In 1983, a National Geographic article described Monteverde (which means Green Mountain) as the perfect place to see the Resplendent Quetzal, a beautiful (and rare) bird important to Mesoamerican mythology. From that moment on, hordes of eco-tourists descended on this small village in Costa Rica, ready to bask in its birdwatching and stunning cloud forest.
Today, Monteverde is one of the mains centers of tourism in the country.
Even though it can get a little crowded, I loved my time there. The cloud forest is beautiful (and, if you avoid the birders, you can find plenty of paths to yourself), there’s lots of wildlife, there are some delicious restaurants in the area (local produce is super fresh thanks to the quality of the soil), and there are even some interesting night hikes you can do to spot nocturnal wildlife.
Monteverde is one of my favorite places in Costa Rica. I still dream of the coffee I had there – and I’m not even a coffee drinker!
This travel guide to Monteverde will give you the low down on everything you need to know to plan your visit and save money on your trip.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Monteverde
1. Visit the Cloud Forest Reserve
2. Go on a coffee tour
3. Take a canopy tour
4. Experience the rain forest by night
5. See the butterfly garden
Other Things to See and Do in Monteverde
1. Go hiking in the Santa Elena Reserve
For a less crowded trek, head to the nearby Santa Elena Reserve. It’s also a cloud forest, and there are more than eight miles (13km) of trails available with varying difficulty. The Santa Elena Reserve offers better views of the Arenal Volcano (especially on the Youth Challenge Trail) and attracts more birds to its sunnier spots. The aptly named Enchanted Trail, which straddles both the Pacific and Caribbean, is a likely spot for spotting three-wattled bellbirds and howler monkeys. Park entry is 9,900 CRC.
2. Visit the Herpetarium
Located downtown, this natural museum is home to over 30 different species of reptiles and amphibians, including venomous and non-venomous snakes, poisonous frogs, toads, lizards, and turtles. There are all kinds of simulated environments here where you can get up close and personal with the wildlife — wildlife you likely wouldn’t want to encounter in the wild! It’s super informative. Admission is 7,400 CRC and includes a guided tour. Self-guided entrance is only 5,550 CRC.
3. Swim at San Luis Waterfall
To get to this epic 330-foot waterfall, you’ll have to hike three hours through a section of the rainforest around Santa Elena. The trail can be muddy and slippery, so make sure you have good hiking or walking shoes. The waterfall at the end is a vivid blue, and the pool at the bottom is perfect for a swim (even though the water can be cold). You’ll have to pay the Santa Elena Reserve fee to get there (9,900 CRC).
4. Watch the sunset from Cerro Plano View Point
At the top of the Tilaran mountain range, you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean from the Cerro Plano View Point. This is one of the best places to see the sun set behind the mountains with the islands in the distance, and with the sky lit up in vivid pinks and oranges. It’s free, but you’ll have to get there by car or taxi.
5. Visit the Bat Jungle
The Bat Jungle in Monteverde offers an informative look at the world and the habits of these nocturnal creatures in a controlled (simulated) rainforest environment. One of the neatest features is a sonar microphone that allows visitors to listen live to the bats as they’re using their echolocation. Admission is 8,000 CRC.
For more information on other destinations in the country, check out these guides:
Monteverde Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During peak season, hostels cost about 6,500 CRC per night for a room in a dorm with 6-8 beds. Off-season, prices tend to be about the same, though you can sometimes find beds as cheap as 5,000 CRC. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have self-catering facilities. A few also include free breakfast. Private rooms cost 15-000-21,000 CRC per night in both the peak and the off-peak seasons.
You can’t camp in the nearby nature reserves; however, a lot of people ask guesthouses and hostels if they can pitch a tent on their property. If you have a tent, you can usually do this for around about 6,000 CRC (though for that price you might as well sleep in a hostel unless you’re traveling with someone and sharing a tent).
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels room with a private bathroom start at 43,000 CRC in peak season. In the off-season, budget rooms start at 31,000 CRC.
Airbnb is plentiful around Monteverde with private rooms averaging 27,500 CRC while entire homes/apartments average 49,500 CRC.
Average cost of food – Costa Rican cuisine is centered around rice and beans, which are usually eaten for every meal. Potatoes, plantain, pork, and beef are also popular. Gallo pinto (rice and bean stir-fry) is the national dish. You’ll find it mixed with eggs for breakfast. Other popular meals include fried plantain and chicken and rice.
The small sodas and other family-owned restaurants sell the cheapest food here, and you’ll have no problem finding traditional casado (rice, beans, veggies, and meat) for less than 3,500 CRC. Light snacks like fresh juice or fried plantain are less than 2,000 CRC.
Coffee is king here, costing around 2,200 CRC for a latte or cappuccino and 1,400 CRC for a regular black coffee.
Pizza and wraps cost around 6,000 CRC while filling plates of traditional food like beans and rice are about 4,000 CRC. Fast food costs around 4,500 CRC for a combo meal.
Higher-end restaurants have appetizers like ceviche starting from 4,500 CRC and seafood entrees like a fish filet starting from 8,500 CRC.
Beer costs around 2,000 CRC. Bottled water is around 850 CRC.
If you cook for yourself, a week’s worth of groceries costs between 19,000-25,000 CRC. This gets you basic staples like rice, beans, veggies, and some meat.
Backpacking Monteverde Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Monteverde, expect to spend about 32,000 CRC per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, public buses, street food and some meals at cheap local sodas, and entry to the cloud reserves. If you plan on drinking, add 2,000-4,000 CRC more per day.
A mid-range budget of about 69,000 CRC covers staying in a private hostel or Airbnb room, eating out for all of your meals at cheap local sodas, doing some tours (like night tours), visiting the cloud forests, enjoying a couple of drinks out, and taking the occasional taxi to get around.
On a “luxury” budget of about 140,000 CRC or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, do as many guided and private tours as you’d like, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, and take taxis anytime you need to. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in CRC.
Monteverde Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Monteverde is popular and its prices reflect that fact. It’s not the most expensive destination in the country but it can get pricey during peak season. Here are some suggested ways to save money in Monteverde:
- Visit during the shoulder season – To save money on accommodation, visit during the shoulder season. Prices are a little lower and there are fewer crowds.
- Avoid tour activities – There are a lot of great (but expensive) group activities and tours in the area. Skip them and do free activities instead (such as hiking). Although you might have to pay park entry fees, it will be much cheaper than guided tours.
- Eat at the sodas – “Sodas” are small family run restaurants which specialize in inexpensive local meals, usually costing around 3,000-3,500 CRC including a drink. These hole-in-the-wall restaurants offer the best value in the country.
- Student discounts – As in most parts of the country, some tourist attractions offer student discounts if you show them a valid student ID.
- Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier can help you save money (and thousands of plastic bottles) by purifying the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw.
Where to Stay in Monteverde
Despite being a small place, Monteverde has lots of budget-friendly options for backpackers. Here are some of my suggested places to stay in Monteverde:
How to Get Around Monteverde
Bus – The bus is the most economical way to get around Monteverde. There’s one bus that runs between downtown Santa Elena, the Monteverde Cloud Forest, and Curi-Cancha Reserve several times a day for 600 CRC each way. You can get picked up anywhere in downtown Santa Elena.
There’s also a private shuttle service that can pick you up at your accommodations and take you the Santa Elena Reserve for 1,200 CRC. Just ask your hotel/hostel to call them.
Bicycle – The roads can be quite dangerous around Monteverde so I don’t recommend renting a bicycle here (there’s only one place that rents mountain bikes anyway).
Taxi – You can get taxis anywhere in Santa Elena and Monteverde. The prices are set, and you’ll be able to see the list of prices when you’re in the taxi. From Santa Elena to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, it’s 6,100 CRC while downtown Santa Elena to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest is about 8,000 CRC.
When to Go to Monteverde
Because most of the area is covered in cloud forest, the weather isn’t great year-round. Expect rain from May to October. Be prepared for downpours all night followed by sunny mornings.
The “dry” season starts mid-December and lasts until the beginning of May. The peak months are between December and March. It does still rain (lightly) during this time, however, so bring a rain jacket with you. Expect daily highs around 28° (82°F).
The shoulder season (November and April) usually offers lower prices and decent weather, so consider visiting then if you’re on a tight budget.
If you’re visiting Monteverde specifically to see the Resplendent Quetzals, visit in March, which is their breeding season.
How to Stay Safe in Monteverde
While Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for traveling and backpacking in Central America, you’ll still need to exercise some caution.
Petty theft (including bag snatching) is one of the most common types of crime here. The city is pretty small but you should still be careful at night. Leave your passport and valuables at your accommodation when you go out and only take as much money as you need.
If you plan on hiking, stick to the designated trails or hire a guide. It’s way too easy to get lost in the jungle (plus you don’t want to disturb the delicate habitat).
Although taxis technically have set charges, clarify the price with the driver before your journey begins. This gives them little opportunity to overcharge you. When in doubt, ask your hostel/hotel staff the approximate rate before you leave so you don’t get ripped off.
If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.
If you’re worried about travel scams, read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid.
For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Costa Rica, check out this post we wrote that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.
Remember: always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
And be sure to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Monteverde Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Costa Rica. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Costa Rica, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
Monteverde Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Monteverde Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate: Exotic and Unseen Costa Rica, by Jack Ewing
This book gives a fascinating overview of how animals, plants, and people interact with one another in Costa Rica’s rainforests. It’s written by Jack Ewing, a naturalist, and born storyteller. Here, he shares a treasure trove of observations and stories gathered for more than 30 years of living in the country. Chances are, you’re coming to Costa Rica to discover some of the country’s amazing ecosystems. This book will get you excited about it.
In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, by Allan Weisbecker
In 1996, Allan Weisbecker sold all his worldly possessions and set out in search of his long-time surfing friend, Patrick, who went missing somewhere in Central America. Traveling with only his dog, his surfboards, and his truck, Allan’s journey from Mexico to Costa Rica is a memorable one, filled with scarier moments (like evading bandits) and warmer ones (like befriending the locals). It’s really the tale of ultimate friendship.
Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week, by Nadine Hays Pisani
It’s the classic travel tale — overworked professional realizes that the 9-5 to grind isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and sets out to seek greener pastures. This is a nice, light read for when you’re just flaking out on the beach or by the pool. But, along the way, you’ll learn why Costa Rica is one of the happiest places on earth.
Monteverde Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Costa Rica travel and continue planning your trip: