Costa Rica: Santa Elena Cloud Forest

From Panama to Pakistan, Cambodia to Costa Rica, cloud forests – whose Spanish name is bosque nuboso – cover some 1% of global woodland. These rare forests occur within tropical or subtropical mountainous environments where the atmospheric conditions allow for a consistent cover of clouds.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was established in 1972 and initially covered some 810 acres (328 ha) of forested land. Nowadays, its protective reach extends over 35,089 acres (14,200 ha) and encompasses eight life zones atop the Continental Divide. There are over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles living within its bounds. It’s one of the few remaining habitats that support all six species of the cat family – jaguars, ocelots, pumas, oncillas, margays, and jaguarundis – as well as the endangered three-wattled bellbird and resplendent quetzal. Over 8 miles (13 km) of trails are available for visitors to explore on their own or with a guide.

The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve was established in 1989 and is managed and operated by the community of Santa Elena. It was one of the first reserves in the country to be directly controlled by the local community (as opposed to a government agency), and is an excellent example of what people can do to both preserve and learn from their immediate environment. It has a similar sampling of plants and animals as the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; however, it also acts as a habitat for spider monkeys, which the Monteverde Reserve does not. Its 765 acres (310 ha) host trails ranging from 1-3 miles (1-5 km) in length, as well as an observation tower that affords fantastic views of the Arenal Volcano on days that it is clear. (refer