How to Spend 3 Days in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Picture lush green jungles clouded in mist, an abundance of cool wildlife, and the chance to satisfy both the nature lover and the adrenaline junkie in you in one small, truly enchanting, geographic area – you’ve arrive in one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Costa Rica, Monteverde.
With an incredible amount of biodiversity, Monteverde is the ecotourism hot spot of the country. It’s a paradise for any outdoor enthusiast, nature lover, bird watcher, adventurer and adrenaline junkie. Besides hiking the cloud forest reserves, there are a ton of other activities, from nature or cultural tours to zip-lining, hanging bridges, or horseback riding.
Located over 1300m above sea level, a few days in Monteverde pairs very well with a few days in a coastal beach town for a complete Costa Rica vacation. But don’t rush through it. Take your time and immerse yourself in the cloud forest. Watch for miniature orchids, sloths sleeping in trees, or a social coati looking for a snack. Keep an eye out overhead for the stunning resplendent quetzal or a family of squirrel monkeys. You may even get to see one of the colourful frogs you see in Costa Rican tourist brochures..
Just getting to Monteverde is a bit of an adventure in and of itself. The only way in is on Route 606, which is a narrow, windy, dirt road. It has stunning views but in the dry season it can be dusty, and in the green season it can be muddy. If you plan to drive yourself, consider renting a 4×4 with lots of ground clearance. Otherwise you can take a hotel-to-hotel shuttle like Interbus or TransMonteverde public transit. But once you’re there, you’ll see it was all worth it.
How many days should you spend in Monteverde, Costa Rica?
While it would be possible to visit Monteverde as a day trip from somewhere like San Jose or Tamarindo I highly do not recommend it. With only 12 hours of daylight and 6 hours of driving (3h each way), the trip would be exhausting and you wouldn’t get to see a fraction of what Monteverde has to offer. Driving up that bumpy mountain road once is experience enough, so I can’t imagine doing it twice in a single day.
Instead, plan to stay a few nights in an eco lodge. With two or three days you can experience a range of activities and not feel rushed.
I recommend arriving in the later afternoon and checking into your accommodations, like the prime-located Arco Iris Eco Lodge, walking distance from downtown Santa Elena. Then have a relaxed dinner at Tico y Rico and get an early night’s sleep so that you can start your Monteverde adventures bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning.
Start your morning at 6:30am with the delicious breakfast buffet at the Arco Iris Eco Lodge. Their breakfast room is on the second floor of the main building and with wrap-around windows you’ll feel like you’re eating in a treehouse. The fried plantains are my favourite.
Then it’s off to the star of the region, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, for a 7:30am guided tour. First thing in the morning is best because it’s quieter and there’s more active animal life. With a guide you’ll learn so much about the forest and the plants and animals that call it home. They really help to bring the forest alive.
After your hike, head back to Santa Elena for lunch. Try a local casado: a Costa Rican meal with rice, black beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and an optional protein source such as chicken, beef, or pork. Cheap and filling. Soda La Salvadita is a popular option in town.
Spend your afternoon at an adventure park ziplining, exploring hanging bridges, tree climbing, or even bungee jumping. It’s at these adventure parks where Monteverde gets its adrenaline junkie street cred. Selvatura or Sky Adventures are great for families while Extremo is the place to go if you want thrills.
For dinner tonight, head to Treehouse Restaurant in downtown Santa Elena. Instead of tearing down a giant tree to build the restaurant, they built the restaurant around the tree, making for a memorable dining experience. Try a local Imperial beer with your meal, but keep it light since the trend here is early nights and early mornings.
Day two will be a bit more laid-back then your first day in Monteverde. You’ll start your day again with the lovely Arco Iris breakfast and then you’ll head out on a two-hour coffee tour with Don Juan. I recommend booking the 7:50am tour so you have time for a nice lunch after. Costa Rica has some strict rules on what kinds of coffee can be grown and exported, so it stands to reason that they produce some of the best coffee in the world. On the tour, you’ll learn all about how coffee is grown, harvested, and processed into the delicious hot beverage we know and love. You’ll also get to learn about two other important crops in Costa Rica: sugarcane and chocolate. You may even get a chance to meet the man himself.
After you’ve picked up some coffee to take home with you, it’s back to Santa Elena for lunch. Try a smoothie and a light, healthy lunch from the Choco Cafe and don’t forget to get a sweet treat to go.
After lunch, explore the countryside on horseback with beautiful panoramic views towards the Gulf of Nicoya and some volcanoes. At the Monteverde Equus Farm you’ll also get to experience the sugarcane process in a rustic and artisanal way. You may also get the bonus of some of the most spectacular sunsets around.
This evening, you’re going to take a walk in the woods with the Santamaria Night Tour. You might think that going into the forest at night sounds like a dangerous plan but with an experienced guide it’s an experience like no other. It gives you the chance to see animals that are only active after the sun goes down. You’ll get to enjoy the nightly symphony of frogs and insects while trying to spot mammals, tarantulas, and sleeping birds.
Tacos make for an excellent late supper, so drop by Taco Taco Taqueria in Santa Elena town after your walk for some delicious Mexican food and a drink to wrap up your day.
- Stay: Arco Iris Eco Lodge
- Eat: Choco Cafe, Taco Taco Taqueria
- Play: Don Juan Coffee Tour, Equus Farm, Santamaria Night Walk
Skip the Arco Iris breakfast on your last day and instead meet Doña Mireya Salazar at 8am at the Santuario Ecologico and learn how to cook a traditional Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto and fresh tortillas. Learning a new skill is the best kind of souvenir.
After breakfast, make a visit to the nearby Butterfly Garden and see up to 30 species of butterflies. On the way back to Santa Elena, stop at the Jardin de Orquideas Monteverde, a beautiful orchid garden featuring hundreds of plants. You’ll be amazed at the miniature orchids.
Grab some empanadas from Panadería Jiménez for lunch and it’s time for one last adrenaline rush before you leave Monteverde. Book a 3-hour afternoon canyoning tour where you’ll get the chance to rappel down 6 waterfalls, the tallest of which is 40m. That’s over 130 feet!
Finally, cap off your amazing three days in Monteverde with a 7-course fine dining experience at San Lucas Treetop Dining, enjoying the magic of your own treetop platform 50’ off the forest floor.
And there you have it, a great 3-day itinerary to make for an unforgettable visit to Monteverde, Costa Rica.
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