Remote gets new meanings here. Even though it looks close to San Jose on the map, getting to Monteverde takes you at least two hours of hairpins and dirt roads from the main road. And from there it is at least another two hours to the capital San Jose or the Nicaraguan border. But the reward is huge as well.
The big reason to go to Monteverde are the cloud forests. The area is so high (1,300 metres and upwards) that the dense forests are often covered in clouds and therefore extremely humid. This makes for some incredibly lush sceneries, and a richness in flora and fauna you might not find anywhere else.
The name ‘Monteverde’ is actually misleading as a destination, because the village itself is so small no one really stays there. Santa Elena, a few kilometres earlier on the dead end road, is actually the place where most tourists stay.
It has a decent range of accommodations. Especially if you come straight from Nicaragua it takes time to get used to all the different nationalities and the relatively high level of the hotels here.
It never really feels like a tourist trap though, but you will not see as many locals as in other Central American countries. Most people actually speak English here and they even built some adrenaline stuff for tourists such as ziplining or a treetop walk.
But you visit Santa Elena of course because of the cloud forests. Bring proper walking shoes, rain gear and your camera with you, because you are about to enter dreamlike spaces.
There is almost an alpine feeling to Santa Elena, as the village is so cosy and in the evening everyone goes inside to get some warmth in the restaurants and cafes. There is plenty of choice for every budget. The heavenly Orchid Coffee serves incredibly delicious cakes (and coffee of course). Mar&Tierra and Tico y Rico are great restaurants in the heart of the village as well.
300 metres further, where the Transmonteverde buses leave, is an entire shopping centre. The hugely popular Sabor Tico serves excellent price-quality meals. Make some more effort though to travel another 500 metres down the road, at the edge of the village towards Monteverde. Don Luis might be a bit expensive, but their Italian dishes are excellente!
- Monteverde: the main tourist attraction is the biggest and oldest. There are regular buses going there, which makes it a favourite amongst international visitors. But it can also get pretty busy
- Santa Elena: if you really want to hear the water / clouds dripping from the trees, this (still relatively hidden) gem is a better choice. It is not as big as Monteverde and relatively new, but has some great (though sometimes very muddy) walking circuits that take you all around in 3-4 hours. As these cloud forests are extremely dense, trees and plants are finding creative ways to survive. You can actually see evolution at work here. Guides are available as well and will show you lots of hidden creatures with their binoculars. To get there, just ask your reception to call the special minivans to pick you up
- Cerro Amigos: a nice warm-up walk to get used to the elevation, and with amazing views of the region if there are no clouds. This walk takes around 90-120 minutes from Santa Elena, all the way up to the TV antennas on top of the highest mountain of the Puntarenas province. To get there, turn left at the fuel station and then turn right after the Hotel Belmar. From there, it is basically one steep road straight ahead
- Sky Walk: close to the Santa Elena cloud forest is a Sky Walk, a walking path built at the height of the top of the trees. This one gives you unusual viewing angles, but it has nothing to do with nature of course
- Same goes for ziplining, also on the way to Santa Elena cloud forest. It is a rather unique feeling though to fly through the trees almost
- In the village is a Serpentario, a building full of snakes, for those interested in it
- Most people will come from San Jose. Transmonteverde.com is your best (and almost only) option, book tickets in advance because they can get quite full
- The only alternative (except for having your own car) is to take the bus to La Irma. You can do this from both San Jose and Nicaragua, La Irma is a very small place along the main road. From there, twice a day a regular public bus goes up to Santa Elena for around two hours
- In Santa Elena you can easily walk everywhere. If you want to reach the tourist attractions though, you either need to take the bus (Monteverde) or a minivan (all the sites around Santa Elena cloud forest). Just ask at your reception and they will make arrangements
- Weather: difficult. On sunny days it can still get 25-30 degrees, but because of the height it will cool off considerably after sunset. When the clouds come out, and they do so frequently, it never gets really hot during the day. So you should be prepared from everything from sun to downpours, especially in rainy season