18 Best Things to Do 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 geographic area – that’s Monteverde, Costa Rica.
While most people only spend a day or two, there’s enough to do in this small region of Costa Rica to keep you occupied for days and days. Whether you’re chasing some natural adrenaline highs, communing with nature, or indulging in some of the best coffee and chocolate in the world, there’s plenty to put on your Monteverde bucket list.
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.
Table of Contents
- What is there to do in Monteverde?
- Guided hike of a Cloud Forest Reserve
- Choose your own adventure park
- Zipline with the Original Canopy Tour
- Sample local coffee with Don Juan
- Go beyond rice & beans at Tree House Restaurant
- Climb some 60’ trees at Sky Adventures
- Explore the cloud forest at night
- Ride a horse on a traditional farm
- Learn how to make traditional Costa Rican food
- Experience fine dining with San Lucas Treetop Dining
- Count the orchids at Jardin de Orquideas Monteverde
- Learn how cows founded the town at the Monteverde Cheese Factory
- Rappel down a waterfall with a canyoning tour
- Pick up some empanadas for lunch from Panadería Jiménez
- Relax in the hot springs at Finca Lindora
- Birding at the Curi Cancha Reserve
- Try a little Mexican at Taco Taco
- Visit an animal specific attraction
- How many days do you need in Monteverde?
- Where to Stay in Monteverde?
What is there to do in Monteverde?
Guided hike of a Cloud Forest Reserve
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Did you even visit Monteverde if you didn’t do a hike through the cloud forest? It’s hands down the number one thing to do here. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was created in 1972 to protect one of the last tracts of pristine Cloud Forest in Central America. Today, it’s over 13km of well-maintained trails where you can learn about the thousands of species of plants and animals that call it home. Biodiversity is an intrinsic characteristic of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. It is estimated that about 50% of Costa Rica’s biodiversity may be found within this area, an impressive 2.5% of the total world’s biodiversity.
It’s best to visit early in the morning when animals are more active and humans are more scarce. And while the price seems steep on top of your entrance fee, I highly recommend taking a guided tour. I’ve visited twice and I learned so much more and saw more plants and wildlife thanks to my guide on the second trip. It makes for a much more enriching experience.
- Hours: 7am-4pm year-round
- Entrance Cost: $25USD adults / $12USD children
- Guided tours at 7:30 am, 11:30 am & 1:30 pm / $45USD per person
- Birdwatching tour at 6:00am / $85USD per person
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve (aka Reserva Bosque Nuboso) is the younger, lesser known, quieter, but equally beautiful cloud forest reserve. The plus here is that fewer humans should mean more animals. There are 5 marked trails in the reserve ranging in length and difficulty for you to explore. They even have a wheelchair accessible trail – not something you see often in Costa Rica.
- Hours: 7am-3pm
- Self-guided tour cost: $16USD adults / $7USD children
- Guided tour cost (Mon-Fri): $33USD adults / $20USD children
- Guided tours at 7:30 am, 9:15 am, 11:30 am, 1:00 pm
- Sunrise tour: Fri/Sat/Sun/Mon at 4:50am include a coffee and small pastries
Choose your own adventure park
Adventures parks are a one-stop shop for adrenaline and excitement in Monteverde. There are four main companies and each has a slightly different offering. They can be good value since you can check off multiple bucket list items with one visit. One thing they all have is a zipline tour – it’s just *the* thing to do here. Beyond that, have a look at the different ones and decide which is the best fit for you.
Selvatura Adventure Park
- Canopy Tour (zipline), Hanging Bridges, Butterfly Garden, Reptile & Amphibian Exhibit, Sloth Sanctuary
- All-day pass (lunch included): $169USD adults / $141USD children
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- Zipline, Hanging Bridges, Sky Tram, Arboreal Adventure (tree-climbing), Herpatarium
- Zipline, tram & hanging bridges packages: $108USD adult / $75USD children
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- Canopy Tour (zipline), Superman zipline, Extreme Tarzan swing, Bungee jumping, Horseback riding
- No packages available but save $5 when buying more than one tour
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- Canopy Tour (zipline), Hanging Bridges
- Both together: $90USD adults / $74USD children
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Zipline with the Original Canopy Tour
Ziplines have become popular the world over but do you know where they started? Right in Monteverde with the Original Canopy Tour. They’ve been operating since 1994 and have had lots of time to perfect their quality zipline tour. Beyond the thrill of the 10 ziplines, you’ll get to check out a tarzan swing, rappelling from a 150’ platform and climbing back up the inside of a strangler tree. They’re also the only tour company that doesn’t use nails or screws in the trees, which I love.
- Hours: 7:30am, 10:00am, 2:00pm
- Cost: $52USD adults / $31USD children
Sample local coffee with Don Juan
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. Book a 2-hour tour and 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.
- Hours: 7:50am, 9:50am, 10:50am, 12:50pm, 1:50pm, 2:50pm, 3:50pm
- Cost: $33USD adult / $9.43USD children
Go beyond rice & beans at Tree House Restaurant
Looking for dinner with a twist? How about a restaurant that was built around a giant ficus tree? Tree House Restaurant in downtown Santa Elena is perhaps the busiest restaurant in the area, serving up Costa Rican staples but also Latin American fusion, with some influence of Peruvian cuisine. And for less adventurous eaters, they serve hamburgers and pizzas.
- Hours: 11:00am – 10:00pm
Climb some 60’ trees at Sky Adventures
If you’re looking for an adventure that doesn’t involve zipping from giant trees, why not try climbing them. At Sky Adventures you can challenge yourself to reach the top of the some of the giants of the Monteverde Cloud Forest – the first tree climbing park in Costa Rica. The circuit consists of 4 trees that range from 10m (33’) to 20m (66’) with various levels of difficulty and are equipped with handhold pieces. Automatic belay systems mean you don’t need to worry about falling.
- Hours: 8:30am, 10:30am, 1:00pm
- Cost: $42USD adults / $29 children
Explore the cloud forest at night
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. On the 2-hour tour you enjoy the nightly symphony of frogs and insects while trying to spot mammals, tarantulas, and sleeping birds.
- Hours: 5:30pm
- Cost: $25USD adults and children
Ride a horse on a traditional farm
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. If you book the afternoon tour, you get the bonus of some of the most spectacular sunsets around.
- Hours: 8:00am, 11:00am, 3:00pm
- Cost: $40USD adults / $35USD children
Learn how to make traditional Costa Rican food
Meet Doña Mireya Salazar at the Ecological Sanctuary for a cooking lesson on how to make some traditional Costa Rican meals. Choose between gallo pinto and tortilla for breakfast, chicken & rice or casado for lunch or a selection of snacks – each sounds more delicious than the last.
- Hours: 8:00am, 11:30am, 2:00pm
Experience fine dining with San Lucas Treetop Dining
Have a culinary experience like no other on your own private glass box patio 50’ up in the treetops. The 7-course tasting menu is served over 2.5 hours and tells the story of Monteverde through food. It is the conceptual union of the nearby islands, landscapes, local products, national culture and sustainability.
- Hours: 5:00pm and 8:30pm seatings
- Cost: $116USD per person / $37USD children under 12 (3-course meal)
Count the orchids at Jardin de Orquideas Monteverde
Monteverde is one of the most orchid-rich places on earth. The combination of rainfall and tree cover makes the perfect environment. In fact, about 500 types of wild orchids can be found right in Monteverde. Visit the Orchid Garden and learn something new on the 45-minute tour, like how 80% of wild orchids on earth are miniature.
- Hours: 9:00am-5:00pm
- Cost: $14USD adults / $10 children
Learn how cows founded the town at the Monteverde Cheese Factory
Back in 1972 Monteverde was founded by a group of Quaker dairy farmers who were escaping the American draft for the Korean war. They brought their dairy farming ways with them to the cloud forest and started the Monteverde Cheese Factory, which you can visit to purchase some dairy goodness: cheese, milkshakes, and ice cream. You can also watch through a glass panel to see how the cheese is made.
Rappel down a waterfall with a canyoning tour
Monteverde is nothing if not full of potential adventures. Have you ever wonder what it’s like to rappel down a waterfall? Now you can find out! Start your 3-hour adventure with a short walk through the rain forest to reach your first of six waterfalls – the tallest being 40m (131’) to the bottom. It just might be the ultimate scary-fun adrenaline rush.
- Hours: 8:00am, 11:00am, 2:00pm
- Cost: $79USD adults (must be 15+)
Pick up some empanadas for lunch from Panadería Jiménez
This small bakery on the triangle of downtown Santa Elena serves up a mix of savory and sweet treats as well as hot breakfasts and lunches from 5am until 4pm.
Relax in the hot springs at Finca Lindora
Have a little slice of paradise to yourself. Take a gentle horseback ride through the family-run ranch, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes to the private hot spring beside a river and small waterfall.
Birding at the Curi Cancha Reserve
If bird is your word, set your alarm in the morning to catch the worm of a 4.5-hour specialized tour in the Curi Cancha Reserve. Your expert guide that focuses on bird observation, showing you a fanciful world of colors and sounds. Keep a keen eye out for the Resplendent Quetzal, perhaps one of the most beautiful birds in the world.
- Hours: 6:30am-11:00am
- Cost: $100USD adults / $92USD children
Try a little Mexican at Taco Taco
If you’ve had enough gallo pinto and casado dishes, mix it up a bit with some Mexican at Taco Taco in downtown Santa Elena. They believe in using fresh, local ingredients to bring you nachos, tacos, burritos, bowls, and burgers. You can feel even better about eating there because of their commitment to sustainability.
- Hours: 11:00am-10:00pm
Visit an animal specific attraction
One thing Monteverde does very well is teach you about wildlife in the area. There are several operators who do a deep dive on one specific animal group. Whether you’re into cool Costa Rican frogs, or want to be surrounded by beautiful butterflies like a Disney princess, or really have a thing for reptiles, there’s a tour available for you.
- Frog Pond Ranario – Hours: 9:00am-8:00pm | Cost: $12USD adults / $10USD students
- Butterfly Garden – Hours: Wednesday – Monday, 9:00am-3:00pm | Cost: $15USD adults / $10USD children
- The Bat Jungle – Hours: 9:00am-6:00pm
- Herpetarium Adventures – Hours: 10:00am-7:00pm | Cost: $16USD adults / $10USD children
- Hummingbird Gallery – Hours: 9:00am-5:00pm
How many days do you need in Monteverde?
While you can get a taste of Monteverde with just one full day, I’d really recommend you spend at least 3 days.
1-Day Monteverde Itinerary
With just a single day in Monteverde, I’d recommend you do a guided tour of the cloud forest first thing in the morning when it’s quieter and there’s more animal life. Then choose an adventure park for the afternoon. Followed up by dinner in Santa Elena and a night tour to spot more wildlife. If you’re only in town for one day, I want you to see and do as much as possible.
2-Day Monteverde Itinerary
Building off the previous 1-day itinerary, on day two let’s relax a bit. Book a 2 hour coffee, sugar cane, and chocolate tour with Don Juan in the morning – I recommend 7:50am so you have time for a nice lunch after. Head back to Santa Elena and grab a burrito for lunch from Taco Taco. Then it’s off to Equus for a 1pm 2-hour horseback tour. Have a leisurely dinner at Treehouse Restaurant and turn in early.
3-Day Monteverde Itinerary
If you stay on in Monteverde for a 3rd day, 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. Make a visit to the 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. Grab some empanadas from Panadería Jiménez and it’s time for one last adrenaline rush before you leave Monteverde. Book a 3-hour canyoning tour for 2pm where you’ll get the chance to rappel down 6 waterfalls, the tallest of which is 40m. Finally, cap off your amazing 3 days in Monteverde with a 7-course fine dining experience at San Lucas Treetop Dining, enjoying the magic of your own treetop platform.
Where to Stay in Monteverde?
Hotel Arco Iris Lodge
I highly recommend this eco lodge just off the main triangle of Santa Elena. You can walk to several restaurants and shops, but also feel like you’re in your own little jungle getaway since a patch of old growth forest surrounds the property. I’ve stayed there twice and would happily book it again.
A buffet breakfast is included with a delicious blend of European and local Costa Rican fare. The breakfast room is upstairs in the main hotel building and with wall to wall windows you feel like you’re eating in a treehouse.
If you’re travelling on a budget or just like the social vibe of a hostel, you can’t go wrong with a Selina. While it’s 4km from downtown Santa Elena it’s only 1.5km from the cloud forest and also has enough amenities to satisfy you right on site, including a hot tub, coworking space, yoga classes, and a lively bar.
If you prefer to have some place all to yourself, there are plenty of affordable and gorgeous vacation rentals available in the area.
Coolest AirBnBs in Monteverde, Costa Rica
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