Though Monteverde's cloud forest reserve gets all the attention, the misty Reserva Santa Elena has plenty to recommend it. You can practically hear the epiphyte-draped canopy breathing in as water drops onto the leaf litter and mud underfoot. The odd call of the three-wattled bellbird and the low crescendo of a howler monkey punctuate the higher-pitched bird chatter. While Monteverde entertains almost 200,000 visitors annually, Santa Elena sees fewer than 20,000 tourists each year, meaning its dewy trails are usually far quieter.
This cloud forest is slightly higher in elevation than Monteverde’s; as some of the forest is secondary growth, there are sunnier places for spotting birds and other animals. There’s a stable population of monkeys and sloths, many of which can be seen on the road to the reserve. Unless you’re a trained ecologist, the old-growth forest in Santa Elena will appear fairly similar to that found in Monteverde.