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 main 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, stay safe, and save money!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Monteverde
1. Visit the Cloud Forest Reserve
Shrouded in constant mist, this cloud forest is Monteverde’s most popular attraction. It’s home to the world’s largest orchid collection, big jungle cats, thousands of species of plants and insects, as well as the famous Quetzal. Fun fact: the reserve makes up for 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity! Admission is $25 USD.
2. Go on a coffee tour
Take a tour and learn about every stage of the sustainable farming process, from seed germination to roasting. At the end, you’ll visit the Monteverde Coffee Lab and Roastery for a delicious coffee-tasting session! Even if you’re not a coffee drinker (I prefer tea myself), it’s a tour worth doing. Tours last 2.5 hours and cost $38 USD.
3. Take a canopy tour
Costa Rica is a hub for zip lining and adventure sports in the region. Walk across a series of suspension bridges through the treetops or zip line your way around the forest for a birds-eye view of the beautiful landscape. SkyTrek (the company I went with) offers suspension bridge excursions for $53 USD while zip lining is $90 USD.
4. Experience the rainforest by night
A guided night walk offers the chance to spot some of the countless nocturnal animals that call the forest floor home, including tarantulas, armadillos, and stick bugs. It’s a cool way to see a different side of the jungle. Night Walks Santamaria has tours from $28 USD.
5. See the butterfly garden
The Monteverde Butterfly Garden is located between Santa Elena and the Cloud Forest Reserve. Consisting of four separate butterfly gardens containing 40 different species, there’s also a medicinal plant garden and a leafcutter ant colony here as well. It’s both educational and fun. Admission is $18 USD.
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 13 kilometers (8 miles) 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 $16 USD.
2. Swim at San Luis Waterfall
To get to this epic 100-meter (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 ($16 USD).
3. 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.
4. 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 $14 USD.
5. Visit the Orchid Garden
The rainforests of Costa Rica have the highest concentration of orchids in the world. Over 1,400 species grow throughout the country, and 500 of these can be found in Monteverde alone. Started over 30 years ago by a single orchid aficionado, the Monteverde Orchid Garden today houses 450 different species, a good amount of which are in bloom on any given day that you visit. Admission, which includes a guided tour, costs $14 USD.
For more information on other destinations in the country, check out these guides:
Monteverde Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During peak season, hostels cost $11-16 USD per night for a room in a dorm with 4-8 beds. Off-season, prices tend to be about the same, though you can sometimes find beds as cheap as $9 USD.
Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have self-catering facilities. A few also include free breakfast and have pools. Private rooms cost $25-35 USD 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 $10 USD (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 hotel rooms with a private bathroom start at $50-60 USD in peak season. In the off-season, budget rooms start at $25-30 USD. Expect your typical amenities, like TV and air-conditioning. Most hotels also have free breakfast and an outdoor pool.
Airbnb is plentiful around Monteverde with private rooms starting at $35-50 USD. Entire homes/apartments are around $75-100 USD. Expect prices to double if you don’t book in advance.
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.
Note: While you can easily pay for tours and entrance fees with USD, in smaller places such as local restaurants, you’ll need colones (CRC). Prices in this section are in CRC to reflect this.
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 around 3,500-5,000 CRC. Light snacks like fresh juice or fried plantain are less than 2,000 CRC.
Coffee is king here, costing around 1,700-2,000 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 3,500-4,000 CRC. Fast food costs around 4,500 CRC for a burger or sandwich.
Mid-range restaurants have appetizers like ceviche starting from 4,500 CRC and pasta dishes starting from 7,500 CRC. At higher-end restaurants, expect to pay around 10,000-12,000 CRC for a seafood entree and 9,500 CRC for a burger.
Beer costs around 1,500-2,000 CRC, a glass of wine is 3,500-4,000 CRC, and a cocktail is 4,000-5,000 CRC. Bottled water is around 1,000 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 $45 USD per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, taking public buses, cooking some meals and eating some street food, limiting your drinking, and doing mostly free activities like hiking.
A mid-range budget of $110 USD per day 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 $220 USD 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!
Monteverde Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Monteverde is very popular among travelers 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’s much cheaper than guided tours.
- Eat at the sodas – “Sodas” are small family-run restaurants that specialize in inexpensive local meals. 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. It never hurts to ask so be sure to check if you’re a student.
- Pack a water bottle – A reusable water bottle with a filter can 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:
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 $2 USD 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 $30-40 USD. 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 $10 USD while downtown Santa Elena to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest is about $13 USD.
Car rental – Car rentals are surprisingly affordable in Costa Rica. You can rent a car for as little $30-45 USD per day. However, the roads here are not always great and drivers can be aggressive. Make sure you have insurance if you do rent a vehicle.
For the best car rental prices, use Discover Cars.
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°C (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
Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for traveling and backpacking in Central America. Violent crime is rare, however, travelers should still exercise caution. Petty theft (including bag snatching) is one of the most common types of crime here.
Monteverde 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.
Solo female travelers should generally feel safe here, however, the standard precautions apply (never leave your drink unattended at the bar, never walk home alone intoxicated, etc.).
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.
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.
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. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point 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.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have 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 group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
- LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
- Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
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: