Introduction to Monteverde
One of Costa Rica’s top places to visit, Monteverde is slightly reminiscent of a tropical Switzerland, with its charming wooden houses and alpine climate. The environment creates a constant game of drizzle and warm sunshine and in our opinion Monteverde is Costa Rica’s most stunning and pristine cloud forest. As well as birds and monkeys flying through the trees, you will also find people! Zip-lining, and as they call it here, Tarzan Swinging, is very popular, along with other adventure pursuits, such as Sky Walking, horseback riding and hiking.
Despite its popularity, Monteverde is none the less an extremely well looked after nature reserve. This is in part down to a group of Quakers who left the US around 1949 in protest of the Korean War, and settled there to pursue a peaceful lifestyle of dairy farming. As well as making some great cheese, the Quakers did a lot to protect the region. However, Costa Rica also has some of the most strictly enforced rules in the world regarding ecology and development, and in Monteverde this stretches to the prohibition of asphalt. The absence of paved roads creates a protective circle around the forest and keeps the birders, nature enthusiasts and adventurers at bay… or at least to a manageable number.
What not to miss in Monteverde
Don’t miss out on exploring the Cloud Forest from on high, zip lining your way through the canopy. Incredible viewpoints will give you the best bird’s eye view over the forest and bring you eye level with the wildlife living within the treetops.
Walk along a network of suspension bridges and trails through the canopy of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. These bridges span canyons and seamlessly blend in with the natural surroundings, bringing you face to face with the upper level of the forest canopy and its wildlife.
Going horseback riding through Monteverde’s green, mountainous countryside is a wonderful way to experience the region’s natural beauty and diversity of its wildlife.
Herpetarium Adventures is located in Monteverde’s downtown area. It’s the perfect place to learn about and get an up-close view of more than 50 species (100+ creatures in 43 terrariums) of reptiles and amphibians such us native frog species, toads, snakes and more, all in naturally simulated terrariums.
Don Juan Coffee & Chocolate Tour
Visiting the Don Juan Estate you’ll learn about the secrets of planting, harvesting, washing and drying of two of Costa Rica’s world-renowned beans; the coffee bean and cocoa beans. On this tour you’ll be treated to the sweet taste of chocolate and enticing aromas of coffee.
Experiencing the peaceful darkness of the Monteverde Cloud Forest is both an eerie yet thrilling experience as more than 60% of the Cloud Forest life is awake at this time. You’ll see the change of guard as the daytime wildlife prepares going off to bed and discover the best of Monteverde’s endemic nocturnal wildlife.
You can hike Monteverde’s trails all day long. Just take off on your own and see where the road takes you.
Tree House Snacks
Visit the Tree House Café, built around a giant tree – a fun place for lunch or a snack.
Traveling to Monteverde
Traveling to Monteverde is half the fun with river crossings and dirt-track jeep driving that makes getting to Monteverde an adventure in itself!
What you need to know
When to go
Just like the rest of Costa Rica, Monteverde has a dry season (December – May), when prices are usually higher and there are more visitors. The green (rainy) season is between May and December with August to November being a particularly wet time and not great for hiking. If you visit on Independence Day (September 15th), expect the streets to be filled with a parade of dancers and singers. The biggest annual event is the two-month Monteverde Music Festival (January to February), when jazz, Latin, and classical music fills the air. The best time for birding is between February and May when flocks of birds migrate to the area to nest.
How to get there
There is a bus terminal in downtown Santa Elena where if you are planning on staying in Monteverde, you’ll need to walk or take a taxi to your accommodation. If you do decide to take the bus to Monteverde, keep an eye on your luggage and keep them by your feed and not in the overhead bin, particularly on the San José–Puntarenas leg, as well as on the Monteverde–Tilarán run as thefts and “lost” luggage can occur.
If you’ve hired a car, the roads here are shockingly rough and an adventure in itself. Even if you arrive on a relatively newly paved road, you’ll still want a 4WD to get around to the more remote lodges and reserves. If you’re driving from Arenal, consider taking the lakeside route through Tronadora and Río Chiquito, instead of going through Tilarán. The terrain and roads are rougher, but the panoramas of the lake, volcano and surrounding countryside are well worth the effort.
Where to stay
Santa Elena and Monteverde are lined with lodgings, from affordable B&Bs and friendly farmstays, to heavenly and luxurious mountain lodges. They are packed into the village streets and spread out on the forested hills around town. Budget travelers will probably want to stay in Santa Elena, where they have more options and easier transportation. Midrange and high-end travelers might want to consider staying in nearby Cerro Plano or Monteverde, or even further afield. Although out of town, these places promise closer interaction with nature, though if you are driving yourself, you’ll need a 4WD vehicle to reach any of these places..
While most Costa Rican communities regularly request paved roads in their region, preservationists in Monteverde have done the opposite meaning the roads can be somewhat treacherous but it does mean that this magnificent ecosystem remains beautifully preserved.