Monteverde is located 172 km (108 miles) northwest of San José in the Cordillera de Tilarán, on the Continental Divide of Costa Rica on an altitude between 1400 and 1700 m (4594 and 5577 ft). This location creates special climatic and geological conditions and is the foundation for its huge biodiversity and unique vegetation. The Monteverde area is one of the most famous nature reserves of the Tropics. Until today, 400 different bird species, 490 butterfly species and 100 different mammal species - partly in danger of extinction - have been identified. The vegetation is characterized by high tree ferns and trees overgrown with mosses and epiphytes. The average rainfall in this region is about 3000 mm.
Monteverde can be reached via the Interamericana or via Tilarán coming from the Arenal Volcano. Each ways leads over a bumpy 35 km (22 miles) gravel road on which it takes about 1.5 hours to reach Monteverde itself. If the tour takes you from the Arenal Volcano to Monteverde it is also possible to use the “Jeep-Boat-Jeep” service via the Lake Arenal; this takes about 3 hours.
Sta. Elena which is located in the heart of the region. It has been founded by a pacifist group of Quakers from the United States that was looking for an escape from the Korean War in the 1950s. Nowadays, Sta. Elena is a tourist town and over the last years numerous new hotels, restaurants and attractions have been built, offering a large variety of accommodations and activities to the visitors.
Sta. Elena itself is located between the most important nature reserves, Santa Elena and Monteverde. Most of the hotels and lodges are situated between the villages of Sta. Elena and Monteverde, along the connecting roads between both preserves.
Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve
Altitude: about 1500 m (about 4920 ft)
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve is owned and administered by the Tropical Science Center (TSC). The Center, established in 1962, is a non-profit, non-governmental organization with headquarters in San José, Costa Rica. The objective of the Center is to conduct and support scientific research and education, particularly in relation to the understanding and rational management of tropical environments. Established in 1972, the Monteverde Preserve covers over 10,500 hectares, more than 90% of which is virgin forest. It contains an extremely high biological diversity, including over 2,500 plant species (among them 420 different kinds of orchids), 100 species of mammals, 400 bird species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species, and thousands of insects. Visitors can enter the Preserve on a natural history walk, or on their own. There are more than 20 kilometers of trails.
At the entrance there is a reception building, a visitor’s center, restaurant with cafeteria and a souvenir shop.
Only a restricted number of visitors are admitted per day. In the high seasons you have to expect waiting times.
Opening hours: Daily between 07:00 a.m. to 04:00 p.m.
Santa Elena Cloudforest Reserve
Altitude: about 1500 m (about 4920 ft)
The Santa Elena Reserve is located 6 km northwest of the village of Santa Elena. The reserve has been founded in 1992 with the support of the Youth Challenge International (a Canadian non-profit organization), the Costa Rican government and the community of Sta. Elena. The revenues from entrance fees, guided tours and the souvenir shop are re-invested for the maintenance and up-keeping of the reserve or are donated to the local school in order to finance classes about environment protection, biology, languages and tourism.
The Santa Elena reserve stretches over a property of 310 hectares and together with the “Children’s Rainforest”, the protection area Arenal and the Monteverde reserve a protected area of more than 28.000 hectares. The plan for the future is to purchase more adjacent pastures for reforestation. The purpose is to create a protective corridor from the heart of the reserve until the lowlands because many wild animals like the Quetzal bird, pumas, jaguars, ocelots and deer need large territories to be able to survive.
Visitors can enjoy a path system of more than 12 km length. There are several viewpoints and an observatory center. In a small cafeteria at the entrance coffee and snacks are offered, the reception area also includes a souvenir shop and changing exhibitions dealing with ecological topics, which are prepared by high school and university students.
Opening hours: Daily from 7:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Guided tours through the reserve are offered daily at 7:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. and take about 2.5 to 3 hours.
Night hikes start daily at 7:00 p.m. and take about 1.5 hours.
The complex also offers a restaurant with local specialties and a souvenir shop.
“Selvatura” is a private nature reserve in the heart of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. The forest stand is mainly virgin mountainous cloud forest, characterized by very dense plant carpet with bromeliads and moss covering the trees. Hundreds of birds as well as numerous species of mammals can be found here.
A system of 8 secure and stable hanging bridges of up to 160 m (525 ft) allows the visitors a glimpse of the treetops and the fauna of this nature paradise. The hanging bridges are connected with well maintained, flat walking paths. The length of the round trip is 3 km.
A visit to the reserve is recommendable for all ages.
Additionally, Selvatura offers a huge butterfly farm, a hummingbird garden as well as the museum “Jewels of the Rainforest” that exhibits a large part of the insect collection of the US-American biologist Richard Whitten.
The more adventurous might fancy a canopy tour:
You are gliding on steel cables - perfectly secured of course - between 14 platforms from treetop to treetop.
“Skywalk” Hanging Bridges
Half way between the town of Sta. Elena and the Sta. Elena Preserve, the “Sky Adventures Monteverde” adventure park is located. The Skywalk is a complex of suspended bridges and platforms that sway slightly while walking across them, with a total of 1800 m (5909 ft) in length, built through the canopy of the cloud forest. It allows a view of the forest from a completely different perspective. The adventure starts with a short hike to the first bridge. The single bridges are up to 300 m (985 ft) in length and connected by hiking trails. A total of 2.5 km (1.6 miles) of walkways are easily accessible for all visitors that do not suffer from a fear of heights. One of the bridges can also be accessed by wheelchair.
“Sky Trek” Canopy Tour
Sky Trek is the more adventurous version of the Sky Walk: a system of suspended platforms suspended above the ground in the midst of the forest with zip lines attached allow to slide from one platform to another with the use of special equipment. 11 cables with a total length of 2.8 km (1.8 miles - the longest being 750 m/0.5 miles) are hanging in altitudes of up to 146 m (479 ft). A suspended bridge 90 m (300 ft) long and 22 m (66 ft) high, gives you the best view of the inner forest. An observation platform above the canopy offers visitors a panoramic view (360°) of the Guanacaste, San Carlos, and Puntarenas lowlands. The whole system is connected by 2.8 kilometers of trails.
In the reception area there are a souvenir shop and a cafeteria.
Opening hours: Daily from 7:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Transportation from/to the hotels in the Monteverde region is offered at a small fee.
“Sky Tram” Cloudforest Gondolas
The Sky Tram is a high-tech cableway system that includes a ride of 1600 meters (both ways) with altitudes between 1400 and 1600 meters above sea level. The Sky Tram will lead you up to the Continental Divide and to one of the highest mountains of Monteverde. Sky Tram is a guided tour that offers the opportunity to interrupt the ride with short stops to observe the cloud forest biodiversity, the Arenal, Tenorio, Miravalles and Orosi volcanoes, the Gulf of Nicoya and even the Guanacaste plain if the weather allows it.
Monteverde Butterfly Garden
The Monteverde Butterfly Garden is located about 1 km (0.6 miles) from downtown Sta. Elena. It was founded in 1991 by biologist Jim Wolfe. The focus of this Monteverde project is environmental education, and thousands of butterfly enthusiasts each year visit the Nature Center and four enclosed butterfly gardens.
Opening hours: Between 09:30 a.m. and 04:00 p.m.
Serpentarium Sta. Elena
The collection exhibits more than 40 different types of amphibians and reptiles from Costa Rica and all over the world. Every half hour guided tours with lots of information about the animals are offered. The serpentarium has been authorized by the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment MINAE. The complex is located 2 km (3.2 miles) from the village center of Sta. Elena on the street leading to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
Opening hours: Daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
This herpetarium with over 20 species of frogs and other amphibians allows visitors to appreciate the beauty of the areas' amphibians and to learn about their role in the natural world. Some of the species include the large Marine Toad, the colorful Poison Arrow Frog and the famous Red Eyed Tree Frog. Visitors receive an informative guided tour of the terrariums with their entrance fee. Frogs and toads are undergoing a massive global decrease. Part of the proceeds from ticket sale is used for conservation and research efforts. Part of the goal is to educate and inspire people to take an interest in the conservation of amphibious life and nature in general. It is best to visit after dark as the frogs are more active and you can hear their calls.
Opening hours: 09:00 a.m. to 09:30 p.m.
Located about 3 km from downtown Sta. Elena, “Aerial Adventures” offers cable cars for two up to maximum 4 persons gliding through the canopy of the cloud forest, similar to the “real” rainforest aerial tram of Braulio Carillo National Park. The gondolas can be stopped by the guests themselves.
CASEM – Non-profit Crafts Center
CASEM has been founded in 1982 by eight women from the region – CASEM stands for “Comite de Artesanas de Santa Elena y Monteverde” and around 140 craftsmen and craftswomen from the surroundings are members already. The goal of CASEM is to provide an additional income to families from the region by giving them the opportunity to sell their handicrafts. By doing so, the economic and social development of those families and the communities are stimulated. The handicrafts market is located on the radial road of Sta. Elena leading to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, about 2 km (3.2 miles) from the village center, across the street from the bakery “Stella's “.
Monteverde Cheese Factory
Producing cheese has a long tradition in Monteverde, started by the Quaker families in the middle of the 19th century. During the early years only about 10 kilos per day were made, mainly Gouda. Today, about 1550 kg per day and 17 different types of cheese are produced. Amongst them many classical European cheeses like Emmentaler, Parmiggiano, Mozarella, Cheddar etc…, and of course also the well-know low-fat cheese “Monte Rico”.
In the small shop you can buy cheese and other dairy products and watch the cheese production through a glass window.
Opening hours: Monday - Saturday, 7:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m (sale). Visits can be scheduled daily from 09.00 - 02.00pm (latest information from Sep 2014).