When I was planning my trip, my desire to go to Costa Rica was pretty low, but it was the cheapest place to fly home from, so I figured a few days there wouldn’t hurt. I did have a few things I wanted to do there though once I did arrive: zip line, buy delicious coffee, and see a sloth. Two of the three were done. I, unfortunately, missed all the sloths.
I spent a total of five days in Costa Rica in two places, Monteverde Cloud Forest and Puerto Viejo. Monteverde was a busy two days for me. I got there in the early afternoon and decided to get going since I was low on time and wanted to see Panama too. That night I did a tour of the jungle. As terrified as I was, it was really enjoyable, even when the flashlights were turned off.
We were enchanted by fireflies and click beetles and watched a porcupine in a tree for a solid 20 minutes. We were out for about an hour before the tour ended and we were brought back into town. The next morning was spent wandering the Monteverde Reserve before an afternoon of zip lining. I hiked the reserve on my own, which was surprisingly enjoyable. I saw a gigantic centipede and the continental divide, which wasn’t as exciting as I was anticipating, but still pretty cool.
I’ve always wanted to zip line and this was my chance. Up until I was on the stairs for the first line, I was fine and then the nerves hit. They clipped me in and told me to lift my feet up. Then I waited. Then they just pushed me. I was surprised and scared for about a second then realized I didn’t need to be.
You can’t tell how high you are, even though you are looking down at the treetops, it just doesn’t feel that high. We went on a total of 14 lines, the longest at 1000 feet. This isn’t just 1000 feet over trees. It is 1000 feet, with someone or you’ll probably get stuck, through a cloud. All I could see was the line disappearing in front of me.
This was the end of my time in Monteverde with a 6 AM bus the next day. I went to bed early and got up even earlier. I was headed to Puerto Viejo next and ended up making a good friend along the way.
What to bring to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Sunscreen – It’s probably going to be cloudy but you should still wear it since you’ll be outside most of the day. I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.
Light Jacket – Because you just never know. Weather can change quickly here. It’s probably going to be rainy here, but a light sweater could be good for under a rain jacket. I usually use my rain jacket for this.
Dry bag – If you’re bringing a nice camera, you may want to bring a dry bag. The rainforest is shockingly pretty wet. Chances are good it will be rainy. This small dry bag is perfect for little electronics. Here is a bigger one if you want to keep everything in it.
Good hiking shoes – If you’re not planning on doing tons of strenuous hiking here or on your trip in general, Chacos will be good.
Hotels near Monteverde Cloud Forest
There are tons of hostels and hotels in the Santa Elena and Monteverde area. You’ll have plenty to choose from when planning your visit. I went at the end of February and booked my hostel a day or two before going, no problem.
Santa Elena Hostel Resort – This hostel looks pretty fun (I didn’t stay here) and has tons of hammocks hung up for primo after hiking relaxing. It’s right by the Orchid Garden and just a few miles from Selvatura Adventure Park. I would definitely stay here in the future. You can check prices here.
Finca Camino Nuevo – This is about three miles from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and about seven from Selvatura Adventure Park. Some rooms have patios and others have garden views. This is a good choice if you want to be in a little more of a remote location. You can check prices here.
Hakuna Matata Guest House – This is about three minutes from the town of Santa Elena making it a great choice if you want to be closer to the town than the reserve. I stayed in Santa Elena and like it. This is great if you’re looking to meet other travelers. You can check prices here.
Jaguarundi Lodge Monteverde – This is where I stayed, but it used to be called Monteverde Luxury Hostel. I liked it. The room I was in was nice and had I think three bunk beds in it and its own bathroom. There was also a kitchen to use for cooking. I can’t speak for what it’s like under the new name, but I liked it when I was there. You can check prices here.
The main (really, only), reason I went to Monteverde was to go ziplining where it started. I can’t remember which tour company I went with, I just booked it at my hostel front desk. I do know that they picked me up though, and brought me back, which was really convenient.
They offer different tour packages, so if you want to do the hanging bridges, night tour, or coffee tour, you could book one with this. If you just do the ziplining, it’s $45. I would highly recommend bringing your student ID (if you are a student) to Costa Rica because I found a lot of student discounts here.
There were 14 ziplines in all with some short walking between them and stairs to get up and down from them. I definitely thought I would be scared doing this, but I really wasn’t. It doesn’t feel like you’re as high up as you are and I forgot, a lot, that I was looking down at the tops of the trees at some points.
I would definitely recommend everyone doing this here, especially if you’ve never done it before. It’s awesome that there are so many lines as part of the tour and it’s way more than any other ziplines I’ve seen anywhere else. Plus, it’s the home of ziplining, so how could you not?
What else to do in Santa Elena and Monteverde Cloud Forest
If you love being outside and hiking, Monteverde and Santa Elena are perfect for you. Whether it’s ziplining through the clouds or sticking your head in a tree at night looking for porcupines, there is so much to do. I would love to go back and spend more time here, for sure.
Night jungle tour
This was one of the things I made sure to do. I’m a huge pansy in the dark, but I loved this. I did this on my first night then did hiking and ziplining the next day. I don’t know exactly which tour I took, I just found it at my hostel front desk, but here are a few to choose from. We did a short walk in the jungle and got to learn about the flora and fauna. We saw a porcupine in a tree and so many light-up bugs. I would love to do this again.
Walk around Santa Elena
There are tons of little shops around town to wander around and fill some spare time with. There are also lots of cute restaurants and coffee shops. Orchid Cafe was one of my favorite places in town. You can shop around for tours this way, too.
The best time to see these gorgeous birds is February to July during the breeding season. The Monteverde Cloud Forest is the most famous Quetzal Habitat in Costa Rica. Quetzals are endangered and people come from all over the world to see them. They are actually the bird of Guatemala and more abundant in other parts of Central America, but apparently easier to see in Costa Rica because of the protected forests and trails.
If you’re a fan of orchids (which you will be after reading The Orchid Theif) the Orchid Garden is a must-see. I had no idea this existed when I was there and honestly probably wouldn’t have gone then, but now I 100% would. They are open 9-5 daily and it is $14 to get in. The entrance fee includes a 45-minute guided tour.
Do some hiking
There are plenty of hiking trails in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to keep you busy. I did my hiking after my zipline tour. I was there by myself and felt perfectly safe hiking alone, too. I hiked out to the Continental Divide, but it was, well, cloudy, so I couldn’t see anything. It was also very windy. Bring a jacket. It’s about $20 to enter the reserve (worth it) and you can easily get there with taxis and shuttles from Santa Elena.
If ziplining isn’t for you, the hanging bridges are the perfect solution. On this tour ($39) you’ll be able to walk among the treetops and admire the flora and fauna from above, just like on a zipline, but slower. I didn’t do this while I was there but I wish I did! Thee walk is made up of eight bridges and is about 1.9 miles of walking.
This is another thing I wish I knew about when I was there. They are open daily 7-4 and it is $16 to get in. While everyone knows about the more popular neighbor, the Monteverde Cloud Forest, there is also the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, which is much less crowded. They are a little higher elevation-wise and have 7.5 miles of trails to keep you busy all day.
How to get to Monteverde
The fastest way will be driving, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, the bus was very easy. I don’t know exactly which bus I took, but it was a public city bus (kind of?) and it took me right to Santa Elena. There are full directions to and from Monteverde and various cities here.
I was originally at a bus station but a taxi driver told me there wasn’t anything available. He took me to an actual bus stop (probably for way too much) and I was on my way. I don’t know how much it was or how long it took (probably 5ish hours), especially compared to the original bus I was supposed to take, but it worked out.
Have you been to Costa Rica? Did you like it? Where did you go there? Did you go zip lining?