Monteverde, which translates to “Green Mountain,” is one of the world’s first and finest ecotourism destinations. The marvelous, mist-shrouded Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and the extensive network of nearby private reserves are rich and rewarding. Bird-watchers flock here to spot the myth-inspiring resplendent quetzal, and scientists come to study the bountiful biodiversity. On top of all that, Monteverde is arguably the best place in Costa Rica for extreme adventure (rivaled perhaps by Arenal). It boasts a zipline where you can fly facedown like Superman for almost a mile, and the only bungee-jumping left in Costa Rica.

Cloud forests are a mountaintop phenomenon. Moist, warm air sweeping in from the ocean is forced upward by mountain slopes, and as this moist air rises, it cools, forming clouds. The mountaintops around Monteverde are blanketed almost daily in dense clouds, and as the clouds cling to the slopes, moisture condenses on forest trees. This constant level of moisture has given rise to an incredible diversity of innovative life forms and a forest in which nearly every square inch of space has some sort of plant growing. Within the cloud forest, the branches of huge trees are draped with epiphytic plants: orchids, ferns, and bromeliads. This intense botanical competition has created an almost equally diverse population of insects, birds, and other wildlife. Beyond the resplendent quetzal, the Monteverde area boasts more than 2,500 species of plants, 450 types of orchids, 400 species of birds, and 100 species of mammals.

One warning: The climatic conditions that make Monteverde such a biological hot spot can leave many tourists feeling chilled to the bone. More than a few visitors are unprepared for a cool, windy, and wet stay in the middle of their tropical vacation, and can find Monteverde a bit inhospitable, especially from August through November.