtropical evergreen montane forest characterized by canopy-level cloud cover and, consequently, low levels of sunlight. Without sufficient sunlight, moisture from the clouds gets trapped by the vegetation and condenses into fog.

Cloud forest in Costa Rica
Driving across Costa Rica’s continental divide

Cloud forests are characterized by shorter trees with gnarled trunks and branches and by the abundance of mosses covering almost every surface. These mist-shrouded mossy forests represent only 1% of the global forest cover.

Where can you find a cloud forest?

Apart from Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, you can see cloud forests at the top of Poas Volcano and in various pockets along the top of Costa Rica’s Dividing Range (a mountain range running through the middle of Costa Rica).

Doi Inthanon cloud forest, Thailand
Doi Inthanon cloud forest, Thailand

Cloud forest is not restricted to Costa Rica, of course. You can find it in many countries, including Mt Kinabalu in Borneo, Fiordland National Park in New Zealand, and Doi Inthanon in Thailand.

What is the difference between a cloud forest and a rainforest?

The main difference between a rainforest and a cloud forest is that the former forms at a low elevation and the latter at a higher elevation above sea level. Consequently, rainforests tend to be warmer than cloud forests.

To delve a little deeper into the facts about rainforests and cloud forests, the rainforests are dominated by taller trees with straight trunks, while the trees in the cloud forests tend to be shorter and have gnarled and twisted trunks and branches.

Cloud forests are much more humid environments, characterized by persistent fog, thick moss hanging off tree branches and an extraordinary abundance of epiphytes, like orchids and bromeliads.

READ MORE: Unique Costa Rica Itinerary: 2-Week Wildlife Watching Road Trip

Monteverde Cloud Forest Animals

The misty environs of Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve are home to an astonishing diversity of plants and animals, about 2.5 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, to be precise. There are approximately 3,000 different plant species, over 100 mammal species, 400 species of birds and 161 species of amphibians and reptiles.

Monteverde cloud forest reserve animals: White-faced capuchin
White-faced capuchin

More than half of Monteverde cloud forest mammals are made up of bats. There are at least 58 different species of bats here.  All five species of Costa Rica’s wild cats occur in Monteverde: ocelot, margay, oncilla, puma, jaguar and jaguarundi, as well as three species of primates, over 15 species of long-tailed rats and mice, tapir, peccaries, coatis, rabbits and squirrels to name a few.

Of course, in a forest as thick as Monteverde Cloud Forest, animals are not easy to spot. They have plenty of cover to keep out of site. A good way to see wildlife is by joining a spotlighting walk at night (more on this later) for mammals and reptiles and a birdwatching tour during the day.

Monteverde cloud forest reserve animals: emerald toucanet

With a bit of luck and determination, you have a good chance of spotting the following animals in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: hummingbirds, toucanets, olingo, two-toed sloth, kinkajou, tayra, coati, Central American agouti, Mexican hairy dwarf porcupine, mantled howler monkey, white-faced capuchin monkey, resplendent quetzal, vipers, and frogs.

Hummingbird Gallery in Monteverde

Hummingbird Gallery is a small courtyard of the Wildlife Photography Gallery & Souvenir Shop surrounded by the forest. It is easy to find right next to the entrance of Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve.

Green-crowned brilliant in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Green-crowned brilliant female

The gallery is filled with hanging nectar feeders that attract dozens upon dozens of hummingbirds.

Another critter who likes the nectar is the olingo. But to see the olingo, you’ll need to visit at night.

We visited the Hummingbird Gallery late in the afternoon, and olingo didn’t show. The hummingbirds, however, were out in force. Being there in that tiny garden surrounded by dozens upon dozens of tiny brilliantly coloured birds that beat their wings too fast for a human eye to see was absolutely awe-inspiring.

There are 14 different species of hummingbirds that visit the gallery, although we were only able to identify half a dozen of them. We saw: Violet saberwingGreen-crowned brilliantStripe-tailed hummingbirdCoppery-headed emerald, Purple-throated mountain gemSteely-vented hummingbird, Green violet-ear and a few Bananaquits.

If you really enjoy your birds, it’s a good idea to join a birdwatching tour in Monteverde. The birds that inhabit this forest are spectacularly colorful.

Monteverde wildlife on a Night walk

The night is when it all happens in Monteverde. So if you want to see some of Monteverde Cloud Reserve animals, you’ll need to join a night tour. Better else, if you can, join the Day and Night Tour and have the best of both worlds – birds in the daytime and mammals at night.

If you only have time for the night tour (they usually run for 2 hours), this Monteverde Night Hike tour is a good option. It takes you to a private reserve away from the crowded trails.

You’d be very unlucky not to see Two-toed sloths and Mexican hairy dwarf porcupines on your night walk.

Monteverde wildlife - Mexican Porcupine
Mexican Porcupine

The dwarf porcupine, however, is a very curious creature. Unlike Asia’s porcupines which are rather clumsy and live on the ground, the Mexican porcupine is an agile climber with a prehensile tail. Also, unlike the impressive quills of terrestrial porcupines, the spines of the Mexican porcupine are short and only visible on its head. The rest of the spines are covered with long black fur on its body.

Kinkajous are also frequently seen, and occasionally tairas.

But it’s not all about the mammals, of course. The night tour is also a good opportunity to see snakes, like the beautiful eyelash viper, frogs, and even the tarantulas also known as bird-eating spiders. These giant arachnids are one of the more memorable animals in Monteverde.

Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve

If you just want to soak in the ambience of the cloud forest without the large tour groups, consider visiting the nearby Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. It is much less crowded than Monteverde.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica

There is a network of walking trails in Santa Elena that take you to different areas of the park. To get the most out of this special forest, pick one of the trails that pass the watch tower with a fantastic view of the Arenal volcano (on a clear day). A visit to Arenal Volcano is one of the most popular things to do in La Fortuna, but if you are not going there, these trails are your chance to see the volcano from a distance.

White-nosed coati in Corcovado

For a longer walk, consider Sendero del Bajo and Sendero Encantado – an easy 4.7-km loop trail through the cloud forest where you can spot some of Costa Rica’s rainforest animals. Keep an eye out for the quetzal toucanets. You might also see some white-faced monkeys or howler monkeys. Even if you don’t see them, you should hear the howlers at some point.

Thick-billed euphonia

For a shorter walk, you can take Sendero Youth Challenge. It’s only a 1.6km loop, and it passes the watch tower as well.

Arenal volcano as seen from Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica
View of Arenal from the watchtower

Here is the list of wildlife species we observed during our brief time at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve 

Visiting in Monteverde

How to get to Monteverde

You can visit the Monteverde Cloud Reserve on an organized Day Tour from San Jose or a Day Tour from Guanacaste.

To visit the park independently and allow yourself more time for exploration, it is best to rent a car. It is an easy 3hr drive from San Jose via Route 27 or a 2.5hr drive from Liberia via Route 1.

There is also a public bus service from San Jose to Santa Elena town that departs twice a day (6.30 am and 2.30 pm). From Santa Elena, you can take a taxi to the reserve.

Where to stay in Monteverde

There are a number of lodges and resorts on the road leading to Monteverde. If you are looking to wrap yourself in comfort, consider Koora Hotel-a Cloud Forest Resort or Hotel Belmar. And for a touch of glamour in the jungle, there is Chira Glamping.

In mid-range, Monteverde House and the gorgeous Hospedaje Mariposa are both popular options.

Or you can stay within the reserve at Monteverde’s own La Casona lodge if you don’t mind simple lodgings.

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2 thoughts on “Spotting Wildlife in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica”

  1. This is such a great post, I really enjoyed all your pictures – especially the one of the Margay! So cute!


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