Away from the hot beaches and all-inclusive resorts, in the heart of the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range, lies one of Costa Rica’s biggest attractions – the Monteverde Cloud Forest. It 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. Nestled in between the two cloud forests, some 140 kms from San Jose, are two small towns: the traditional Costa Rican town of Santa Elena and the Quaker settlement of Monteverde.
This area has been a tourist magnet for over 30 years, made especially popular by the the 1983 National Geographic article that labeled it the mecca for bird and wildlife watchers. Today, the crowds continue to flock. The could 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. And the best thing about the Monteverde area, is that it offers something for them all.
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 Cloud Forest. So we packed our cars with warm clothes and rain jackets, said good bye to the beautiful weather on the beaches of Guanacaste and headed off to spend 3 days in the misty cold mountainous region of Monteverde.
Max and I were traveling with 2 friends, my parents, and my brother and between the 7 of us, we packed in more activities in 3 days at Monteverde than we did in 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 to visit Monteverde…but here is the full list!
1. Explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
It is no surprise that the list of reasons to visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest begins with the Cloud Forest Reserve itself, after all this is what makes this area one of the seven natural wonders of Costa Rica.
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 micro climates and housing over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles within its region.
Only 3% of the Biological Reserve is opened to visitors, but even that is enough to spend a whole day exploring some 13 kms 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. 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 was 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.
2. Zip-Line Over the Cloud Forest with Aventura Canopy Tour
If you have ever read through any type of “XX travel experiences to have in you 20s/30s/etc” list, you’ll know that zip lining in Costa Rica is an experience like no other. And it truly was. I have been zip-lining in a rain forest in Australia, I’ve experienced the fear of free-falling when jumping out of an airplane and I’ve seen some pretty amazing mountain views before, but the Aventura Canopy Tour experience in Monteverde was well and truly breathtaking. And I don’t mean that figuratively… See for yourself.
Video Credit: Aventura Canopy Tours
The tour started with 2 simple zip-lines, but quickly progressed to the pulse racing, breath-taking stuff. First was the 1590m superman zip-line, the longest zip-line in Latin America, followed by a 148 ft fall on the Tarzan swing. My heart rate must’ve climbed to 190bps and my voice was destroyed from screaming at the top of my lungs, but the incredible adrenaline rush and the bragging rights that followed were completely worth it.
The Aventura Canopy Tour cost us USD $45/pp. Selvatura Park is another popular provider of the Zip-lining tours in Monteverde and charges the same rate of USD $45 for their version of the Canopy Tour package.
3. Learn About Costa Rica’s Biggest Export on a Coffee Tour
You all know it, I’m a tea lover. I don’t drink coffee, I never have, and I probably never will. So instead of investigating popular activity for myself, I sent in my mom, one of the biggest coffee drinkers I have ever known. And if you ask my mom, the Don Juan Coffee Tour was definitely the highlight of her stay in Monteverde.
The Costa Rican culture, traditions, and history are closely intertwined with production of coffee. So for my 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!
4. Discover Costa Rica’s National Flower at 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 country. The 25-40 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 me – the orchids that you think you know and love are not naturally grown, but rather cross pollenated hybrids created in a lab. Cue sad music…
The cost of the Orchid Garden tour is just USD $10.
5. Experience the Town of Santa Elena
Santa Elena itself is worth the trip up the curvy mountain dirt road. It’s a burst of civilisation among the tranquility of the Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forests. Despite being one of the most touristy destinations in Costa Rica, it 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 countless activities.
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.
6. Eat, Drink and be Merry at Bar Amigos
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 are 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.
7+. Other Activities
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 out list, but could easily make yours.
7. Canyoning Tour – rappel down 6 different waterfalls just 10 minutes away from Santa Elena: 2 hours for USD $70
8. Hidden Valley Trail Night Walk – observe the hidden wonders of the cloud forest at night: 2 hours for USD $25
9. Bird Watching Tour – get a chance to spot many of Costa Rica’s birds right here in Monteverde. 4 hours for USD $38
10. Horse Back Riding – saddle up and explore Monteverde the way the locals do. Starts from 2 hours for USD $49 and goes up from there.
…plus lots of smaller local activities like the Frog Pond, the Bat Jungle, the Butterfly Garden, the Monteverde Cheese Factory, and the Monteverde Serpentarium that houses over 40 species of snakes, frogs, lizards and turtles. (You couldn’t pay me to go into the Serpentarium! YUCK!)
The adventures never have to stop in Monteverde. There is certainly enough reasons to visit this beautiful area of Costa Rica and keep yourself entertained for days on end. 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 night, chilly, windy, and misty days.
But even despite the yucky weather, visiting Monteverde Cloud Forest is a must for any Costa Rican visitor!
Essential Travel Info
Getting there: 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. Alternative, hop on one of the local busses that depart from San Jose bus terminal and cost under USD $10. The journey will take around 3-4 hours.
Getting around: The town of Santa Elena and Monteverde can be 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.
Where to stay: Accommodation options range from backpacker hostels like Monteverde Backpackers and Sloth Backpackers with dorm rooms starting at USD $10 per night, to beautiful rustic hotels and villas that start at USD $100 per night. We stayed at the Monteverde Rustic Lodge for USD $70 per night and were absolutely in love with our rooms, the service and the 2 adorable little kittens that chilled outside of our bedroom.
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Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.
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