Practical Travel Tips: Monteverde, Costa Rica

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Costa Rica is known for its biodiversity. Monteverde is in the mountains in the northwestern part of Costa Rica.

Caitlin, of the blog Circumnavi-Cait, is doing a 4-year study abroad program and currently is in Costa Rica.  She recently wrote about San Jose, Costa Rica. Here are her tips for those visiting.

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Monteverde is one of the top travel destinations in Costa Rica. It is known for its stunning views, adventure activities, and beautiful hikes. Monteverde was settled by Quakers in the late 1940s when the pacifist group the Meeting of Friends became upset with the war effort. They felt that they could live in peace in Costa Rica as the country is well known for having no military. They worked toward the protection of the forest and played a huge role in why thousands visit Santa Elena and Monteverde each year.

Getting There and Around the Area

The majority of visitors to Monteverde come from Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose, where the main airport is located. The best way to get to Monteverde is by bus or shuttle. There are a few options, including Interbus and Transmonteverde. Interbus is a shuttle service that has pick up locations near the San Jose airport and can get you to Monteverde in about 4 and a half hours hours. An Interbus shuttle will cost you $49 USD per adult per way and $25 USD per child per way. If you are looking for something a bit cheaper, Transmonteverde offers tickets for about $6 USD per person per way. The bus departs from 6:30 am and 2:30 pm every day from the 7-10 Terminal in San Jose and the trip takes about 5-6 hours. Tickets for both services can be found online and Transmonteverde tickets can be purchased at the bus terminal.

If you are looking to take the Transmonteverde bus back to San Jose, make sure to buy your tickets in advance as there are only two buses to San Jose each day that fill up quickly. There are standing room seats, but the journey is long and uncomfortable on your feet.

Note that there are also bus and shuttle options from other popular Costa Rican destinations, such as La Fortuna, Montezuma, and Jaco.

If you are driving to Monteverde, it is recommended that you make sure your car has a GPS. The drive takes about 3 hours from San Jose, but be advised that much of the trip takes place on a narrow deep road up into the mountains. The drive can be difficult, so only consider driving if you are a confident driver.

When in Monteverde, it is possible to walk around the city of Santa Elena as it is small and most hotels and hostels are close to the main area. If you book tours in the area, most include a shuttle to and from your activity. To get to the reserves, book a shuttle at your hotel or at one of the travel companies around town. They are typically about $2 USD per way per person and can pick you up at your hotel before taking you to one of Monteverde’s famous reserves.

What to Do

You absolutely must go to one of Monteverde’s reserves: the Santa Elena Reserve, the Bosque Eterno de los Niños, and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

The Santa Elena Reserve is about a 30-minute drive from the city center and entrance costs $16 USD for adults, $9 USD for students (with a valid ID), and $7 USD for kids. For a general guided walk, the cost is $33 USD for adults, $25 USD for students (with a valid ID), and $20 USD for kids. The reserve has several hiking trails, ranging from beginner hikes that will take about 45 minutes to advanced hikes that will take about 3 hours. In the reserve you may run into coatis, a small mammal native to Costa Rica; Quetzals, a bright green and red bird; raccoons; and more. Most of the hikes feature bridges and nice views, and one has a lookout tower that has a view of the Arenal volcano on a clear day.

Spotting a coati in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. – Photo: (c) 2018 – Caitlin of Circumnavi-Cait

 

Views from a hike in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. – Photo: (c) 2018 – Caitlin of Circumnavi-Cait

The Bosque Eterno de los Niños, or the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, is about a 15-minute drive from the city center, and entrance costs $13 USD for adults, $11 USD for students, $8 USD for children 6-12, and it is free for children 5 and under. However, the reserve offers guided night walks and natural history walks for greater fees.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is about a 20-min drive from the city center and entrance costs $20 USD for adults, $10 USD for students, and $10 USD for children. The reserve has several hikes ranging in distance and difficulty, as well as hanging bridges that the reserve is famous for. Their “La Ventana” scenic overlook has a view of the continental divide, a geographical feature along the main mountain ranges of Costa Rica. Visitors here often run into various mammals and birds.

All 3 reserves require reservations, or simply notice that you are coming. These reservations can be made by hotel/hostel staff or at one of the many travel/tour companies around town. Book your shuttle to the reserve when you book your reservation.

If you are looking for something unique to do on a hike, there is a ficus tree (or choking fig, as the locals call it) a short walk from the city center. There are several webbed ficuses in Santa Elena and Montevede, but this one is the closest free one. The tree takes that shape by growing around another tree and choking it to death until the inner tree eventually disappears, leaving the ficus. To get there, head up the hill past the Hammock House Hostel. Once you pass a hostel called Eddy’s Place turn right up the next street, a gravel street. Keep walking up the steep hill until you see a path that turns right into the woods. Follow the path and the sound of other visitors until you reach the tree. When you get there, take a crack at climbing the odd tree.

 

From the inside of the ficus tree. – Photo: (c) 2018 – Caitlin of Circumnavi-Cait

Costa Rica is well-known for its coffee and chocolate, so consider a coffee and chocolate plantation tour while in Monteverde. The Don Juan coffee tour immerses you in the coffee production process, allowing visitors to pick coffee and view the de-pulping machine, the drying patio, and the roaster. On the chocolate tour at Don Juan’s, visitors participate in the chocolate making process and have the opportunity to try the chocolate and a rich chocolate drink. Pries for this tour start at $35 USD per person.

For thrill-seeking visitors, consider doing a canopy tour with the Selvatura Adventure Park. Their canopy tour boasts 15 zip lines, the last of which is a full kilometer long, and a Tarzan swing. It is located within the Monteverde Cloud Forest, and the views are breathtaking. The tour costs $50 USD for adults, $45 USD for students, and $35 USD for children. You can also add on a superman zip line for $10 USD and purchase a photo package for another $10 USD.

 

Ziplining with friends in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve with Selvatura Adventure Park. – Photo: (c) 2018 – Caitlin of Circumnavi-Cait

Selvatura Adventure Park also offers walks across hanging bridges, a hummingbird garden, a butterfly garden, and a Herpetarium (reptile house). Tours can be booked on their website or with any number of tour companies in Santa Elena.

Where to Stay

Monteverde has a wide range of accommodation options for every traveler, from student hostels to luxury lodges. Some of the nicer hotels include the Los Pinos Cabanas (from $102 USD a night), the Monteverde Lodge & Gardens (from $236 a night), and the Hotel Trapp Family (from $103 USD per night). All feature beautiful views and comfortable rooms.

For budget or student travelers, Santa Elena is home to dozens of hostels. One of the best and cheapest hostels in Santa Elena is Mi Casa Tica. The hostel is located just a few minutes walk from the city center and offers both dorm beds and private rooms. Dorm beds start at $6.40 USD per night, and private rooms start at $18 USD a night. The hostel is clean, cozy, and has nice staff, good wifi, and linens and towels. A complimentary breakfast of eggs, toast, and fruit is also offered every morning. Other great hostel options include Monteverde Backpackers (dorms from $11 USD per night), Santa Elena Hostel (dorms from $17 USD per night), and Sloth Backpackers (dorms from $10 USD per night).

Where to Eat

The hands down best restaurant in Monteverde is Taco Taco. Located right by the town’s supermarket, Taco Taco offers affordable and delicious tacos, chips & salsa, and drinks. A good meal at Taco Taco will cost about $9 USD, and they offer a good selection of cocktails for decent prices.

Chicken tacos and chips & salsa at Taco Taco. – Photo: (c) 2018 – Caitlin of Circumnavi-Cait

Another great restaurant in Santa Elena is the Tree House Restaurant & Café. This restaurant is a bit pricier, but the atmosphere and food is worth the price. They also often offer live music on the weekends. For vegans and vegetarians, or simply anyone looking for good food, check out Paz y Flor, an eclectic restaurant offering a vegan twist on traditional Costa Rican dishes. Also, their brownies are to die for. If you are looking for authentic Costa Rican food, go to Sabor Tico or Restaurante Don Luis.

One of the amazing brownies at Paz y Flor Restaurant in Santa Elena – Photo: (c) 2018 – Caitlin of Circumnavi-Cait

Currency

U.S. dollars are widely accepted in Monteverde, but if you find yourself needing Costa Rican colones while in town, there are several ATM’s where you can take out the local currency.

The current exchange rate is about 565 colones to 1 USD. As for credit cards, they are also widely accepted in Monteverde, especially Visa and Mastercard, but some smaller restaurants and stores may be less likely to take cards, so don’t rely on them.

Weather

Costa Rica is known for having two seasons: dry and rainy, and Monteverde is no exception. May through November are exceptionally rainy, and its dry periods are January through April, although some rain is still common. An umbrella or rain coat are a great idea for Monteverede because even if it isn’t raining, the area is located in the clouds. Monteverde is at a high elevation, so it is cooler than other parts of the country. Most months, the temperature is around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and can be colder up in the reserves, so be sure to bring warmer clothing if you plan to visit Monteverde.

About the Author

Caitlin is a student at the Global College of Long Island University, a four-year program that allows students to pursue a major in Global Studies and live around the world for seven semesters. She is currently living in Heredia, Costa Rica and travels any opportunity she gets. When she isn’t traversing the globe, she is reading as many books as she can get her hands on, kickboxing, or taking as many photos as possible. You can follow her on Instagram at @caitlinepstein and my blog Circumnavi-Cait.

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One Response to "Practical Travel Tips: Monteverde, Costa Rica"

  1. John says:

    Cool write up about the Monteverde. Wish we had this for reference before we went. Would have liked to see the ficus tree.

    One thing was we drove right up to the Monteverde reserve without any reservation and no one mentioned anything at all.

    Reply

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