Exploring Monteverde, Costa Rica: top 10 things to do
Nested in Costa Rica’s mysterious cloud forest, Monteverde is a must-see destination. Whether you’re a backpacker on a budget looking for your next thrill or a first-class tourist who seeks comfort and peace, this mountainous sanctuary has you covered. In just a few decades, the city has come a long way from a small dairy farm community to a busy tourist spot. To reach it, you must take the steep bumpy road that leads to the small town of Santa Elena, gateway to Monteverde: that’s where the real adventure begins. Moisture-filled clouds hover over the treetops and luscious forest surrounds you. The evergreen landscape, which also provides habitat for a variety of wildlife, can only exist because of the occasional rain showers. But don’t worry, those won’t stop you from exploring the best that Monteverde has to offer!
Hike in one of the reservesMonteverde is home to several nature reserves, where you can take a closer look at the unique cloud forest ecosystem and spot a lot of cool animals. You can walk by yourself, hire a naturalist guide or even do a night walk! Santuario Ecológico was one of my favorites. It’s run by a nice local family, who really cares about nature conservation. Besides the trails, they also have a beautiful waterfall, panoramic views and a lot of information about animals and plants you might encounter. They also sell awesome t-shirts and stickers! I also visited Bajo del Tigre, a reserve with special meaning to the Monteverde community. It belongs to the largest private reserve in Costa Rica, Bosque Eterno de Los Niños, which owes its creation to the fundraising efforts of children around the world. I found this one particularly rich in biodiversity; a few days before my visit, they even spotted a puma! By visiting any of the reserves, you’re actively helping the animals and plants around you, since the proceeds from your visit support the conservation and protection of them. How cool is that?
Visit the Monteverde Butterfly GardensThis one is definitely a must. I might be a bit biased since I volunteered there for a month, but I promise this place won’t disappoint. Ran by a North American family passionate about insects, they will for sure cure your fear of bugs. You’ll learn not only about butterflies but also other Costa Rican invertebrates, nature, and evolution. The entrance fee includes a guided tour, and you can even come back for free during the rest of your stay in Monteverde!
Eat an ice cream in the Cheese FactoryOf course, you can also visit the Cheese Factory itself, but their delicious home-made ice creams alone are worth a visit. They are cheap and come in a variety of flavors, including some that are probably unfamiliar to you. I recommend giving these a try (I had the guanabana one and it was great!).
Climb a strangler fig treeIf you’re feeling adventurous, this one is for you. There are dozens of fig trees around Monteverde, but only one will you take you up to the sky (mind you, it’s that tall). Long story short, strangler figs grow top to bottom, around another tree, slowly smothering it. The dead tree eventually rots away and the fig tree remains, with a hollow climbable inside. With the right directions, it’s not hard to find and I’m proud to say that I climbed it (almost) to the top! Even if it gives you the chills, the view over the canopy is astonishing. Just be careful, especially if you don’t have travel insurance!
Visit the Bat JungleDesigned and operated by a famous bat biologist, The Bat Jungle offers a unique bat exhibit in a simulated jungle environment. As far as their staff knows, it’s the only place of that kind, so you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit it. I never particularly liked bats, but seeing them flying, hanging, eating and even nursing their babies right before my eyes was surprisingly amazing!
Shop for souvenirsThere are so many local shops in Monteverde, that you will find it difficult not to buy at least a couple of souvenirs from them. Over the years, the city has developed a nice community of artists, so you can find paintings, home-made wallets, traditional handcrafts, and custom designed jewelry. Of course, the classic mugs, shot glasses and postcards are also available almost everywhere. CASEM, the Artisans Cooperative, is a great place to go if you want to buy embroidered clothing, beautiful pieces of artwork or inexpensive souvenirs while helping the community. I also recommend a visit to the Sumag El Inca store, owned by the kindest lovely old lady, offering a wide collection of South American products. Most attractions in Monteverde also have relatively well-stocked gift shops.
Have a snack (or a meal) at Taco TacoI literally fell in love with this restaurant! The decoration, music, helpful staff and of course the delicious Mexican food, come together to bring joy to all its customers. I even saw a sloth from their nice seating area in the balcony! The menu has plenty of options, including many vegan and vegetarian dishes, and it’s not expensive. I personally loved the Yummy Nachos! They also offer a wide variety of craft beers (a growing trend in Monteverde) and tempting cocktails. I liked it so much that a couple of times I planned to have a light snack, and ended up sitting there for hours and having dinner instead.
Do a night tourIf you think you can see a lot of wildlife during the day, wait until you go for a night tour! Nature blooms after the sunset and with the help of an informative guide, you’ll encounter many animals you would otherwise miss during the day. I went for one in the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge and we found, among others, an armadillo, two green palm vipers, a sloth, and some cool frogs. We’ve also seen a few birds sleeping, which look like cute fuzzballs! If you go with a small group, the tour feels very personal and you have a better chance to take good photos.
Grab a drink (or dance all night long) in Bar AmigosMonteverde is not famous for its nightlife, but Amigos is the popular bar to go if you want cheap drinks and a place to dance. It also has pool tables and a large selection of food at affordable prices. They have karaoke on Wednesdays, live music on Fridays and a DJ every day. I went there on Halloween night and the whole place was decorated for the occasion!
Catch a breathtaking sunsetLast but not least, there are the sunsets. With the mist rising from the forest and the sky exploding with colors, you’ll be left in awe by the setting sun. Cerro Amigos, a trail leading to the highest point in the area, is a good place to enjoy it. It might be a steep hike, but the spectacular views make it worth your energy. You’ll feel on top of the world!
- Bring a jacket and long pants, even if you visit Monteverde during the dry season. At night it can get quite chilly, especially if there’s also wind!
- If you’re willing to do so, travel in the rainy season. It’s going to rain anyway, so might as well enjoy fewer crowds and lower prices.
- Don’t forget your binoculars, there’s life sprouting in every corner at the cloud forest!