If you dream of soaring above the canopy, treading through enchanted rainforests and experiencing life with your head in the clouds, literally, you’ll have to visit the tranquil mountain region of Monteverde.
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Home to two magical cloud forest reserves bursting with mist and shades of green, Monteverde (meaning Green Mountain in Spanish) is one of Costa Rica’s most unique and peaceful destinations, located over 4,500 feet above sea level on the Talamanca Mountain Range of Puntarenas province.
Offering a range of activities for adventure seekers such as zipline tours, waterfall rappelling, horseback riding, bird watching, hiking and farm visits, despite the deteriorated state of the roads to get there, Monteverde attracts visitors year round.
The combination of tropical forest and cool, high elevation results in abundant low lying clouds and an incredibly rich biodiversity, noticeable in the trees covered with smaller plant life, vines and epiphytes and the plentiful wildlife, with more than 100 species of mammals and 400 species of birds, including the famous quetzal. It’s no wonder that Monteverde is a magnet for nature-lovers from all over the world.
The area is divided into the two cozy villages of Santa Elena and Monteverde. Santa Elena is the area’s main hub and your point of entry into Monteverde from either one of its three primary access roads. The town of Monteverde is located further uphill on the way to the world-renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
A unique alternative to the popular Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. With more than 22,000 hectares of protected rainforest at a lower elevation than the Monteverde Reserve, the Children’s Eternal Rainforest is Central America’s largest private reserve. It opened its doors in 1988, a result of the impressive efforts of a nine-year-old Swedish boy whose vision was at the heart of a fundraising campaign to purchase the reserve’s first six hectares.
The Children’s Eternal Rainforest offers a Twilight Walk that starts right before sunset, offering visitors the chance to observe nocturnal species such as bats, fireflies, sleeping birds, owls and snakes. This reserve is run by a conservation NGO that seeks to preserve local biodiversity and is home to a Children’s Nature Center, an arboretum, and a library.
Monteverde is home to the area’s fancier hotels and a few restaurants. Be forewarned that luxury resorts with enormous swimming pools are not to be found here, in fact, the highest star rating of all Monteverde hotels is 3 stars. However, you can choose from a selection of beautiful eco-lodges and European-style chalets.
Monteverde has a unique history, unlike any other region in Costa Rica. Although they were not the area’s first settlers, during the 1950s the Quakers migrated there from the United States to escape the military draft and lead peaceful lives. They chose Costa Rica because its army had recently been abolished and the cool highlands of the Monteverde region were ideal for cattle and farming. The group of Quaker settlers made a collective decision to protect the watershed area of the highlands above their community and thus, the seed was planted for the Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves.
Planning a vacation to Monteverde
While Monteverde is a fascinating area, we recommend limiting your stay to 2 – 3 nights (preferably 2 nights). The reason for this is the weather can be cool and wet and the hotels, with a couple of exceptions, are generally not as nice as other areas.
Hotels in Monteverde are generally more expensive than other areas. We believe this is due to the high cost of transportation to the area due to road conditions combined with limited supply. For mid-range hotels we recommend Hotel Poco a Poco, Hotel Ficus, El Establo, and Hotel Heliconia. We recommend Hidden Canopy Treehouses Boutique Hotel for luxury as well as El Establo (not exactly luxurious, but more resort-like than any other hotel in Monteverde) and Hotel Belmar. For budget travelers, we recommend Monteverde Country Lodge, Hotel Heliconia, and Claro de Luna.
No matter what you do while you are in the area, we highly recommend dedicating a little time to visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Even if you do not wish to pay the entrance fee, you can walk along the dirt road prior to the reserve to get a feel for the cloud forest. This is a truly remarkable habitat and one of the most endangered in the world.
The Santa Elena and Monteverde area is spread out, so having a rental car is nice. However, getting to Monteverde is not very easy as you will have to drive through unpaved, mountainous, windy roads with few signs.
Reasons to visit:
The cloud forest is an amazing ecosystem.
The birdwatching is phenomenal.
Monteverde is home to the best ziplines
The hanging bridges in Monteverde are better than anywhere else.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is stunningly beautiful.
There are many endemic species of wildlife in this area.
The views are spectacular.
Hidden Canopy Treehouses – If you do not know, just search the topic.
There are many true ecolodges in this area.
Though not frequently spotted, there is a healthy population of large cat species in this area.
Reasons NOT to visit:
It is the cloud forest so it rains a lot.
As it is higher in elevation and often covered with clouds, it is cool in temperature.
The roads to access Monteverde are in generally bad condition and unpaved for the last 20 kilometers or so.
Everything (including hotels) costs more in this area than most other destinations due to the high cost of transportation.
If you are not into birdwatching or canopy tours, you have little reason to visit Monteverde.
There are no all-inclusive resorts.
The highest star rating of all hotels in the area is 3 stars.
No matter where you are coming from or going to (at least for popular tourist destinations), you will have a drive of 3 or more hours.
There are no nearby beaches.
How to get to there:
From San Jose: Drive west toward Puntarenas on the Inter-American Highway and take the road to Liberia at the Puntarenas intersection. At Kilometer 133, turn right, toward Sardinal. Then, follow the gravel road all the way to the top of the mountain until you reach Santa Elena.
Monteverde weather and packing list
Monteverde weather is generally predictable, with the most consistent rainfall experienced between the months of May through November. The heaviest rains in the area occur from September through November. You may expect average daytime temperatures in the low 70s and with nighttime lows in the upper 50s, a cup of hot chocolate will be a nice treat before bed!
The cloud forest can get damp and chilly, so don’t forget to pack accordingly. Rain gear, hiking boots, pants, long sleeve shirts, sweaters, light jackets and sunblock are recommended.
Fun Fact: In 1983 a writer from National Geographic Magazine stated that Monteverde was THE place to observe the Resplendent Quetzal. Subsequently, tourists from all over the world began arriving armed with cameras, tripods and binoculars.