This article contains referral links for your convenience, at no cost to you.
Aside from the beach, of course, Monteverde is one of my favorite places to go to when visiting Costa Rica. The ride up, alone, is enough to satisfy my ecotourism fix. And yes, we all know about the amazing cloud forest that everyone comes to experience, but what else is there when you're not hopping on shuttles to get to Arenal?
Here are 6 things you should do when you visit Monteverde:
1. Extremo Canopy
Don't make the mistake of booking your canopy tour ANYWHERE other than Monteverde Extremo. The cables run up to 450 feet high and overlook emotionally breathtaking views of the forest and water, as you glide along up to 2250 feet of cable.
The hike to each of the 14 lines increase in difficulty and ultimately lead to rappelling 90 feet, and jumping to your death, while pooping your pants during a thrilling Tarzan swing. Seriously, to stand at the edge of a platform and make the conscious decision to jump off literally made my stomach churn.
So, naturally... I've done it twice.
Last but not least, Extremo has two superman lines, where your harness is hooked from behind as you "fly" across what feels like one of their longest cables. The air is misty and the cooling rain kisses your face as tears run down your cheek. You are finally flying.
For booking: they pick you up and drop you off and offer great deals. They also take photos for you so you don't have to risk losing your phone. And no, they did not pay me to say this. I just really love them.
2. EAT at Taco Taco
A small walk-up window painted a deep red with simple, yet powerful words written above it reads: "TACO TACO". English translation: heaven.
We stumbled upon this delectable gold mine when exploring past the main street, beyond Bar Amigos, and down the hill. It is located right next to an open cafe, where books, games, free indoor/outdoor seating, and an opportunity to meet other backpackers await.
I visited the stand three times during my last visit (only in town for two days) and drooled while inhaling their chicken and fish tacos, and flavorful guacamole. I recall the chips being just decent, though (not salty enough) - so I smothered them in more guac to enhance the taste. Win, win.
3. Dine at the Tree House
The Tree House is only on this list because it is a freaking TREE HOUSE. It is also a tourist trap that you will still visit whether you like it or not; let's not be in denial, here.
The food is decent, but a bit expensive (avg. $15+ entrees -- which doesn't seem like much, if you're from New York City, but you're in Central America and have been eating $6 casadas).
However, they do have great customer service, a cool crowd, and open mic (with talented bands). So save your money beforehand and go anyway - because who doesn't want to eat in a tree house?
P.S. Funny story: I sort of dropped my menu out of the tree house and instantly reached out to catch it, which in turn made the waiter have to reach out to catch ME. Doh! The menu, waiter, and I were all safe.
4. Horseback Ride
For about $30, you can book a five-hour horseback riding trek up the mountain and enjoy a nature tour on a path towards spectacular views. A local ranch owner came by our hostel and brought horses and helmets for the ride.
We spent 2.5 hours steadily climbing up the mountain from Santa Elena, and made frequent stops to explore the forest surrounding us. What's wonderful about Monteverde is the small-town environment: everyone knows each other and it is customary to stop and chat with everyone you meet.
5. Coffee Tour
Costa Rica is known for their "delicious" coffee, and their coffee and chocolate tours are highly praised. Though, as a preference, I don't actually drink coffee (hence the quotation marks).
While horseback riding, our guide was kind enough to point out coffee beans (basically berries) from the coffea plant and picked them for us to eat! Anticipating their signature taste, I grabbed one off the plant and quickly gulped it. To my surprise these "coffee beans" tasted quite differently than expected! Not only were they red in color, but they were also sweet. Nothing like coffee at all. I later learned that when these sweet, red beans (berries) are roasted they turn color, texture, and flavor.
Our guide had a friend at the coffee plantation so we rode our horses over to the shop and gave our bottoms some relief by exploring on foot. Knowing I didn't care for coffee, they cooked up some fresh hot (dark) chocolate to warm up from the chill of the encroaching evening. I sipped on my toasty beverage and gazed atop the dense, green forest, content with my adventure.
6. Learn the History of Monteverde
The history of current day Monteverde begins with small town farmers (Quakers and pacifists) leaving the United States in 1950 in protest of the Korean War. Costa Rica's lack of military and Monteverde's cool climate and fertile soil seemed to be a perfect match for the group.
At the time, the land was barely developed and mostly inhabited by Ticos of Native American and Creole descent working in land mines. Once there, the Quakers built a dairy factory, meeting house and school, and conserved a large piece of land, now known as the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
The area has grown into a popular ecotourist attraction, and its neighboring town, Santa Elena, is booming with restaurants, hostels and shops.
On our visit, we set out to explore the old buildings and found the meeting house, friends school, and entrance to Hubert Mendenhall's home (he was the spokesperson of the group). We also chatted with a local (Quaker expat) employee who enthusiastically recounted the town's recent history.
*Bonus: Rent a Car & Drive!
If it's in your budget, I would strongly suggest you rent a car to get to Monteverde. The ride up is thrilling and the panoramic views are just what you need to realize how minute you truly are on this great, big earth.
Plus, the bus schedules there aren't the easiest. It's four-five hours from San Jose and if you don't make the 6:30 am bus out of Monteverde, you're stuck with either staying another night, booking a private shuttle ($50+ pp), or hitchhiking. The 2:30 pm bus is too late and you will get caught in the pitch black, jungle night that is Costa Rica.
Been there done that, on my first visit there. Hitchhiked, caught a ferry, and walked a a few miles... all because I wanted to sleep an extra hour. Bah humbug.