Monteverde’s first became famous due to a National Geographic article, naming them the best place in the world to see Resplendant Quetzals. Thanks to this mention, Monteverde’s popularity among nature and bird lovers around the world soared. This small village up in the mountains of Costa Rica suddenly became a tourist hot spot as visitors flocked to see the Quetzals and explore a very unique ecosystem: the cloud forests.
It’s an excellent destination for first timers and even seasoned Costa Rica travelers with plenty of adventure and nature. If you’re planning on visiting, here are our Monteverde travel tips so you are prepared for your trip to the forest in the clouds.
Monteverde Travel Tips
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- About Monteverde
- Best time to visit and weather
- Get in
- Get around
- Cloud Forest Reserves
- Things to do
- Where to sleep
- Where to eat
- Tips for visiting
As one of the top eco-tourism destinations in Costa Rica, you won’t find all inclusive resorts, luxury condo towers or well maintained roads. Monteverde is actually the name of the entire community made up of Santa Elena, the main tourism town and hub as well as the smaller neighborhoods like Cerro Plano.
Many people get confused about this and think Monteverde is the name of the town, but it is not. The main town is Santa Elena and the smaller town is Cerro Plano. Monteverde refers to the entire region encompassing the cloud forests and towns.
Monteverde was founded by a group of Quakers from the US, looking for a peaceful place to live in the 1950’s. They chose Costa Rica for having no army and Monteverde for its climate (good for dairy farming). They set aside a large tract of land for conservation after discovering the cloud forests which is now the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.
Selected by popular vote as one of the wonders of Costa Rica, Monteverde is also one of the places to see in the world before it disappears. The cloud forests are highly vulnerable with climate change as the major threat.
Weather and best time to visit
Monteverde has 2 seasons according to the locals: really rainy and less rainy. It experiences typical dry and rainy season like most of Costa Rica but due to its high elevation, it is a lot colder and rainier.
If you don’t want to run into rain or like cold weather, then January – April are your best months. March and April are the hottest and driest with temperatures in the mid 80’s during the day and mid to high 60’s at night. Even though they are the dry season months, there are still spring showers. Monteverde is famous for their rainbows that are normal to see in dry season.
Dry season starts around mid December to beginning of May and rainy season starts around mid May to beginning of December. But like I said earlier, it can rain any time of the year with spring showers mostly in dry season.
We visited for a week in March and had several spring showers, mostly in the late afternoon. It sprinkled a bit in the mornings as well and it got very windy at night. But don’t fret, the showers didn’t last long! It would sprinkle for about 5-10 minutes and then clear up.
September, October and November are very rainy months. We visited in November 2016 and it poured rain all day. We have also visited once in August, it didn’t rain but it was cold and cloudy.
There are several ways to get to Monteverde. Do note that Monteverde does not have its own local airport and there are no car rental agencies in Monteverde but there are plenty of public buses.
- From San Jose: There is a bus from San Jose at 6:30 AM and 2:30 PM, it takes 5 hours and costs 2,680 colones. The bus company is Transportes Tilaran and leaves from Ave 7-9.
- From Liberia: You will need to take a bus from Liberia to Canas, Canas to Tilaran, Tilaran to Monteverde. The bus from Liberia to Canas takes 2 hours and there is one every half an hour from 8:30 – 3 PM. Canas to Tilaran buses are at 6, 730, 815, 9, 1030, 12, 1 PM, 1:50 PM, 2:35 PM, 3:15 PM, 4PM and 6 PM. From Tilaran to Monteverde there are 4 buses that cost 1500 colones: 4 AM, 8:30 AM, 12:30 PM and 5 PM.
- From Puntarenas: There is a bus from Puntarenas to Monteverde at 8, 1:15 PM, 1:30 PM and 2:10 PM that costs 1,455 colones. This takes 3 hours and leaves in front of the Paseo de los Turistas with TransMonteverde.
- From Arenal/La Fortuna: Take the 3 hour bus from Fortuna to Tilaran, then Tilaran to Monteverde. There is a bus at 8 AM and 4:30 PM at the bus terminal in front of the Fortuna park with Transportes Tilaran-San Carlos S.A.
- You can take private or shared shuttles to your hotel in Monteverde. Interbus usually has a morning and afternoon route and costs from $54 – $64 depending on your pick up location. Get 10% off your Interbus transfer here. A private shuttle from San Jose and Liberia can cost around $200.
- From San Jose, it is about a 3 – 3.5 hour drive (depending on traffic in San Jose). From Liberia, it is also about a 3-3.5 hour drive.
- There are 2 main ways to get to Monteverde: the Sardinal route or Las Juntas route. Sardinal is closer to San Jose, Las Juntas is closer from Liberia.
- Either route you take will require a 4×4. The last 20 kilometers or so are not paved, are steep and hilly (as you are going up and around mountains) and have a handful of big potholes. These routes are very windy and curvy, but offer spectacular views. Go slow and enjoy the drive.
- See what the road conditions in Monteverde are like in this post.
If you are coming from La Fortuna/Arenal, you can drive or take the taxi boat across Lake Arenal. They will first take you in a car to Lake Arenal where you will board a boat. The boat ride across the lake is around 30 minutes and then they pick you up and take you to your hotel in Monteverde. The trip takes around 4 hours and costs $25 per person. They offer 2 routes a day, one in the morning around 8 AM and one in the afternoon around 2 PM.
If you do not have a car, you can:
- Take a taxi. There are plenty of taxis in Monteverde, most in Santa Elena town.
- Walk if you are close to Santa Elena town or in Cerro Plano. It is quite hilly so put on your good walking shoes.
- Book tours with transportation included.
- Take the bus to the attractions. There are buses to Santa Elena Reserve, Monteverde Cloud Forest and Curi-Cancha Reserve.
The main road through Santa Elena town and Cerro Plano is paved but other than that, all the other roads are unpaved and very bumpy. This is why a 4×4 is recommended for Monteverde as the road getting there and around are completely unpaved.
Cloud Forest Reserves
There are 3 cloud forest reserves in Monteverde: Monteverde Cloud Forest, Santa Elena Cloud Forest and Children’s Eternal Rainforest. If you don’t have time to visit all, you must visit at least one of them. You can go to any of them on your own or hire a guide which is recommended to learn more about the forest and see wildlife.
Monteverde Cloud Forest: The most popular cloud forest reserve of the 3. It has well maintained trails that lead to nice viewpoints, a hanging bridge and waterfall. You can spend a whole day walking through this reserve. Read our guide to Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Santa Elena Cloud Forest: This reserve sits higher in elevation so it’s wetter and cloudier. There is a trail that leads to a spectacular view of Arenal Volcano (on a clear day). You can also spend a whole day in the reserve if you’d like since there are many trails.
Children’s Eternal Rainforest: This is the biggest private reserve in Costa Rica with 4 different stations. We visited Bajos del Toro station, a station with very easy hiking trails but if you want a longer hike, the other 3 are good choices.
Most people only visit one so if you’re choosing between the 3, Monteverde is the most popular and can get pretty crowded. We personally loved Santa Elena the most, the scenery was just incredible and the view of Arenal Volcano is amazing. Children’s Eternal Rainforest is not as crowded so that’s an excellent option if you don’t want to be around a lot of people. Read our guide to comparing Monteverde, Santa Elena and Children’s Eteranal Rain Forest to help you choose.
You can see wildlife such as Resplendant Quetzals and other trogon birds, sloths, agoutis and coatis. If you really want to see wildlife or a certain bird, definitely hire a guide.
Things to do
Monteverde has the perfect mix of nature and adventure. The most popular activity is ziplining since Monteverde is said to be birth place of the first zipline and you can soar 1 kilometer over the cloud forest. Now that’s an adventure!
Some other activities to do in Monteverde are:
Night Walk: The cloud forest comes alive at night since many of the animals are nocturnal. If you want to see sloths in Monteverde, it’s best to go on a night walk since only 2-toed sloths are in Monteverde and they are largely nocturnal.
Bird watching at Curi-Cancha Reserve: For bird watchers, you must go to Curi-Cancha Reserve. This reserve has hiking trails and the bird watching is spectacular. We saw toucans, Resplendant Quetzals, hummingbirds, agoutis and spider monkeys!
SkyAdventures has hanging bridges, an aerial tram and canopy tour. Selvatura Park has a canopy tour, tarzan swing, hanging bridges, a hummingbird garden and insect exhibit. An all day adventure isn’t cheap but it’s worth the money. The whole day package at Selvatura is $116 and the canopy is $50.
For more excitement, check out Monteverde Extremo as they have a bungee jump!
Where to stay
If you love lodges, boutique hotels and mountain views, Monteverde is the place for you. Many of the hotels are small and cozy with beautiful views of the cloud forest.
There are also a handful of hostels so Monteverde is great for backpackers as they can certainly visit on a budget. The hostels are located in town and many hotels are outside of Santa Elena or Cerro Plano. El Pension, Monteverde Hostel Backpackers and Santa Elena Backpackers are highly recommended hotels that are in town and next to restaurants, shops, the bus station and tour companies so it’s very convenient. A bed in a dorm goes from $10-15.
For an upscale hotel with a nice view, El Establo Hotel is our favorite. It’s a fairly large hotel with two pools and restaurants but you never feel like it’s super crowded. The views are gorgeous and the rooms are so comfortable. Another mid range option is the Monteverde Country Lodge, that one doesn’t have as good of views but it’s very cozy and great for families.
If you prefer to have a “home away from home” experience, check out Airbnb (get $20 credit here). We stayed at 2 different Airbnbs in Monteverde and absolutely loved it. We had a whole apartment to ourselves and stayed with locals who gave us awesome tips and advice for where to eat, where to see wildlife, etc. Read our guide to using Airbnb in Costa Rica so you’re prepared.
Where to eat
Monteverde has a decent amount of food with lots of traditional Costa Rican places and other cuisines. Even though Monteverde is very touristic, it is not crazy expensive as you’d expect. You can still find good priced sodas (traditional Costa Rican restaurants) and a variety of other food.
Here are our favorites.
- Restaurante Sabor Tico: Best place for traditional Costa Rican food, not super expensive.
- Toro Tino: Amazing steak restaurant. Also has pasta, salads and burgers.
- Soda Venado: Inside the Moon House B&B, has good Costa Rican food.
- Tree House Restaurant: Has Costa Rican and International.
- Monteverde Ice cream: Monteverde is famous for their ice cream and it is a must. This one is right next to Amy’s Restaurant but there is also a cheese factory that has good ice cream too.
Tips for Visiting Monteverde
- There is a ton of wildlife in Monteverde but it is not a zoo. You will need to hire a guide if you really want to see wildlife, otherwise it’ll pretty much all by luck since the cloud reserves are very dense. The trails only go through a tiny portion of the reserves (only like 5% or something) so it is likely you won’t see that much wildlife. It will be worth the money to hire a guide and most guides have telescopes so you can use your phone to take pictures through it. Remember, sloths are hard to see in Monteverde since only 2-toed ones live there and they are mostly noctural.
- You don’t need to stay a week in Monteverde, most people stay 1-3 days and feel like they have enjoyed it enough. Many people do a full day activity like ziplining, the second day they visit one of the reserves and they’re satisfied. People who stay longer are usually the birdwatchers as they’ll stay as long as it takes to see the bird they want to check off their list.
- Monteverde is very touristic and downtown Santa Elena is crowded (there’s actually traffic jams during rush hour). It’s a small area with a huge flow of tourists all throughout the year. It is very popular among backpackers, students and Europeans.
- Bring a jacket and long pants, even in dry season. At night it gets down to the 60’s and with the wind, it is very cold! There are lots of clothing stores in downtown Santa Elena if you forget to bring a jacket.
- What to pack for Monteverde in rainy season:
- A waterproof rain jacket. This is an absolute must. I love my North Face rain jacket.
- Closed toed hiking shoes. If you wear trainers or running sneakers, they will most likely get wet and muddy. Bring a good pair of hiking shoes especially if you’re planning to hike the cloud forest reserves. When we visited Selvatura Park, we wore our KEEN hiking sandals which was fine since we were mostly walking on hanging bridges.
- Some reserves have boots for rent. Santa Elena rents boots for $5.
- Long pants.
- Sweater (if you get really cold like me, a fleece sweater is a good idea).
- Hair dryer (some hotels have one but not all).
- Waterproof gear: backpack, phone cover, etc. This is a must especially if you are a photographer and carrying around camera equipment. You can also get a rain cover for your backpack if it’s not waterproof. We brought our Aqua Quest waterproof backpacks which worked spectacularly.
- They sell ponchos at the souvenir stores but they’re not absolutely necessary if you have a rain jacket and waterproof backpack. The Sky Adventures shop sold ponchos which some people on our tour decided to buy since it was pouring rain when we went ziplining and they didn’t bring a rain jacket.
- If you’re visiting Monteverde in rainy season and want to go ziplining/bungee jump/etc., make sure to contact the tour company. because they may not operate them if it’s thundering and lightning or raining too hard. You also may not want to zipline in the rain, we ziplined at Sky Adventures in November and we couldn’t really see anything ziplining because the rain was too strong and it was super cloudy. Not to mention we got soaked and were freezing. It was a crazy experience though! But every person is different so keep an eye on the weather for activities.
- If you’re renting a car, get a 4×4. TRUST ME! Even if you’re only visiting for 1 or 2 days, you will need a 4×4 to get in and around Monteverde. And if you’re visiting during rainy season, it will be even more necessary as the pot holes get bigger. And remember, there are no car rental agencies in Monteverde so rent it before! Get up to 20% off your car rental here.
- Most of the reserves have binocular for rent but if you’re there to see birds/photograph animals, you must have a telephoto lens. I used a 100-400 mm lens on a crop sensor Canon 80d and was itching to get more length. I saw several people with the Sigma 150-600 and a couple hardcore photographers with prime 600 and 800 lenses. Whatever lens you use, make sure you have a good sturdy tripod (key to sharp photos), unless you are built like the hulk, hiking with a telephoto lens for hours is not comfortable or easy!
- Since Monteverde is high in elevation, mosquito repellent is not absolutely necessary.
- If you want to see Resplendant Quetzals, visit during the months of February – July as it’s their mating season and you can see several quetzals in a tree. When we went in March, we saw 3 males dancing and chirping around 2 females!
Map of Monteverde
Here is a super handy map of Monteverde, including Santa Elena, Cerro Plano and surrounding attractions.
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Check out our short video of Monteverde. You can see Santa Elena town, some of the cloud forest reserves and wildlife!
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