Monteverde: A Forest in the Clouds

Last Updated: March 1, 2024

Located in the country’s northwestern mountains and straddling the Continental Divide is one of Costa Rica’s top ecotourism destinations, Monteverde. Translating to Green Mountain, this small town, originally founded by Quakers, really lives up to its name. Here, trees are covered in layers of moss and plants grow on top of one another due to a constant haze of clouds and filtered sun. This unique habitat, called the cloud forest, is home to an abundance of birds and wildlife.

We have visited Monteverde several times over the past 10+ years living in Costa Rica. In this post, we’ll share information on getting to Monteverde as well as our top recommendations for things to do, restaurants, and hotels.

Monteverde: A Forest in the Clouds - Destination Guide


Monteverde lies inland from Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, high in the Tilaran Mountain Range (Cordillera de Tilaran). While remote, it is only about three hours from each of Costa Rica’s international airports in San Jose and Liberia.

Monteverde is a popular pass-through destination for people going from La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano to points along the Pacific coast and vice-versa.

The main town in the area of Monteverde is called Santa Elena. Santa Elena has a busy, but small, downtown with shops, restaurants, a few attractions, and some hotels. Many people visiting without a car choose to stay here for the convenience.

One main road leads out of Santa Elena and eventually dead-ends at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Along this stretch are some more hotels and restaurants nestled into the forest and on smaller side roads.

Monteverde: A Forest in the Clouds - View of Downtown Santa Elena
View of downtown Santa Elena from above

Getting There

Getting to Monteverde is often a topic of concern for first-time travelers. Indeed, some of the roads leading to this remote destination can be rough and bumpy, but with the right vehicle, they are fine most of the year.

We have a post about the two main driving routes to Monteverde and included some video footage of the road conditions to give you an idea.

Road through countryside half-paved half-gravel
The road to Monteverde from La Fortuna (Arenal)

Keep in mind that you don’t absolutely need a car in Monteverde. While attractions are spread out, most tours include transportation for free or a small fee. If you do decide to rent a car, we recommend an SUV with higher clearance and 4×4 if possible. Check out our Rental Car Discount page to save 10% and get free extras.

If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, shared or private shuttle vans are a popular choice. Many people are also intrigued by the Van-Boat-Van option that goes between La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano and Monteverde. This is a shared shuttle van service with a nice boat ride across Lake Arenal in the middle. Lastly, public buses can take you to and from Monteverde, though they tend to be slower and may require connections.  

If you would like help arranging a shared or private shuttle or the Van-Boat-Van option, please contact us through our Shuttle Booking page. 

How Much Time to Spend in Monteverde – Can You Visit as a Day Trip?

Many people look at the map and figure that they can do Monteverde on a day trip from La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano and even parts of Guanacaste.

Although Monteverde may seem close, the roads and mountainous conditions make for at least a three hour drive no matter where you’re coming from. While possible, driving to Monteverde as a day trip makes for a long, exhausting day.

We recommend staying for at least a couple of nights to make the trip worthwhile. Two nights is the minimum amount of time to see the major attractions. If you prefer to travel at a slower pace or have more must-sees on your list, staying three or four nights is best. You still won’t run out of things to do and great places to eat.

expansive view of green mountains

Activities in Monteverde

You would never guess that Monteverde is a small town based on the long list of activities available.

Nature lovers can enjoy hiking, hanging bridges, bird-watching, and wildlife exhibits. Adventurous types can do heart-pumping activities like zip lining and even bungee jumping. With all to choose from, here is a narrowed-down list of some things you won’t want to miss. 


Hiking through the cloud forest is the most popular activity in Monteverde.

There are several protected areas to choose from, but the most visited is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This reserve gives an excellent cloud forest experience and has trails for all levels, but can get busy during peak tourist months like December and January.

Less crowded options include the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, which is higher altitude, and Children’s Eternal Rainforest, the largest private reserve in Costa Rica. There are also many smaller reserves. Curi-Cancha is one, and we found it to have some of the best bird-watching because of its varied habitat.

We highly recommend getting a naturalist guide for your hike through the cloud forest. Birds and animals are often hiding in the thick canopy, making many visitors leave disappointed that they didn’t see much. Guided hikes are around $70-85 per person.

Monteverde: A Forest in the Clouds - Hiking Curi Cancha Reserve
Enjoying the trails (almost) all to ourselves at Curi-Cancha Reserve

Night Tours

You also can do night tours at many of the reserves.

These allow you to see different types of wildlife that is not active during the day and are fun because, well, it’s dark. Usually the terrain is fairly flat so these kinds of tours are good for just about everyone, seniors and kids included.

Prices are around $30-40 per person. 

To learn more, check out our experience doing a night tour with a local guide: A Night Walk in Monteverde: Sleeping Toucans, Sloths & Snakes.

Zip Lining and Hanging Bridges

Monteverde has numerous zip-line operators and hanging bridge facilities. Not many people know this, but Monteverde is where zip lining was first developed for tourism back in the 1990s. While zip lines are now found throughout Costa Rica, cruising through the clouds is a unique experience to just Monteverde.

Hanging bridges offer another way to enjoy the cloud forest canopy (see cover photo, above). Strolling through the treetops, you can see lots of birds and occasionally other wildlife like monkeys. We’ve done lots of hanging bridges around Costa Rica, but Monteverde’s are some of the best. 

To hear about our experience doing some of the hanging bridges, read our post, Selvatura Park: Cloud Forest Hanging Bridges Walk.

There are several operators in town that offer combo tours where you can do both zip lining and hanging bridges. Prices are around $100-130 per person.

Monteverde: A Forest in the Clouds - Zip Lining through the Cloud Forest
View of a zip liner from one of Monteverde’s hanging bridge parks

Gardens and Wildlife Exhibits

Monteverde is known as being one of the most biodiverse places in Costa Rica, with hundreds of different plants, animals, and birds. Seeing wildlife or specific plants in the cloud forest, though, can be difficult since the foliage is so thick and cloud cover so dense.

To supplement what you will see on the trail, it’s fun to check out the many nature exhibits around town. These really showcase how much life can be found in the area.

Some are attached to other attractions (a hanging bridge company might have a butterfly garden), but many are stand-alone like the Monteverde Orchid Garden, Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, Bat Jungle, and Hummingbird Gallery.

These places are great to visit if you have extra time between tours or need to duck away during a passing rain shower.

Coffee and Chocolate Tours

Before Monteverde became a popular tourist spot, farming was how most locals made a living.

Today, many families still work the fertile land. Coffee, along with sugar cane and chocolate, is the most prominent crop in the area. You will see the shiny green leaves of this important plant lining the steep hills on your drive into town.

Several different coffee tours are available in Monteverde. Some are larger, more commercial operations, while others feature small, organic farms like Cafe Monteverde. Tours may include a ride in a traditional ox-cart, sugar-cane demonstration, or chocolate-making component.

guide holding coffee picking basket with view of farm
The Cafe Monteverde Coffee Tour

Restaurant Recommendations in Monteverde

The Monteverde area has an abundance of eateries to please all palates, many using locally grown ingredients from small farms and dairies. A lot of international restaurants are popular for dinner, including Italian and fusion offerings, while cafes, bakeries, and sodas (traditional Costa Rican restaurants) are available for lunch.

Here’s a list of some that we have enjoyed.

Green Restaurant

For an elegant dinner in Santa Elena, head to the Green Restaurant. This farm-to-table restaurant features chicken, steak, fish, and pasta entrees paired with interesting sauces. Many of the ingredients come from the owner’s own family farm. Located in Plaza Monteverde (near the Mega Super grocery store) on the second floor.

Restaurant Guide Monteverde, Costa Rica - Green Restaurant
Tagliatelle Alfredo with shrimp at Green Restaurant


One of the most popular options in town, this charming Italian eatery has delicious homemade pasta, brick-oven pizza, and tasty desserts like Tiramisu. The atmosphere at Tramonti is romantic for dinner and warm and welcoming for lunch, especially after hiking in the cool cloud forest. The restaurant is now situated up on hill so has amazing views all the way to the ocean. Located just off the road to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Cafe Cabure

Offering a large menu that ranges from sandwiches and wraps to chicken, fish, beef, or pasta, Cafe Cabure cooks up eclectic food with an Argentinian flare. Be sure to save room for dessert as they make their own chocolates (including truffles). Located next to Bat Jungle on the road to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Restaurant Guide to Monteverde, Costa Rica - Cafe Cabure
Sea Bass with almonds at Cafe Cabure

Sabor Tico

A staple in town, Sabor Tico serves up typical Costa Rican cuisine and is the best spot to catch a soccer game on TV or have a beer. This place can get crowded with locals and visitors alike because the food is really good, so be sure to bring your patience. Has two locations in Santa Elena: one in Plaza Monteverde (near the Mega Super grocery store) on the second floor, and another across the street from the soccer field.  

large cooked plantain with chicken and rice
“Rustic Chicken” at Sabor Tico

Orchid Garden Cafe

This well-loved hangout right in downtown Santa Elena offers a wide selection of coffees and drinks, both hot and cold. They also have a huge food menu with everything from waffles and crepes to wraps, salads, and dinner entrees. Free Wifi and a nice outdoor deck keep patrons here for hours so make sure to grab a table when you can. Open for all three meals, with breakfast served all day.

Large bowl with hummus, pita, olives, etc.
Quinoa bowl at Orchid Garden Cafe

Soda Abuela at the CASEM Gift Shop

Hidden in the back corner of the CASEM art collaborative building is Soda Abuela. If you are looking for an authentic dining experience in Costa Rica, this is your place. Dishes like arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), casados (lunch plates), and traditional soups are carefully prepared on a woodstove by local woman who know what they are doing. As a bonus, while eating here you can explore the CASEM gift shop, which has a decent selection of artwork and crafts made by locals.

Eating local in Monteverde, Costa Rica at Soda Abuela
Wood stove at Soda Abuela where all the magic happens

Stella’s Bakery

We first discovered this cafe after giving the owner’s elderly father a ride into town from the countryside. He recommended we stop by and we are happy we did. Stella’s is a comfortable lunch spot that offers many soups and sandwiches. They also have homemade baked goods like giant cinnamon buns, empanadas, and carrot cake. Located across the street from CASEM on the road to the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Monteverde Gastroclub

If you’re craving sushi, we highly recommend the Monteverde Gastroclub. This small restaurant in the main commercial center in Santa Elena serves up delicious rolls made with love. Located on the second floor of the Monteverde Plaza, near Mega Super grocery store.

Three different sushi rolls plated on a table
Sushi from Monteverde Gastroclub

Restaurante Celajes at Hotel Belmar

For a high-end dining experience, the restaurant at Hotel Belmar is one of the best options in Monteverde. Not only is the food excellent, but the service is too. The menu is farm-to-table with many of the ingredients coming from their own organic garden. Cocktails are fresh and delicious as well. The Belmar now also has a separate brewpub that serves casual fare. Hotel Belmar is located right off the main road to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Hotels in Monteverde

Below are a few of our favorite hotels and lodges in the Monteverde area.

For a full list in all price ranges, read our separate post, Monteverde Hotel Guide. This guide gives our complete recommendations for everything from family-friendly cabins and affordable inns to romantic lodges with cloud-forest views. It also gives essential tips on what to look for in lodging.

Hotel Belmar

With gorgeous architecture that compliments the breathtaking views, Hotel Belmar is best described as a luxury lodge. Nestled in the cloud forest, this boutique hotel has well-appointed rooms and brilliant wood finishes throughout. Its restaurant embodies the hotel’s focus on sustainability by offering farm-to-table cuisine, homemade mixers, and craft beer that is brewed onsite. We have stayed here and really enjoyed it. They have a mix of rooms, ranging from standards with two queen beds to luxurious suites with jacuzzis. Located right outside downtown Santa Elena off the main road to the Monteverde Reserve. $300-1,000/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Monteverde Destination Guide - Where to Stay - Hotel Belmar
A view of the cloud forest at Hotel Belmar

Los Pinos Cabins and Reserve

A good mid-range option, especially for those who like privacy, is Los Pinos Cabins and Reserve. Stand-alone cabins are spaced out on the wooded property with forest and trails in between. The various-sized cottages accommodate everyone from couples to larger families and offer fully equipped kitchens that allow you to dine in. There’s even a free-use veggie garden. Located on the main road between Santa Elena and Monteverde. $100-250/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Monteverde Destination Guide - Where to Stay - Los Pinos Cabinas
One of the standalone cabins at Los Pinos 

Valle Escondido Nature Reserve Hotel & Farm

Valle Escondido Nature Reserve Hotel & Farm is a special property because of its location. It sits at the end of a quiet side road, surrounded by cloud forest. Various room setups accommodate solo travelers, couples, and families. Trails through their private reserve are free for guests, and the property is known for having a wide variety of birds and animals. Located next to the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens on a side road a few minutes outside downtown Santa Elena. $140-250/night (double occupancy). Check Rates and Availability Here.

arial view of hotel grounds
Valle Escondido Hotel. Photo credit: Valle Escondido Hotel

Casa Batsu B&B

If you’re looking to have a more authentic visit to Monteverde, Casa Batsu B&B is a great option. This charming bed and breakfast has a handful of rooms a short drive from the main area of town. The hosts are a lovely Costa Rican family who make you feel at home. We have stayed here and enjoyed it. The hospitality was amazing and the elaborate, home-cooked breakfasts were memorable. $130-160/night.

Hotel room with nicely decorated bed and large window
Our room at Casa Batsu


For one of Costa Rica’s more remote destinations, Monteverde certainly has a lot to offer. Whether you’re looking for a quiet escape, thrilling adventure, or something in between, you can find the perfect mix here in the green, misty cloud forests. We’ve enjoyed each trip we’ve taken to Monteverde and can’t wait to return again to discover more.

Last Updated: March 1, 2024

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Have a question about your upcoming trip to Monteverde? Post your comment below.

Looking for more information to help you plan? Check out these posts:

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – Learn about the Reserve’s Quaker history and what to expect for trail conditions and wildlife. 

Best Hotels Near SJO Airport – If you’re flying in or out of San Jose, don’t settle for a bland airport hotel. See our picks that will make your first or last travel days memorable.

Destinations Summary Guide – Where to after Monteverde? This summary guide gives an overview of Costa Rica’s many unique destinations and links to our detailed articles so you can learn more. 


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