Is Monteverde worth visiting? Well…that all depends on what you want out of your trip to Costa Rica. There’s no doubt that this high-perched eco resort in the verdant Cordillera de Tilarán is among the mainstay destinations in the land of Pura Vida. In fact, it draws in a whopping 250,000 people every year, despite only having a permanent population of just 4,000!
They come to hike trails in the midst of misty cloud forests, to spot rare birds like the resplendent quetzal between the boughs of ancient ficus trees, and to walk the famous suspended canopy bridges amid the tops of some of the most biodiverse rainforest in the country – nay, the world! It’s not for nothing that Monteverde has been hailed as one of the official Seven Natural Wonders of Costa Rica.
In this guide, we’ll answer the question is Monteverde worth visiting by looking at some of the most awesome things about it. From the flora-brimming nature reserves to the taste-bud-tingling coffee culture, the cool backpacker bars to the adrenaline pursuits, there’s something for all sorts of globetrotter…
Monteverde is famous for its abundance of reserves and wildlife parks. There are a number of dedicated locations where you can absorb the majestic surroundings. Perhaps the most iconic of the lot is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which is home to various trails that bring you face to face with all manner of animals and trees. You can traverse the eight miles of routes through the forest in guided group tours, walking across the famous suspension bridges high up in the canopies. Or you can focus on your birdwatching by picking the early morning groups that take place when the fliers are more active. Entrance is around $25 USD, with specific tours like night safaris costing extra.
And there are many more options for a wildlife-centered day out in the region. The Curi-Cancha Reserve, for example, is Monteverde’s highest-rated attraction on Tripadvisor, and a buzzing site of biodiversity to boot. Then there’s the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, renowned for its population of spider-monkeys. You can even stay overnight in the Children’s Eternal Forest, a protected area of the forest that began its commercial existence as a charity project run by Swedish school children.
TL;DR – Is Monteverde worth visiting for the nature? Most certainly. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that this is the best location for nature lovers in CR. It’s up there with the likes of Arenal and Manuel Antonio, but is one of the few places where you can really delve into the incredible habitats offered by high-altitude cloud forest reserves. You won’t forget it.
While Monteverde can be a wonderfully serene place to observe nature and relax, it’s also got plenty of activities that are sure to get the heart a-thumping. If walking along trails looking for rare fan-tailed kites just isn’t doing it for you, how about some ziplining, canyoneering, or horseback riding in the depths of the Costa Rican backcountry?
First: Ziplines. A series of some of the very best in Central America make their home here. They let you whiz from treehouse to treehouse while the coatis look on and the tapirs gaze up from the undergrowth below. The Original Canopy Tour ($50 USD adult ticket) or a visit to the Monteverde Extremo Park (tours start at $30 USD) are two of the most popular excursions that include ziplines. They’ll both take you through the treetops using ladders, ziplines, and Tarzan swings
Another exciting activity is canyoneering. On these trips, you’ll walk through the rainforest to various waterfall sites, rappelling down cliffs and navigating gorges filled with gushing water. It’s a truly hands-on way to see the wild and untouched nature of the cloud forests. Beyond those options, you can also spend some time horseback riding or exploring via a tree climbing tour.
Monteverde night tours
Head out into the wilds of Monteverde during the darkness of night for a truly unique experience. With the sun away for the evening and the temperature a little cooler, a whopping 80% of Monteverde’s mammalian population will come out and play. Visitors in the twilight hours can marvel at grey foxes, sloths, and all sorts of reptiles.
Locations for a night safari include the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Curi-Cancha Reserve, and the appropriately named Bat Forest. Most tours include pick-up and drop-off to and from hotels in either Monteverde itself or nearby Santa Elena. That means that you won’t have to worry about getting lost in the dark on the way home! Prices start at around $20 USD for an adult.
Costa Rican coffee
Monteverde isn’t only about meeting howler monkeys and sloths in old-growth rainforests. The town also sits smack dab in the middle of one of Central America’s best-known coffee regions. And if that sounds like somewhere you could score a pretty fantastic cup of joe in the morning, that’s because it most certainly is…
We love Café Monteverde. A one-stop spot for all your coffee needs, it has seed-to-cup hot drinks in five different blends, as well as educational tours of the farms where the beans themselves are harvested. With two café locations, one situated inside Santa Elena and another just outside of the town, it is a great place to drop in for an espresso on your way to the cloud forests. The menu also has tasty pastries and packed meals. (Farm tours are Café Monteverde are booked through a special form and it can take some time to get a response)
Another tour is the El Trapiche tour, a more rural farmland tour that covers the production of coffee, sugar products, and chocolate. This tour can even be taken via Costa-Rican oxcart. Another similar option is the Don Juan Coffee Tour, that also covers the production of sugar cane and chocolate in the area around Monteverde.
Monteverde’s art galleries
Monteverde might be best known for its ecotourism, but there’s also now a smattering of intriguing art and culture venues in the town. What’s more, many of the paintings and sculptures on display in said venues showcase strong connections with the natural landscapes, the flora, and teh fauna that have put the area on the map.
One of the most popular galleries is the Arte Jaguar Gallery, a studio that displays the works of Roberto Wesson. Works there include stunning portraits of animals, landscape pieces, and abstract interpretations of the Monteverde forests. Lots of pieces are even available to buy directly from the artist himself.
Another well respected gallery is the Ferlander Aguedas Studio & Art Gallery, which showcases the work of the eponymous artist. Ferlander Aguedas’s work is colorful and visually exciting. There are paintings in the genres of magic eroticism, surrealism, and psychedelia – all sure to get you thinking.
Is Monteverde worth visiting for the art alone? Probably not. However, after a few long days of spotting quetzals in the canopies, the various art galleries of Santa Elena town and nearby are great for balancing things out.
Smaller gardens and reserves
Three of Monteverde’s smaller nature-focused attractions can be found in the backpacker hub of Santa Elena. They are the Herpetarium, the Orchid Garden, and the Butterfly Garden, all of which can be visited together in a single day.
Perhaps you could begin at the Butterfly Gardens? They house 30 different species of butterfly across four dedicated habitats, as well as 20 other species of arachnids and insects to boot. Tour guides will take you through the gardens educating you on different aspects of the butterfly’s life cycle. You can even witness caterpillars metamorphosing into butterflies in the rearing center!
Next up is the Serpentario (also known as the Herpetarium). While there is a veritable cornucopia of wildlife all around Costa Rica, this one homes in on the snakes of the country. There are 20 species of serpents in all within the facility, along with an enclosure of poison arrow frogs – some of the rarest frogs in the world!
Finally, for a welcome change of pace, head up to the peaceful Orchid Garden. This site offers guided tours with over 120 species of orchids on display. It’s a veritable must for foliage fanatics and budding botanists.
While Monteverde is mainly known for its exotic wildlife and rare bird species, it’s also become something of a surprising nightlife hub for backpackers. That’s largely down to the main town in the area: Santa Elena. It’s the gateway to the cloud forests and the eco parks, but is also the place that most people return to after hitting the canopy walks and trails.
You’ll be surprised to find a pretty bumping selection of traveler bars on the menu in Santa Elena. Most of them are clustered around the bend in the main road as it passes through the center. That’s where you’ll find spots like Bar Amigos, a fun and casual drinking spot that gets busy on weekends. Other places lurk just on the outskirts, like the new and fancy cocktail venue of Bebedero.
Thanks to the booming numbers of travelers who pass this way, Monteverde is a cracking spot to sample the earthy flavors of Central America. It’s laden with eateries of all sorts, from budget backpacker taverns to sleek eco bistros with degustation menus served to views of the rainforests.
Let’s start with the latter. Cue San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience. With tables contained in pods built up in the trees, this venue offers dynamic panoramas of the surroundings. The food is presented as a seven-course tasting menu, with a wine pairing available. Gourmet twists on Costa Rican classics are the name of the game.
Another excellent dinner spot is the Restaurant Brisas del Lago, an eatery a little way out of Monteverde. Known for serving excellent Central American fusion food, the joint is both down to earth and affordable. Then there are a variety of cafes and coffee shops across the region. These small drop ins offer up homegrown coffee and chocolate galore.
Monteverde has been credited with starting the whole eco-hotel craze. Yep, this is the place that led the way in the creation of nature-friendly stays and forest-friendly dwellings, and there’s now one of the finest selections of carbon-conscious establishments on the whole planet. But going green in Monteverde doesn’t mean ditching the luxury. Nope, there are also some wonderfully opulent and luxurious places to pick from in this land of multi-coloured birds and monkeys. Here’s a look at some of the best:
- Monteverde Lodge & Gardens ($$$) – This resort takes the meaning of highland eco lodge to all new and dizzying heights. It’s a stunner, with an al fresco pool and rooms that gaze over the untouched rainforests.
- Hotel & Spa Poco a Poco ($$-$$$) – Pamper yourself by picking this hotel with its own massage parlour and covered swimming pool.
- Koora Hotel ($$) – A four-star lodge with rooms that have balconies with fantastic views of the Monteverde reserves.
So, is Monteverde worth visiting?
Is Monteverde worth visiting? It sure is. The main thing here is the wildlife and the cloud forest reserves. Together, they are widely considered to be among the bucket-list attractions of Costa Rica and of Central America as a whole. Simply do not miss them if you’re heading here because you’ve heard about the incredible biodiversity that coalesces in this corner of the globe. On top of all that, you’ve got top-quality coffee to taste and some enticing Costa Rican dining to get done. Lovely.