The small town of Monteverde in Costa Rica sits with its head in the clouds amid the stunningly beautiful Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range. Monteverde, which means green mountain, is known for its cloud forests, wildlife, suspension bridges and some of the longest zip-lines in the world.
Best things to do in Monteverde
If you’re looking for active adventure, nature and mystical cloud forests you’ll find them all in Costa Rica’s main ecotourism destination. It also serves up excellent coffee, cheese and ice cream. Here are some top things to do in Monteverde…
Hiking in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
If you’re wondering what to do in Monteverde, then top of you list should be hiking the cloud forest. There are three cloud forests to choose from; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Santa Elena Cloud Forest and The Children’s Eternal Rain Forest.
We were staying at Trapp Family Hotel which is the nearest hotel to Monteverde Cloud Forest so it made sense for us to hike there. We parked up in the small car park near the entrance, paid the entrance fee and stepped into the trees. The mist hangs low as it weaves through the trees and gives the forest an enchanted air.
We walked into the refreshingly cool cloud forest all the while keeping our ears and eyes open for birds and wildlife. There’s a constant buzz, chattering and squawking in the forest. Almost as many sounds to be heard as there are shades of green.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde) was established in 1972 and started out at just 810 acres. Today the high-elevation ecosystem extends to 35,000 acres although only 3% is open to visitors. That’s more than enough for a day’s hiking and we spent around five hours exploring the 13 km network of trails, paths and lookout points.
The trails are well-kept and the signage is good. We never felt lost or worried that we’d never make it out again. Guides can be hired if you want to know more about the wildlife and cloud forest but we felt happy exploring on our own.
Hanging Bridges and Waterfalls
We crossed a hanging bridge where we could look down onto the trees and foliage from above. We discovered waterfalls, giant trees and lookout points although we couldn’t actually see much because the view was shrouded in clouds. I guess that’s a cloud forest for you…
Cloud Forest plants
There’s a massive amount of flora and fauna in Monteverde Cloud Forest with some trees playing host to hundreds of species of plants, mosses and ferns. There are over 400 different kinds of orchid alone. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it’s Costa Rica’s national flower.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Animals
The forest is home to many animals. We saw a coati as we arrived and there are howler and capuchin monkeys. Five species of cats roam the park including pumas and the endangered jaguar. There are also deer, tapir and sloths, although we didn’t see any. We were lucky to see sloths in La Fortuna and also in Peru in the Amazon Jungle.
Over a thousand species of reptile and amphibian live in the reserve including red-eyed tree frogs, toads and snakes – both poisonous and otherwise. There are also many types of butterfly, creepy crawlies and insects. Think again if you’re squeamish.
If you’re worried about mosquito bites I’ve got you covered. Read my post about how to avoid mosquito bites in the jungle.
If you want a better chance of seeing any of the wildlife, a guide will know the best places to find them. They know the forest better than anyone and will have a scope with them so you can get a closer look without disturbing any wildlife. Obviously there are never any guarantees and you’ll need to find a guide and book prior to your visit.
Birdlife in Monteverde Cloud Forest
Monteverde cloud forest is a birder’s paradise with around 400 different species to be spotted. The rare Resplendent Quetzal can sometimes be seen during mating season and there are scarlet macaws and many other more common birds.
The Continental Divide
The Continental Divide extends from Canada right down to Argentina passing through the Monteverde cloud forest. At the park’s lookout point you can see where the water divides and flows off to either the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific. Well you can on a clear day – this was our view!
Read more: A Cost Rica Adventure
What is a Cloud Forest?
A cloud forest is like a rainforest except the altitude is much higher, usually in the range of 3,000 to 8,000 feet. Monteverde is 4662 feet above sea level.
Due to the higher altitude it’s much cooler, extremely humid and mostly enveloped in mist or cloud. Because of the moisture levels, many epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants) such as ferns, moss, air plants, and orchids are found in abundance throughout the forest.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Entrance Fee
Entry into the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve costs USD $20 per person for foreigners and USD $7 for nationals. They take both cash (USD and colones) and credit cards. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is currently run by a not-for-profit group. An additional USD $20 is payable for a half day guided cloud forest tour which includes transfers to and from the reserve.
Ceiba pentandra aka a broccoli tree
The reserve is open daily from 07:00 to 16:00 hours.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Maps
Monteverde Cloud Forest maps are available at the entrance. However, they prefer you to take a photo on your phone as part of their sustainability effort. They’ll ask what you’re interested in seeing and mark it out on the whiteboard map so you can take a shot and refer to it on your phone en-route. What a great idea – more places should do this.
We visited Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in September towards the end of the rainy season which is technically from June to October. The temperature was comfortable and it didn’t rain. Go earlier in the day to avoid showers.
Although it was a dry day we didn’t see more than a dozen other people during our hike. At times it felt like were the only people there. Despite not seeing huge amounts of wildlife this was one of my favourite things to do in Monteverde and I’d whole heartedly recommend it.
The Hummingbird café near the entrance sells coffee and snacks and there’s a toilet there. There are none in the reserve.
What to take with you
Don’t forget to take a water bottle for your water – ideally one with a looped handle to attach to your backpack. Don’t be that person using a plastic single use bottle.
Binoculars or scope
I took all these pictures with my Panasonic Lumix DC-TZ200 camera which has an amazing x 30 Leica lens but is small and light too. The perfect travel camera.
A waterproof jacket – the weather can change quickly
My Saloman waterproof walking shoes were perfect for this hike.
Almost as important as good hiking shoes are good socks. I like Darn Tough socks which last for years and are some of the comfiest walking socks I own. (no seams)Craghopper long hiking trousers
A fleece or light jacket – it gets chilly in the evenings throughout the year
I used my smaller backpack by my favourite backpack brand Osprey. The Osprey Daylite pack was big enough for carrying everything I needed including my waterproof jacket, cap and camera gear but also small enough to be comfortable and light.
Read my review about the bigger Osprey Farpoint Backpack which is great for travelling.
More things to do in Monteverde
There are loads more things to do in Monteverde. We only had a couple of days to explore so couldn’t fit everything but here’s a range of more activities to suit various interests.
Monteverde Hanging Bridges
Most of cloud forest life is found in the upper levels of the tree canopy so it makes sense to get up high and take a suspension bridge tour. Some bridges are up to 60 metres high and 150 metres long which offer fabulous views of the cloud forest canopy. If you want a better chance of seeing wildlife go early from 06:00 to 09:00 hours.
Looking down from the hanging bridge
If you’re just heading to Monteverde for just a day, canopy tours can be arranged through operators from San Jose which take in a variety of suspension bridges, nature trails and even zip-lines. It’s a great way of seeing the best bits that Monteverde has to offer in one hit.
Canopy Zip Line Tours
If you’re looking for an adrenaline hit then Monteverde’s got you covered with the longest, scariest and highest zip lines through the tree canopy. Adventure lovers should try the zip lines at Selvature Adventure park or Sky Trek Monteverde near to the Santa Elena Reserve. Be sure to book in advance.
Monteverde Orchid Garden
There are over 1,300 varieties of orchid in Costa Rica. Head to Monteverde Orchid Garden to get a better looks at the delicate flowers, from the tiniest orchid on the planet to vivid coloured and faintly freckled varieties. A 35-minute guided tour will teach you more about Costa Rica’s national flower than you thought possible.
Entry costs just USD $12. The Monteverde Orchid Garden is open every day from 08:00 to 17:00 hours
If you like the Orchid Garden you may also want to visit Monteverde Butterfly Garden.
Watch the sunset from Cerro Plano View Point
One of the best places to see the sunset is at the top of the Tilaran mountain range. You can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean from the Cerro Plano View Point and it’s one of the best places to catch a sunset. So I’m told – when we were there it was too misty to see much but on a clear day the view’s a stunner. You’ll need a car or taxi to get there.
Monteverde Cheese Factory
In 1951, a Quaker community from Alabama in the United States made their way to Costa Rica to escape military draft. They settled in Monteverde and did what they know best – dairy farming. Hence the reason for the fabulous cheese and ice-cream you’ll enjoy in Monteverde.
Monteverde’s Cheese Factory was founded in 1953 and the tour will teach you about the production of Monteverde’s delicious dairy products with sample tastings of cheese, yoghurt and delicious ice cream. The settlers also had the foresight to set aside an area of the cloud forest for conservation.
Wildlife and Nature Parks
If you don’t see much of Monteverde’s wildlife during a hike in the cloud forests – they like to hide – then visit one of the wildlife parks like Monteverde Frog Pond or the Bat Jungle.
Horse riding in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
If you want to get out in Monteverde’s countryside but don’t want to walk then seeing it from horseback is the next best thing. This 4-hour excursion will take you along the continental divide with wonderful views of the countryside and the Gulf of Nicoya. Amble along quiet roads and tracks away from busy tourist areas spotting wildlife on the way.
Check rates and availability for exploring Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve on horseback.
Coffee, Chocolate and Sugar Cane Tours
Coffee beans on the tree
Costa Rica is renowned for its amazing coffee – it’s the country’s biggest export. Get an insight into how coffee, chocolate and sugar cane is produced and processed on a tasty tour. There are a few tour options but two of the best are El Trapiche which’ll take you on an ox-drawn cart ride and you may get the chance to pick some coffee beans. The tour lasts around three hours. Check rates, reviews and availability.
The Don Juan Tour is a family run business and they offer four daily tours. The tour teaches visitors the entire process behind coffee, chocolate and sugar cane. From the bean to cup. Don Juan Tour has a Certificate of Sustainable Tourism.
Where to stay in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Santa Elena is the nearest town to Monteverde cloud forest. Santa Elena accommodation is varied and ranges from small boutique hotels to hostels and lodges. The small town has a choice of restaurants, bars and cafes and lots of shops selling tours and outdoor and activity clothing.
We stayed at the Trapp Family Hotel which is the nearest hotel to Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve. We could look out over the grounds to the forest from our bedroom window and the room was spacious. Food in the restaurant was very good and the staff were friendly and helpful. The reserve entrance is approximately 1 km from the hotel.
Monteverde is wet most of the year but drier December- April. We were there in September and only experienced a little rain. Rainy season is April – November. Temperature is an average high of 65° and refreshingly cool with rain or mist.
How to Get Around Monteverde
Bus – The bus is the cheapest way to get around Monteverde. One runs between downtown Santa Elena, the Monteverde Cloud Forest, and Curi-Cancha Reserve several times a day for $1 USD each way. You can get picked up anywhere in downtown Santa Elena.
There’s also a private shuttle service that will pick you up at your accommodation and take you the Santa Elena Reserve for a few USD. Your hotel/hostel will call them for you.
Taxi – You can get taxis anywhere in Santa Elena and Monteverde. The prices are set a list of prices is displayed in the taxi.
Driving in Costa Rica – La Fortuna to Monteverde
For the drive from La Fortuna to Monteverde the best roads to take are Route 142 to Tilaran, then Route 145 to 606. The drive takes about 3.5-4 hours and the roads are a mix of paved and dirt surfaces. The drive from La Fortuna is rugged at best and twisting, pot-holed and rutted at worst. We were glad we’d hired a 4×4 car and a couple of times during our trip we’d have been scuppered without it.
For car hire we like to compare prices at RentalCars Connect
The ferry which crosses Lake Arenal is for foot passengers only so you’ll need to drive all the way around the lake. The last leg of the journey is the shortest distance but takes the longest amount of time. We had to drive very slowly in places.
Read more: The best things to do in La Fortuna
On a positive note the views are spectacular and the poor road puts a lot of people off so the place isn’t over-run with hordes of tourists. Monteverde Cloud Forest makes the bone-shaking drive totally worth it.
So, that’s everything you need to know to have an amazing time in Monteverde, Costa Rica. What’s top of your list of things to do in Monteverde?
Planning your Costa Rica Road Trip
We were guests of Trapp Family Hotel for two nights. All other expenses we paid for ourselves including flights, tours, meals and car hire.