In Spanish, Monteverde translates as “green mountain,” and the name really lives up to its meaning as you travel to this area, high in the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range. You’ll be surrounded by rolling green hills with communities stretching out below. In Monteverde, Costa Rica, the sun-kissed features of beachgoers are replaced by the pleasant smiles of farmers, artists, naturalists, ad outdoor lovers, particularly in the small but charming town of Santa Elena. The cloud forest, which gets its name from the mist that covers the rainforest, is the major attraction of Monteverde, and it is one of the most visited places in the country. A trip into the forest reserves here will allow you to see one of the world’s most stunning ecosystems, which include a vast variety of flora and fauna. So come on in and discover the best things to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica!
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Why come to Monteverde?
Monteverde, Costa Rica might be far from the country’s stunning beaches and all-inclusive resorts, but it has its own distinctive beauty. Monteverde is a popular ecotourism destination, known for its beautiful rainforests and diverse flora and wildlife. The area is located on the Continental Divide and at an altitude of 1440 meters (4724 feet) above sea level. You’ll find tropical flowers and fewer pests, and you’ll even be reaching for a sweater as it can get a little chilly here at night. It’s a great area for hiking as the temperatures during the day rarely get above 18C (64F).
Monteverde is a pleasant refuge, whether it’s your primary goal or a stop on the route to the coast and I recommend spending a few days in Monteverde to see all it has to offer. We traveled here from Arenal (read about that here) and from Monteverde headed to Nicaragua – you can find details of that route here.
Monteverde versus Santa Elena
Most people visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest from the small town of Saint Elena, which is the closest town to the forest reserve. You’ll often hear Saint Elena referred to as “Monteverde”, but the town’s name is actually Saint Elena. This is where you’ll find the bus station, hotels, places to eat, and where tour companies are based.
It’s just 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from Santa Elena to the Monteverde Cloud Forest and it’s easy to get between the two locations, although you will have to plan ahead to maximize your time here. First, let’s get you sorted out with where to stay in Santa Elena.
The Three Cloud Forest Reserves of Monteverde
Monteverde is the name given to the general area and it’s also the name of one of the three Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserves, so there’s no wonder it can be a little confusing when you’re planning a trip here.
There are three reserves here that you can visit. These are the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest, Monteverde, and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. You’ll also find details about Selvatura Park – an adventure park that includes hanging bridges and zip lines.
We’ve covered each of these three Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserves in detail, so keep reading. You can also see where all the cloud forests are in relation to Santa Elena in our map of Monteverde.
The Top 7 Things to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica
The primary reason to visit Monteverde is to see the stunning forest reserves here and you have a choice. There are 3 reserves to explore here. Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, Monteverde Cloud Forest, and the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest. You’ll need to pay to enter each of them and each Monteverde Reserve has a specific focus.
1. Hike a Cloud Forest in Monteverde – pick your reserve! Or visit them all
More than a million people a year visit this area of Costa Rica because of its unique ecosystem, so you’ll want to plan your travel and accommodation well ahead of time.
The name cloud forest is apt, as the area is famous for low-lying clouds that envelop the forests and create a humid, moist environment. The clouds block much of the sun and stop the evaporation of the water, creating a unique ecosystem here. There’s more on what a cloud forest is later in this article, but let’s get straight to the point of what to do in Monteverde. There are three primary forest reserves here in Monteverde.
Let’s start with the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
This is the primary place where visitors come to in Monteverde.
The main activity here in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is hiking. There are 6 defined trails around the forest, and they’re well-marked, covering some 13 kilometers (8 miles). Some may be undergoing restoration when you visit and may be closed and if there has been seasonal rain some may be closed too. You can visit Monteverde independently, or take a guided small group tour.
There’s a fee to enter the Monteverde Cloud Forest – it costs US$25 per person per day to visit. (Children’s tickets are US$12) You pay for your ticket at the entrance to the park and you can pay with colones, USD or by credit card. You can also buy your ticket online.
It’s best to arrive first thing in the morning to visit the cloud forest for several reasons and the gates open at 7 am. The first reason to be here early is that there is something ultimately magical about being in a cloud forest first thing in the morning. It’s so quiet. It’s so still until you stop and listen and see the world waking up around you. The second reason to get here early is to experience the Cloud Forest without other people. There’s likely to be a line for tickets at around 8 am, but even worse all those people arriving will start chattering away and any chance you have of peace and quiet and listening to the monkeys and the birds will be gone.
Don’t get me wrong, when we were hiking later in the day we hardly came across anyone, and it was quiet, but there is something truly lovely about being on your own there first thing.
The main thing to do in the Monteverde Cloud Forest is hiking and there are 11 marked trails here. You can’t go wrong on them and they’re clearly signposted. You can hike to a viewpoint of the Continental Divide, you can hike to various lookout towers, and also a waterfall as well as Monteverde’s famous hanging footbridge. All the trails also detail how long they are too, so you know how much you’re getting yourself in for (none are particularly long)
The Continental Divide, which runs from Argentina up to Canada passes through Monteverde. It’s a river boundary system that means that all rivers on the west side of the boundary flow to the Pacific Ocean and all rivers on the eastern side flow into the Atlantic.
The gates to Monteverde close at 4 pm. If you’ve arrived at 7 am you’ll be more than done by then and you don’t need a guide to explore this reserve. However, if you prefer someone to point out the flora and fauna, the animals and birds, then this guided tour is a fabulous option.
So the most important part of this so far is that you need to get to the Monteverde Cloud Forest as early as you can (7 am is great) to start your adventure. And you should also make sure to wear the right clothes. This guide on what to wear for hiking in hot weather has all the details.
How to Get to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
You can take a taxi from Santa Elena to Monteverde Cloud Forest and it will cost around US$10 (payable in colones). Your hotel or hostel can arrange this for you. Or, you can take the bus. The bus to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve from Santa Elena leaves from the Santa Elena Bus Terminal and picks up along the road to the reserve.
The bus leaves the terminal (see our map for more details) at 6:15 am, 7:20 am, and 1:15 pm. The bus returns from the reserve at 11:30 am, 2 pm, and 4 pm. You can’t book the bus, just turn up (don’t worry you’ll get on it). The bus to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve costs the equivalent of US$1. Cash only.
Map of the Monteverde Cloud Forest
You can pick up a paper Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve map at the entrance. And here’s a copy of the map of the cloud forest at Monteverde. But take a photo and leave it for the next person to improve the sustainability of the area. The maps detail the trails and if you want advice on which trails to hike they’ll help you with that too.
Explore the Santa Elena Forest Reserve
We spent our second day in Monteverde in the Santa Elena Forest Reserve. Much the same as the Monteverde Forest Reserve you’re best getting here early and you can either take a taxi or take the shuttles, which run from Santa Elena.
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve opened in 1972, like the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and initially protected 764 acres of forest. This forest reserve is actually run and maintained by a community, the School Board of the Santa Elena Technical Professional High School.
There are four trails here to hike and you can combine them to make a longer hike. Again you can take a guide while you’re here or head off by yourself. You can’t really go “off-piste”, as the trails are well marked.
If it’s been raining then you’ll want decent footwear as it can get quite muddy and wet. There are some slopes too, which will have you grabbing for branches or using poles to prevent ending up on the ground. If you’re looking for hiking poles, then my guide to the best budget hiking poles is here.
Trails are longer here than in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. If you hike both forests then you’ll see that this is significantly different from Monteverde. It’s higher in elevation (1600 meters versus 1330 meters) and that makes it wetter and more cloudy than the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Here and in the Monteverde Cloud Forest are great places to spot epiphytes. This damp environment is perfect for them. An epiphyte grows on other plants in a non-parasitic way. The most popular epiphyte? Orchids – as Costa Rica’s National Flower there are more than 500 species of them found here. Monteverde is famous for being home to more than 50% of the world’s orchid species.
Cost to enter Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest is much quieter than the Monteverde Cloud Forest, it gets fewer visitors and it actually costs less too. It’s US$16 for adults to visit. Students with ID can get in for US$9 and tickets for children cost US$7
How to get to Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is 7 kilometers (4.34 miles) from the town of Santa Elena town and the fates are open from 7 am until 4 pm. You can take a taxi to get here from Santa Elena Town, or there are shuttles that run at specific times and cost US$2 each way. Book the shuttle with your accommodation to confirm your seat, you can’t just hail it.
Map of the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
Here’s a map of the cloud forest reserve at Santa Elena so you can plan your visit.
The Children’s Eternal Rain Forest
The third and final cloud forest reserve at Monteverde is the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest, (Bosque Eterno de Los Ninos). This reserve is nearly 6 times the size of the Monteverde Cloud Forest at 56,000 acres. It is a private reserve, actually the largest private reserve in Costa Rica.
A US biologist, Sharon Kinsman who had worked at Monteverde traveled to Sweden to talk about rainforests. She was invited to give a presentation at a school by teacher Eha Kern. The students at the school decided to raise money to buy a small area of the rainforest. Between 1988 and 1992 US$2 million was raised to buy land here and was combined with grants from the Swedish International Development Agency. Children from other countries from 44 more countries across the world continued to raise money to buy land. Most of the land here was bought between 1989 and 1993, and as of 2020, the reserve comprised more than 56,000 acres.
You can read about it here. The Children’s Eternal Forest is now run by a non-profit conversation organization called the Monteverde Conservation League.
There are four different sections of the Children’s Eternal Forest. They’re called field stations.
Bajo del Tigre Reserve, Children’s Eternal Forest
This station at the Children’s Eternal Forest is open from 8 am until 4:50 pm. You can take a guided hike during the day or night, but you do need to reserve ahead of time. This Field Station is close to Cerro Plano and is somewhat dried than Monteverde. Reservations or more information [email protected], phone +506 2645-5200, WhatsApp +506 8895-2529.
You’ll pay US$15 per adult to access this reserve, students get a US$2 discount, and children from 6-12 pay US$10.
Pocosol Field Station, Children’s Eternal Forest
The Pocosol Station is open from 7 am to 4 pm specifically to hike the trails here. You can also take a guided tour of the Pocosol Station, stay overnight and take meals, but you’ll need a reservation. It is easiest to access Pocosol from La Fortuna – and there’s more information by contacting [email protected], phone +506 2645-5200, WhatsApp +506 8386-9565, or +506 8895-2529.
San Gerardo Field Station, Children’s Eternal Forest
This station of the Children’s Eternal Forest is open from 7 am until 4 pm. There are 7 kilometers (4 miles) of trails here and you’ll get great views of Arenal Volcano. You can stay overnight and meals are available, but EVERYTHING needs a prior reservation: [email protected], phone +506 2645-5200, WhatsApp +506 8386-9565, or +506 8895-2529.
Finca Steller, Children’s Eternal Forest
Also known as La Tigra de San Carlos, Finca Steller is open for trail hiking only, but a reservation is needed. [email protected].
There’s a hanging bridge in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, but if you really want to explore the world of hanging bridges then you’ll want to go to Selvatura Park, where there are 8 enormous hanging bridges. If you’ve got around 2-3 hours to spare and want to hike a little further, then you can explore them on the looped trails of about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers). You can also go zip-lining here. It’s the ultimate Monteverde Adventure Park.
The bridges are hung so that you’ll be at treetop level and get to see (if you’re lucky) some of the animals and birds at eye level. You can visit Selvatura Park independently, or with a guide (which always helps finding the animals and birds!) Here are your options
The bridges are hung so that you’ll be at treetop level and get to see (if you’re lucky) some of the animals and birds at eye level. You can visit Selvatura Park independently, or with a guide (which always helps finding the animals and birds!) Here are your options
Getting to Selvatura Park is easy, its just along from the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, but a pickup and drop off is included in your ticket
Ziplining through and above the forest canopy is a stunning experience – the best we ever had was in Northern Laos, where we slept in treehouses (read about it here), but Costa Rica and Monteverde are pretty darned good too.
You’ll find a variety of different companies offering zip lining here in Monteverde, one of these best-recommended experiences is at Selvatura Park and Sky Adventures Monteverde. This park has some of the highest and longest ziplines in Costa Rica. Prebook your experience and they’ll collect you from your accommodation and drop you back there afterward. It’s also a great opportunity to try bungee jumping, explore their hanging bridges, and also check out the aerial sky train.
Want to zipline in Monteverde? Here you go
4. Visit Monteverde’s Hummingbird Garden
When we visited Salento in Colombia we hiked the Cocora Valley and had the best hummingbird experience (breakfasting with them is amazing)! However, here in Monteverde, you don’t need to take an all-day hike to see Hummingbirds, there is actually a Hummingbird garden that’s attached to Selvatura Park, although there is an additional charge to visit.
The gardens here are pretty and include a lot of hummingbird feeders, so this might be your best chance to spot them. If you want a photo you’ll need to be quick though, they’re speedy little things! If you’re on a budget, then you’ll also be able to see hummingbirds around the area for free, but here is your best chance to see lots altogether.
While we’re on the topic of bird watching, if exploring avian life is high on your priorities, then Monteverde is a great place to come. And you’ll likely see a whole lot. The national bird of Guatemala (and also the name of the currency there), the Quetzal is in residence here, but you’ll only likely see them during mating season and with a guide. Quetzal mating season is from February to June. Scarlet macaws and toucans are all around through.
It was way back in 1983 that National Geographic wrote that Monteverde was the perfect place to see the Quetzal, but things have changed a little since then.
For the best birding experience, you’ll want to make for Curi- Cancha Park. There are more than 400 species of birds that make their home here, and as this reserve restricts the number of people that visit each day to under 50 you’ll have a unique and quiet experience here. If you are visiting during mating season and want to see Quetzals, then Curi Cancha is the best location to head to, we do recommend going with a local guide though to increase your chances of spotting these glorious birds.
6. Take a Monteverde Coffee Tour
Monteverde produces exceptionally high-grade coffee partly as a result of its location and climate and there are a variety of coffee plantations that you can visit in the area. One of the most famous is Don Juan, where you’ll get the opportunity to learn about the value of coffee to “Ticos.”. As a family-run business, Don Juan has four daily tours and you’ll learn about the entire process from bean to cup. Arrange a booking with your accommodation.
You can check with your accommodation on booking a tour of a coffee plantation or explore a combination of coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane on this tour of El Trapiche which allows you to pick coffee beans, and see how chocolate, sugar cane, and chocolate are produced. You’ll need to set aside around 3 hours.
7. Go Horse Riding near Monteverde
You can’t ride horses in the cloud forest reserves, but not all of the area here is reserved, and taking a horse riding trip in Monteverde allows you to see a whole different landscape. The private property that horse riding trips run through includes bush, coffee and sugar cane, and banana plantations, so you’ll get a good view of the different countryside around. There’s also the chance to spot sloths and monkeys en route.
Most Monteverde horseback riding trips are half a day / four hours and you’ll be able to choose whether you go in the morning or afternoon. You can check the options for horse riding in Monteverde here.
How long to spend in Monteverde Costa Rica?
To get to see the best of Monteverde you’ll want to plan to spend at least two days here. Getting here in itself is an adventure, so don’t just pop in and head out again – you can take the boat across the lake from La Fortuna / Arenal (there’s more about how we did that here). If you’re short on time, plan on spending one day in your chosen cloud forest and then another exploring the other attractions that Monteverde has to offer.
Where to Stay in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Most of the places to stay in the Monteverde area are in the town of Saint Elena, this is also where you’ll find transport, places to eat, and small supermarkets. There are heaps of places to stay in Saint Elena and there are some places that get amazing reviews. Here are the best places to stay in Monteverde, no matter what budget you’re on.
If you’re looking for luxury and some amazing facilities at a great price, then you can’t go far wrong with the Senda Monteverde Hotel – rooms here come with a private seating area, free WiFI and the most stunning views. The rooms are just stunning. Service here is exemplary. Reserve this amazing place here.
For a super option on middle of the range budgets, then La Guayaba is fabulous. This Monteverde B&B provides private bathrooms and some have patios. There’s a breakfast served each day too. This great Monteverde bed and breakfast is in a fabulous location in Santa Elena. You can reserve a room and check dates here.
The Cabinas Al Vista Golfo is a truly great budget Monteverde option. We stayed here and had a fabulous time. There are amazing views from the multiple patios and terraces, breakfast is fabulous and the rooms are spacious and comfortable. There’s free WiFi and there’s a fully equipped community kitchen with everything you need should you choose to self-cater. Bag a great room here.
Where is Monteverde?
Monteverde is a town in the Puntarenas region of Costa Rica’s Puntarenas province within the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range. Monteverde is one of the most prominent ecotourism destinations in the whole of Costa Rica, located about a four-hour drive from the Central Valley of Costa Rica. Monteverde, Costa Rica’s weather is hilly and maybe moist at times. It is known for its cloud forests. If you’re from the United States, you’ll notice that it has a climate comparable to that of the humidity in the Pacific Northwest.
Map of things to do in Monteverde
You can also see the map of Monteverde things to do here.
What is a Cloud Forest?
The name “cloud forest” comes from the literal meaning of that word. Low-hanging clouds, which often take the appearance of fog, linger about the forest’s high canopy before condensing on tree leaves and dripping onto the plants beneath.
Cloud Forests are typically mountain areas, where the rainfall is typically heavy and there is constant condensation as a result of the humid air currents heading higher up the mountain. They’re also known as the “montane rainforest”. A regular rainforest is found at lower altitudes and they’re warmer. Cloud forests are found at higher altitudes and are colder.
This area of Costa Rica was first settled by dairy farmers, but vast swathes of the forest weren’t cleared and so, the cloud forest reserve of Monteverde was created in 1972. The reserve was established by a coalition of Quakers and the Tropical Science Center to protect one of the last tracts of pristine Cloud Forest in Central America. The Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde was just 810 acres in its initial protected status.
It’s important. More than 50% of Costa Rica’s biodiversity is contained here and that accounts for 2.5% of the world’s total biodiversity.
There are now more than 35,000 acres protected here and they’re home to 425 species of birds, 120 species of mammals, 101 species of reptiles, and 658 species of butterflies, as well as more than 3,200 species of plants. There are 700 species of trees here! About 10% of the plants here are endemic.
However, to protect the area, there’s little more than 3% of the area open to visitors. It’s here that the world’s first extinction due to climate change occurred when the Golden Toad was declared extinct in the 1980s.
There are 4 different life zones represented here.
- The Premontane Rain Forest: There are 1230 acres of this on the Caribbean slope of Monteverde at the middle elevations of the Peñas Blancas river
- The Lower Montane Rain Forest covers most of the forest reserve at 5400 acres. You’ll find it on both sides of the continental divide.
- The Lower Montane Wet Forest totals 842 acres and is where the hiking trails and infrastructure for the park are. It’s known as “the triangle”.
- The Premontane Wet Forest contains just 432 acres and you’ll find it on the Pacific slope.
The original dairy farmers of Monteverde bolstered their incomes way back when by using dairy products to make cheese. In 1953 a cheese factory opened here and the area is still famous for cheese manufactured in the area this is one of the foodstuffs you should try while you’re here.
How to get to Monteverde, Costa Rica?
Monteverde is mid-way between two airports in Costa Rica – the main SJO airport in San Jose, and Liberia in the North of the country. So if you’re flying in you’ll want to head for one of those two airports.
Visiting Monteverde as a Day Trip from San Jose
If you’re short on time but want to see the stunning ecosystem that is Monteverde, then you can visit on a day trip from San Jose (see what other day trips are available here). You can opt for Monteverde Day Trips that have a specific focus.
- Monteverde Day Trip to the Hanging Bridges: Wildlife, hanging bridges and the Cloud Forest – check dates here.
- Hanging Bridges, Aerial Tram and Cloud Forest day trip from San Jose to Monteverde: Check availability here.
Driving to Monteverde
The major roads in Costa Rica are generally great, but the last 20 or so miles to Monteverde are windy, and not great. So if you’re self-driving you’ll want to plan to arrive here well during daylight hours. The route is straightforward, but it’s very windy.
If you’re coming from Arenal or La Fortuna in a rental car, then you’d be advised to rent a 4X4 – the last 30 or so kilometers aren’t great and for this route, you’ll definitely want to drive in daylight.
Take the bus to Monteverde
The bus ride from Monteverde to San José takes around 5 hours and 30 minutes and covers a distance of about 151 kilometers (94 miles) Buses from San Jose to Monteverde leave twice a day (early in the morning and early afternoon) You’ll want to prebook your seat as soon as you know your dates.
If you’re arriving from Liberia, the most popular route is through Liberia – La Irma – Las Juntas – Monteverde, which takes around 3.5 hours in total.
Take the Boat to Monteverde from La Fortuna
This is a popular route when traveling from La Fortuna or Arenal to Monteverde (I wrote more on the options here) The main issue with driving from La Fortuna to Monteverde is that there are both mountains and a lake in the way, so this route takes a minivan to the lake, a boat across the lake and then a minivan from the other side of the lake to Monteverde. It’s a great way to travel! You can pre-book your transport here.
Popular Routes Around Costa Rica
Here are our guides to some of the popular routes around Costa Rica.
- How to go from La Fortuna to Monteverde
- How to go from Monteverde to Nicaragua
- How to get from SJO Airport to San Jose
- How to go from San Jose to Manuel Antonio
- How to go from San Jose to Tamarindo
- How to go from Puerto Viejo to Cahuita
- How to go from San Jose to Jaco
- How to go from Manuel Antonio to La Fortuna
- How to go from San Jose to Puerto Viejo
- How to go from Puerto Viejo to Tortuguero
- How to go from San Jose to La Fortuna
Travel Tips for Exploring Costa Rica
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- Arriving by air? Arrange your airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Make sure you have the right plug adapter for Costa Rica.
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- Book Buses in Costa Rica with Bookaway
- Book accommodation in Costa Rica with Booking.com
Frequently Asked Questions FAQ’s about Monteverde
Got questions about visiting Monteverde? Or want to know more about what to see in Monteverde and we haven’t answered your questions? Check out our frequently asked questions about exploring Monteverde below, or ask us yours in the comments.
What’s the weather like in Monteverde?
Monteverde’s weather is different from the rest of Costa Rica. You’ll likely need a sweater or a fleece when you come here. High temperatures in Monteverde are 65 F (18C) Monteverde’s rainy season is from April to November, and when it rains, it really rains. Bring decent footwear for hiking. It’s an enjoyable temperature for hiking.
How do you get around Monteverde?
Once you’ve arrived in Santa Elena (the town), then the bus is the cheapest way to get around. There’s a bus that runs between the Monteverde Cloud Forest and Santa Elena several times a day. Check with your accommodation for the times, but it usually starts at 7 am to get you to the cloud forest and the last one back from the Cloud Forest will be at 4 pm. This bus also runs to the Curi-Cancha Reserve. Buses cost US$1
A shuttle runs from Santa Elena to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve four times a day from points throughout Santa Elena, get your accommodation to book a place as all places must be pre-booked. It costs US$2 per person each way.
Taxis are also prominent in Santa Elena and you can take them to any of the cloud forests or parks. Some parks, like Selvatura Park, include a pick-up from your accommodation in their tickets (book ahead here). The prices of taxi routes are displayed in each taxi.
What’s the best Cloud Forest in Monteverde?
We loved both cloud forests, but definitely think that Santa Elena was better as there were fewer people, although if you go early in the morning to both cloud forests you’ll see fewer people in both.
Final Words on the Best Things to do in Monteverde
Monteverde is a truly remarkable place and significantly different from the other places to visit in Costa Rica. Being cold was a fabulous experience! There are stunning landscapes and some fabulous birds, mammals, and flora to spot here, as well as some great hiking experiences. This is one of the world’s most amazing ecosystems and you should make time and take the adventure to visit here.
Stock images in this article are courtesy Deposit Photos.
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