Monteverde Costa Rica
Monteverde Costa Rica is located 167km/104mi northwest of San Jose. This is a deceivingly short distance that in reality takes 5hrs to complete due to the unpaved roads that lead here. The town of Monteverde was originally a Quaker settlement that exploded in popularity after a 1983 article in National Geographic stated that the surrounding cloud forests were one of the best places in Central America for birdwatchers to spot a resplendent quetzal.
Development since then has turned the town into one of Costa Rica's most visited ecotourism destinations, with much of the construction actually located in Santa Elena, the town next door. So you know, Monteverde generally refers to the area around both towns.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
One of the best and most popular reserves in the country, the Monteverde Cloud Forest is the result of moist air crashing into the country's Continental Divide, creating an ever-present mist that provides an abundance of nutrients to the surrounding vegetation.
Here huge trees abound and they are adorned in mosses, ferns, bromeliads, and 900 species of epiphytes (basically, plants that grow on other plants) - this includes a staggering 450 types of orchids.
More stats to impress upon you the diversity of flora and fauna of this 14,200 hectare reserve: 2,500 plant species, 400 species of birds, 500 different butterflies, 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles, and over one hundred mammals have been documented in the cloud forest. This includes all six members of the cat family - jaguar, puma, ocelot, jaguarundi, margay, and oncilla.
The reserve has 13km of well-marked trails, though it can still be wet and muddy. Rain ponchos are recommended. Reserve hours are from 7am to 4pm daily, $17 for adults, $9 for children and students.
Other Monteverde Costa Rica Sights & Activities
While the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is still the main attraction here, there are numerous other activities and sights to keep you busy.
Sights & Exhibits
Ranario de Monteverde (Frog Pond of Monteverde, 9am-8:30pm daily, $10 adults, $8 children/students): Here you'll find 28 species of frogs and amphibians on display, plus the owners just built on a butterfly garden ($10, or $16 plus Frog Pond). Most species are more active at night, but the entrance fee will cover you for two visits so you visit during day and night. Official Ranario Site
El Jardin de las Mariposas (Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, 9:30am-4pm daily, $10 adults, $8 students, $4 children): This butterfly garden includes a one hour guided tour through the facility's three distinct habitats. The visitors center also features displays of other insects, including live tarantulas, rhinoceros beetles, and stick insects. The butterflies - more than forty species - are most active in the morning. Official Butterly Garden Site
Serpentario (Serpentarium, 9am-8pm daily, $8 adults, $6 students, $5 children): This exhibit is the place to get your snake fix, over 40 species. Included in the collection are also frogs and other amphibians and reptiles. Official Serpentario Site
Bat Jungle (9:30am-8:30pm daily, $10 adults, $8 students/children): Here you can get an education on these fascinating flying mammals. You'll find eight species here living in a sealed enclosure and great information including a guided tour (there are 65 species of bat in the Monteverde area, by the way). Official Bat Jungle Site
Jardin de Orquideas de Monteverde (Monteverde Orchid Garden, 8am-5pm daily, $10 adults, $7 students): The garden displays over 400 species of orchid indigenous to the Monteverde Costa Rica cloud forests, including the world's smallest flower (the size of a pinhead!). Short paths navigate the garden, which is divided into 22 groups with correspondent informational signs. Official Orchid Garden Site
Cafe Monteverde (7:30am-6pm): Sample some of the best coffee in the world at this cafe - you can try six roasts for free. Official Cafe Monteverde Site
Monteverde Cheese Factory (La Lecheria, 7:30am-5pm Mon-Sat, 7:30-12:30pm Sun): Started by the Quakers, this is Costa Rica's premier cheese producer, which produces 14 varieties including gouda, parmesan, and emmentaler among others. Guided tours are available from 9am-2pm, $10 adults, $8 students/children.
Selvatura (8:30am-4:30pm daily): This is like an all-in-one theme park of Monteverde activities. Here you'll find zip lines and canopy tours on suspended bridges, a hummingbird garden, a huge domed butterfly garden, and a reptile and amphibian exhibit. One of the most special displays is the Jewels of the Rainforest Bio-Art Exhibition, the world's largest private collection of rare, unique and bizarre insects. Prices are a-la-carte, or everything plus lunch and a tour guide for $120. Depending on what interests you, you could certainly spend less. Official Selvatura Site
Canopy Tours: Under the category of Canopy Tours you'll find zip lines, hanging bridges, and trams - all great ways to get a bird's eye view of the cloud forest. There are numerous companies to choose from in Monteverde Costa Rica, some of the more popular for zip lines are at SkyTrek (a great facility that I've been to), Aventura Canopy Tour, The Original Canopy Tour, Extremo Canopy Tour and Selvatura. For hanging bridges and trams there are the Natural Wonders Tram, Tree Top Walkways bridges inside Selvatura, and the Sky Walk bridges inside the SkyTrek grounds, where a tram is also currently under construction.
Horseback Riding: There are a number of different stables operating horseback tours in Monteverde Costa Rica. Desafio Adventures (tel. 506/2645-5874) offers a unique four-hour ride to the San Luis Waterfall, and also has shorter trips available around Santa Elena. Desafio is the company to choose if you want to take the trip to La Fortuna because they take excellent care of their animals after this grueling trek, unlike less scrupulous operators. Other operators around Monteverde Costa Rica are Meg's Stables (tel. 506/2645-5560); La Estrella (tel. 506/2645-5075); Sabine's Smiling Horses (tel. 506/2645-6894); Caballeriza El Rodeo (tel. 506/2645-5764); El Palomino (tel. 506/2645-5479); Gold Tours which tours an old gold mine (tel. 506/2645-6914) and Terra Viva (tel. 506/2645-5454) - which has it's private cloud forest tract and organic dairy farm to tour.
Hiking: The most popular hikes are at the Monteverde Cloud Forest and the smaller Santa Elena Cloud Forest. There are numerous other options though. In particular, check out the Bosque Eterno de Los Ninos (Children's Eternal Forest) a reserve that was created by the monetary contributions of thousands of children from around the world ($7 adult, $4 student, $15/$10 guided night hike, Official Site). Climb up Cerro Amigos (Friends Hill, 1842m) for a great view of the surrounding countryside, and even Arenal Volcano on a clear day. Another great option is Catarata San Luis (San Luis waterfall) which a tough hike, but worth the gorgeous cascade and swimming holes.
Getting to Monteverde Costa Rica
Buses from Transportes Monteverde (tel. 506/2645-5159 or 506/2222-3854 in San Jose, four hours, $5) leave San Jose from Calle 12, Avenidas 7/9 at 6:30am and 2:30pm daily. From Santa Elena, return buses to San Jose leave at the same times, 6:30am and 2:30pm. It's a good idea to buy return tickets ahead of time so they don't sell out: office hours for Transportes Monteverde in Santa Elena are 5:45am to 11am daily, 1:30-5pm Mon-Fri, and til 3pm on Sat-Sun.
Interbus (tel. 506/2282-5573) and Grayline Costa Rica (tel. 506/2220-2393) are shuttle companies that are slightly quicker and will ferry you between San Jose and Monteverde (or other destinations) for around $35.
If you plan on renting a car and driving, make sure you get a 4x4. The notoriously nasty uphill road to Monteverde Costa Rica is 35km long from the turnoffs on Highway 1 and takes 1.5 to 2 hours to drive despite the short distance.
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