After spending a couple of days at Arenal, La Fortuna we made our way to the picture-famous Hanging Bridges located within the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Located only 25-30 km south-west from the hot and dry Arenal area Monteverde amazes with its contrasting lush, green forests and tropical plants. We stayed for 3 nights/2 days which was a good amount for us but you could easily stay a couple of days longer too.
How to get to Monteverde?
We had rented a car, partly because this is by far the easiest option to get to Monteverde, and mostly followed Google Maps to arrive at Mariposa Bed & Breakfast. Plan at least 3.5h for the trip as unfortunately the roads don’t offer a “direct” connection but instead take you on a scenic 137km trip around the Laguna de Arenal. The roads are mostly unpaved, very windy and extremely bumpy. If you’re prone to travel sickness be sure to take some medication beforehand.
Most travellers strongly recommend taking a 4×4 or SUV. Having driven through this pot-hole ridden obstacle course myself I can only whole-heartedly extend this recommendation. I also wouldn’t suggest Monteverde as a day trip from Arenal, because getting there & back would take too much time to make it worthwhile.
What to pack for the Monteverde Cloud Forest?
During the rainy season, expect it to be warm and very humid during the day, raining in the afternoon and a little bit chilly at night. Hence, you might want to switch to a jumper and trousers in the evening or wear leggings for sleeping. We used/wore:
- Jumper and trousers for night walk
- Thin yoga pants to prevent mosquito bites during walks in forests
- Walking sandals (fine for the main Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve)
- Trainers (for the Children’s Eternal Rainforest)
- Rain jacket
- Dry bag (to keep content of your backpack dry)
- Mosquito repellent & sun cream
- Torch (needed for evening walks outside of Santa Elena)
- Shorts & T-shirt during the day
What to do in Monteverde?
Santa Elena (little town nearby) and Monteverde cater for curious nature lovers to adrenaline junkies alike with various activities on offer. From white water rafting, canopy tours, guided nature walks, zip lining, coffee tours and even bungee jumping – you’ll find everything your heart desires. Along with the courage to undertake some of the more adventurous activities you’ll also need a full pocket as these don’t come cheap – expect to pay around $70-$140 p.p. Nature walks cost around $25-$30 p.p., however this is on top of your entrance to the reserve which is between $12-$20 p.p.
We opted for the activities which you can only do in Monteverde and visited the local reserves in the hope to spot the nation’s most beloved mascot: the toucan.
Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve
The Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve opens at 7am (and closes at 4pm) and offers fairly easy walks ranging from 1-3 hours, depending on how far you want to go and thus, is also super kids-friendly. Paths are easy to follow and clear – we wore our walking sandals and didn’t have any issues at all.
By starting our walk at park opening we avoided the crowds and enjoyed having most of the reserve to ourselves. Despite not spotting much wildlife we loved walking through the impressive pristine cloud forest with the early-morning mist hanging in the air. Afterwards we rewarded ourselves for our “efforts” in the Kolibri Cafe next to the reserve, spotting an abundance of humming birds thanks to the conveniently installed humming bird feeders.
Children’s Eternal Rainforest
The next day we visited the Children’s Eternal Rainforest or Bajo del Tigre reserve which is much less visited and due to its lower elevation and smaller trees offers a quite different atmosphere. And indeed, when we entered the park at 8.30am we were it’s only explorers and didn’t see any one else besides the friendly receptionist during our 3 hour walk. Bajo del Tigre offers different treks (easy, medium, difficult) and despite having fewer choices than the Monteverde Cloud Forest is no less impressive. Paths tend to me muddier and a little hillier (especially on the “difficult” ones) so I would recommend wearing trainers.
Being less visited by hordes of tourists and consisting of slightly lower trees also gives you a better chance at spotting wildlife as many animals tend to inhabit the canopy. And indeed, after following the Toucan’s call (we watched a YouTube video) we finally spotted one in real life! Needless to say, we were very excited! We also saw and heard howler monkeys, heard three-wattled bellbirds and saw lots of butterflies. For us it was definitely worth it seeing two different reserves.
Since many animals in these forests are nocturnal or as I would say “night-active” (from the German “nachtaktiv”) a night walk was high on our list as well. Besides sounding like a fun outing it’s one of the best ways to see the famous sloth or “Faultier” (“Lazy-animal” in German) in it’s natural habitat. I read many reviews and blogs beforehand to figure out on which company’s night walk to go on and, to be honest, the reviews were all very mixed. It seemed to depend a lot on the guide, the reviewer’s expectations and simply luck as how many animals one saw. I asked a local who recommended Kinkajou’s night walk and the super friendly staff at our Bed & Breakfast booked it for us (price $25 p.p.). If you don’t have a car you can also arrange to be picked up by them.
The walk starts at 6pm, takes around 2 hours and takes place on what appeared to be a large plot of land off the side of the road and near a plantation. Personally, exploring Costa Rica’s vivid animal “night life” was one of the highlights of our 2 week holiday for me. Thanks to our guide, Donald, who runs these walks like a well-oiled engine, we encountered a sloth, tarantula, green viper, toucan (again!) and porcupine.
Where to eat?
Since we did not stay in the little nearby town of Santa Elena itself we only made the trip to “town” once and visited the Tree House Restaurant for dinner. This is essentially a restaurant built around a massive ficus tree which in itself is pretty impressive. The staff and atmosphere were nice, however, the restaurant seemed to value quantity over quality – dishes were big but mediocre tasting. We left with (over)full bellies feeling slightly underwhelmed.
The next day however we discovered Stella’s Bakery, a cute little cafe offering freshly baked pastries, breads and cakes alongside amazing lunch, breakfast and cafe food options. Stella, originally a Brit, came to Costa Rica in the 1950s and opened this little gem which is still managed by her family today. The cafe is open from 6am – 6pm and offers healthy food options (everything from sandwich, salad, quiche, pasta and even burger and all the classic brekkie choices) and their little back garden is also a great place to chill out.
Just opposite Stella’s is Monteverde’s Coffee Center, a coffee shop, which as the name gives away, specialises in coffee. You can sample free coffee inside, buy coffee and book a trip to a coffee plantation learning more about the process of roasting and bean selection (duration: approx. 2.5h, they have a morning and lunch session every day). As we’d done a coffee tour before in Indonesia we skipped this one, but the staff certainly appeared well informed and passionate about their coffee so if its your thing I’d give it a go.
Last but not least, also just around the corner is Tramonti, a truly Italian restaurant offering great authentic Italian food in a charming atmosphere. The staff was very nice, food was reasonably priced and most importantly it tasted delicious.
Overall, we really enjoyed our stay at Monteverde, especially because it is so different from the rest of the country with its clouds hanging triumphantly over the forest canopy portraying pure peacefulness.