A COMPREHENSIVE FACT SHEET!
Monteverde is in the central northwest part of Costa Rica, a small country nestled between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America. The community sits on the Pacific side of the Continental Divide, with the commercial center, Santa Elena, located at 1440 meters (4662 ft) elevation (GPS approx LAT: 10.316962812638824, LONG: -84.82334800064564’). The elevation rises to about 1750 meters (5741 ft) in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. See maps
The name refers to the original dairy farm community founded by Quakers in 1951. Monteverde now refers to the whole zone, including the town of Santa Elena and the surrounding communities of La Cruz, Canitas, Los Llanos, Lindora, Cerro Plano, San Luis and, of course, the original Monteverde. The area actually is part of three provinces: Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Alajuela. Read further about the history of Monteverde and the Quakers.
You can never be guaranteed dry weather in Monteverde. If that is important to you, the most likely time is the end of February until about the middle of May. You seldom have serious precipitation in that period, but you can have anything from light mists to heavy rains from May until February. The heaviest part of the rainy season is September and October. See also a more detailed climate and weather page.
Monteverde has a very intense windy season that starts around November and usually ends sometime in March. The strongest winds are in December and January, often accompanied by swirling mists and the coolest temperatures of the year.
The temperature ranges between 20 and 25 Celsius (68-77 Fahrenheit) in the day – most of the time - but cools off at night as we are in the mountains after all. You do not need air conditioning in Monteverde! The coldest time of the year is December and January, when the winds, mists and low temperatures can create cool conditions. The hot, dry season of March and April is when the sun can get quite hot during the day and it will still be warm at night. Perhaps the most pleasant time of the year is May and June, after the winds have died down and the rains come, slowly at first and cooling things off, everything gets even greener and the sunsets are more phenomenal than usual.
Monteverde looks west over rolling hills to the Gulf of Nicoya and out toward the Pacific, often through shifting layers of cloud, so the sunsets are almost never less than spectacular. Steven Spielberg couldn’t create anything more beautiful, even with special effects. The almost constant mists swirling across the mountainside while the sun continues to shine means that we are rich in rainbows. And when the conditions are right, with nighttime moisture under a big bright moon, seeing a moon bow is a magical addition to any trip here.
Another wonderful thing about Monteverde is that bugs are not a problem. You can be in the tropics without worrying about malaria, dengue or cholera. There are seldom mosquitoes, no deer ticks, very few biting pests. This is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, and there is an incredible variety of insects, amphibians, birds, and mammals, but it is rare to encounter any species that is aggressive, bothersome or poisonous.
There are three main routes into Monteverde. You can come by microbus shuttle, private pick-up, rental car, taxi/boat/taxi, or public bus. See more about transport options.
There are various microbus shuttles with set schedules that cover numerous routes throughout the country and these can bring you from any point to Monteverde within a few hours. They cost roughly $40 to $60 US per person. You can also arrange to have a private chauffeur pick you up at the airport or at a hotel at your convenience for a pre-arranged price. There are many rental car companies with offices near both the San José and Liberia airports as well as in the major cities. You are wise to get a four-wheel drive rental, more for the clearance than the traction, as well as for the flexibility of going anywhere you want.
Coming from the San José airport (heavy traffic can often be expected in the San José and airport vicinity so time your trip accordingly), you head west towards Puntarenas and, staying on the Pan-American Highway you continue about twenty minutes north of the turnoff to that city, and turn right at the Sardinal/Guacimal road to Monteverde (there is a gas station on the corner). The first fifteen kilometers of the road are paved and the rest of the road up the mountain is scheduled to be paved in 2015. **During the paving process, there are frequent road closures. You should contact Desafio for the most current closure times. Once the construction is finished, the complete drive from San José to Monteverde should be about 3 ½ hours.
Coming from the Liberia airport, the Guanacaste Beaches or Nicaragua, you come south on the Pan-American Highway and turn left at La Irma, the entrance to Las Juntas. The first 10 kilometers or so are paved and the rest is dirt and gravel. This route is roughly 4 hours from the Liberia airport. Once the other road through Sardinal is paved, it will be worth your while to drive a few more miles down the highway to take that road rather than the Las Juntas road. There is an entrance at Lagarto (in between the north and south entrances) but the first several kilometers are not paved and it is not a preferred route.
Driving from La Fortuna, you follow a very twisty, paved, scenic route northwest around Lake Arenal to Tilarán where you then switch to the back roads that bring you to Santa Elena. This is also about a 4 hour drive.
The taxi/boat/taxi (also known as jeep/boat/jeep – but there are no jeeps!) is the best option when coming from or going to the La Fortuna/Volcano Arenal area if you don’t have a rental car. A comfortable van/microbus will pick you up at your hotel, drive to Lake Arenal where a sturdy flat-bottomed boat ferries you across the water to a waiting van that completes the trip to your destination hotel. There are two scheduled trips each way every day or the service can be booked privately.
Costa Rica has a very good public bus system but unfortunately not such a great way of figuring out the schedules. There are hundreds of bus companies and routes throughout the country. Schedules seldom change, but terminals and stops do, particularly in San José. You can find schedules at anywherecostarica.com or thebusschedule.com but it is best to either call the bus company that services the route you want or ask the locals.
The Monteverde public bus leaves at 6:30 a.m. and 2:30pm to and from San José and usually takes about 4 ½ hours. The new bus station in San Jose is called Terminal 7-10. It is a large new terminal with 3 levels of shops. To purchase your bus tickets go to level two as this is where they are sold. To give you an idea of prices, in Nov 2015 the ticket was 2790.00 Colones per person (just under $6 US). The bus takes a fifteen-minute rest stop about half way through the journey. There is a bus from Puntarenas to Monteverde at 1:30 and 2:15; it returns at 6:15 a.m. to Puntarenas.
You can also catch the Monteverde bus in Alajuela (near Villa Bonita).
Monteverde has about a 100 taxis and microbuses ready to take you around the area. There is a main taxi stand in Santa Elena (but any store, hotel or restaurant will call you one for you). There is a minimum fee of about $1.5 for a short ride and most fares range from $2- $12 within the Monteverde area. There are two main types of taxis: the red official taxis that the locals call the ‘rojas’ and the ‘other’ type of local rides called the ‘pirates’ (these are not official taxis and often have to avoid the traffic cops!), they tend to be just as good and often cheaper! It is a good idea to ask the price of where you are going even if the taxis use a meter (a lot of taxis do not have or use meters).
The Monteverde Reserve has a bus that goes up to park every day and is about $2.5. It stops along the road when people flag it down. Ask your hotel what time the bus passes.
Santa Elena is the commercial center of Monteverde, where the road brings you and the bus journey ends. There are three banks – Banco de Costa Rica, Banco Nacional and Banco Popular. There are two main supermarkets and a specialty market (meat and produce) called Super Vargas in the center, as well as smaller markets up the road in Cerro Plano and Monteverde Centro. There is a department-style store with a pharmacy called Vitosis, a vet/pet food store, numerous clothing and shoe stores, hardware stores, gift and souvenir shops. The Centro Commercial de Monteverde, known locally as “the mall”, houses the bus station, a furniture store, supermarket, restaurants and specialty shops. On Saturday mornings there is a farmers market in the mall which is also a social gathering for locals.
There are several dentists, two private medical clinics and the public medical center. The doctors at these clinics will do hotel visits which can be arranged by your hotel. There are two pharmacies. There are ambulance services in the zone, but they can be costly – it is worth getting travel medical insurance. Serious medical situations need to be dealt with in Puntarenas or San José. There is also a fire department in Santa Elena.
There are two gas stations - one entering Santa Elena from the Sardinal road and one up in Monteverde. There are several mechanic shops in the area. Costa Ricans are generally very friendly and they will help you or call a local mechanic on their cell phone if you break down.
There is one place to rent bicycles, but the roads are very hilly, in bad condition, often muddy or worse dusty, and the locals aren’t used to sharing the roads with bikes. People do bring their own mountain bikes, but it is not a comfortable means of transport here for most.
The local currency is colones but American dollars are used in most places. The problem can be that as the exchange rate fluctuates, you can deal with very different rates in stores and restaurants. Traveling with both dollars (for hotels, tours and restaurants who give prices in $$) and colones (for taxis, local shops, vendors) gives you the best flexibility with the least confusion. At the end of 2014, the exchange rate that you will generally get is 530 colones to $1 US.
You can get money exchanged at the airport at a slightly lower rate, in banks that often means waiting in line, or in bigger supermarkets. You can also get money in ATMs (cajeros) all over the country and receive either dollars or colones. In some places the ATMs are not open at night (for security), but in Monteverde there are 4 ATMs and at least one will always be open and have money. At this time, the machines in Monteverde do not work for bankcards which only have the Cirrus symbol (such as Bank of Montreal cards), only those with the rival VISA PLUS sign. Bank machines in other parts of the country do. It is wise to arrive with dollars and colones and credit cards if you are staying awhile.
Most places only use VISA and Mastercard. You may be able to use Diners, American Xpress, and others, but you can never be sure. Nobody deals with travelers’ checks anymore.
Apart from whatever your hotel and tour package costs are, you will need cash for transportation. A taxi ride is usually only a couple of dollars within Santa Elena, up to $10 if you go a few kilometers out of town. There is a local bus that goes back and forth to both of the Reserves several times a day for around $1.
The big cash expense will be food. Some of the restaurants accept credit cards, but many of the smaller, and better value restaurants, don’t accept cards – or the machine won’t be working when you go to pay. It is better to be prepared with cash, and colones are always the safest currency.
Many hotels and pensions now include breakfast in their price (or have kitchens for your use) but an average breakfast should be well under $10, including a couple of cups of local coffee. There are many newer cafes that make premium coffees where you will pay more for the food as well. Lunches run about $8 to $16. Dinners are the most wide-ranging: you can eat delicious local food for as little as $10 but you can spend as much or more than you like in the more expensive and exotic establishments.
House wine is seldom less than $5 per glass (usually Chilean), but the wine list has gotten much better in many of the better restaurants than it used to be. Beer is about $2 in the cheaper bars, but you can now buy local microbrews that costs a little more but are oh so good. There is a duty-free as you are exiting the baggage area of the airport and it is your best buy for liquors and wines.
The habit of tipping has slowly invaded Costa Rica. There is usually a 10% service tax added to a restaurant bill and you do not have to tip beyond that. But if the service is good, it is reasonable that you give a little extra, remembering that people here make very little in wages (average laborer/service worker makes about $2-$3/hour) and it isn’t cheap to live here. Chauffeurs, guides and hotel workers who provide good service will all appreciate your tips.
There are now many cafes and restaurants with wifi in the area. Most hotels have it in the rooms or at least in their reception area. Internet here is relatively high speed but can be irregular in service.
There seem to be less and less public phones in Costa Rica. People either bring their cell phones or get temporary phones when they arrive in the country. If you don’t have a cell phone, and can’t find a public phone, people will generally be happy to let you use their cell phone in an emergency as long as you compensate them, remembering that it may not cost much but, once again, they make very little money.
Costa Rica generally exudes a feeling of prosperity, but the truth, as we have reiterated a few times, is that Ticos struggle to make ends meet in an economy that has seen prices inflated well beyond wages. Understanding this reality will perhaps help you to understand Costa Ricans of the present day.
There is a range of accommodations in Monteverde. The less expensive pensions are mostly in the center of Santa Elena or Cerro Plano and are walking distance to local restaurants and shops as well as the shuttle buses that will take you to activities in the forest. There are several family-run hotels and a few high end hotels in all parts of the zone. Some of these are secluded and you will need to take a taxi if you want to go out to restaurants or other activities.
There is also a broad array of restaurants. The less expensive choices are the family-run sodas and the hole-in-the-wall food stands in Santa Elena center. Many of the hotels have their own dining rooms for their clients or may be open to the public. There are vegetarian, pizza, seafood, Italian, and sushi options. The prices tend to be as diverse as the menus.
After playing in the forest all day, there are many other activities to enjoy in the community. You can start with a massage, easily arranged with a number of local massage therapists through your hotel. There are almost daily yoga classes held in a variety of beautiful spaces. You can watch the sunset, sipping cocktails at happy hour, on one of several restaurant balconies.
In the evenings, there are a number of bars, ranging from small cantinas to live band venues to quiet cocktail lounges. There is often live music that could cover anything from local rock or latino bands to Reggae DJs to jazz, trova, and classical music. On weekends you can be assured of a hot night of dancing to cumbia, merengue or salsa at Bar Amigos.
Monteverde is known for its music festival which was a regular event over several years, but it is not an annual event anymore. However there are often concerts, local performances or professional touring choirs and musical acts. It is possible to catch movies, local theatre and dance. All these events are publicized by posters, Facebook or word-of-mouth.
If you get tired of hiking and zip-lining and want to spend part of the day in the community, there are many options. Monteverde has numerous artist-owned galleries, there are frog ponds and serpentariums, butterfly and orchid gardens, and the bat jungle. You can watch local sports or join in with the Ticos watching their national teams on television at Bar Amigos or La Taverna.
There is a Catholic Church, as well as a 7th Day Adventist, Jehovah Witness and evangelical church, or visit the Quaker school and meeting house in Monteverde. Visitors can take part in the Friends’ Sunday morning silent meeting that starts at 10:30 (10 for people who like to sing). The first Sunday of the month is a potluck community lunch following the Quaker meeting and visitors are welcome.
When it is dry and sunny, there is nowhere more beautiful than Monteverde. You can wear summer clothes in the daytime with a sweater at night.
When it is rainy, you may not be cold, but you will want some kind of rain jacket to keep off the precipitation – this is a rain forest after all. Because it is very humid, quick-dry clothing is always helpful. When it is cold and windy and wet, you want some warm clothes to stay comfortable and dry ones to change into.
There are many clothing stores offering dressy to outdoor clothes and footwear, as well as ropa Americana stores (used clothing), in case you haven’t brought appropriate wear.
If you plan on doing a lot of walking, the terrain can be rough, so light waterproof hiking boots are wise. If you are only walking in town or short trails, running shoes will usually do. People use sandals here, but only the Ticas can master high heels on the uneven terrain.
Monteverde is made for walkers, even more since sidewalks have been installed throughout much of the denser part of the Santa Elena and Cerro Plano area. Once you get out of the central part, there are sometimes paths to follow on the side of the dirt road, but whether on path or road, it is uneven ground. For people who like to walk, taking the local bus up to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in the morning, walking the trails of the Reserve and having lunch, then wandering at your leisure back down the road toward Santa Elena (or wherever your hotel is) is a great way to spend the day.
If it is rainy, it will be muddy and often slippery. If it is the dry season, it will be dusty. There are roads that lead off to great views – to the lookout over San Luis, or for the intrepid hiker there is the steep road up to the communication towers behind the Hotel Belmar. There are the trails at Bajo del Tigre, owned by the Monteverde Conservation League, with a different kind of forest than up in the clouds. There is also the Kuri Kancha Reserve in Monteverde with a variety of trails and forest experiences.
On the other side of Santa Elena, towards Selvatur and the Santa Elena Reserve, there is a lovely side road that wanders about four kilometers to El Mirador. You can catch the local bus headed to the Reserve, ask to be let off at the Mirador road, take a picnic and water, and enjoy a peaceful walk accompanied by birds and magnificent views of Lake Arenal and the volcano. You can always arrange with a taxi driver to pick you up at a pre-set time and place if you don’t want to walk to the schedule of the bus.
Most of the hotels offer a laundry service or they can recommend someone locally. There is no public laundry mat. It is relatively inexpensive to get your laundry done.
Supermarkets all sell coffee, often commercially processed or from other regions of Costa Rica. There are several local coffee growers, many that are proud to be family-run, sustainable and quality minded. Many of them now have cafes in the community where you can have a hot cuppa along with some local baking or a light lunch and then take a bag of your favorite roasted beans home.
Monteverde abounds with locally produced art, clothing, music and books. Some of the more popular galleries are Sarah Dowell’s Gallery (a short walk up into the forest to see her stunning water colors); Roberto Wesson’s 2 galleries (one in “the mall” and another at his home, the Jaguar Gallery, on the road out of Monteverde heading to San Luis). At the Fonda Vela Hotel are paintings and mosaics by the patriarch of the family, Paul Smith. At Stella’s Bakery, one of the original cafes in Monteverde, you can find art by Stella Wallace. Up at the Hummingbird Gallery at the entrance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve there are the famous photographs of Patricia and Michael Fogden.
In Cerro Plano there are a couple of galleries specializing in local art. One is the Monteverde Art House, run by Bertalía Rodríguez Arias which carries beautiful work by Costa Rican artists. The other is called Foresta where several local artists sell clothes, batiks, and jewelry. Luna Azul, a little further up the road from Foresta, carries numerous local artists and has a great selection of women’s jewelry and clothes, many produced by local Yamileth López Corella who also makes bags out of recycled tire rubber.
In Monteverde Centro, CASEM is a local cooperative with numerous products from the area and a great history that began in the 1982 supporting women who needed to stay home for their families but wanted to earn an income by creating clothes, jewelry and other items. Lorna Smith has her stunning ceramics available in a number of places including Whole Foods Monteverde, beside CASEM. Whole Foods specializes in local organic produce and food items such as goat cheese and coconut yogurt.
There are many CDs by Costa Rican musicians such as Editus, Cantoamerica, Malpais, Ojo de Buey and the list goes on. Check out the displays in the souvenir shops and ask about the music. There is bound to be a genre – classical, jazz, salsa, reggae, latin rock, nueva cancion – that you will want to take home. If you hear music playing that you like in stores or restaurants, ask who it is, chances are that it will be a Costa Rican group with a CD for sale.
Monteverde has many authors who have produced illustrated guide books and “laminates” which are the one page plasticized guides of the most common mammals, birds, snakes, frogs, orchids, etc. Mark Wainwright published The Natural History of Costa Rican Mammals as well as illustrated some of the laminates. Robert Dean has illustrated birds guides in Costa Rica, Panama and Peru, recently publishing the second edition of The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide. Willow Zuchowski (photographs by Turid Forsyth) published Tropical Plants of Costa Rica: A Guide to Native and Exotic Flora.
Nalini Nadkarni and Nat Wheelwright published a book called Monteverde: Ecology and Conservation of a Tropical Cloud Forest, recently released in Spanish, that is a collection of research done by numerous biologists, ecologists and natural historians. There is also the Monteverde Jubilee Family Album, produced by members of the Monteverde community, which is a collection of memories and stories by about the founding and development of this remarkable place. And Kay Chornook wrote a biography of Wolf Guindon, called Walking with Wolf: Reflections of a life spent protecting the Costa Rican wilderness, which tells the story of Wolf, one of the original founders of the community, the Reserve and the Conservation League, and gives readers a colorful and personal background to the roots of the community.
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