I knew when I spotted the roaring fire in the hotel bar that Monteverde wasn’t like the rest of the places I’d visited in Costa Rica, but then I’d just entered the land of cloud forests so I wasn’t expecting it to be.
I only spent a couple of nights – welcomingly cool night – in Monteverde. I zip-lined, I drank coffee like my life depended on it and I gorged on chocolates. It wasn’t enough. I needed to see more, to explore more and so, after I said goodbye to my dad and flew to Miami, then Mexico, the Caribbean and Panama, I wound my way back. To this magical, mystical, cloud-covered spot.
What follows is a culmination of those two trips – a quick, in-passing look and a longer, take-time-to-explore kind of investigation of the attractions. What follows is my guide to the best things to do in Monteverde.
1. Research the Monteverde adventure parks
I’m guessing that at this stage of your Costa Rica trip planning you know that Monteverde offers many adventures in the cloud forest. And to satisfy your tourist itch, there are several parks offering a range of adventure activities. My advice is to pick one park that offers the best of the kind of experiences you want and spend the day there. You’ll be able to cram in some other activities too.
For example, I wanted to zip line in Monteverde so I Chose 100% Aventura park because it has the longest zip line in Costa Rica. You can also do ATV rides and hanging bridges if zip lining isn’t enough (adrenaline junkie, you!)
Of course, if you have more time, try two or three parks but most people swing into town for only a few days and want to do something specific. Choosing the right park is the best way to do it.
Here’s a quick guide to the main parks:
- 100% Aventuro – If zip lining is your main goal, choose this park for the longest zip line in Costa Rica. I’ve put this first because it was the park I visited. It’s also one of the most popular in Monteverde.
- Selvatura Adventure Park – This is the ‘other’ most popular adventure park in Monteverde. It does have zip lining but the other main attraction is that it has the largest number of hanging bridges in Monteverde (8 bridges).
- Sky Adventures Monteverde Park – The main focus of this park is the natural beauty of the cloud forest and its biodiversity. If you’re all about nature, this is the park for you. There are zip lines and hanging bridges too if you don’t want to miss out. Also, if you are not able to walk too well, there is a cable car that will take you high above the canopy.
- The Original Canopy Tour – As the name says, this is the tour company that introduced zip lining to Monteverde. They’re so experienced in it, they have branches elsewhere in Costa Rica and Latin America. If you like to support the ‘original’, choose this park. And then go explore them elsewhere around the world. A bit of brand loyalty can be nice. You can book tickets in advance here.
- Monteverde Extremo Park – Another zip line park, Monteverde Extremo Park apparently used to have the longest zip line but have since been surpassed by 100% Aventura. They do have bungee jumping though if that’s what you’re interested in.
2. Zip line the longest zip line in Costa Rica
I mean, if you’re going to go zip lining, don’t you want to go on the longest one available in Costa Rica? This was by far and away the best experience I had in Costa Rica and is amongst my top 5 most fun things in all my travels, ever.
Book your tickets for 100% Aventura park.
The experience is outstanding. You progress through a series of longer and faster zip lines with a total of 10 lines. There is also a short rappel and a massive Tarzan swing that I did NOT enjoy but there’s not much you can do when you realise this while you’re dropping through the air.
As for the zip line, it slapped a smile on my face for days. The best part was going ‘superman’ face down, arms out, zipping first into the fog of clouds before emerging out the other side, hundreds of feet above the forest canopy. Some of the most spectacular views in the world if you only dare.
Like most of the main parks, 100% Aventura will come and pick you up by bus and drop you off. All safety equipment is given (helmet, gloves, harness etc). It definitely felt professional and safe.
Photos: you’re not allowed your cellphone or any mounted cams. But you don’t need it – they take excellent photos which are only $20 for a set. We (me and my dad) ended up splitting the cost with a couple from our hotel which made it even cheaper at $5 each. More money for Costa Rican coffee.
3. Get high on Monteverde’s hanging bridges
Where there’s a cloud forest (or any canopy in Costa Rica), you don’t need to look hard to find a series of hanging bridges. I’d already wandered over the ones in Arenal and La Fortuna and if you do the same you might not want to add it in a second time but it is worth is, even a second time.
Most parks have an option for hanging bridges. If you want to maximise the experience, opt for Selvatura Adventure park because it has 8 hanging bridges (the most in Monteverde). If you really want to maximise the experience, visit the hanging bridges in Arenal. You can book tickets for Selvatura Adventure Park here.
4. Wander around the Monteverde Cloud Forest
It’s a bit strange suggesting you ‘visit’ the cloud forest when the whole area is really a cloud forest. However, it is something that requires a plan.
If you’re already booked in for an adventure activity at one of the adventure parks, you will see the cloud forest – whethere you’re walking above it on a hanging bridge or zipping over it on a zip line. Most of the parks will allow an amble through some cloud forest trails or you can take a dedicated cloud forest tour with the parks.
The other option is to visit the cloud forest outside the adventure parks. This is what I did and I’d recommend it because all that adrenaline shrieking doesn’t tend to invite the wildlife.
I actually visited two reserves:
La Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena is one of the ‘smaller’ (it was huge) nature reserves with fewer people, allowing for that lost in the jungle feel. There were great trails and we saw lots of monkeys, tarantulas, birdies (that’s as specific as I can get, sorry) and just wonderful, trails and views. The trail in the picture above is from this reserve.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is more popular and as such has more people. The trails are great and probably a bit more accessible. There is also a pretty spectacular cafe with a hummingbird viewing terrace. Ideal if you’re not so smart on your feet for trail scrambles.
Spanish for cloud forest: Bosque Nuboso.
5. Take a night tour in the cloud forest
The night offers a whole different kind of wildlife in the cloud forest when all those nocturnal animals wake up and go out to play. Likewise, many of the humans have decamped to bars and restaurants so you’re going to have fewer crowds and noise.
You will need a guide for this. You can book a Birdwatching Night Experience tour.
6. Keep an eye out for the Resplendent Quetzal
It wasn’t until I got to Panama that I clapped eyes on this exotic bird and wow, is it resplendent. Quetzals are considered to be one of the most beautiful birds in the world (I concur) but they’re also threatened so they can be hard to find. Monteverde is reputed to be one of the best places to see the Quetzal in Costa Rica so put it on your list if you want to catch a glimpse.
The most popular place to spot Quetzals in Costa Rica is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.
I’d recommend taking a tour (you can book one here). I didn’t spot a single Quetzal in Costa Rica. It’s no surprise in Monteverde because I was that tourist shrieking over the canopy on a zip line but it wasn’t so easy in Panama either, when I went on repeated, dedicated searches in all the right spots. I got really lucky in the end (the picture above is from Panama). If you don’t want to rely just on luck, definitely take a guide.
7. Go chocolate tasting
Costa Rica, land of cacao and anyone with a sweet tooth will know that means chocolate.
8. Go coffee tasting
Monteverde really is blessed because not only is it the land of cacao, it is the land of coffee, too. And what a perfect combination. If you want to go coffee tasting, Hop on a tour with El Trapiche.
I’m possibly wrong but I get the impression that the Don Juan tour is more chocolate focused and this is more coffee focused, hence putting them as two separate activities. For both tours you get to taste coffee, chocolate and sugar cane. I’d be interested to know if you have taken both tours and have any views on this.
9. Go Cafe hopping
Where there is coffee and chocolate production, there is undoubtedly a good number of cafes to be had and the small town of Monteverde has lots of wonderful choices.
Being a coffee (and cake) addict, I tried most of the cafes in Monteverde. My favourite by far was Orchid Coffee. A very short walk away from the main square, it was less crowded and the cakes were all hand made daily. With a cute veranda, once I found this place, I went back time and time…and time again (I hope you’re not judging me).
10. Take a tour of the Orchid Garden
If you’ve got an hour spare, this is a very beautiful little tour around a small orchid garden. The guides at the Orchid Garden are very well informed. I left with a far greater knowledge of why I can never keep my orchids alive at home. Answer: they are still alive. Eek. The orchid above is known as a dancing lady. Cute, isn’t she?
The orchid garden is located in the centre of Monteverde. Scoot in and check tour times so you’re not hanging around.
Orchid garden in Spanish: Jardin de Orquideas.
11. Visit the Butterfly Garden
The Butterfly Garden is another popular quick tour in Monteverde. Be warned, it’s not just beautiful butterflies, there are insects and spiders too. This may have swung my decision to go for the orchids. This attraction is also within Monteverde town.
Butterfly garden in Spanish: Jardin de Mariposas.
12. Be brave at the Serpentarium
Whether you’ve got a fascination with snakes or you’re a Harry Potter fan and want to practice your parcel tongue, the Serpentarium is for you. After finding a snake in my room that time in Vietnam, I feel like I’ve had enough snake encounters to last the rest of my travels, thanks.
Expect snakes and reptiles. Shudder.
13. Visit a Frog Pond
You’re probably catching the gist here – if there is a species in Monteverde, it has been turned into an attraction. This time, frogs. Ribbit. The Ranario de Monteverde (Frog Pond) is another quick 1-hour activity in Monteverde centre.
14. Hang out in a Bat Jungle
Ok, this is the last specific-animal-themed suggestion (but in my defence, I don’t know what floats your boat). This time – bats. In a jungle, no less.
The Bat Jungle It’s a simulated jungle environment with live bats swooping around. I once lived in a cave (true story) that had a section where the bats lived. It terrified me every time I went there to get a store of logs. My tip: tie your hair back, ladies (and some gents).
I took this picture en route from Monteverde to San Jose. I rarely write about the journey between two places but this view was too beautiful not to share.
15. Step inside a Ficus Trees
This is one of the few free activities in Monteverde. Let’s start by addressing the fact that ficus are the serial killers of the tree world. Wrapping around and strangling the original tree, the mature ficus ends up with a hollow core where it’s murdered victim once thrived. All I’m saying is don’t grow roots while you stand inside.
There is one ficus tree within walking distance of Monteverde and the best way to get there is ask for directions. In Spanish, you’re looking for el arbor hueco. Be aware that there have been reports of tourists getting robbed at the tree so I’d suggest don’t go alone or at night.
16. Hike to El Tigre waterfall
It should come as no surprise that all those clouds and the mountainous topography result in some stunning waterfalls in the Monteverde area. There are a few waterfalls to visit in Monteverde but El Tigre Waterfall is one of the most popular because it has a great hike to get there. Sadly it’s a pay-to-enter area. You can hire a guide otherwise the trails are well marked.
17. Take Spanish classes
If you’ve reached this point in the list (and ticked off all of the above), there’s a chance you’ve been in Monteverde for a while. With its cooler climate, it’s a great place to kick back and chill out for a while, especially if you’ve been on a longer trip backpacking in Central America. And don’t you wish your Spanish was that bit better? Time to take some Spanish classes maybe?
I’m not going to make a specific suggestion. I’ve taken a mix of good and bad Spanish classes in Latin America and it comes down to several factors including the school, the teacher, the group size and your level. Hit Google, read reviews and go and visit the school; ideally meet your teacher before you commit.
18. Dine in a Treehouse
Ok, so the cake above is from Orchid cafe but I find cake pictures usually more pleasing that plates of chicken, rice and beans.
With an effing great big tree in the middle of it, it’s impossible to miss Treehouse Restaurant in the centre of Monteverde. The tree is a murderous ficus and I have to say I’ve heard not brilliant reviews about the food, but you’re there for the experience, right?
19. Visit Mexico at Taco Taco
I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico (over a year in total across various visits) so I feel reasonably qualified to pass comment on the authenticity of the tacos here. I’m not saying Costa Rican food is bad but after a while the chicken, rice and bean combo can start to feel a bit bland. This is one of my favourite restaurants in Monteverde (that doesn’t serve the local food).
You can find out more at: Taco Taco Taqueria.
20. Sit fireside when the sun goes down
Monteverde is one of those climate paradoxes – sweating hot by day and borderline arctic at night. Well, arctic if you’re a delicate greenhouse flower like me. Not only should you pack a warm layer for Monteverde, I definitely recommend huddling around one of the many restaurant and bar fires at night.
My hotel had a fire and a bar so I hung out there. Otherwise, look around town. Your ancestral instincts will draw you to the flames. (Feeling a bit cold after the mountain air? Head to the beach in Santa Teresa.)
A little hummingbird I saw in the cloud forest. Camera trick – set your smartphone video to slo-mo and you’ll capture great video of these rapidly buzzing birds.
Where to stay in Monteverde
- Senda Monteverde Hotel – this hotel offers a luxury retreat with sublime cloud forest views. No wonder it’s so highly rated by guests.
- Monteverde Lodge & Gardens – this lodge is a place to go and switch off. The rooms are beautifully decorated – opt for a room with a balcony for wonderful views (and forest sounds).
- Los Pinos Cabanas y Jardine – these cabin-style rooms are great if you’re in a group or with family or, you know what, just if you want to treat yourself to a cabin-style stay.
- Hotel Los Jardines – On my second trip I stayed here and although there was a nice fire in the restaurant for cool evenings, it was a bit too far out of the town for my liking. But, if you want a quiet spot, or are happy to eat at the hotel restaurant it’s a decent choice.
- Selina Monteverde offers a choice of private and dorm rooms. If you’re travelling solo, the dorms are an upgrade on what you’ll find elsewhere in Monteverde, though keep in mind it’s not so close to the town.
- Hotel Sloth backpackers is an alternative hostel that is well located within walking distance of Monteverde town.
What to Pack for Monteverde
Here’s some things I especially recommend you pack for Monteverde.
- Light rain jacket
- Warm layer
- Trail running shoes or hiking boots
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