In 1983, a National Geographic article described Monteverde (translated Green Mountain) as the perfect place to catch a glimpse of the Resplendent Quetzal, a beautiful bird of paradise. From that moment on hordes of eco-tourists arrived in the small Quaker village, ready to take in its birdwatching attractions and famous Cloud Forest. Now this town is one of the centers of tourism in Costa Rica. The crowds are a disadvantage, but they also tell you something about the place: the Cloud Forest is beautiful; there are some delicious restaurants here; a famous zip line; and some interesting evening hikes by flashlight. Monteverde is one of my favorite places in Costa Rica. I always found this town a peaceful base to visit the surround rainforest. And I still dream of the coffee I had here – it was like drinking liquid chocolate. Mmmmm.
Hostel prices – Prices start at around $9 USD per night for a dorm bed and $20 USD for a single room including bathroom and breakfast.
Budget hotel prices – Hotel prices start at $20 USD per night for a twin room, including breakfast.
Average cost of food – Food in a “soda” restaurant will typically cost $3 USD for a local dish. Main courses in most budget restaurants cost around $10 USD. The popular tourist restaurants cost around $20 USD per meal.
Transportation costs – Traveling by bus from San José will cost $5 USD. Local buses cost $2 USD to the Cloud Forest from Santa Elena. A taxi from Santa Elena to the Cloud Forest Reserve will typically cost $9 USD.
Money Saving Tips
Student discounts – As in most parts of Costa Rica, tourist attractions offer student discounts if you show them a valid student ID when paying.
Camp – You can save on accommodation by pitching a tent at La Colina lodge for just $5 USD per night.
Take the public bus – Public buses from San José cost just $5 USD – this offers a great saving on the cost of private shuttle buses which cost $40 USD.
Top Things to See and Do
The Cloud Forest Reserve – The cloud forest is Monteverde’s most popular tourist attraction and the main reason people come here to visit. The area is home to the world’s largest orchid collection, big jungle cats, thousands of species of plants and insects, as well as over 400 species of birds, including the famous Quetzal.
Canopy tours – One of the most popular ways to see the forest is to walk across a series of suspension bridges through the canopy or zip line around. The SkyWalk and Trek tour has zip lines as long as 2,500 feet, observation towers and walking platforms which offer a less hair-raising way to see the rainforest. This combination tour is the one I did. While there are a few operators doing the same thing now, this is the most famous company.
Monteverde Music Festival – This festival is held in January and February each year. For $10 USD, you’ll get to experience classical, jazz and Latin music at the Bromelias Music Garden and Monteverde Institute. The festival is said to be one of the best in Central America, and all proceeds go towards teaching music and arts in local schools.
Hiking – The Cloud Forest is obviously a great place to go hiking, but for a less crowded trek, head to the nearby Santa Elena Reserve. There are more than 8 miles of trails available with varying difficulty. The Santa Elena Reserve offers better views of the Arenal Volcano in the distance and attracts more birds to its sunnier spots. I suggest hiking both reserves to get the most out of the region.
Wildlife watching – This town is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Although there are over 400 species in the area, most tourists crave a sighting of the Resplendent Quetzal. The Cloud Forest’s dense and humid conditions can make it difficult to spot small mammals scurrying about, but outside of the forest you’re likely to see (or hear!) howler monkeys, sloths and squirrels.
Coffee & Sugar tours – There are several tour options for those looking for a glimpse into the practices and processes of harvesting coffee and sugar cane in the region, with the El Trapiche tour being amongst the best. You’ll get a ride in an ox-drawn cart, and depending upon the season, you may even get to pick a bushel of raw coffee beans. Back at the farmhouse you can see how the raw materials are then turned into a variety of final products such as cane liquor, raw sugar, and roasted coffee.
Monteverde Serpentarium – Home to over 40 species (including venomous and non-venomous snakes, poisonous frogs, toads, lizards, and turtles), this is the place to go if you’re captivated by cold-blooded creatures. Located in the Cloud Forest, the Serpentarium is a nice little addition to a day’s zipping or skywalking. Guided tours don’t cost any extra and are very informative.
Butterfly garden – Situated between Santa Elena and the Cloud Forest is the Monteverde Butterfly Garden. Consisting of four separate butterfly gardens, a medicinal plant garden and a leaf cutter ant colony, there’s quite a lot to see for the $15 USD entrance fee.
Experience the rain forest by night – While most people only visit the rain forest by day, a night walk gives you the chance to spot some of the countless nocturnal animals (everything from tarantulas to coatis to stick bugs) that call forest floor home. Most guides will provide flashlights, but you may want to bring your own to increase the quality of your photo opportunities.
Visit the bat jungle – Afraid of bats? No need to be! The Bat Jungle in Monteverde offers an informative look at world and habits of these nocturnal creatures in a controlled rainforest environment. One of the neatest features is a sonar microphone that allows visitors to listen live to the bats using echolocation.
Eat some cheese – The Monteverde Cheese Factory gives visitors some background into the influence of the Quakers in the area, and their production of dairy products. Be sure to sample some of the ice cream at the end!
Swim at San Luis Waterfall – This is a three hour hike through the rainforest to get to the 330 ft. waterfall, but you can also arrange a horseback ride to the falls. You’re welcome to swim upon arrival, but be warned – the water is chilly!