Hiking ‘La Selva Negra’, the Cloud Forest of Nicaragua

Matagalpa, Nicaragua

La Selva Negra is an eco-lodge in the Northern Highlands of Nicaragua. The cooler temperature and the lush surrounding of the region makes for a nice break from the heat of Granada. Here you can go horseback riding, go on a guided nature hikes, or simply wander around and watch the activities on this beautiful eco-friendly coffee-producing farm.

A natural reserve near Matagalpa, La Selva Negra
Entrance to Selva Negra by Serenityweb1

Which was all nice and swell but I came with a different agenda.

I came to hike the cloud forest of La Selva Negra. During my time in northern Nicaragua I learned quite a bit about cloud forests. The difference between a cloud forest and a rain forest is that the former has 2 major sources of water: rain and condensation from low-lying clouds. Clouds form in the forest’s canopy when warm moist air is pushed upward, giving the forest its name.

I was assured that even in the dry season, the cloud forest is one of the few spots that is still green.

I followed a loop that starts by the lagoon and climbs up, hoping to find a ridge with an expansive view of the cloud forest. “You won’t get lost”, the lady behind the counter guaranteed. “The trails are clearly marked.”

Along the way I passed a lot of… trees.

(I wish I could tell you what they are. It would make me seem smart. Some are really tall, some are bush like. They’re normal looking trees.)

When I get to the top, I couldn’t see any further than 50 yards in any direction. I guess I got what I was looking for – the area was so lush and green the trees and the foliage obscured my view.

I was soaking in sweat and mildly disappointed by this development. I tried to cheer myself up by promising myself a big meal at Matagalpa’s only Italian restaurant for dinner.

Wild mushroom gnarly tree in La Selva Nicaragua

Maybe this is not a good idea

As I was fighting the humidity on the way up, I started thinking, ‘Maybe this is not a good idea.’ If something happens to me, nobody will know. I tried to remember if Nicaragua has mountain lions. Or poisonous dart frogs. I was alone, breaking my one rule about hiking alone.

In the middle of these cheerful thoughts, I heard a bellowing noise that could be best described as a small, but nasty dinosaur. It sounded so bloody close I slipped and fell out of surprise. I sat on the ground holding my breath, and expecting a pair of reptilian eyes to appear from the nearest bush.

But nothing that exciting happened. The jungle noise continues on and I never heard that noise again.

I know there were a myriad of things in the forest. You could hear them. The noise from the insects and the birds was at times deafening and the forest seemed to buzz and vibrate from it. But I didn’t see anything other than normal looking trees.

Not until I was almost back at the lagoon I heard a crashing sound above me. I looked up and saw black faces and black bodies chasing each other among the tree branches above.

Howler Monkey in Nicaragua by Michelle Reback
Howler Monkey in Nicaragua by Michelle Reback

Seeing howler monkeys

There was maybe a group of 8 howler monkeys. They were chasing each other among the tree branches, making a big ruckus. One of them spotted me and we stared at each other. He turned his back to me after 5 secs, obviously finding me a lot less interesting than I him.

I’ve seen monkeys before in a much closer setting, but seeing animals in their natural setting is always exciting.

Despite the lack of view I was hoping for, seeing the monkeys well made up for it.

Editor’s Note: It finally occurred to me that maybe the noise I heard was of a howler monkey. So I looked it up, and I’m now 99% sure that it was a howler monkey (or three). It sure came as a surprise when you didn’t expect it.

Have you ever seen monkeys in the wild?

Getting to La Selva Negra from Matagalpa

How to get to La Selva Negra from Matagalpa
Getting to La Selva Negra from Matagalpa is pretty straightforward. From Terminal Sur in Matagalpa, take the bus heading to Jinotega. Asked to be dropped off at “Puertas Rojas” or simply say “Selva Negra” (12 Cordobas). From where you get dropped off, continue 50 m uphill until you see a tank that marks the entrance to the ecolodge. From there it’s 1.5 km of flat gravel road.

Entrance fee for the day: 50 Cordobas

Total cost: 62 Cordobas ($2.50)

Valuable Resources

  • Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders, for those who love anything weird and offbeat.
  • Resource Toolbox: How I find cheap flights, accommodations, and other travel hacks.

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18 Replies to “Hiking ‘La Selva Negra’, the Cloud Forest of Nicaragua”

  1. Monkeys… so cool, I could watch them all day long, the first time I heard a howler was a bit like you, thinking my time was up! Thanks for timely info as we’re headed that way soon.

  2. I've just come back from Selva Negra. I stayed there for 5 days hiking the trails and drinking the coffee. We did all the trails even the really steep one and met the monkeys on the way down. One actually pooped on my arm! How lucky is that.

  3. Wow, great experience! I've seen monkeys in Africa, but I haven't seen them wild anywhere else! We visited a cloud forest in Mindo, Ecuador last year and I thought it was so beautiful, with the misty hills and brilliantly colored birds including toucans. Still, I would have liked to see a monkey! 🙂

  4. Lovely photographs that bring the forest to life! Yes I've seen wild monkeys many times in West Africa, oh, and does the Rock of Gibraltar count!?

  5. You are so brave for hiking alone. I don't think I could have done that. And yes, jungles are so loud. I recently did an overnight jungle trek in Cambodia and was kept awake for a long time, as I kept hearing frogs, cracking branches, monkeys and god knows what else.

  6. Hi Jill, Wow, what an adventure! You were so brave to venture out on your own. Hearing those unknown sounds would frighen me, too. But glad it turned out to be the harmless monkeys. I've seen wild monkeys in Costa Rica and the Philippines. There's nothing like seeing animals in their natural habitat.

  7. Good for you for going by yourself. I did my recent hike by myself too but I do let someone know where I'm going. It's always fun seeing – and hearing monkeys.

  8. I love hiking and did see monkeys in the wild during one of my hikes. This sounds like a great hike and yes the noises both in rain forests or cloud forests can be scary sometimes especially when it gets dark. Beautiful photos !

  9. Unable to get a room we made a day trip to hike the forest which was worth every exhausting step. The food was o.k. if a little expensive but the rooms didn't look like good value at the prices we had been quoted. So a day trip from Matagalpa seems the best option.

  10. This looks like a wonderful hike to do and in a cloud forest too. I would have freaked out with strange noises too walking alone. Glad to know they were howler monkeys. I've only seen a couple of wild monkeys in the wild in the island of Grenada. Seeing howler monkeys in the wild is one of the reasons we'd love to visit Costa Rica…or Nicaragua.

  11. I'm sure I would also have fallen over out of fright! I would have been imaging every terribly possibility and working myself into a panic. Any plans for a horseback ride? That's more my speed. I saw monkeys in the wild in Japan and they were hilarious. One kept stealing cakes from a shop and the shopkeeper kept chasing him away with a broom. When the monkey returned anyway, fireworks finally did the trick.

  12. I love your description of the trees! I'm just the same, despite my parents trying to teach me all their names when I was younger. Nice spot with the howler monkeys. I've seen them in Costa Rica and Ecuador but always way up in the highest branches. To be honest, they scare me a bit!

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