In Spanish, Monteverde means “green mountain” and it is one of the most interesting and most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica. Best know for the world famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, there are a number of other reserves and activities in this area. For nature-lovers and birders Monteverde is a natural destination.
There are no flights to Monteverde. It is about a four hour drive by car from San Jose. While you probably can make it in a regular car, I strongly recommend a renting four wheel drive car. For those who do not want to drive I would recommend a package tours (by tour bus) from San Jose.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
This large reserve is one of the most outstanding wildlife sanctuaries in the Americas and includes eight distinct ecological zones. It protects more than 400 species of birds and over 100 species of mammals. In addition to the spectacular Resplendent Quetzal, you may see the endangered Bellbird, or Emerald Toucanet. There are also 30 species of hummingbirds. (I recommend stopping at the Hummingbird Gallery)
While you can walk the trails with a self-guiding pamphlet available at the entrance, we recommend taking at least one guided tour, as an experienced guide will point out flora and fauna that you would probably not notice yourself. Your hotel can arrange a guide for you. As with most wildlife viewing early morning is the best time to go and you should purchase your entrance ticket or arrange for a guided tour the previous day.
The popularity of the Monteverde Reserve has given rise to the preservation of several other similar areas nearby.
Reserva Sendero Tranquilo
This 200-acre private reserve allows only two groups of 2 to 6 people at one time. Tours, led by excellent bilingual guides, last 3-4 hours. Groups are for the most part silent when in the forest, and visitors are usually pleased with the amount of wildlife they see.
Birds Sanctuary – Paradise for Bell Birds
There are 4.5 miles of trails in a special eco-system with an abundance of birds, mammals and plants, which have been preserved through out the years thanks to the heightened interest in conservation that has spread among the inhabitants of Monteverde. For information and reservations contact Hotel Heliconia.
Santa Elena Forest Reserve
The 765-acre Santa Elena Forest Reserve is located 5 kilometers northeast of Santa Elena. It is at a slightly higher elevation than the Monteverde reserve and tends to be cloudier and wetter, but is also less visited than its better know neighbor. There are over 10 kilometers of trails, with one leading to a lookout point from which you can see Volcán Arenal on a clear day. There are usually local guides on hand, or you can hire one before hand through your hotel. You have the option of buying a self-guided trail map and renting boots at the entrance.
Interesting Shops & Galleries
For arts and crafts, be sure to stop by CASEM, a cooperative of local women who make beautiful embroidered and hand-painted clothing and souvenirs portraying quetzales, golden toads, and other cloud forest flora and fauna. It’s located on the right next to the food co-op as you enter Monteverde.
The Hummingbird Gallery, just before the entrance to the Monteverde Reserve, features the photography of Michael and Patricia Fogden. The Fogden’s spend months at a time with sloths, frogs, snakes, insects, and birds, trying to get just the right shot. They also sell beautiful T-shirts and high-energy snacks for the trail. There are feeders outside the gallery that attract a wonderful variety of hummingbirds. I would recommend that you stop by on your way to or from the Reserve.
Monteverde Cheese Factory
The famous Monteverde Cheese Factory sells 14 types of cheese including: cheddar, jack, Gouda, and Monte Rico. You can also buy great homemade whole-wheat bread and rolls, fresh milk, and cajeta (scrumptious milk fudge) there.
Monteverde Guides Association
Created in 1996 with the main propose of make professional the tour guided service in Monteverde. The organization has improved the knowledge and capacity of the guide service not only in Monteverde, but in other areas like Tortuguero, San Carlos and Cabo Blanco in Guanacaste.
A conservation project with over 700 acres of protected land. A thrilled Canopy Tour, walks thru the virgin Cloud Forest, Bird watching, a Butterfly and Humming Bird Gardens, which ever is your adventure at Selvatura you will enjoy all the cloud forest has to offer.
My Recommended Hotels in Monteverde
I first stayed at this hotel way back in 1989 when there wasn’t much more the this hotel. Even after all this time I still recommend this place. The Hotel Belmar is an amazing boutique hotel on the mountain-side and on the edge of the Cloud Forest and is just a short walk down the hill to town of Santa Elena. They have a pond at the bottom of the hotel that attracts birds and animals and is great place to practice your photography.
The hotel also gives fresh fruits and vegetables from the owner’s ranch and garden at all the meals. They also have a juice bar where you can get juices and milkshakes during the day. The rooms are very nice and bigger then you would think. If you stay on the top floor of the main building you can op floor of the Main Building you get views over the rainforest out to the Pacific Ocean and the Nicoya Peninsula. Even if you don’t the views from the dining room deck are amazing
Plus: Complimentary tea and coffee is available throughout the day.
Before I say anything else about the hotel, If you are looking for a place that has nightlife and more hectic pace than this place is NOT for you! I just wanted to get that out of the way.
Now, about the Monteverde lodge: Its located in the Tilaran Mountain Range at 4,600 ft. above sea level on the edge of the world’s best-known mid-elevation cloud forest. The Lodge is quiet (apart from some of the wildlife! and due to this, you get the true feel of being in a rain-forest. The ambiance at the lodge is quiet ( have I mentioned this yet?), laid back and tranquil and has a open fireplace, which adds to the atmopshere they have created. The reason for the intented solitude is due to the whole ethos of the hotel being aimed at ecology, nature and sustainability.
The lodge itself is set well away from the road and has beautiful grounds. On the grounds are a pool, koi pond, hammock and reading station or walking trails. There is also a butterfly sanctuary just off the lobby. When you stay here, you should look into hiking or bird watching with a naturalist guide as you will see ALOT more then if you go by yourself and its well worth your time and money.You can also do horseback riding, and zip-lining or hiking through the canopy if thats what you prefer.
The rooms at the Lodge were designed to put you “in the forest” while protecting you from the mist and strong wind so characteristic of the area, and I have to say that they accomplished what they sent out to do! All the rooms are spacious with solar heated hot water and private baths.
Plus: It also has some really nice touches such as the complimentary coffee and snacks all day.
Los Pinos – Cabanas y Jardines
For what Los Pinos charges, its a hard deal to beat. The location has great views and is within walking distance of many restaurants and supermarkets inside and just outside of the center of Santa Elena. This is a Family owned & Run Hotel/Cabinas, which I like and prefer, and are very nice & helpful. There is a place to park your car by the cabin and they have Golf carts to take you and your luggage if you get there by bus instead of a car.
There are only 17 cabins and this lets them be spaced out enough between each so you are not on top of other guests. The rooms themselves are clean and roomy and most of the cabins have a kitchen so you can make your own breakfast or dinner if you want. The gardens at the hotel are really nice and there are lots of birds to see and photograph. You may also want to pick up a birding book from Amazon before coming or use an app so you can identify the ones you see. There is a good chance to see agoutis and coatis. Not sure what those are? Here are links to Wikipedia for more info on both the agoutis and coatis.
This place has its own nature trail, which can be hiked quite a ways, some people walk all the way to the hyperponic gardens, which, let me tell you, is not close. All trails are well maintained, with a nice platform overlooking the cloud forest at the top. Try to do some of these trails while you are there.
Tip 1: Be sure to get there during the daylight hours, sunset is around 5:30, as driving here at night is a challenge.
Tip 2: The panaderia across the street has amazing food.