Monteverde, Costa Rica 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, it’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 one of the best places in Costa Rica 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.
This post has been updated March 2018.
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- Location and Directions
- Best time to visit and weather
- Cloud Forest Reserves
- Things to do
- Where to sleep
- Where to eat
- Tips for visiting
Monteverde is actually the name of the entire community made up of Santa Elena, the main tourism town and hub and the smaller neighborhood of Cerro Plano.
It 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 that area for its climate (good for dairy farming). They set aside a large tract of land for conservation which is now the Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.
Selected by popular vote as one of the wonders of Costa Rica, it 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.
Monteverde Costa Rica map.
How to get to Monteverde
- 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 Santa Elena. 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, 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 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 Santa Elena. 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. For shared shuttles, we have a 10% discount with Interbus who has a morning and afternoon route. This $54 – $64 depending on your pick up location. Please contact us if you would like to book a shuttle. A private shuttle from San Jose and Liberia cost around $200.
Monteverde is about a 3 hour drive from San Jose through Sardinal Route 606. From Liberia, it is also about a 3-3.5 hour drive through Las Juntas Route 145.
Either route you take will require a high car. The last 20 kilometers or so are not paved, are steep and hilly and have a handful of big potholes. These routes are very windy and curvy, but offer spectacular views. Go slow and enjoy the drive. ***As of March 2018, they are currently renovating the Sardinal Route 606 so you have to take Las Juntas Route 145.***
If you are coming from La Fortuna/Arenal, you can drive or take the taxi boat across Lake Arenal. The trip takes around 3 hours and costs from $25 per person. They offer 2 routes a day, one in the morning around 8 AM and one in the afternoon around 2 PM.
How to Get Around Monteverde
If you do not have a car, you can:
- Take a taxi. There are plenty of taxis 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 as the road getting there and around are completely unpaved.
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. This area 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. When we visited in September, it poured every night. It was sunny in the very early mornings and started raining around 11 AM.
The best time to visit to see birds and Resplendant Quetzals are March – July since it is the Quetzals’ breeding season.
Cloud Forest Reserves
There are 3 cloud forest reserves: 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.
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.
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 the three cloud forest reserves
Things to Do in Monteverde
This area has the perfect mix of nature and adventure. The most popular activity is ziplining since it is said to be birth place of the first zipline and you can soar 1 kilometer over the cloud forest. You can find some of the most extreme canopy tours like at 100% Aventura.
Some other activities are:
Monteverde Night Walk: The cloud forest comes alive at night since many of the animals are nocturnal. If you want to see sloths, it’s best to go on a night walk since only 2-toed sloths live in this area 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!
Read about our favorite things to do in Monteverde!
Where to Stay
If you love lodges, boutique hotels and mountain views, this is the place for you. Many of the hotels in Monteverde are small and cozy with beautiful views of the cloud forest.
Hostel and Budget:
Mid range hotels:
High end hotels:
For an upscale hotel with a nice view, El Establo Hotel is one of our favorites. It’s a fairly large hotel with two pools and restaurants. It has very spacious rooms, all with great views of the cloud forest.
Hotel Poco a Poco is another great option for those who want city conveniences (ac, fast Internet, heated pool).
Hotel Belmar is aluxury hotel with a gym, mountain and Nicoya Peninsula views, elegant wood furnishings a restaurant on a hill.
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
This area has a decent amount of food with lots of traditional Costa Rican places and other cuisines. Even though the area 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.
- Orchid cafe: Great coffee and healthy options
- El Trapiche cafe: Coffee shop
- Soda Venado: Inside the Moon House B&B, has good Costa Rican food.
- Tree House Restaurant: Has Costa Rican and International.
- Ice cream: Next to Amy’s Restaurant. There is also a cheese factory that has good ice cream too. Since this area is famous for dairy farming, their cheese and ice cream is very good!
What To Know
- There is a ton of wildlife in this area but it is not a zoo. You will need to hire a guide if you really want to see wildlife.
- Most people stay 1-3 days and do a full day activity like ziplining. The second day they visit one of the reserves. 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.
- 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.
- Hair dryer.
- 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.
- If you’re visiting 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.
- 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. Make sure you have a good sturdy tripod.
- Since Monteverde is high in elevation, mosquito repellent is not absolutely necessary.
- A common question we get is if they should visit Monteverde or Arenal. Both are very different so you will need to read up on them to decide. Check our post comparing Arenal and Monteverde to see which one is right for your itinerary.
Here is a super handy map of Santa Elena, Cerro Plano and surrounding attractions.
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Monteverde Costa Rica Video
Check out our short video to see Santa Elena town, some of the cloud forest reserves and wildlife!
Read other Costa Rica guides here!
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