Located in the stunning Tilarán mountain range in Costa Rica, Monteverde is an area that encompasses the towns of Santa Elena, Cerro Plano and of course, Monteverde.
Thick rainforest smothers the rugged terrain, with patches of bright green grass when the sun blares down on this humid, yet cool landscape. And before you know it, clouds drift in and enshroud the entire mountain; creating an eerie atmosphere that’s exhilarating at the same time.
That cloud forest is the main draw in this stunning corner of Costa Rica, and visitors come from far and wide to be part of it.
There are many tour companies in Santa Elena that can immerse you in the jungle. Zip-lining, nature walks, bird-spotting, canopy and suspension bridge walks, canyoning and more.
The reason we were in Monteverde was to cool down in the fresh mountain air and witness those clouds drifting up valleys and swallowing everything in their path. In particular, to get photos of suspension bridges over the rainforest canopy, disappearing into thick cloud.
Selvatura Adventure Park was where we headed, a place where you can do a variety of things. Canopy tour (zip-lining), suspension bridges and forest walk, the hummingbird garden, insect museum and naturalist tour.
Budget restrictions meant it was either a Canopy Tour or the Treetop Walkway, so for $30 each, we did the latter. A series of 8 suspension bridges make up a larger 3 km walk along a forest trail where you can see stunning plants and tropical flowers, spot birds, howler monkeys and even sloths.
A bit pricey for what you get, especially when we didn’t even get those classic cloud shots were were after. Can’t predict mother nature, I guess. And typically, as we were leaving in the mini-van back to Santa Elena, clouds rolled in and swallowed the mountain. Damn!
Orchid Coffee & Tea Shop
With the forest adventures out of the way, there’s little left to do in Monteverde other than waft about town eating and drinking. The best coffee in Santa Elena can be found at Beso Espresso, a small cafe that knows what it’s doing. Good spot to start the day, or after a morning of adventure.
If having coffee (or whatever else you’re drinking) and visiting an orchid garden appeals, head down the road to Orchid Cafe & Tea Shop. There’s a full menu of breakfast, salads, crêpes and sandwiches, if you’re feeling peckish.
Visitors can’t miss trying something at Panadería Jimenez, the best stocked bakery in town. Or is it the only bakery in town? Don’t miss their arrollado de canelo – a yeasty scroll smothered in icing and dusted with cinnamon.
Bar Restaurante Amigos
Monteverde Beer House
For a little booze-filled fun, seek out Bar Restaurante Amigos. The sprawling, club-like set-up has a variety of seating areas, occasional live bands and a decent drinks list. A lot of the food is typically Costa Rican, with casados (plates of meat with rice, beans and fried plantain), but they also have ribs, burgers and pasta.
Plenty of local and craft beer to be had at Monteverde Beer House, which is the perfect medium to wash down things like falafels, shakshuka, shawarma, plates of hummus or goat cheese labne.
You can always swill with the locals at Bar Varvilla, a rowdy little bar between the main part of the village and the bus station. They even do free tapas with your drinks.
The Tree House Restaurant
If your idea of fun is dining up in the branches of a 500 year old fig tree, then The Tree House Restaurant is the place to head. A local and international menu spans from rice and beans casados to pizza, pasta and Mexican, and if the inflated prices seem a little high, stay for a drink instead and enjoy the surroundings.
One of Santa Elena’s institutions has to be Taco Taco, a hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex taquería right next to Pensión Santa Elena. Join the queue, order your desired taco, burrito, quesadilla or nachos and sit amongst the smokers on the pensión balcony, or inside and chomp away. The tacos are actually really good.
Raulito’s Pollo Asado
Tico y Rico
Santa Elena doesn’t have a great deal of cheap eats to offer its visitors, but there are a couple like the burger joint by the supermarket and Raulito’s Pollo Asado. Kick things off with some chicken empanadas, them move on to tasty roast chicken with tortillas & chimichurri, or simply with fries. It won’t rock your world, but it will fill the tummy and leave some cash in your wallet.
Head over the road for a good dose of casados at Tico y Rico, or go for their soups, salads, pasta, burgers and more. Hack into the deliciously large Flintstone pork chop (6,000) or the divine pork ribs (3,500).
Transportes La Costa runs from the bus terminal in Cahuita to Terminal Atlántico Norte in San José. Buses start their departures from 5.10am and leave almost hourly every day. Cost per person is 4,755CRC and it takes 4½ hrs.
We overnighted in San José at Hotel Aranjuez and purchased our bus tickets to Monteverde when we arrived in San José. Buses for Monteverde leave from Terminal Central 7-10 on an adjacent block to Terminal Atlántico Norte. Grabbing your tickets the day before is advisable as the bus fills up fast.
To get tickets to Monteverde, head to the Trans Monteverde desk on the second floor in Terminal Central 7-10. Cost is 2,810CRC per person and departure times are either 6.30am or 2.30 pm.