Straddling the Continental Divide in the mountains of Costa Rica is Monteverde, one of the country’s top tourist destinations. In English, that translates to green mountain. And green it is! There is an almost always present layer of moisture in the air, creating what is known as a cloud forest. This unique habitat is home to an abundance of birds and other wildlife.
Most itineraries to Costa Rica typically include a couple day stop in the cloud forests of Monteverde. Even though most visitors don’t stay long, there is quite a bit to see and do if you are really into nature. That said, visitors can experience the main nature focused sights with only 2 days in town. Below is our Monteverde 2 day itinerary from our recent visit, with additional information needed to plan your trip.
Day 1: Arrival
Most visitors to Monteverde are coming from another destination within Costa Rica. Many are arriving by boat/road from Arenal/La Fortuna or directly from the airports in San Jose or Liberia. Given that some of the day will be taken up by just getting to Monteverde, you will not have a full day today. However, that does not mean it is a lost day as there are several options for what you can do depending on your arrival time and how much energy you have.
Our recommendation would be to check into your hotel (see below for recommendations) and then potter around Santa Elena and Monteverde to get your bearings before having a snack or lunch at the local favorite Taco Taco.
Following your wander around town, head back to your hotel to get ready for a night walk. This is a must do in Monteverde for a chance to see some nocturnal animals in action. There are numerous outfits offering night walks including Kinkajou and Santa Maria as well as through various hotels. Most of these tours are around 2 hours in length, beginning anywhere from 5-6pm. We went with Kinkajou and were satisfied with the amount of animals we saw, our guide’s knowledge and the overall experience.
Tip: If you have not booked your night walk in advance, pop into the front desk at the Pension Santa Elena hostel next to Taco Taco. They can organize your night walk quickly and easily.
Day 2: Immerse Yourself in Nature
For your first (and for some only) full day in Monteverde, we recommend getting up early for a morning hike at one of the local preserves. You can choose from Curi Cancha, Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Santa Elena Cloud Forest or the Bosque Eterno de los Ninos for a chance to explore the local flora and fauna. We spent our morning at Curi Cancha and loved it. Being surrounded by super cool trees to explore as well as amazing bird watching opportunities including the elusive quetzal was just what we needed to start the day.
Tip: The naturalist guides are always worth the extra expense! Definitely book a guided hike if it’s an option.
Most morning hikes will be complete before lunch, giving you plenty of time to grab lunch at your hotel before heading out to Selvatura Park for the afternoon. At Selvatura you can go zip lining, walk on massive hanging bridges and visit a variety of animal exhibitions (the butterfly garden and hummingbird gardens were our favorites). While you can visit Selvatura in only a few hours, if you want to take in all that is on offer, give yourself as much time as possible. Included in your ticket price is a free shuttle bus to and from the forest.
After exhausting all of your options at Selvatura, head back to Santa Elena for dinner at Morphos or at your hotel.
Day 3: Departure
If you do not have an early morning departure, considering adding on another one of the nature parks that you did not get to visit on day 2. An alternative option would be to hop onto a coffee plantation tour. Many visitors enjoy doing this with Don Juan Coffee Tours. We chose instead to head to the Children’s Forest for a quick look around before departing for our next destination.
Monteverde was originally founded by a small group of Quakers from the US looking for a peaceful place to call home during the Korean War. Now it is home to descendants of those original Quakers, expats from all over the world and of course local Costa Ricans.
The Monteverde area is actually made up of two separate towns which can be quite confusing to visitors booking accommodation. One is Monteverde and the other is Santa Elena. As you venture through the towns, you will hardly realize you have passed from one to the other as the areas are both quite small. While it is easy enough to walk between the two towns, it is not something you would want to do every day due to the hills. For this reason, many visitors choose to stay in Santa Elena for easy access to restaurants and shops.
However, since most excursions provide hotel pickup/drop offs, you can stay in either area quite easily. We found that you do not need too much access to a vehicle outside of those times and that taxi’s were easily accessible as well. Here is a good map that we printed out before we left to get our bearings.
Where to stay?
Accommodation options in Monteverde are a bit slimmer than in Arenal/La Fortuna, particularly in the higher end spectrum. However, there are a few cute places that we would recommend checking out.
Hotel Belmar is probably the most luxury of the accommodation options in Monteverde and for that reason it often fills up well in advance. Set amongst the cloud forest, this cute hotel has nice rooms with wood finishes. The restaurant focuses offers farm-to-table cuisine which is a fabulous find. The hotel itself is located right outside of the main street of Santa Elena.
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El Establo Mountain Hotel
El Establo Mountain Hotel is a large estate on the main road in Monteverde with two story buildings stretching up the hillside. If you do not want to rely on the hotel shuttle bus to get to/from your room, ask reception for a room in the first block of rooms. Regardless which room you get, you can expect beautiful views over the area, stretching out to the ocean on a clear day.
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Monteverde Country Lodge
The Monteverde Country Lodge is a little off on it’s own, away from the main road and shops, but still easily accessible by car or walking. Rooms are located in regular hotel room blocks with ample parking if you are driving your self in Costa Rica.
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Arco Iris Lodge
The Hotel Arco Iris is a cute little hotel set back a bit from the main road, down the lane by Morphos. Bungalows are situated around a grassy area filled with hammocks. It’s a cute family friendly option, particularly for people who have their own vehicles.
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Where to eat?
Many hotels have their own restaurants, which are often very good (the restaurant at El Establo was great) however it’s nice to have options outside of the hotel to also check out. During our short visit, we enjoyed our meals at the Treehouse Restaurant & Cafe, Morphos and Taco Taco in Santa Elena. If you haven’t had your fill of the local food, there are several sodas in Santa Elena and along the main road in Monteverde. For a taste of the local dairy products made by the Quakers, head to their cheese factory for a tasting!
Have you been to Monteverde? What was your favorite things to do there?
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