Topics include Transportation, Things to Do, Dining Scene & more!
During the Korean War some Quakers from Alabama decided to move to Costa Rica. Back then some Costa Ricans lived in different isolated places of what is now known as Monte Verde. There was no town, not even a road just ox cart trails, pastures and forest. The Quaker families were living in Heredia and finally decided to buy land up in the mountain range of Tilaran. It was this group who named Monteverde. At first they lived in tents. April 19th is known as Monteverde Day because it was the day the Quaker families, over 30 young people, arrived to the area.
Now Monte Verde is the name given to the whole area and Monteverde is the name of the upper part of the mountain where the Quakers settled. When you arrive to Monte Verde you will first arrive to Santa Elena, the only town there is. This town is about half a block in size and it is a triangle. If you want to go to Guanacaste all you have to do is keep driving north and you will soon be in Cañitas and after you cross a river you will no longer be in Monte Verde, Puntarenas, you will be in Abangares, Guanacaste.
When you get to Santa Elena there is a paved road and all you have to do is drive up following the paved road towards Monteverde. You will go to a place called Cerro Plano, (Flat hill), there are many hotels all along the way and restaurants but then the paved road ends. That is the end of Cerro Plano and the beginning of Monteverde. This dirt road along with the Gas Station up on the left and the Hotel Belmar and the Bella Vista Cabins are part of what its known as the Monteverde community. Now you will not find as many hotels, nor restaurants up there and there's more forest along the road and the road ends at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, the place that is the reason for the fame of the overwhelming diversity of flora and fauna in the area. Monteverde is a totally different world than Cerro Plano and Santa Elena.
How do you know what to see? There are so many touristic attractions now that most visitors have no idea what to do. A tip that may help you is that most of the older touristic attractions are still environmentally friendly. In the last few years receptionists from many hotels and many tourist "information" offices are charging all tourist attractions at least $10 per person they send over. This means that visitors are being charged at least $10 more for every place they visit because of this unwanted situation. Honest businesses collapse if they don't pay receptionists what they want. So, visit the Monte Verde's Tourist Chamber instead of buying tours at the hotels. Not all receptionists do this, there are some great and honest people up there doing their job well. Contact the business personally so you pay less. Just make sure you tell the manager that you know about this "commission" they pay receptionists and you are directly contacting them so they should not charge you "commission".
Now you need to decide what to do according to your interest and expectations. Monteverde offers both, 100 % adrenaline adventure in the forest and guided hikes and nature sights. The main attraction for everyone should be the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve because after all the complete protection of the cloud forest and its inhabitants depends on the amount of visitors they get. This place is also known as the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and it is not a national park, there are no National Parks in the area at all. The "Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve" is located at the end of the dirt road and there is no other businesses up there only the Hummingbird Gallery next door, a great place to sit relax and enjoy the many different species of hummers. The Gallery is also a great souvenir shop where there's a permanent exhibit of really good pictures from famous British Photographers Michael and Patricia Fogden.
If any tourist attraction in Monte Verde states that they are located at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve it is not true and it is impossible. The Preserve is mainly a protected area and only 3% is open to the public. That is about 13 km of trails and that's it. At the entrance there is a building with a restaurant and a lodge that belongs to the Preserve, an Environmental Education Classroom in the woods and a Lab used for research. So yes, this is a place that must be seen, specially early in the morning to get more action from birds. There is a trail that leads you to a waterfall and one that takes you on a hanging bridge. You may climb up to the Continental Divide and be in two places at once, the Caribbean and the Pacific slopes. Visit the Dwarf Forest up by the divide. Even if you decide to go without one of the official guides from the park, you will love the ever green vegetation. Only 2% of the world is a Cloud Forest and that's why most animals and plants are endangered. Hire a guide from the park through their Natural history walk program or call 2645 6474 to hire some of the few excellent freelance guides available such as Oscar Fennell, Danilo Brenes, Andres Alvarez, Jorge Marin, Maria Saenz, Rodrigo Solano and others. Everyone can pretend to be a guide so be careful, very few are knowledgeable, experienced, honest and bilingual naturalist guides.
After a morning in the Cloud Forest you may try visiting the Santa Elena Reserve which is located totally on the other side of the Continental Divide, on the Caribbean side. This Preserve is different because it is own by the local public High School and it gets more rain than the Monteverde Cloud Forest on the Pacific side and it is more open because it has less primary forest (forest that has never been cut down), and more secondary forest. Because of its location certain creatures more commonly found on the Caribbean side may be easily spotted such as the endangered and beautiful Umbrella Bird. Both the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve offer nearly 480 bird species, 70 species of snakes, 56 amphibians, 26 kinds of lizard, over 500 orchid species and 134 mammal species. Over 2,500 plant species are known in the area and just being surrounded by them is a very intense experience. Without these two forests and a few other environmentally protected areas in Monte Verde, there would be no hope for this endangered habitat.
Because of their safety and environmentally friendly priorities there are two 100% Adrenaline canopy experiences you may enjoy with family, friends, kids and adults. The Original Canopy Tour and Sky Adventures' Sky Trek zip lines. These two companies are owned by local families and both have great reputation. Check their websites and don't worry, the owners are honest, professional and responsible.
There are many guided tours offered in the area and in many different places, sadly many have been feeding wildlife for many years and will do about anything to get more tourists. They pay receptionists more and even have crowds every day. So, based on the ecological impact or lack there of and the honesty and professionalism of each business few places can be truly recommended. Due to years of experience, location within the cloud forest of Monteverde, quality service and Guides, the Natural History Walks, Bird Watching Tours and Night Hikes from Ficus Trails and Curicancha are by far the best in the field. Night Guided Walks were invented over 20 years ago and only two guides in the area are left from that original tour and no one in the whole country has the experience they both have in that matter. So check these two alternatives. Animals can't be contolled by the guides and because they are not being fed in these two places promises can't be made about how many things you may see every day. Yet both places protect important parts of the Biological Corridor and are close to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. That's why these two locations offer the same variety of flora and fauna that are found in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve and the Santa Elena Reserve with few exceptions.
There are two excellent Orchid Gardens in the area, one in Santa Elena, great for wheel chairs and easy walking and the other one is in San Bosco and it has more orchids and it is not for wheel chairs.
There's also the Herpetarium in Santa Elena and the frog pond that offers also a nice butterfly garden. Both are great places to visit and are indoors. The Bat Jungle is a place that fits in this category and it is an excellent place that everyone should visit.
Two other local activities to consider are el Trapiche, (sugar cane, chocolate and coffee tour). This place is very well managed by two of the original local families, Santamarias and Rodriguez. Learn how local farmers live and have a taste of their home cooking first hand.
The other activity is a horse back riding trip to the local hot springs. That's right, there are no volcanoes in Monteverde but for some reason there are hot springs. A local family provides a horse back riding tour to it and a delicious snack. They have no other contact than their home phone number 2645 5656. The grandmother runs it and her daughter owns the Aerial Tram. If you do not want to fly through the canopy you may go on your own pase on this little cars made for two. You will be closer to the top of the trees but slower and you may stop for a picture or to check some of the inhabitants of this Pacific Transition Dry Forest. Check their webpage www.telefericomonteverde.com
Every visitor has a different schedule and interest and it is better to spend quality time in fewer activities than to run all over the place trying to do it all. Relax, it is your vacation, enjoy it !
There are many other activities you may also consider or may have heard about. The best place to contact for honest information is the Monteverde Tourist Chamber.