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If you're dreaming of a travel destination that makes you feel like you just stepped into a fairytale, a cloud forest should definitely be on your radar. These otherworldly woodlands are similar to rainforests, but are located in mountainous regions and have areas of high elevation roughly 3,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. This makes them foggy, slightly chilly, and completely ethereal. Here are four of the most beautiful cloud forests around the world.
Garajonay National Park, Canary Islands
Located on the island of La Gomera, Garajonay National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the last remaining ancient rainforests in Europe and North Africa. It is one of the few places in the world that contains a laurisilva, a rare and diverse type of ecosystem. In fact, the vegetation in this park only lives on the Canary, Madeira, and Azore Islands. When you visit, you'll get a genuine glimpse into what much of southern Europe looked like 65 million years ago.
The woodland covers approximately 11% of La Gomera. As if its fairytale beauty weren't enough, the park even gets its name from an ancient legend. Princess Gara and Prince Jonay were star-crossed lovers who were forced apart after a volcanic eruption. The park is open to visitors and encourages ecotourism. When you first arrive, stop by the visitor center, Juego de Bolas. Here, you'll find a full model of the island with details about its history, flora, and fauna.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica
First established in 1972, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve stretches across a vast 35,089 acres in Costa Rica. Frequently shrouded in a thick fog, you won't experience many sunny days here. The damp air and lack of sunshine slow down the rate of moisture evaporation, which results in an absolutely incredible array of biodiversity. One type of flora that thrives in this environment is the epiphyte. Epiphytes are non-parasitic plants that grow on other plants and tend to only thrive in particularly moist environments. Lichen and orchids, for example, are two types of epiphytes that bloom all over Monteverde.
Beautiful plants aren't the only things you'll find here though. This incredible cloud forest is also home to wildlife including 1,200 species of amphibians, 400 species of birds, and 100 species of mammals. This reserve is one of the few remaining places in the world that is home to all six species of the cat family: jaguarundis, oncillas, ocelots, jaguars, pumas, and margays. Other rare species such as the bare-necked umbrellabird and the resplendent quetzal also call the forest home. There are eight miles of trails within this cloud forest that are open for visitors to explore. You can hike on your own or take part in a guided tour.
El Cielo Biosphere Reserve, Mexico
The stunning El Cielo Biosphere Reserve is recognized by UNESCO as one of Mexico's most ecologically diverse areas. This reserve spans 356,442 acres and contains four different ecological systems. At its highest elevation, El Cielo Biosphere Reserve is over 7,500 feet above sea level. As you might guess from the name, El Cielo truly makes you feel as though you're in the sky. The abundant fog in the area is caused by a combination of factors including humidity from the Gulf of Mexico, warm winds from the south, and cooler winds from the north. These factors result in the clouds sinking low to the earth, creating an incredible ethereal atmosphere. With over 255 species of birds, as well as monarch butterflies, jaguars, and other incredible wildlife, El Cielo Biosphere Reserve is a truly magical place.
Yakushima Island, Japan
This remote, subtropical spot is the southernmost island of Japan. Here, you'll find a landscape unlike any other with misty rain, clouds drifting through rustling branches, and 7,000-year-old cedar trees covered in moss. This area is so magical, in fact, that it has served as inspiration for world-famous director Hayao Miyazaki's films such as "Princess Mononoke" and "My Neighbor Totoro." This stunning area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, but remains relatively untouched by tourists. This might be due to the fact that it isn't particularly easy to access; visitors need to navigate flight transfers and ferries to make their way to this remote island.
The trip is worth it though. With few crowds, you'll truly be able to appreciate the beauty of this cloud forest, with surrounding mountains known as "the Alps of the ocean." Yakushima Island has one of the most diverse climates in the world with both subtropical and cold temperate zones existing side by side. You're guaranteed to feel like you just stepped into a fairytale.