During our one single week of traveling in Costa Rica we didn’t cover much ground, but that was a conscious decision. We knew that trying to do to much in seven days would be frustrating, especially given the road conditions in the country. With that in mind, one of the places we decided to focus on was Monteverde, where we spent the better part of three days.
Located on the southeastern side of Lake Arenal, Monteverde tends to be a place that travelers pass through on their way to and from La Fortuna, a more touristy town to the east. Though we visited both Monteverde and La Fortuna, we much preferred Monteverde for a few reasons:
> We’re outdoorsy people, and there were many more opportunities to hike in Monteverde.
> People didn’t seem nearly as pushy in Monteverde. In La Fortuna, it felt like everyone was trying to push their tours.
> People were much more genuine and interested in chatting with us about themselves and their lives.
> The pace of life in Monteverde felt slower. We were encouraged to explore and ask questions.
> The quality of our experiences were much better, and it felt like the money we spent on activities was a much better investment.
When we arrived in Monteverde, one of the first things we did was stop at the Monteverde Welcome Information Center, which is located on the dirt road going into Monteverde coming from San Jose. It’s not actually in the city proper, where you’ll find lots of other people hawking tours and cheap rooms. Instead, the Monteverde Welcome Info Center is run by Carlos, a local entrepreneur who speaks exceptional English.
We are eternally grateful that we happened upon Carlos on our first day in the area as he was an exceptional resource and extremely knowledgeable about everything in Monteverde. He asked us about our interests and helped us plan an itinerary that best fit our needs. Carlos is clearly excited about promoting the Monteverde area, and though he was able to answer most of our questions, he openly admitted when he didn’t know the answer to one of our questions.
My very first suggestion to anyone heading into Monteverde would be to stop by the Monteverde Welcome Information Center and find Carlos. He was absolutely instrumental in our awesome visit to this part of Costa Rica. In addition to helping us choose activities, he took care of all of the payment details in one transaction, and all we had to do was turn in vouchers for the rest of our Monteverde stay.
While in Monteverde, we visited a variety of places and participated in a slew of activities. We packed our days and had a blast. Here are the highlights …
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Park is privately held and belongs to the local high school. The kids there learn about its value and many, like Carlos and our Santa Elena guide, Jose, go on to educate others in order to preserve the park. Though you can walk around the park on your own, I highly recommend you go with a guide. (Here are a few more tips for visiting a Costa Rica rainforest.) Jose pointed out things we never would have seen and explained the biology of the rainforest. The guided hike through Santa Elena Cloud Forest was about two-and-a-half hours, and we spent some time strolling around on our own, though we weren’t nearly as successful as Jose in finding tiny frogs and itty-bitty flowers.
We decided to get a little touristy with an afternoon at Aventura, where we went zip lining. The lines got longer as we zipped back and forth over the dense vegetation below. On the final line, which was a whopping 700 meters long, we had the opportunity to do the Superman flight, which was a stellar way to check out what the rainforest below looks like from above. There was also a rope rappel and scarier-than-heck Tarzan swing, which was a 140-foot free fall followed by a 295-foot swing.
Carlos has designed a San Luis Waterfall Hike, which he leads. Though it’s meant to last about half a day, it is flexible based upon the needs and capabilities of the participants. The first part of the tour heads back toward San Luis Waterfall, which is actually located on private land. It is along here that the rare quetzal had been spotted recently, but we weren’t lucky enough to see it. At the waterfall, we waded in to our ankles (no joke, the water was cold!) and then we headed back for a light lunch of fruit, cheese and crackers before heading to a local coffee plantation. It was agritourism at its finest as we learned about the coffee harvesting process, though I was bummed to learn that all the good stuff is exported and the locals drink the leftover sludge. Our final stop on this tour was at a hummingbird gallery, where dozens of multi-colored birds flitted around several feeders. Overall, a comprehensive, interesting, full day at a very good value.
Finally, we had one other outdoorsy experience when we went night hiking in Monteverde. Carlos had explained our many options for night hiking in the area, and he knew which animals had been spotted where in recent days. Though there’s certainly no guarantee that anyone will see anything on a night hike, we definitely made the right choice by going to Santamaria’s. Outfitted with headlamps and a sense of adventure, we set off into the dark woods and were ultimately rewarded by spotting two sloths, two pit vipers, several kudamundi, a ridiculous number of nocturnal insects and several other critters.
Monteverde was an excellent place to begin our trip in Costa Rica. The diversity of activities combined with a local tour operator who cares more about his clients and community than the money really set this part of the country apart for us. My advice to anyone considering adding this area of Costa Rica to their travel itinerary is simply this: Go. Do. Enjoy.