Last updated on May 31st, 2020 at 08:59 am EST
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We love Monteverde Costa Rica
If you’ve read our blog post Must-Know Info About La Fortuna Costa Rica From Longtime Residents, you already know that La Fortuna is our favorite destination in Costa Rica, mainly because it’s one of two places in Costa Rica we call home. This being said, there have been plenty of times when we needed to get away from La Fortuna, and whenever that feeling hit, more often than not, we ended up in Monteverde–La Fortuna’s neighbor across the pond (a.k.a., Lake Arenal). As a result, we’ve been to Monteverde on numerous occasions, each time staying at new hotels, touring new attractions, and dining at new restaurants. Though we loved Monteverde the first time we visited more than a decade ago, following countless subsequent visits, it’s now our second favorite destination in Costa Rica. While the area’s biologically diverse, natural environment draws in most travelers, what brings us back time and time again is the town’s down-to-earth vibe, an understated coolness that makes for a pleasant visit and remains unchanged since the first day we rolled into town.
Monteverde basics: What to expect
A sample of our personal photos from around Monteverde Costa Rica:
Atmosphere and presence of tourism
Despite the countless obvious examples of tourism (hotels, adventure parks, souvenir shops, tourism offices, etc.) that exist in and around town, Monteverde doesn’t feel touristy. At least when compared to a place like La Fortuna that’s usually abuzz with a lively, tourism-fueled energy. This is likely due to the fact that while destinations like La Fortuna sell adrenaline-packed adventures (like white-water rafting and canyoning) and combo tours that promote packing numerous experiences into a short amount of time, tourism in Monteverde invites gentle nature exploration. With the exception of thrilling zip-lining tours, of which there are several worth trying in Monteverde (you can learn about some of them here), most of the destination’s top experiences involve getting to know the cloud forest during low-key, slow-paced tours and activities.
Establishments in Monteverde mirror the town’s quiet demonstration of tourism. Accommodations in the area range from inexpensive hostels to mid-range hotels, and, with the exception of a handful of high-quality places you can stay at, luxury is practically non-existent. Most accommodations take the form of small rustic lodges or villas. Dining opportunities in and around town are equally modest. Family-style soda restaurants and average-priced eateries outnumber upscale restaurants. If you’re traveling on a budget and are bound for Monteverde, rest assured, the destination’s economical approach to tourism means there’s plenty to see and do within your means.
It’s worth noting that Monteverde doesn’t have a notable nightlife. There are certainly places you can grab drinks at after dark, but booze doesn’t draw in travelers to the destination, the region’s biodiversity does. Since most locals and visitors rise early to work at or tour the area’s nature reserves or adventure parks, you won’t find Monteverde’s bars hopping every night of the week.
Apart from at large-scale activity centers in the area such as Sky Adventures’ Park and Selvatura’s Park, where you’ll see most of Monteverde’s tourism is in the downtown core and along Road 620, the road that connects downtown to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Monteverde’s town center, which is called “Santa Elena”, is a geographically small but concentrated place packed with souvenir stores, tourism offices, the town’s most popular bar, and restaurants, including a novel one built around a tree. The town also has a bank, ATMs, a gas station, a medical clinic, pharmacies, a police station, a fire station, a post office, a laundromat, grocery stores, and other services you might want or need to access during your visit.
Language: Is English spoken in Monteverde?
English (broken) is widely spoken in Monteverde. Though most Costa Ricans aren’t bilingual, the majority of locals who work as tour guides, restaurant wait staff, and hotel reception staff in Monteverde are able to converse in Spanish and English. Many other individuals who work in the tourism industry, including drivers and hotel cleaning staff, as well as other townspeople, such as individuals who work at banks, pharmacies, and grocery stores, have at least a basic understanding of English. Since Monteverde’s economy relies heavily on tourism, tourists (and the practice of the English language) is welcome in Monteverde.
A sample of our personal photos from some of the Monteverde hotels we’ve stayed at:
Compared to a destination like La Fortuna, which offers a plethora of diverse accommodation options, Monteverde offers little variety in terms of lodging. Most hostels and hotels in Monteverde provide either a one- or two-story building or a small collection of cabins or villas. Natural wood outshines modern finishes and can be seen in accommodation decor and construction across the use of solid wood doors, wood-paneled walls, and handcrafted wood furniture. Because of the destination’s cooler temperatures, hotel features that come standard elsewhere in Costa Rica, like air conditioning and an on-site pool, are harder to come by in Monteverde. The trade off to Monteverde’s modest hotels is affordable pricing. A bed in a hostel dorm can be obtained for $10/night. A clean, comfortable, and safe room averages $50-100/night. Several hotels in Monteverde recognize Costa Rica’s high and low seasons and change their prices accordingly. Click here for more information about Costa Rica’s high and low seasons, including when is the least expensive time to visit (trips to Monteverde included).
Monteverde accommodations also differ by location. Though most hostels cluster around the downtown core, the quality of accommodations tends to improve as you move out of town. Most hotels worth staying at are found in clusters in the environs, either immediately southwest of Santa Elena’s triangle, immediately north of Santa Elena’s triangle, or along or just off of Road 620. Though these accommodations can sit anywhere from a 1-minute drive to a 10-minute drive outside of downtown Monteverde, most are still considered “Monteverde hotels” by tour operators. This means that the Monteverde tour operators and adventure parks that automatically include complimentary transportation to/from Monteverde hotels with their tours will include a pick-up and drop-off service at these hotels for free. For more information about this topic, please see our related blog post Costa Rica Tour Transportation: Hotel Pick-Ups And Drop-Offs.
A sample of our personal photos from some of the Monteverde restaurants we’ve eaten at:
For a small destination, Monteverde offers several restaurants including a few traditional Costa Rican restaurants called sodas. Soda restaurants serve the most authentic Costa Rican food and offer the lowest meal prices. Other, slightly fancier, restaurants in town fuse Costa Rican cuisine with culinary influences from other countries, including America, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, China, and others. As easily as you can order Costa Rican casado in Monteverde, you can eat pizza, pasta, crepes, quesadillas, sandwiches, or another beloved order from around the world.
You’ll find the highest concentration of restaurants in Santa Elena and along Road 620. Some hotels that sit on the outskirts of town have their own on-site restaurant that’s open to the public. The majority of those restaurants serve Costa Rican cuisine alongside a handful of international meal options too. In general, meal prices at hotel restaurants are higher than meal prices at restaurants in and around Santa Elena.
Tours, activities, and attractions
A sample of our personal photos from some of the Monteverde tours and activities we’ve experienced:
Monteverde is Costa Rica’s most visited cloud forest destination. If you’re interested in nature, hiking, ecosystems, biodiversity, photography, bird-watching, and/or wildlife-spotting, Monteverde is one place in Costa Rica you shouldn’t miss. There’s a lot to see and do around town, though most activities don’t require a lot of time or effort. Come eager to explore Costa Rica’s natural environment (either on your own or with a tour guide) and ready to spend money on reserve entrance fees.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Here’s a list of tours and activities you can experience while in Monteverde Costa Rica:
- Aerial Trams
- Art Gallery Tours
- ATV Tours
- Bungee Jumping
- Canopy Tour (zip-lining)
- Cooking Classes
- Food Tours (i.e., coffee, sugarcane, and chocolate tours)
- Hanging Bridge Tours
- Hiking Tours
- Horseback Riding Tours
- Mountain Biking Tours
- Biological Reserve Tours
- Night Tours
- Rappelling Tours
- Superman Cables
- Tarzan Swings
- Tree Climbing Tours
- Waterfall Visits
- Wildlife Exhibit Tours
Popular adventure centers, parks, reserves, and hiking spots in the area include:
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve (Reserva Monteverde): a privately-owned biological reserve that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hiking and/or bird-watching, as well as guided night tours
- Santa Elena Cloud Forest Biological Reserve (Reserva Santa Elena): a privately-owned biological reserve that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hiking and/or bird-watching
- Children’s Eternal Rainforest (Bosque Eterno de los Niños), Bajo Del Tigre Sector: a privately-owned reserve that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hiking and/or bird-watching, as well as guided night tours
- Hidden Valley (Valle Escondido): a privately-owned reserve that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hiking and/or bird-watching, as well as guided night tours and permaculture tours
- Curi-Cancha Reserve (Reserva Curi-Cancha): a privately-owned reserve that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hiking and/or bird-watching, as well as guided night tours and permaculture tours
- Ecological Sanctuary (Santuario Ecológico): a privately-owned reserve that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hiking and/or bird-watching, as well as guided night tours, coffee tours, and cooking classes
- Aguti Wildlife Refuge (Aguti Refugio de Vida Silvestre): a privately-owned reserve that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hiking and/or bird-watching
- Monteverde Sky Adventures Park: a privately-owned, large-scale adventure park that’s open to the public for guided aerial tram rides, guided zip-lining canopy tours, guided tree climbing tours, and guided or self-guided hanging bridges tours
- Selvatura Park: a privately-owned, large-scale adventure park that’s open to the public for guided zip-lining canopy tours, guided butterfly garden and hummingbird garden visits, guided reptile and amphibian exhibition visits, and guided or self-guided hanging bridges tours
- 100% Aventura Adventure Park: (a privately-owned, medium-scale adventure park that’s open to the public for guided zip-lining canopy tours, guided ATV tours, and guided hanging bridges tours
- Extremo Park: (a privately-owned, medium-scale adventure park that’s open to the public for guided zip-lining canopy tours, guided tarzan swings, guided bungee jumps, and guided horseback riding tours
One of the first things you should do if you’re planning a trip to Monteverde is decide which tours and activities interest you the most. All of the activity/adventure parks in Monteverde (i.e., those noted above) sell combo tours that allow you to pick the experiences that interest you the most and combine them into a half-day or full-day excursion. The most common experiences to be grouped together and sold as combo tours include zip-lining tours, hanging bridges tours, aerial tram rides, and exhibit visits (i.e., butterfly garden visits, hummingbird garden visits, and reptile and amphibian exhibit visits).
Don’t miss the free discounts we offer for Monteverde tours, activities, and attraction entrance fees in our discount database:
Here’s a sample of the Monteverde tour discounts you’ll find in the database:
Getting to and from Monteverde Costa Rica
Monteverde sits an approximate 2.5-hour drive from Costa Rica’s SJO Airport (near San Jose) and LIR Airport (near Liberia). Transportation options to and from Monteverde via either airport include:
Since Monteverde does not have a domestic airport, unfortunately air travel to and from the destination is not an option.
Though most people travel to Monteverde from San Jose or Liberia, the third most visited destination to precede or follow a visit to Monteverde is La Fortuna (Arenal). Transportation options between Monteverde and La Fortuna include all of the options listed above, as well as:
Map of Monteverde Costa Rica
The main roads that connect with downtown Monteverde (a.k.a., Santa Elena) are either paved or comprised of pressed gravel. These include:
- Road 606 (from the north via Road 145 and Tilaran): This road enters Santa Elena from the north. It begins where it meets Road 145, the road that departs for Monteverde from Tilaran, roughly 15 kilometers before Santa Elena.
- Road 606 (from the south via Guacimal and Highway 1): This road enters Santa Elena from the south. It begins where it meets Highway 1, Costa Rica’s main highway, approximately 38 kilometers before Santa Elena.
- Road 620 (from the east via the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve): This road enters Santa Elena from the east. It begins at the entrance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and ends 5 kilometers down the road in Santa Elena.
If you plan to enter Monteverde from the north, you’ll find Road 606 offers a fairly easy drive over a curvy, pressed gravel road. The road is narrow in areas, so approach curves and turns with caution. Some local drivers whip around corners with little concern for oncoming traffic. To avoid damage to rental vehicles caused by pops of gravel, drive at a slow pace. Also, drive slow when it is raining or has recently rained. Pressed gravel roads can become slick when wet and dirt turned to mud can make driving extra slippery.
If you plan to enter Monteverde from the south, you’ll find Road 606 offers a beautiful, scenic drive over primarily paved roads. Along the way you’ll see mountains, deep valleys, and, if you’re lucky, rainbows. Note that this road travels over mountainous sections of cloud forest. It has sharp curves and nears cliffs in places; Driving slow around these areas is a must. Avoid driving this road at night when darkness and fog can make the route unsafe.
Santa Elena’s triangle
Roads in downtown Monteverde (a.k.a., Santa Elena) form a triangle. This is where Road 606 (from the north), Road 606 (from the south), and Road 620 (from the east) meet. Each side of the triangle is a one-way road where traffic flows counterclockwise. While Road 606 extends beyond the top (north) and bottom-left (southwest) corners of the triangle, Road 620 extends beyond the bottom-right (southeast) corner.
Monteverde’s bus station is located in the Centro Comercial Monteverde, a plaza situated along Road 620, approximately 250 meters (a 1-minute drive or steep, 5-minute uphill walk) southeast of downtown Monteverde. Buses arrive into and depart from the station to/from several destinations, most notably San Jose, Tilaran, and Puntarenas.
Getting around Monteverde
Monteverde’s downtown core (a.k.a., Santa Elena) is triangular in shape. The destination’s main roads (Road 606 north, Road 606 south, and Road 620), which are either paved or comprised of flat, grey bricks, shoot off from the triangle in different directions (see above for details). Side roads, which lead to several popular accommodations and attractions, branch off from the main roads. Most side roads are comprised of pressed gravel.
To many travelers’ dismay, Monteverde is a hilly destination that isn’t easy to walk around. Most streets have steep inclines and declines that aren’t overly difficult to maneuver in a vehicle but can be trying on leg muscles. In addition, several area attractions sit on the outskirts of town which are too far to reach on foot. If you won’t have access to a rental car in Monteverde, plan on using local taxi services or public buses to get around. Though major streets around the downtown core have sidewalks (at least on one side of the road), most roads on the outskirts of town do not. Depending on how fast or slow you walk, on average, you can explore Santa Elena’s triangle on foot in about half an hour.
Monteverde doesn’t have public parking lots (there’s talk of changing this) so parking opportunities are typically scarce. There are usually places to park in the plaza known as the Centro Comercial Monteverde, which sits across from the wildlife exhibit known as Herpetarium Adventures Monteverde. Locals often park along the sides of streets, but we don’t recommend this to travelers. Because streets can be narrow, some drivers whip around town quickly, and the town is often shrouded by clouds, street parking poses a risk of damage to rental cars.
Monteverde’s taxi stop is located on the northwest side of Santa Elena’s triangle. The official red taxis you’ll find at the stop can take you wherever you need to travel within the Monteverde region.
One of the most questions we’re asked about Costa Rica itinerary planning is: “How many days should I spend in Monteverde?” While we’d love to be able to deliver a quick and easy response (most resources suggest 1-2 days), the truth is, the most accurate answer depends largely on the types of experiences you want to have in Costa Rica, how long they take, and when they’re available.
To answer these questions for yourself and to formulate your own ideal Monteverde itinerary, follow these 5 steps:
- Determine which things you want to do and see in Costa Rica (i.e., create your Costa Rica bucket list).
- Determine how many of those things you can experience in Monteverde.
- Of the things you can experience in Monteverde, find out how much time you’ll need for each (i.e., determine the duration of each guided or unguided activity you want to participate in).
- Of the things you can experience in Monteverde, find out the daily schedule for each (i.e., determine whether they’re available once daily at a set time, whether they’re available several times daily at set times, or whether they allow you to select your own preferred times).
- Lastly, as if you’re doing a puzzle and each thing you want to experience in Monteverde is its own piece, fill your travel days one by one according to the duration and schedule of each tour or activity. The total number of travel days you fill is how many days you should spend in Monteverde.
Alternatively, if your time is flexible but your budget is tight, follow the steps outlined above but prioritize costs. In other words, once you narrow down the things you want (and are able) to experience in Monteverde, determine the cost of each, then fill your travel days until you run out of funds. How many days you can afford to be active is how many days you should spend in Monteverde.
If you need help identifying which specific tours and activities are available in the Monteverde area, feel free to browse through the various options on our sister site’s Monteverde Tour Discounts page for inspiration. If you click on any tour or activity listing on that page, a new page will open that displays the available start times, the duration, and the cost of the experience. With this information, you’ll be sure to build a Monteverde itinerary chock full of everything you want for your trip and not an item more.
Other things worth knowing about Monteverde Costa Rica
Monteverde and Santa Elena terminology
Santa Elena is the town’s official name, though the destination is colloquially referred to as Monteverde. In general, when people reference “Monteverde” they’re referring to the area at large that encompasses the following:
- Santa Elena, which is sometimes called “downtown Monteverde” or “the triangle”
- Neighborhoods that sit east of Santa Elena including Cerro Plano, Monteverde, and San Luis
- Neighborhoods that sit north of Santa Elena including Perro Negro and La Cruz
- Neighborhoods that sit west of Santa Elena including Barrio Orquideas
On average, Monteverde sits at 1,440 meters above sea level. Since the mountainous destination is full of hills and valleys, some attractions sit at higher or lower elevations.
The primary ecosystem you’ll encounter around Monteverde is cloud forest. Much of the region is covered by dense forest; that which is accessible to the public provides fantastic wildlife-spotting and bird-watching opportunities. Clouds waft throughout the region often, which can make for poor visibility while driving around town, participating in adventure activities, and/or visiting area reserves.
There are plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife in Monteverde. We’ve been fortunate enough to see countless species of migratory and resident birds (including quetzals and hummingbirds), butterflies (including blue morphos), sloths, monkeys, coatis, olingos, kinkajous, agoutis, bats, frogs, lizards, spiders, snakes, and ants all in Monteverde. Though wild cats (including jaguars) inhabit the Monteverde region, they’re incredibly difficult to spot. We’ve seen puma tracks in Monteverde’s forests on more than one occasion, however.
Monteverde’s elevation keeps the destination feeling cooler than most other places in Costa Rica. Temperatures average between 24-28 degrees Celsius but Monteverde can feel colder when its windy or when clouds roll in. This being said, warm and sunny days are a common occurrence, especially during the dry/summer season (typically mid-December to April), as you might suspect. Winds that can be difficult to walk in and/or strong enough to cancel tours and activities are possible throughout the year but most common during the wet/winter/green season (roughly May to mid-December), especially during the few weeks when the seasons change.
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to Monteverde Costa Rica? What did you choose to do in or around town?