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When I started building my weeklong Costa Rica itinerary, I was most excited about Monteverde. Pictures of mystical cloud forests, eery hanging bridges, and a climate unlike any other in Costa Rica immediately drew me to Monteverde. And I’m not the only one. Monteverde may be small, but it’s a popular destination for tourists who, like me, are eager to experience the cloud forests for themselves. So without further ado, here are the best things to do in Monteverde in two days – and beyond.
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About Monteverde, Costa Rica
Monteverde is located in the mountains of Northwestern Costa Rica, about 90 miles from San Jose. It’s an incredibly popular tourist destination, thanks to its unique, biodiverse cloud forests. A cloud forest is a high-elevation forest that is frequently covered by clouds. It makes the forest moist and prone to rain and is a unique ecosystem for certain plants and animals. Monteverde has weather unlike the rest of Costa Rica, so be sure to pack a jacket!
Getting to Monteverde
If you’re following my one-week Costa Rica itinerary, it’s likely you’re driving or taking the shuttle to Monteverde from La Fortuna. Get ready for an adventure because that drive is one-of-a-kind. If you’re based near San Jose and don’t want to drive, Monteverde is where I’d recommend booking an organized day trip like this one or this one. Getting to Monteverde is a huge pain since the roads immediately surrounding the city are unpaved and incredibly rocky. Although the locals seemed to have no issues navigating there, it ended up taking us nearly four hours to arrive. My recommendation? Wake up early, eat a hearty breakfast of gallo pinto (breakfast beans and rice) and hit the road.
Best Things to Do in Monteverde in 2 Days (and beyond)
Monteverde is really cool – both literally and figuratively. Due to its location, it has a tendency to get incredibly foggy and cloudy, and can get pretty cold throughout the day, so be sure to bring a jacket. It’s the only place in Costa Rica where we encountered this climate, and it’s a refreshing change from the heat and humidity you’ll find throughout the rest of the country.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
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Did you know that there are THREE cloud forests in Monteverde? If you arrive to Monteverde at a decent hour, head to Monteverde Cloud Forest, my personal favorite. The Monteverde Cloud Forest is the most popular of the three forests, with 11 trails of varying lengths and difficulty. The trails are really well laid out, and despite the fact that there are plenty of waterfalls and hanging bridges, it still gets pretty crowded. I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies that result in this magical climate, but I do know that this particular cloud forest is one of the most well known in the world. It has many hiking trails and is home to 2.5% of worldwide biodiversity as well as tons of beautiful plants and animals. You’ll want to book a tour if you arrive late, so you can explore the highlights of the forest.
Santa Elena Cloud Forest
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Alternatively, visit Santa Elena Cloud Forest instead of (or in addition to, if you have time) the Monteverde Cloud Forest. The trails are longer here and the weather is even more moist but there are fewer tourists, so it’s a great alternate to Monteverde. It’s honestly just as gorgeous and I highly recommend buying your ticket in advance to avoid the crowds.
Children’s Eternal Rain Forest
The Children’s Eternal Rain Forest is the largest private forest reserve in Costa Rica (it’s giant), but doesn’t see as many visitors as the other two cloud forests. This is an excellent place for peaceful hiking, where you’re almost guaranteed to see wildlife; at the very least, you’ll see plenty of flora and fauna. What makes this rainforest stand out is that there are four stations within it and each has a slightly different landscape and feel. Plus, you can actually stay overnight in some of the stations. How cool is that? If you’re short on time and have no idea how to navigate this forest, consider this trekking expedition.
One of the coolest things you can do in Monteverde is walk along some of the hanging bridges in the various forests. These bridges are at canopy level, so you get the unique experience of exploring the forests from high up – and maybe spotting some animals if you’re lucky! There are various hanging bridges throughout Monteverde but Sky Walk is the most popular.
In all honesty, if you aren’t interested in doing outdoor activities like ziplining, hiking, kayaking, and / or rappelling, then you really only need one day in Monteverde to see a cloud forest and some hanging bridges. Outside of the incredibly biodiversity, Monteverde is an outdoor lover’s paradise, and you’ll find a wide variety of activities that cater to every adventurer’s whim.
We went ziplining in Monteverde and it was absolutely thrilling. I highly recommend 100% Aventura for a serious adrenaline rush. Not only did we do 12 regular ziplines, but we also did two Superman ones, which is when you zipline facing downward – the views are seriously stunning! So. Much. Fun.
You also have the option of doing the Tarzan swing, which includes a 3 second free-fall into a swing. I give serious kudos to my parents for doing all the activities including the Tarzan swing and the fairly steep hike to get to the Superman. #stillgotit. I definitely screamed the loudest out of everyone when doing all these activities, but that’s half the fun, right? 🙂
Bravery is NOT my game.
This tour will take you a solid 3-4 hours, and the additional hanging bridge tour takes the same amount of time. If you’re short on time, you can easily do a day and a half in Monteverde by doing the Cloud Forest on the day you arrive then spending the following day doing extreme sports. If you’re staying for awhile, check out some of the other activities below!
Monteverde Butterfly Garden
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The Monteverde Butterfly Garden is a nature center that offers some seriously informative tours about various insects, with a special focus on butterflies. While here, you’ll learn all about different butterflies from some hilarious and enthusiastic guides. I went to a similar garden while I was in Alajuela (near San Jose), and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Night-time Wildlife Walk
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So many species of the rainforest come out at night and what better way to see them than with a Nighttime wildlife walk? Of course, there are no guarantees, but you could potentially spot sloths, frogs, snakes, and other animals. Seriously, such a cool experience. I just love how many animals are out and about in Costa Rica.
Coffee, Chocolate, and Sugar Cane Tour
With this Coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour, you’ll get a hands-on experience in how raw coffee cherries, cacao beans, and sugar cane are transformed into a variety of products. It also includes plenty of samples of coffee, chocolate, and sugarcane – always my favorite kind of “hands-on” experience! Plus, it makes you seriously appreciate that morning cup of coffee.
Where to Eat in Monteverde, Costa Rica
- Soda La Salvadita: This soda (meaning a local Costa Rican restaurant) is around a 15-minute walk from town, but the food is absolutely delicious! It mostly has typical Costa Rican dishes, but the food is good and prices are inexpensive. I had the casado here, which includes your choice of protein plus veggies, rice, beans, and yucca. Yum!
- Tico y Rico: Tico y Rico is clearly the tourist hot spot in town – with prices to match. While it’s technically Costa Rican, it also has a huge variety of international cuisine. I was a little tired of casados and ordered a burger here #sorrynotsorry, but my sister’s quesadilla was also delicious. It’s not a “must-eat” place but it’s worth stopping by if you’re looking for a little variety.
- Taco Taco: Taco Taco has delicious, inexpensive Tex-Mex food with a fun ambiance to boot. Plus, the prices are reasonable. Definitely a win in my book.
Note: We also had some subpar Chinese food and pizza (from the same restaurant on separate days, so that should tell you something), but neither meal was good enough to recommend. The town is pretty small, so your foodie options are somewhat limited.
Where to Stay in Monteverde, Costa Rica
- Backpack: Cabinas Eddy | Read Tripadvisor reviews | Book a Stay
- Save: Camino Verde Bed & Breakfast | Read Tripadvisor reviews | Book a Stay
- Luxury: Monteverde Lodge and Gardens | Read Tripadvisor reviews | Book a Stay
Confession time. We accidentally stayed at a hostel in Monteverde. In my defense, this place was listed as a bed and breakfast all over the internet, and it did include a good breakfast…we just had to wash the dishes after :o. My parents were pretty good sports about it but I was annoyed by the misleading name. This seemed to be the case for the majority of the “bed and breakfasts” of Monteverde, so be sure to check carefully so you don’t make the same mistake.
See below for other options in Monteverde!
What to Pack for Monteverde, Costa Rica
I was surprised to find that traveling to an outdoorsy tropical destination requires some specialty items, which I’ve included below. Also, click here to see which items are always in my suitcase, no matter the destination!
Check out the complete Costa Rica packing list here!
- Hiking sandals: they may be ugly, but they’re certainly versatile! Not only did I wear them for every hike I took in Costa Rica, but I also wore them at the beach as well.
- Waterproof jacket: It rains a lot in Costa Rica – especially if you’re there during rainy season. This jacket is lightweight and breathable but keeps you dry. It also fits into its own pouch to make packing lightly that much easier.
- Temperature regulating t-shirts: No matter what the season, you’ll want at least one basic temperature regulating shirt, like this one. This T is specially made to be moisture-wicking, anti-odor, and offer SPF protection. Plus, it doesn’t look like an exercise top but still offers a lot of the benefits of high-performance clothing. It’s cute enough to be dressed up with a cardigan or nice scarf. If you decide you love these shirts and want more, try this one.
- Moisture-wicking pants: Costa Rica is tropical which means it’s humid AF and there are tons of mosquitos. The best pants to get for this kind of weather are both quick-dry and lightweight. I recommend these that are great for both hiking and just regular traveling but you can also browse all your options at REI.
- Packable down jacket: Monteverde is pretty chilly, unlike many other parts of Costa Rica. I was really thankful to have a jacket with me while here. I recommend this packable one because it’s warm but doesn’t take up much room in your suitcase as you’ll probably really only need it in Monteverde.
- Sunscreen: The kind that is both lightweight AND doesn’t sweat off your face! For everyday use, I use Neutrogena Clear Face Sunscreen because my skin is prone to acne. The original Neutrogena sunscreen is just as good if acne is a non-issue. Neither will leave your skin feeling gross and greasy. For the rest of me, I use the solid body stick, which works well. My friends who dive told me that the chemicals in sunscreen are really bad for the ocean though, so if you’re going swimming, they recommend All Good Sunscreen, which is safe for reefs and the planet. The more you know!
- Insect repelling clothing: YEAH, that’s a thing! I wish I’d known before I went to Costa Rica. Honestly, you might think you won’t need it but this is a purchase I wish I’d made. Check out this men’s shirt and this women’s shirt.
- Insect repellent: Don’t think you can get away with wimpy insect repellent…the mosquitos in Costa Rica are vicious! THIS is the best ones to ward off those bites.
- Permethrin insect spray: Before you go to Costa Rica, treat all your clothing with Permethrin, a magical spray that makes your clothing repel insects (and doesn’t stick to your skin!).
- Trip Insurance: A lot can go wrong when you travel which is why I always recommend getting trip insurance. World Nomads is my go-to company.
- Power bank: I don’t know if I’m a phone addict or what (jk, the answer to that is an unfortunate but resounding yes) but I legit don’t understand how people can travel without a power bank. You’re out and about all day and using your phone to navigate, take photos, and who knows what else. I always carry my Anker PowerCore while I’m out. It’s light, holds multiple charges, and charges phones quickly. Win!
- Portable WiFi: Once upon a time, I used to collect SIM cards like 90’s kids collected Beanie Babies. I had one for each country I visited and multiple phone numbers I could never remember. Why? So I could always have internet (I’m an addict and I know it). Nowadays, I use a TEP Wireless Hotspot. I get internet pretty much everywhere and can use it for multiple devices. P.S. read my TEP Wireless review here.
- Waterproof dry bag or day pack (water resistant): Not only does it rain a lot, but Costa Rica is notoriously humid. Keep your valuables in a waterproof bag to avoid any kind of water damage. These are especially useful for hiking or water activities.
- Waterproof phone pouch: If you want to take photos of your excursions underwater or just generally keep your phone dry and handy, this a must-have item!
- Waterproof camera: Costa Rica is all about outdoor activities in the elements, and having a device that can capture your moments no matter the weather is a must! GoPro is the go-to camera for adventure enthusiasts and the best in the market. Plus, it’s waterproof without a case!
- Insulated water bottle: Keep your liquids colder for longer. Nothing beats a cold drink of water after trekking through the national park!
- Microfiber towel: Microfiber towels are a must-have for any outdoorsy trip. They dry significantly faster than regular towels are much more lightweight, too. Plus, this one comes with a bonus hand towel, which is perfect for hikes!
- Portable clothesline: This is super handy for hanging swimwear, towels, and other gear to dry. Not only does it come with built-in clothespins, but it’s also easy to hook both indoors and outdoors.
- Hand Sanitizer and face wipes: Costa Rica is hot and humid, which means you’ll be sweaty and gross pretty much the whole time. Fun! Face wipes or baby wipes will help you stay refreshed and cleanish, while hand sanitizer is useful for general…er, sanitizing. Especially if a bathroom isn’t handy.
- Travel First Aid Kit: I love that this travel first aid kit is small enough to stick in your bag but still has tons of items in it. I’d remove the scissors if you aren’t planning to check your luggage, but otherwise, this is incredibly handy, especially if you’re going to be doing outdoorsy things.
- Carry on backpack: Of course, no packing list is complete without a carry on to keep all your essentials. The Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack is hands down the best backpack I’ve ever used for travel. Not only is it carry-on sized, but it’s also incredibly comfortable and easy to carry, even for a small-framed person like me. It has tons of pockets and compartments for organization, lockable zippers, and it’s weather resistant. If you don’t think you can handle packing in a carry-on, the Osprey Fairview 70 Backpack is just as comfortable but a lot larger. Costa Rica is not really conducive to wheeled suitcases.
Other Practical Tips
U.S. passport holders don’t need a visa to visit Costa Rica but they do need a return ticket out of the country. Note: you may need to pay a departure tax at the airport when you’re leaving if the fee isn’t included in your ticket. The cost is $29 per person, payable in USD or colones.
Renting a Car in Costa Rica
If you aren’t taking a tour, the best way to get around Costa Rica is to rent a car, especially if you’re planning on visiting more than just one city. My Costa Rica itinerary includes visits to Monteverde, San Jose/Alajuela, La Fortuna, and Manuel Antonio.
Renting a car in Costa Rica isn’t cheap because there’s mandatory in-country car insurance and other fees, which can oftentimes cost more than renting the car itself. I like using Expedia to compare costs before renting. In the case of Costa Rica, read the fine print carefully when booking online. If you’d like to know more about the policies and fees regarding car rental in Costa Rica, I recommend this article.
The official Costa Rican currency is colones. At the time of updating this post (May 2019), USD $1 equals about ₡596. US dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica, but often at a fixed rate of about $1 to ₡500, so you lose a little money by using USD exclusively. This is not the case in restaurants, large grocery stores, or hotels that use exact rates but it’s true for smaller shops, cabs, etc. Credit cards are widely accepted, so I recommend bringing a no-fee travel card and some USD with you for smaller purchases. Make sure you bring your patience and your passport with you to the bank to exchange money: it’s where you’ll get the best exchange rate but the lines are long.
The Best Time to Visit Monteverde
Mid-December to April is the dry season, so that’s the best time to visit if you want good weather. The downside of visiting then is that it’s when Costa Rica is the most crowded and the most expensive. If a little rain doesn’t bother you, traveling during rainy season (May – November) can save you money on accommodation and tours.
How Long to Stay in Monteverde
Monteverde is fairly small, so I recommend spending 2-3 days here. What to do in Monteverde depends on your interests and how much of a break you’d like from the rest of Costa Rica’s tropical heat, but Monteverde is on the smaller side and I was happy with the two days I spent here.
No matter how long you decide to stay in Monteverde, it’s definitely a city not to be missed. No matter what your interests, I’m confident you’ll find plenty of things to keep you relishing that pura vida lifestyle.
More Costa Rica ResourcesPlanning a trip to Costa Rica soon? Check out ALL my posts on Costa Rica below:
- Costa Rica Travel Guide
- The Perfect Costa Rica Itinerary for One Week: 7 Days of Pura Vida
- The Best Day Trips from San Jose, Costa Rica: 13 Things to Do Near San Jose and Alajuela
- 17+ Awesome Things to do in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica (On a Budget)
- 8 Best Things to Do in Monteverde, Costa Rica for First-Time Visitors
- 10 Best Things to Do in La Fortuna and Arenal, Costa Rica for First-Time Visitors
Have you ever been to Monteverde? What was your experience like? Share in the comments below!
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