Monteverde Costa Rica, Home of the Quetzal
Monteverde Costa Rica is filled with tourist from all over the world from January through March which is the time it rains less. It is located high in the cloudy rain forest, atop the continental divide and about 110 miles from San Jose, the capital city. The only access is by road and the road (from the Interamerican highway (highway 1) is about 26 miles (43 km) of dirt, rocks and gravel taking over one hour to navigate. How to get to Monteverde? Take the Interamerican Highway north. 22 miles past the Puntarenas turnoff–on the Interamerican Highway are signs which are not easy to see so go slow and look carefully. If you get to the Lagarto River you have gone too far. It will be a right turn onto a dirt and gravel road going for 26 miles winding up into the Cordillera de Tiliran mountain range until you arrive to the small town of Santa Elena (Monteverde) Allow 4 hours drive from San Jose and do not do the drive at night.
A group of Quakers from Alabama came to settle here in the 1950s as a place free from militarism. They supported themselves by making cheese from the milk cows they raised. Today this cheese is famous all over Costa Rica and can be purchased in most of the local grocery stores.
The infrastructure in and around Monteverde is basic. Many of the roads remain unpaved. You feel very peaceful here because it does have feel over developed by large hotel chains. The accommodations are small and many of them are locally run. The more upscale is the Hotel Sapo Dorado, Pension Heliconia, and Hotel Belmar. Also you will find many smaller pension type accommodations run by the locals.
What are the big attractions here? 1. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve- This reserve is home to the Resplendent Quetzal, the most spectacular bird in the tropics. It is a large bird with long iridescent green tail feathers. The Mayan people of Guatemala believed the Quetzal to be the “Bird of Life” and symbolized supreme freedom. These birds are not easy to spot and one should hire a local guide if you want to see one.
2. And of course you will find tourist attractions such as zip line tours (Canopy Tours) and walks over swinging bridges, butterfly farms, hummingbird gallery, snake exhibits, orchid gardens, horseback riding, and the Quaker cheese factory tour. You should stay a minimum of three nights to experience this place.
The weather is very cool and humid since it is in a cloud forest so you need a rain jacket and warm clothes plus very comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots.
Many restaurants are scattered around town. And most hotels include a full breakfast in their room price. Unique is the homemade granola made fresh daily from 100% locally grown ingredients. If you are there on the weekend be sure to go to the Santa Elena local farmers market where you will find all the home grown vegetables and fruits. Many of them are organically grown, plus you can interact with the locals.
Monteverde has some very nice art galleries, feathering beautiful work by local artisans. Just ask at your hotel. This is a small community and the galleries are easy to locate.
Monteverde is also famous for the “Golden Toads” which are now believed to be extinct. Scientist do not know why but speculate that a fungus killed them.
If you are traveling to Costa Rica and are looking for a laid back destination to experience the rain forest and unspoiled natural beauty then put Monteverde on your itinerary. Tips: 1. Rains a lot here especially August, Sept, Oct. Best to visit January through April when it rains less. Also more tourist come in these months and there is more activity-restaurants etc. 2. You need a 4×4 if you are renting a vehicle to drive there. 3. public bus goes daily to Monteverde from San Jose and back to San Jose.
I would spend the money and hire a local guide who knows where all the birds and wildlife can be located.