Selva Negra

Exploring Selva Negra Nature Reserve

Selva Negra

Up in the cloud forest, near the northern Nicaraguan city of Matagalpa, sits a private nature reserve dating back over 120 years. Selva Negra (which translates to “The Black Forest”) was founded in the late 1800s by German-born immigrants who were encouraged to settle the area by the Nicaraguan government. The 300-acre reserve is home to a wild array of flora and fauna, as well as one of the country's most prestigious coffee plantations.
Most of the Selva Negra Cloud Forest Reserve is situated above 3000 feet in a tropical forest that receives about 10% of its total moisture directly through contact with the clouds rather than traditional rainfall. Cloud forests like Selva Negra are intense biological districts that contain an incredibly diverse and intense arrangement of life, both vegetative and animal.


The name Selva Negra likely comes from the fact that the canopy of the forest is so thick that it allows just a tiny fraction of light to reach the forest floor. The result is an extremely dark place, even in the daytime.
Among those canopy-creators is the most important tree in Selva Negra – the strangler fig – which grows to 160 feet tall and casts a massive net over the sky. Incredibly important to this particular cloud forest, the strangler fig’s fruit is consumed by around 70% of the area's animal population.

There are also some 50 species of orchids that grow within the nature reserve. The most prominent of those orchids is the Arpophyllum Giganteum, which sprouts from from dead fig trees. Also found in the cloud forest of Selva Negra are nearly 40 species of mushrooms.


In the cloud forest, animals are more often heard than seen. Not only is the vegetation extremely dense and the light very low, but most of the wildlife that calls Selva Negra home are well-camouflaged and nocturnal. 
The most commonly-seen mammal in the reserve is the howler monkey, which is typically heard long before you spot it. The rousing call of this species, which is found throughout Central and South America, can be heard for up to a mile away. The howler monkey is one of the more intimidating alarm clocks you'll be sure to hear at dawn in the cloud forest.

With all the decaying organic matter throughout the cloud forest, there’s a significant insect population there, the most interesting of which are the beetles. There are also 19 species of amphibians and 33 species of reptiles found in the park. The butterflies of the reserve are always popular, especially the famed blue morpho.
But it’s primarily the birds that draw people into this beautiful nature reserve. Selva Negra is home to over 200 different bird species and is, in many ways, the crossroads and meeting ground for birds from the northern and southern hemispheres. Within the bounds of the reserve, you can spot everything from egrets to kingfishers, and from hawks to hummingbirds.


  • Visit the Coffee Plantation: The Selva Negra Estate has been producing coffee since the 1890s, when German immigrants founded the establishment. Some of their descendants are still here, planting and plucking coffee beans today.  Their coffee is grown around 4,000 feet above sea level and under shade, and is 100% organic and sustainable.  International Expeditions' guests have an opportunity to watch the process of coffee production in a program called “From Seed to Cup.” Harvest season for the coffee beans runs from November to February.

  • Hiking: If you're looking to explore the nature reserve on foot, there are 14 superb trails of varying length and difficulty that carve through the cloud forest. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the trails on their own, but it’s even more rewarding when IE's highly trained naturalist guides show you a little bit about the forest and the critters that live within it.

  • Horseback Riding: Of the 14 hiking trails within the reserve, six are also made available to horse riders. Getting out on horseback and exploring the Selva Negra gives visitors a beautiful perspective of the forest without having to get their feet too muddy. 


Ready to explore Nicaragua and the Selva Negra Reserve? Come see why National Geographic Traveler named International Expeditions' Nicaragua tour one of the world's best escorted tours.