Monteverde, Costa Rica is a world away from the country’s hot beaches and all-inclusive resorts but has its own unique charm. It is a prime ecotourism destination famous for its lush rainforests and impressive assortment of flora and fauna.
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The location is in the heart of the Cordillera de Tilaran mountain range. The famous Monteverde Cloud Forest is one of Costa Rica’s biggest attractions. This biological reserve straddles the Continental Divide and hosts 70,000 tourists a year. It is a popular spot for scientists and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Although the drive-in can be rough, a visit to Monteverde is well worth the trek. Its unique cloud forests consist of fragile ecosystems that are ultra-sensitive to the effects of climate change. These wondrous forests may not be around forever so definitely plan to visit while you can.
Beyond the cloud forests, you can explore many restaurants, coffee shops, and tours within the communities of Monteverde and Santa Elena, Costa Rica. Much like the rest of the country, Monteverde is a safe area that makes for a worthy stop on any Costa Rican adventure.
About Monteverde Cloud Forest
The Monteverde Cloud Forest, the main attraction of this area stretches over a protective area of 35,089 acres and together with its younger and lesser-known cousin, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was established in 1972 and initially covered only 810 acres of forest land. Today, this rich ecosystem is extended far beyond (to 35,000 acres to be exact), encompassing 8 microclimates and housing over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles within its region.
Nestled in between the two cloud forests, some 140 km (87 miles) from San Jose, is the town of Santa Elena, a Quaker settlement dating back to the 1950s.
Because Costa Rica is such a peaceful nation, Quakers left the politics of the US behind to settle the rich soils of the area. They began dairy farming and built a thriving industry in the lush tropical forests. They aimed to cut down as few trees as possible and conserve natural beauty by establishing one of the country’s first private reserves.
Monteverde has been a popular tourist destination in Costa Rica for over 30 years, made especially popular by the 1983 National Geographic article that labelled it the mecca for bird and wildlife watchers. Today, the crowds continue to flock to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the area that surrounds it.
The cloud forests attract everyone from budding photographers with tripods and telephoto lenses, to families, looking to immerse themselves in nature, and adventurous backpackers, hoping to find adrenaline-filled activities.
Best Time to Visit Monteverde, Costa Rica
The only downside to the region has got to be the weather. No matter what time of the year you are visiting, be prepared for cold nights, chilly, windy, and misty days.
Similar to the rest of Costa Rica, Monteverde sees two seasons: the rainy and dry seasons. The rainy season is technically from June to October, but don’t expect blue skies and sunshine during the dry season either. In fact, Monteverde gets about 102 inches of rain every year—that’s 8 feet!
Temperatures do not vary much throughout the year, they hover around 24 degrees (75°F) year-round. It cools down significantly overnight, so be sure to layer up and pack warmer clothes for your visit.
Interestingly, the mist that often descends on the area is called ‘pello de gato’ by the locals which means “cat fur”. It is present sometimes, even when the sun is shining, which means the area does get some fabulous rainbows. Pack the right gear and you’ll be able to enjoy a lovely visit to the area.
READ NEXT: Best Time to Visit Costa Rica
How to Get To Monteverde
Monteverde is located just 2.5-3hrs drive from San Jose, roughly halfway between San Jose and Liberia airports. If you are driving, take Highway 1 towards San Ramon and then Liberia, past Esparza and Puntarenas. Take the exit to Sardinal and follow signs to Monteverde.
Mind you, the drive can be quite windy. Because of the elevation and nature of the cloud forest, Monteverde is no stranger to strong winds. These winds are particularly intense from November-March.
Things to do in Monteverde Costa Rica
Explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
It is no surprise that the list of things to do in Monteverde Costa Rica begins with the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve itself. After all, this is what makes this area one of the seven natural wonders of Costa Rica.
Only 3% of the Biological Reserve is accessible to visitors. But, even that is enough to spend a whole day exploring some 13 km network of trails that lie within the forest. The trails are in order and easy enough to navigate on your own. Although, we highly recommend that you splurge on a guide.
There are 6 main trails to explore beneath the forest canopy. Some trails are short and only take about 10 minutes to complete but still boast stunning views of the trees. Longer trails range from 1-2 km (0.6-1.2 miles) and wind around swamps and waterfalls with glimpses of flowers and butterflies throughout.
The most popular trail is the Sendero Camino, which leads to the hanging bridge. Suspension bridges in the Reserve give you an incredible view of the treetops from the height of the rainforest canopy.
The park is home to lots of unique wildlife with over 1,200 species of amphibians and 400 species of birds. Monteverde is one of the best places to spot a resplendent quetzal, a unique and colourful bird that migrates to the park during mating season. Within the reserve, you’ll also find monkeys, an occasional tapir, and of course, Costa Rica’s famous sloths.
Our local guide was not only instrumental in helping us spot the amazing inhabitants of the forest, but also served as an insightful source of information about the flora of the cloud forest and the history of the area.
Entry Fees and Hours
Entry into the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is USD $20 per person (Gringo price, Ticos pay only USD $7) plus an additional USD $20 for a half day guided tour which includes transportation to and from the reserve.
If you have ever read through any type of “Top travel experiences to have in your 20s/30s/etc” list, you’ll know that zip lining in Costa Rica is an experience like no other. And the Aventura Canopy Tour experience in Monteverde was well and truly breathtaking and worth it.
The tour started with 2 simple zip-lines but quickly progressed to pulse-racing, breath-taking stuff. First is the 1590m (1738 yards) superman zip-line, the longest zip-line in Latin America, following a 148 ft fall on the Tarzan swing.
Our heart rates must’ve climbed to 190bps, but the incredible adrenaline rush and the bragging rights that followed were completely worth it. The Aventura Canopy Tour cost us USD $50/pp.
Selvatura Park is another popular provider of the Monteverde Costa Rica zip line experience and charges the same rate of USD $50 for their version of the Canopy Tour package. If you happen to be staying in La Fortuna, there is also a day trip package available.
READ NEXT: Best Zip Lining in Costa Rica
Learn about Coffee, Costa Rica’s Biggest Export
Instead of investigating this popular activity for ourselves, we sent in Oksana’s mom, one of the biggest coffee drinkers we have ever known. And if you ask Oksana’s mom, the Don Juan Coffee Tour definitely topped her list of things to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
The Costa Rican culture, traditions, and history are closely intertwined with the production of coffee. So for Oksana’s mom, getting immersed in the Costa Rican way of life and learning all the intricacies of the coffee-making process was an eye-opening and unforgettable experience!
The price of a Don Juan Tour is $35 USD per person. They have a Certificate of Sustainable Tourism and offer four tours daily. Recently they expanded to include chocolate and sugar cane demonstrations on the coffee tour as well.
Discover the Orchid Garden
It is said that Costa Rica has over 1,300 species of orchids and the Monteverde Orchid Garden is home to 425 of them, being the largest collection of orchids in all of the country. The 35-40 min guided tour of the Orchid Garden is bound to squash your perceptions of orchids and teach you the truth about these often tiny and endangered flowers.
The biggest shocker for us – the orchids that you think you know and love are not naturally grown, but rather cross-pollinated hybrids created in a lab. Cue sad music…
The cost of the Orchid Garden tour in Monteverde Costa Rica is just USD $12. The Monteverde Orchid Garden is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm.
Check out the Town of Santa Elena
Santa Elena itself is worth the trip up the curvy mountain dirt road. It’s a burst of civilization among the tranquillity of the Santa Elena Cloud Forest and the Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica.
Despite being one of the most touristy destinations in Costa Rica, it is still just a snug little town with a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. It’s a place where you can choose to kick back and relax and unwind, or just as easily fill your day with one of the countless things to do in Monteverde Costa Rica.
The town has a great selection of accommodation, restaurants, featuring international and local food, bars, shops, and attractions that make it a great place to spend a few days while exploring Costa Rica.
Other Things to do in Monteverde Costa Rica
There are a plethora of activities and tours to fill more than a few days in Monteverde, so if you are rich on time check out any of the following.
Canyoning Tour – rappel down 6 different waterfalls just 10 minutes away from Santa Elena. A 2-hour tour is USD $55 and includes transport to and from Monteverde. Tours are available at 8:00 am, 11:00 am, and 2:00 pm daily.
Hidden Valley Trail Night Walk – observe the hidden wonders of the cloud forest at night. 2 hours from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm is USD $25/pp.
Bird Watching Tour – get a chance to spot many of Costa Rica’s birds right here in Monteverde. The tour starts at 5:30 am and lasts for 4 hours. Rates start at USD $50/pp.
Horseback Riding – saddle up and explore Monteverde the way the locals do. Horseback riding tours start at USD $49 for 2.5 hours and go up from there. Multi-day tours are also available.
Hanging Bridges Tour – walk along the top of the forest canopy where the birds and monkeys spend their days. The tour includes transportation from San Jose and starts at USD $165/pp.
Off The Beaten Path Activities
There are lots of other smaller local activities like the Frog Pond ($15.50 USD), the Bat Jungle ($11 USD), the Butterfly Garden ($9 USD), the Monteverde Cheese Factory, and the Monteverde Serpentarium that houses over 40 species of snakes, frogs, lizards, and turtles.
Best Restaurants in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Bar Amigos is the Creme de la Creme of Monteverde Costa Rica restaurants. If you are searching for an authentic Costa Rican evening experience, look no further than Bar Amigos. Nestled in at the end of a small alleyway just off the main street in Santa Elena, this place is as local as it gets.
On the menu, you can find a fine selection of Tico dishes, like Chicharrones, Ceviche, Fish Tacos and Trés Leches cake, in the fridge – cold local beers for just 1,300 Colones (USD $2.10), and on TVs – local football matches or bull riding.
For those looking for entertainment at night, Bar Amigos has a great dance floor and sometimes even salsa lessons. But if the steps of merengue and salsa are still too complex for you to grasp, there is always good fun to watch the locals dance their hearts out until the wee hours in the morning.
Located at Hotel Belmar in Monteverde, Restaurante Celajes has true farm-to-table cuisine. The property overlooks the ocean and gathers food from its own farm and garden to ensure freshness. They are open for breakfast (7-10 am), lunch (12-3 pm), and dinner (6-8:30 pm), and reservations are suggested in the evening as it is a popular place to dine. The restaurant also offers vegan and vegetarian options.
Tree House Restaurant & Cafe
Have you ever had a meal in a tree? The experience at Tree House Restaurant & Cafe in Santa Elena is close enough! Instead of cutting down a massive tree, the restaurant was built to include it as part of the structure. It is a really different concept. Also, the restaurant is owned by and employs locals for a truly Costa Rican feel. They serve Costa Rican cuisine but also offer other options with a Latin American and Peruvian flair.
The Green Restaurant
The Green Restaurant contributes to the local economy by using foods grown in the local area. It’s a smaller restaurant. But, the few dishes they make are done with excellence. Served in the “pura vida” Costa Rican way.
Who doesn’t love tacos? And Taco Taco serves them up in a delicious way. This family-owned restaurant focuses on fresh, sustainable, local ingredients to create a wide range of Mexican-inspired dishes and drinks.
Hotels in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Those looking for accommodation will have a few other options of hotels in Monteverde Costa Rica to choose from.
- Rancho De Lelo Ecolodge and Sustainable Farm is a rustic Monteverde Costa Rica hotel tucked in the mountains just 20 minutes from town. They have a sustainable, socially responsible, and largely organic farm on-site which guests are free to explore.
- Belmar Hotel is the only Monteverde Costa Rica hotel to have a five-star Sustainable Tourism Certificate. Their property is two-thirds cloud forest.
- Cloud Forest Lodge is committed to the responsible use of resources. They have a stellar hotel and property just ten minutes from Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
READ NEXT: Best Eco Lodges in Costa Rica
How to Get to Monteverde, Costa Rica
You can get to Monteverde by car, by following the signs along Route 27. Be prepared for a windy adventurous ride up the mountain at the end of the route. The drive should take no more than 3 hours.
Private shuttles can be arranged for up to 6 people from San Jose for $185/USD.
By Shuttle Bus
A number of shuttle buses also operate daily along the San Jose-Monteverde, or Monteverde- Arenal route with one-way ticket costs starting at USD $45/person from San Jose or USD $35/person to Arenal (La Fortuna).
Shuttle buses leave San Jose to Monteverde every day at 7:00 am and 2:00 pm.
Interbus is a reputable shuttle-bus company that also does airport shuttle pick-ups. You can book directly on the Interbus website.
The Interbuses are comfortable coach buses with A/C or heat and reclining seats.
We would recommend the very green alternative of taking local buses. They are hassle-free, comfortable and well-connected.
If you are taking the bus from San Jose, there are two direct buses in operation by Transmonteverde. They leave at 6:30 am and 2:30 pm every day and the trip takes approximately 4.5 hours.
The Bus Schedule is a great resource for checking up-to-date bus schedules for destinations nationwide. However, you cannot buy tickets online but in person upon boarding the bus. The cost is approximately $6/USD in Costa Rican Colones.
Getting Around Monteverde Costa Rica
The town of Santa Elena and Monteverde Costa Rica is easily explored on foot. However, all the major activities as well as the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the hiking trails are all further away and are best accessed by car. Some hotels in town provide free transportation for tours and into the park, but having a car will certainly give you more freedom to explore the area at your own pace.
How many days do you need in Monteverde Costa Rica?
The adventures never have to stop in Monteverde. There are certainly enough reasons to visit this beautiful area of Monteverde Costa Rica
However, the length of time you decide to stay in Monteverde should be a reflection of how much time you have in Costa Rica.
A two-week nature and wildlife itinerary in Costa Rica would give you 3 days in Monteverde but then you would have to be selective in which activities you choose to partake in. If you were wondering what to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica, we hope we inspired you with our choices!