Destination Run: Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica
For a country the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica offers an impressive amount of variation in geography, climate, plant, and wildlife from region to region. Most visitors consider Costa Rica to be tropical due to the humid and rainy Caribbean coast and many rainforests. However, the Guanacaste region surrounding the Pacific coast provides a dry and arid climate while the middle of the country is characterized by a mountainous landscape with a more temperate climate. Traveling around Costa Rica you seem to find a new landscape and microclimate around every bend.
To fully appreciate the impressive geographical diversity of this small country, many travelers choose a few locations strategically. One common itinerary is to enjoy the thermal springs surrounding Arenal Volcano, hit the beaches around the famous Manuel Antonio National Park and enjoy a misty mountain reprieve in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
While there is much to be said about the unique beauty in every pocket of Costa Rica, the Monteverde Cloud Forest has some special features to entice the traveling runner. The heat and alternating humidity and dryness that characterizes many of the other popular Costa Rica destinations is not present here. Instead, Monteverde offers cool temperatures, fresh mountain air and stunning views of lush green mountains shrouded in mist.
How to Get There
When people talk about Monteverde they are typically referring to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. There is no lodging in the forest itself so most visitors stay in the nearby town of Santa Elena that sits just northwest of the reserve.
Fortunately, Monteverde has become a very popular tourist stop so there are a few options to get you there. From San Jose and Puntarenas, there are many options for public buses and private transfers to Santa Elena that offer pick-up and drop-off at your hotels or hostels.
Coming from La Fortuna (Arenal Volcano) poses some issues for travelers both with and without a car as the only road requires a long detour up and around Lake Arenal. For those crunched for time, there are many transport services that will shuttle you across Lake Arenal by boat and drive you to Santa Elena. This is a low-stress option as you will not need to worry about the scary mountain driving or scarce Costa Rica street signs.
If time is not a concern and you are seeking some adventure, making the trip around Lake Arenal offers beautiful scenery and plenty of opportunities for short hikes and stop-offs. Budget travelers may opt for the very affordable public transportation, but be warned, public buses stop often and you will likely need to transfer buses. Expect the journey to take upwards of 9 hours from La Fortuna.
Where to Run
Upon arrival to Santa Elena, you can reach the Monteverde Cloud Forest easily by car. If you have no car, private transport and public bus are both easy and affordable options to shuttle you to the park. If you want to take your time and enjoy the views of forested mountains and clinging clouds, why not run the 5 kilometers over to the reserve?
From Santa Elena, you will want to head southeast out of town on Route 620. After 4 kilometers, continue right as route 620 turns into Carretera a Reserva de Monteverde. This road will lead you right to the entrance for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve where you can continue your run or walk through the forest. You can pay the entry fee at the front (discounts are available for students with ID) and talk with the friendly staff about trail options for exploring the area. The trails are mostly dirt with a few hanging bridges to take you up through the canopy. They are color coded, easy to follow and very well labeled.
When to Go
Due to its proximity to the equator, sunrise and sunset times in Costa Rica vary less than 1 hour per year. This means that daylight hours stay pretty close to 12 hours year-round. This is great news for early birds as you can expect full light between 5:30 and 6:30 each morning. Evening runners may need to watch the clock, however, as the sun is typically set by 7:00 pm.
The reserve itself opens at 7 am. If you want to have the trails to yourself, arrive early to beat the crowds.
The microclimate in Monteverde stays pretty consistent year-round. Visitors can expect cooler temperatures and fog during any season. However, most people would recommend planning your visit during the dry season between December and May. Costa Rica becomes crowded and prices are higher during the summer months and around holidays.
- When running along the road, make sure you make yourself visible to drivers. Drivers are accustomed to pedestrians on the side of the road but it never hurts to enhance your visibility by wearing bright colors and protective gear
- Arrive early! The reserve is a popular destination for tours so the trails will get more crowded as the day goes on.
- Layer up. The microclimate in the park changes quickly and can be very different from the weather in Santa Elena.
- Prepare for rain. Especially if you are visiting during the rainiest months of September and November. Heading to the park early also reduces chances of getting caught in the rain as it tends to rain more in the afternoon.
- Bring water and snacks. Tap water in Costa Rica is safe to drink. There is a small cafeteria at the entrance but being prepared can help save you money and keep you hydrated.
- Bring student ID for discounted entrance to the Reserve.
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