This post was first written in 2015 and updated in October 2019 to reflect the most up to date information on things to do in Monteverde.
Visiting Monteverde, Costa Rica is a world away from the country’s hot beaches and all-inclusive resorts but impressive nonetheless. In the heart of the Cordillera de Tilaran mountain range, you’ll find one of Costa Rica’s biggest attraction – the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest. If you are wondering what to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica, this should be on your list!
Visiting Monteverde, Costa Ria
The Monteverde Cloud Forest, the main attraction of this area stretches over a protective area of 35,089 acres and together with it’s younger and lesser-known cousin, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, it is known to be the birthplace of the Costa Rican ecotourism movement.
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, are two small towns: the traditional Costa Rican town of Santa Elena and the Quaker settlement of Monteverde Costa Rica.
Going up the steps to our hotel, Monteverde Rustic Lodge, in the town of Santa Elena.This area has been a tourist magnet 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 wealthy retirees, curious to experience the coveted natural wonder, and adventurous backpackers, looking for adrenaline filled activities. The best thing about visiting Monteverde Costa Rica? Blog enthusiasts should know that it offers something for everyone.
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.
Ever Changing Weather Patterns in Monteverde
Like other places in Costa Rica, the two seasons are the rainy and dry season. The rainy season is technically from June to October, but don’t expect all clear, blue skies during the dry season either. The weather changes at the drop of a hat here. So pack accordingly, and be prepared that the weather may affect you visiting Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Temperatures do not vary much, they hover around 29-16 degrees Celsius year-round.
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.
But even despite the yucky weather, a visit to the Monteverde Costa Rica Cloud Forest, Costa Rica is a must for all visitors!!
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. Note that the last 20 km of the road are not paved, so expect a bumpy and windy ride.
If you are looking for an alternative to driving, you can search for other transportation options on GuateGo, a transportation hub that allows you to search for all available transportation options (coach buses, shared shuttles, ferries) from any destination in Costa Rica to Monteverde. You can book your tickets and secure seats online.
Things to do in Monteverde Costa Rica
Our trip to Costa Rica was about experiencing life as a local and not at all about the major sights and attractions, but even we couldn’t resist the appeal of the activity-filled Monteverde region. So we packed our cars with warm clothes and rain jackets, said goodbye to the beautiful weather on the beaches of Guanacaste and headed off to spend 3 days in the misty cold mountainous region of Monteverde Costa Rica.
We were traveling with friends and family and between the 7 of us, we packed in more activities in 3 days at Monteverde Costa Rica Cloud Forest than we did for the rest of our time in Costa Rica. Every single one of them was worth the money and the time, and every single one was in itself was a reason for visiting Monteverde, Costa Rica…but here is the full list!
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 opened 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 were well maintained and easy enough to navigate on your own, although I highly recommend that you splurge on a guide, who will know what to see in Monteverde Costa Rica.
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 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 included transportation to and from the reserve.
Experience a Monteverde Costa Rica Zip Line
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 it truly was.
We have been zip-lining in a rainforest in Australia, we’ve experienced the fear of free-falling when jumping out of an airplane and we’ve seen some pretty amazing mountain views before, but the Aventura Canopy Tour experience in Monteverde was well and truly breathtaking.
And we don’t mean that figuratively… See for yourself why it was one of our favourite things to do in Monteverde.
Video Credit: Aventura Canopy Tours
The Thrilling Monteverde Costa Rica Zip Line Experience
The tour started with 2 simple zip-lines but quickly progressed to the pulse racing, breath-taking stuff. First was the 1590m (1738 yards) superman zip-line, the longest zip-line in Latin America, followed by 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 longest zip line in Latin America at the Aventura Adventure Park, Monteverde, Costa RicaThe 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.
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 Costa Rica’s National Flower
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.
Experience 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 tranquility 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. You will find that some of our restaurant and hotel recommendations are in this nearby town, so you may want to coordinate a meal or stay with visiting Santa Elena.
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
Spending 3 days in Monteverde wasn’t enough for us to sample all the activities in the area. So here are a few others that didn’t make our list, but could easily make yours.
Canyoning Tour – rappel down 6 different waterfalls just 10 minutes away from Santa Elena. 2-hour tour is USD $79 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 last for 4 hours. Rates start at USD $45/pp.
Horse Back Riding – saddle up and explore Monteverde the way the locals do. Tours start at USD $49 for 2.5 hours and go up from there. Multi-day tours are available.
Fun Off The Beaten Path Activities
There are lots of other smaller local activities like the Frog Pond ($12 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. (You couldn’t pay us to go into the Serpentarium! YUCK!)
Where to Eat in and around 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 600 Colones (USD $1.1), 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 be had watching 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 (6:15-10 am), lunch (12-3 pm), and dinner (6-9 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 and 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 an eco-friendly 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.
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.
Taxi or Private Transfer
A taxi or private transfer will set you back well over a hundred dollars from San Jose. Plus we would not recommend it since there are more eco-friendly options available.
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.
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 operated 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, tickets cannot be bought online and should be bought in person upon boarding the bus. The cost is approximately $6/USD, but payment is only accepted in Costa Rican Colones.
Getting Around Monteverde Costa Rica
The town of Santa Elena and Monteverde Costa Rica is easily explored on foot. All the major activities and both Cloud Forests are located further away. However, they all provide free transportation from accommodation in town.
How Much Time do You Need When Visiting Monteverde Cloud Forest?
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!
BEFORE YOU GO: DON’T FORGET TRAVEL INSURANCE
We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance, especially in a country like Costa Rica. We learned about the importance of travel insurance the hard way and now we never travel without coverage.