With lush jungles, hikes, zip lining, cloud forests, and more in Monteverde, you can't skip out on a vacation here.
There is a whole long list of vacation destinations to experience when you're in Costa Rica. Even if you're just spending a short amount of time in this country, Monteverde is one of the top-notch places to spend your time (and for good reason!).
Want to spend more time in Costa Rica?
Don't just visit, come volunteer here for a semester.
As an ILP volunteer, you have vacation time as well as every single weekend off to do some serious traveling and exploring. That's the perfect window to come experience all the things to do in Monteverde. In fact, it's such a popular spot that ILP volunteers from nearby programs make it a priority to experience Monteverde while they're vacationing in Costa Rica.
And, luckily for you, we've compiled all the best tips and info from past volunteers — it'll make planning your own visit to Monteverde a cinch:
- What and Where Is Monteverde?
- First Off, Pick The Right Cloud Forest
- Favorite Things To Do
- Places To Stay + Restaurants
- A Few Handy Tips
- How Do I Get To Monteverde?
What and Where Is Monteverde?
Monteverde is tucked in the northwest part of Costa Rica. The entire Monteverde area includes some surrounding towns plus an expansive and lush forest crammed full of towering treetops, suspended bridges that skim the skies, spectacular hikes, zooming zip lines, hidden waterfalls, jungle adventures, 500 kinds of orchids, and some of your favorite tropical animals, like jaguars, parrots and sloths.
While there are plenty of "under the radar" places in this country, Monteverde really is one of the more famous places, thanks to the iconic bridge walks and dense cloud forests. You can't go wrong here.
That “cloud forest” means low-laying clouds creating a mist that swirls in and above those tall leafy tree tops — basically, it’s gorgeous and one of the best places to explore in the Costa Rican jungle.
First Off, Pick The Right Cloud Forest
These cloud forests are kind of the main attraction of Monteverde — it's typically where you'll be spending most of your time when you're visiting.
We've added a little blurb about all three in the area, but understand that the Monteverde Cloud Forest is the most popular. On the list of activities below, most groups choose that cloud forest to go zip lining in, see the hanging bridges, do a wildlife hike, etc. However, if you're looking for a quieter experience, the other two may the cloud forests for you.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is the most popular — you’ll want a full day here to explore all the trails and viewpoints, the zip lines, a hanging bridge, and the waterfall. Most of the high-adventure activities are in this park, so if you only have a day or two, this is where you should spend your time (but it will sport the most crowds).
Hours and Ticket Cost: 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM, $25 paid by cash (US or local currency) or a credit card. We recommend getting here right at 7:00 so you can avoid the crowds. Get more info here.
The Children's Eternal Rainforest
The Children’s Eternal Rainforest is the largest — six times the size as the Monteverde Cloud Forest — and is split up into four different stations. You can hike into the reserve to get to your final station, all four of which lead up to an impressive viewpoint. You can obviously spend less time here and only hike one trail, but a full day will give you plenty of time to hike several trails — this cloud forest is typically the least crowded.
Hours and Ticket Cost: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. There’s a $12 ticket entrance fee. Get more info here.
Santa Elena's Cloud Forest
Loads of clouds and rain hang around Santa Elena’s cloud forest which creates a magical fog that clings to the dense greenery. There are a few trails to hike, but we recommend the one that opens up into an impressive view of the towering Arenal Volcano on a clear day. Plan on several hours to hike one trail, more time if you’d like to hike more than one trail.
Hours and Ticket Cost: 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM, $13 for foreigners. More info here.
Favorite Things To Do Here (+General Costs)
There is a lot to do in these cloud forests. For the most popular activities, we've included some tour companies past groups have gone with (and been happy with). We also want to mention that all three parks have hiking trails that you can tackle on your own: just talk to the park rangers at the front and snag a map.
As was mentioned earlier, most of the ILP groups tend to just visit The Monteverde Cloud Forest. So, most of our recommendations and activities are focused on that particular cloud forest.
As a heads up, things can get a little pricey in this park, which is why some volunteers opt to spend for a big full-day or half-day tour one day, then hike on their own for the second day. Also, we’ve listed a couple of tour companies to give you an idea of what costs may be like; these are not endorsements or recommendations, just a way to give a frame of reference.
Here are our favorite thrill-seeking activities!
Zip Line Across The Tree Tops
Monteverde is one of the best places to zip line in Costa Rica, for good reason. Imagine zooming along 10, or 15 zip lines strung through the green jungle. There are tons and tons of tours that will take you on this thrill ride, with prices ranging from $50 up to $200 or more, depending on what’s included and how long your tour is.
Lots of tours have combination options which will include a dreamy tram ride and some hanging bridges. Be sure to read what types of zip lines are included (some let you race, some have you riding down “Superman style” with your head first, etc).
If you're wanting to know who past volunteers have been with, there are a few options. Some groups have loved going with Aventura Canopy Tour. Here's what one ILP volunteer said about that: "It included zip lines which has the longest zip line in Costa Rica, a Tarzan swing, (etc). It was amazing, worth every penny." Another had this to say "I’m fully convinced this is the best zip line I’ve ever been on and the best one in the Central America area for ILP volunteers". It's a very popular recommendation!
Hike The Hanging Bridges
Inside the Monteverde Cloud Forest, there is a span of hanging bridges that give you some of the best views — look out and see a thick wall of jungle or peer below as you're dizzyingly suspended over an ocean of treetops. Along with zip lining, seeing at least one of the hanging bridges is the most recommended activity in Monteverde!
As was mentioned above with the zip lining, many tours will also include a bridge or two so make sure to read the fine print or ask your operator if that's an option for you.
Or, past groups have done just a tour bridge if that's only what you are looking for. There are companies (like this one) that will do a guided tour to a couple of the bridges, or you can do a self-guided hike if you'd rather (this blogger has a pretty good walk through).
Get A Nighttime Rainforest Guide
If you want a day of spotting animals, you better hire a guide. You may be able to spot a few birds and hear some howler monkeys on your own, but you have a much better shot of seeing animals if you go with a guide.
When you buy your entry ticket to Monteverde and Santa Elena’s you can hire a guide. Some guides are even available at night, giving you the chance to spot tarantulas, lime green vipers and the raccoon-like animal like a coatis. Prices range per park.
The Ficus Tree Bridge Hike
This is a total highlight in Monteverde — the chance to walk across a natural bridge made from the impressive ficus tree. Hidden just off the side of the road near Santa Elena, there is a sprawling tree growing horizontally, with a thick root system that has created "columns" connecting the trunk of the tree down to the ground (forming quite the bridge).
You just need to walk down a natural path (it can get quite muddy, so prepare for that, especially near the river). You may also want to bring a little cash. This is a free thing to do in Monteverde, but the property owner is doing some repairs to the entrance (and a little bit would help out).
Here's the location to help you find it.
Tour The Butterfly Garden
Between the city of Santa Elena and the cloud forests, you can visit a butterfly garden, giving you chance to hang out with some iridescent beauties for around $15. You can also visit the hummingbird garden if you’d like. Some tour companies (like “Enter Costa Rica”) has an option where you can zip line, try out the Tarzan swing and head to both of these gardens for around $65.
The El Tigre Waterfalls
Other groups have loved getting a tour package that takes them to the thundering El Tigre waterfalls on horseback. Plan on an afternoon of swimming in the four waterfalls, crisscrossing bridges, and cooling off in the natural pools created by the river which winds its way through the jungle here. This tour company is one ILP groups have gone with in the past, which sets you up with a map and instructions, the horses, and also includes lunch.
Be Like Tarzan And Brave The Super Swing
Monteverde Cloud Forest gives you the chance to leap off a platform and swing through the jungle, just like Tarzan. You’ll be strapped in but that probably won’t keep you from yelling on the 148 foot drop down … yikes! If you'd like to know what ILP alumni think about it, we have a couple of quotes to share: "DO THE TARZAN SWING!! You won’t regret it!!" and "don’t sit out the Tarzan swing. It seems scary but it is so crazy fun!"
The swing itself costs $44, but several tours include it as an option if you’d rather go that route. Again Aventura Canopy Tour is a tour company our volunteers have liked using in the past with a tour option that includes the Tarzan swing.
Places To Stay + Favorite Restaurants
Feel absolutely free to do your own research, but we think it's helpful to know where past volunteers have stayed and grabbed a bite to eat in case you'd like to take their recommendation:
Places To Stay
One group recommends Hostel Coati Place B&B, due to their helpful staff who helped them book a few different tours. We also love the free breakfast.
Another ILP group or two have stayed at the Sloth Backpacker hostel which has a fantastic breakfast, and a pretty central location.
Backpacker's Hostel is just a five-minute walk from the bus station, with a helpful staff that has connections to tours, transportation, and info about what's in the area.
Sleepers Sleep Cheaper Hostel is one some ILP volunteers recommend, a family-run hostel with good prices, help with booking tours, and a central location right in the heart of Monteverde.
Monteverde Lodge and Gardens is a dreamy spot to stay too, if you want to be a bit spendy. This place to stay has a yummy restaurant, stunning jungle grounds, and lots of tour activities for guests.
Places To Eat
Taco Taco Taqueria is a top spot to get quesadillas — we have had volunteers rave about the quesadillas here. It's a popular tourist spot but that's only because the food is delicious: other favorites include the fish tacos, the Yucatan tacos, and the chips and salsa.
- Address: Puntarenas Province, Santa Elena, Costa Rica
Hours: 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM
Pro tip? There's a guy named Ramone, who sells cute jewelry out of his house for really good prices ($1 to $3). He's down the steep dirt road next to TacoTaco. His house is on the left, there are signs to look for.
Orchid Coffee is a recommended place to snag breakfast or brunch (though we've also heard good things about a bowl of their tomato soup after a day of hiking).
- Address: Puntarenas Province, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Hours: 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Head to Bar Amigos Restaurant for soups, sandwiches, pasta dishes, as well as starters like nachos, ceviche, and salsa.
- Address: 859G+24P, Puntarenas Province, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Hours: 11:30 AM to 11:00 PM
Get lunch or dinner with a view at Morphos Restaurant (it's a popular place to watch the sunset). You can sit out on a patio that overlooks those green rolling hills, or sit inside in a room that's painted to look like the jungle outside. Find local dishes plus others like burgers, sandwiches, and pasta.
- Address: Puntarenas Province, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Hours: 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM
A Few Handy Tips
Pack The Right Things
Pack a waterproof jacket — even if it’s not the rainy season, it rains a lot in this part of the country. A waterproof backpack or dry bag is also a good idea.
You'll also want to wear hiking sandals or boots: it will probably be pretty muddy, and tennis shoes will get soaked!
Another tip? Bring a jacket and longer pants for cooler temperatures (it can get chilly even in the dry season because the higher elevation makes it cooler than the coast).
If Booking A Tour ...
Call/email the company you may be booking with if you are zip lining in the rainy season. If it is storming too badly, they won’t be doing tours.
How Long Should I Stay?
Some groups said four days was too long in Monteverde unless you spent some time in nearby La Fortuna. Others said they loved having four days to play in the jungle. Two days or slightly longer does seem to be a sweet spot for this part of Costa Rica, especially since many combine it with nearby spots, like La Fortuna.
We have had groups come here on a quick day trip from San Jose, but that does mean choosing just one activity to do here. Because most of the adventures are full-day or half-day events, plus you'll need to plan for transportation.
How Do I Get To Monteverde?
From San Jose
The cheapest option is via bus, starting from the 7-10 Terminal at the San Jose Bus Station. Look for the Transmonteverde buses. The ride is 4.5 hours and costs $6. The buses leave twice a day, at 6:30 AM and 2:30 PM. It’s not luxurious, but it will get you there.
You can also take a shuttle. Shared shuttles cost about $53, and take around 3.5 hours. Book one here or talk to a hotel or hostel. These shared shuttles leave at 8:00 AM and 2:30 PM. You can also hire a private shuttle which costs around $175 per trip (not bad if you split it with your ILP group — the shuttle can hold up to six people).
Getting From Santa Elena To The Cloud Forests:
You can hire a taxi or you can take a bus — From Santa Elena Town to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, pay $2 for a bus (it leaves at 6:30 AM, 8:30 AM, 10:30 AM and 12:30 PM and returns at 9 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM, 3 PM and 4 PM).
From the town to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, pay about the same — this bus leaves at 6:15 AM, 7:30 AM, 1:20 PM and 3:00 PM and returns at 6:45 AM, 11:30 AM, 2 PM and 4 PM. The Sunday service is at 6:15 AM, 1:20 PM and 3:00 PM and returns at 11:30 AM, 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM).
Ready for a trip to Costa Rica?
How about spending a whole semester there? Come volunteer in Costa Rica as a part-time English teacher, with every weekend off and vacation time to explore all of our favorite vacation spots in this country. ILP (that's us — International Language Programs) sets you up with a peer-aged group, arranges your housing, flight, and provides training (plus a few other perks). Learn more here: