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 village in the clouds.
This post was updated March 2020.
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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 and sensitive to any climate changes.
Map of Monteverde, Costa Rica
Monteverde is located in the Corridor of Tilaran in the province of Puntarenas, 1500-1800 meters (5000-6000 feet) in elevation. Monteverde is 140 kilometers (67 miles) from San Jose and 114 kilometers (71 miles) from Liberia.
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 Costa Rican 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 420 AM and 830 AM via Las Juntas Route 145, 5 AM and 130 PM via Sardinal Route 606, 230 PM via Las Juntas 145 and 5 PM via Lagartos. It costs 1,455 colones, 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. A shared shuttle costs $55 – $65 USD per person one way depending on your pick up location. A private shuttle from San Jose and Liberia costs around $220 USD one way for 1-4 people.
Monteverde is about a 3.5 hour drive from San Jose through Sardinal Route 606. From Liberia, it is also about a 3.5 hour drive through Las Juntas Route 145.
Please read our Monteverde road conditions post for up to date, in-depth and detailed information about Monteverde routes and road conditions because Monteverde is one of the destinations where a 4wd/4×4 is highly recommended. If you plan to rent a car, get our Costa Rica car rental discount here.
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 USD 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, Costa Rica
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.
Santa Elena Bosque Nuboso Shuttle Bus
- Santa Elena downtown to Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena: 630 AM, 830 AM, 1030 AM and 12:30 PM. Costs $2 USD per way.
- Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena to Santa Elena downtown: 9 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM and 4 PM. Costs $2 USD per way.
- Reserve in advance at Monteverde Info Center.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Shuttle Bus
- Santa Elena downtown to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: 7 AM, 8 AM, 1030 AM and 130 PM. Costs $3 USD one way.
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to Santa Elena downtown: 11 AM, 2 PM and 4 PM. Costs $3 USD one way.
- Roundtrip costs $5 USD per person. Reserve in advance at Monteverde Info Center.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Public Bus
- Santa Elena downtown to Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve: 6:15 AM, 7:30 AM, 9:30 AM (high season), 1:20 PM and 3 PM.
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve to Santa Elena downtown: 6 AM, 830 AM (high season), 2 PM and 4 PM.
- Costs 700 Costa Rican colones per way.
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 SUV 4wd/4×4 is recommended as the roads aren’t in good conditions.
Monteverde Weather and Best Time to Visit
Monteverde has 2 seasons according to the locals: really rainy and less rainy. It actually does experience typical dry and rainy season like most of Costa Rica but due to its high elevation, it is a lot colder and rainier and may rain throughout the year.
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 80s (29 C) during the day and mid to high 60s (18 C) at night. Even though they are the drier months, there are still spring showers. This area is famous for their rainbows thanks to these sporadic spring showers and drizzles.
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 sprinkle or have light rains during 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 and more drizzly 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 2017 and it poured all day. We have also visited once in August, it didn’t rain as much but it was cold, cloudy and rainy at night. 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.
Whatever time of year you visit, make sure to bring a jacket to Monteverde!
Monteverde 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 Reserve: 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.
Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena: 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 which has easy trails.
We personally love 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, Costa Rica
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 fingered 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!
There are several eco-adventure parks where you can do multiple activities in one day, perfect if you only have one full day. The most popular ones are SkyAdventures and Selvatura Park. Selvatura Park is perfect for those who only have 1 full day in Monteverde because it has ziplining, hanging bridges, butterfly and hummingbird garden and other activities for a well rounded, fun day in the cloud forest.
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. Likewise, there are many hostels and budget places.
Hostel and Budget:
Hotel Claro de Luna is a good clean budget options in town.
Mid range hotels:
Scala Monteverde is a new, 5 bedroom hotel very close to downtown.
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).
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 in Monteverde, Costa Rica
This area has a decent amount of food with lots of traditional Costa Rican places and other cuisines. Even though the area is 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, breakfast, brunch and lunch options. Delicious desserts and bread. One of our favorites.
- Soda Venado: Inside the Moon House B&B, has good Costa Rican food.
- Tree House Restaurant: Has Costa Rican and International.
- Choco Cafe Monteverde: Yummy salads, sandwiches and coffee
- Casa Flora: Good homemade pizza and pasta
- Tramonti: Delicious pizza, very nice atmosphere with lights and good wine
- 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 About Visiting Monteverde
- Most people stay 1-2 days. For 1 full day in Monteverde, most people do either a full day at the adventure parks or a full day hiking the reserves. People who stay longer are usually the birdwatchers.
- Bring a jacket and long pants. At night it gets cold, especially if it’s windy and this area can rain anytime of the year. There are lots of clothing stores in downtown Santa Elena if you forget to bring a jacket.
- 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, 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. Make sure you have a good sturdy tripod.
- Since Monteverde is high in elevation, mosquito repellent is not 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. If you can, visit both!
What to Pack for Monteverde
- 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 USD.
- 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.
Here is a super handy map of Santa Elena, Cerro Plano and surrounding attractions.
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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