Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve sits high up on the continental divide where it receives moisture laden Caribbean winds creating a constant mist supporting an abundance of life found nowhere else on earth. This soft blanket of cloud cover causes an intense competition in the understory where trees are almost entirely clad in plants providing sustenance for a variety of wildlife. The giant old growth trees in this primary forest seem to grow upwards forever. You’ll be walking amid hanging vines and tree roots towering over your head.
Arriving at the entrance of the reserve, you’ll be greeted by your guide who will begin your journey deep into the primeval forest. You’ll quickly discover the benefit of a local naturalist guide as the immense varieties of plants, birds and insects are revealed. From the rich abundance of flowering epiphytes, including orchids and bromeliads to the dense ferns and mosses you’ll learn the interdependence of these species that in turn provide homes and food for resident fauna.
Along the well maintained trail, you’ll likely hear a cacophony of forest sounds including bird calls that your guide will help you pursue. With a high powered spotting scope, you’ll zoom in on exotic endemic species of tropical rain forest birds. This reserve is home to over 200 species of birds including colorful Trogons, Toucans, Motmots and the extraordinary, endangered Resplendent Quetzal. There are also other less colorful but totally interesting endemic birds living here like the Bare Necked Umbrella Bird and the endangered 3 Wattled Bell Bird. Even the national bird found all through Costa Rica, the Yigüirro, or clay colored thrush, with its unassuming plumage yet astounding range of beautiful songs, can be heard in this forest.
Insects abound and your guide will delight you by finding these cleverly camouflaged inhabitants while explaining their biological importance and contribution to the cloud forest environment. You’ll likely encounter ancient looking reptiles, interesting spiders, possibly a snake and if you are real lucky, a family of monkeys or a sleeping sloth.
Because of the density of the forest understory, observations of mammals are difficult especially during the day as most are nocturnal. These woods are also home to the Puma, second largest of the cats in Central America, but they are solitary and reclusive. Research shows tracks of the Puma in the park, including identifying scratches on trees on an average of one every 150 feet. So they may be there watching you!
Opened in 1992, and leased from the government by the Santa Elena Community High School, this protected reserve was one of the first community organized ecotourism sites in Costa Rica focused on environmental education. Previously slated for agricultural research, the rugged terrain proved too difficult for extensive farming and so with the help of Youth Challenge International, it is now managed by the Administrative Board of The Professional Technical College of Santa Elena. Proceeds from this tour go to the many park environmental projects, as well as to providing a higher quality of education within the community.
This reserve is typically less crowded than the other reserves in the area and there are only up to 8 persons in each tour. With an average temperature of 65 degrees and 100% humidity you’ll want to bring a rain jacket or poncho and wear closed toe hiking shoes. Rainfall can exceed 140 inches a year here due to the Caribbean influence. Also bring binoculars and a camera. Your guide can easily shoot zoomed in photos for you though the spotting scope.
Round trip local transportation from the Monteverde area is included in this half day tour as well as admission and naturalist guide. Choosing this tour is also choosing to support the beautiful but isolated rural community of Monteverde and their commitment to preserving one of the most beautiful places on the planet for generations to come.