Tucked away towards the center of the country, you will spend several hours driving to arrive in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Despite the fact that it is one of the country’s top tourist destinations, the roads remain unpaved, and they curve along the mountainsides as they climb higher and higher into the luscious cloud forest that awaits you. Take it slow, and enjoy the journey. The drive is worth it- Monteverde is amazing.
When most people say “Monteverde” they typically mean the whole area around the actual National Park of Monteverde. Santa Elena is the city which is a “hub of activity” with restaurants, hotels/hostels, supermarkets, shops and the Amigos bar. Although the area is quite small, it is brimming with things to do. If you love to hike and be out in nature, this is the place for you.
If you decide to take the trek to Monteverde, the following list will help ensure that you make the most of your time in the area…
1. Go zip-lining or walk the suspension bridges
Monteverde is known for its magical cloud forest, and two great ways to experience this forest are either to zip-line through it, or to walk in the sky while crossing the incredible suspension bridges. Zip-lining will take you zooming through the canopies and across open expanses where you feel as if you’re a bird, soaring through the open sky. The suspension bridges will also take you to amazing heights, but with these you will walk through at your own pace, which lets you look around longer and soak in all the details. Both experiences will get your heart beating and will leave your mouth dropping open in amazement…and if you’re really gutsy, be sure to try the Tarzan swing towards the end of your zip-lining experience. This swing will be one of the most terrifying, yet exhilarating, experiences of your time in Costa Rica.
There are several places which offer these services, and you can book a tour ahead of time while walking through Santa Elena. I chose Selvatura Adventure Park and was 100% satisfied with the experience.
2. Hike Curi Cancha Nature Reserve
Curi Cancha Nature Reserve is full of wildlife, easy walking trails, and spectacular scenery. The trails are well-marked and the rangers at the entrance will help you select the route that’s best for you. Every time I have visited this park, I have been lucky enough to see the cute pizotes (they look like a raccoon’s cousin) hanging out around the picnic tables, as well as dozens of hummingbirds buzzing around the feeders in the trees. Curi Cancha is up a small dirt road just to the left of the Monteverde Cheese Factory. You can always stop here before or after your hike for a sweet treat or something more substantial to eat.
3. Climb the hollowed out strangler trees
While hiking around, you will see many tangles of vines covering trees. If you get closer and stick your head into the vines, you may be delighted to find out that some of these masses are hollow within, and very easy to climb. “Strangler trees”, as they are called, start out as a seed in the branches of existing trees, and over hundreds of years they grow down and cover the tree, suffocating it until eventually the tree within dies and decomposes, leaving behind a natural tree-ladder. If you decide to climb up these central tunnels, you can look out the “windows” at the forest beyond and depending on the tree, you may be able to climb all the way up to the top and emerge out in the canopy above for the view of a lifetime. There are strangler trees all around the area’s cloud forests, but I found at least half a dozen to explore in Curi Cancha alone.
4. Take a night tour
A night tour offers a whole new perspective on the beautiful forests you have already explored during the day. It is incredible to see the different creatures which come out at night, and to also find the daytime creatures curled into a ball and sleeping in the branches. There are many places which offer night tours in both English and Spanish, and they typically start around 6pm, just after sunset.
5. Stop at Stella’s Bakery
Stella’s is an absolute must if you are anywhere near Monteverde. Located shortly before the Curi Cancha Nature Reserve, it offers a delectable menu with both savory and sweet items, as well as juices, teas and coffees. The best part about Stella’s is the wide variety of birds which come to the feeder just outside of the main eating area. In the time it takes you to drink a coffee, you will probably see over a dozen different exotic birds right outside the window!
6. Catch your own fish dinner
If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, continue past Monteverde towards the town of San Luis and go catch your own fish dinner at the Rancho de Lelo. On the drive, you wind down into the valley and see the San Luis Waterfall in the distance, before eventually passing the school and curving towards the right to find the sustainable Rancho, which is actually a project in conjunction with the University of Georgia. The drive is only about 15-20 minutes beyond Monteverde, but as we made our way there, my passengers began to exclaim that we couldn’t possibly be on the right track… until we came upon the sign below, and then entered our own personal paradise. One thing I learned from my two years in Costa Rica is that you can’t judge a place based on the appearance.
Places to stay:
Santa Elena / Monteverde has many options of places to stay, ranging from hostels to bed and breakfast hotels. Two places I highly recommend, due to their hospitality and wonderful owners, are the Monteverde Rustic Lodge, and Cabanas Valle Campanas. Both are owned by Costa Rican families, and have beautiful accommodations which are only about a 5 minutes drive from the city center.
Many visitors spend a few short days in Monteverde, and if you are one of them, make sure to keep this list in mind. These six suggestions will help you have a unique and memorable experience, and when you leave you will know you have made the most of your visit to Monteverde, Costa Rica.
Have you ever been to Monteverde? What were some of your favorite things you did while there?