The Ultimate Guide To Monteverde

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The Ultimate Guide To Monteverde

Welcome To Monteverde

Hola, and welcome to our Ultimate Guide to Monteverde and Santa Elena. It’s no surprise that this mountainous region is one of Costa Rica’s most visited destinations. The natural beauty is just surreal, but more on that below. This guide highlights many of the area’s popular restaurants, activities, and lodging. You’ll also find a guide map that visually displays the town and points of interest. Let’s check it out!

El Tigre Waterfall in Monteverde
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Anna at one of the El Tigre Waterfalls

Getting There

Monteverde and Santa Elena are the two towns that make up the Monteverde area. So when you hear people say they went to Monteverde, they are also often describing Santa Elena. The towns are usually around a 2.5-3 hour drive from either the San Jose or Liberia airports, but it can be longer with weather delays or road closures. This makes Monteverde a great option if you’re looking to combine mountain and beach destinations into one epic trip.

The main highways are easy to navigate using Waze or Google Maps. Be prepared for detours and check your route before blindly following the navigation apps. Depending on the direction you’re coming from and route taken, expect some dirt roads and bumpy sections. If you’re picking up a rental car, don’t be afraid to ask them for the best route and any road closures.

When looking into flights, you can select either San Jose (SJO) or Liberia (LIR) airports. San Jose is the primary airport in the middle of the country and a great all-around option. Liberia is the smaller secondary airport in the north of Costa Rica. Flights into Liberia can be more expensive, and may only make sense if you’ll be spending time in the northern beach cities.

We love to take red-eye flights whenever possible. You’ll touch down, pick up a rental car or shuttle, and be in Monteverde by check-in time. If your flight arrives later in the evening like our usual non-stop does, spend the night at a nearby airport hotel and get a fresh start in the morning. It’s not enjoyable driving the 3 hours at night when you’re exhausted from a long travel day.

Dirt roads in Costa Rica
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Loving those bumpy dirt roads


Rental Cars

If this section sounds a bit repetitive from other city guides you've read... it is. We've synchronized the rental car section in our destination posts to provide you with the most up-to-date changes when we have something to add here, and the info applies to any place you'll be visiting.

Rental cars are honestly the best way to get around Costa Rica, and Adobe Rent A Car is now our recommended company. Their fleet of cars is refreshed every two years, keeping them in good condition. Plus, they have 13 offices in most of the major towns in case you need help with the vehicle.

We used to roll with Economy Rent A Car and have always had a good experience with them. Unfortunately, we've received too many complaints and can no longer recommend their general booking site. We have a contact at Economy who still sets up many of our rentals. Shoot us a message through Facebook or Instagram if you want his contact.

Confusing insurance requirements are the most frequent complaint about rental cars in Costa Rica, so we really like how Adobe displays their additional insurance options at checkout. It’s pretty hard to be surprised when you get there.

Rental car insurance in Costa Rica is complicated and often leaves you feeling burned at the rental counter. There are various levels of undisclosed insurance. Check out our full guide to renting a car in Costa Rica here to avoid some major frustration later. Also be sure to use our booking link here to receive an exclusive discount at Adobe Rent A Car.


Private Driver – Many private drivers in the area can take you to and from anywhere in Costa Rica. Check one of the many Facebook groups, or shoot us a message, and we’ll reach out to our network of drivers.

Taxi – Taxis are fairly easy to get, but often much more expensive. Shuttle services are better for traveling long distances.

Shuttle – A shuttle could be an option for larger groups with a lot of luggage. We’ve used ILT Costa Rica for all of our shuttle needs when traveling with large groups. The drivers are prompt and professional.

Our Airbnb in Monteverde
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So peaceful every morning ☕


There is no shortage of lodging options in Monteverde and Santa Elena. Many people opt to stay in a the larger hotels for the service and amenities. We prefer staying in vacation rentals that offer more unique experience. Below are a few of the most popular hotels and a link to the Airbnb we stayed at.


For those who want the resort experience, here are some links for highly rated hotels and resorts on Tripadvisor.

  • Koora Hotel – The highest-rated hotel in Monteverde on Tripadvisor. If we stayed in a hotel, this would be the one.
  • Hotel Belmar – A luxury eco-resort in the hills of Monteverde. It’s a traveler favorite and they even have their own craft brewery on-site. Unfortunately, with stale food and mediocre beer. Stick with Monteverde Brewing Company.
  • Sende Monteverde Hotel – Part of the award-winning Cayuga Collection Brand of Eco Hotels, Sende won’t dissapoint. We’ve stayed at another Cayuga Collection property, Arenas Del Mar, in Manuel Antonio it was fantastic.
  • Chira Glamping – Glamping in luxury domes doesn’t get much better than this.
  • View more hotels here.

Vacation Rentals

The host has a few listings in the Finca Puesta Del Sol compound, and all of them are top-rated. Take a look at his Airbnb profile and other listings here.

Our Airbnb in Monteverde
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Tucked away in the hillside

Surreal sunsets from our Airbnb
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Surreal sunset views from the Airbnb

Monteverde Guide Map

Take a look at our interactive map to start the inspiration. It isn’t an absolute list, but we’ve put together some of the most popular places to visit in Monteverde and Santa Elena.

Trip map created with Wanderlog, a trip planner on iOS and Android


  • Cloud Forest Biological Preserve – One of the main attractions of Monteverde. This park is home to endless trails that connect you with the natural beauty of the area.
  • Zip-lining – Many tour operators provide an unbelievable  zip line experience through the forest canopy. 
  • El Tigre Waterfall Hike – There are many waterfalls in the area, but El Tigre was the highlight of our time in Monteverde. 
  • Butterfly Gardens – An activity for travelers of all fitness levels. 
  • Coffee and Chocolate Tour – This is another low-stress activity for anyone interested in the production of two Costa Rican staples. 
  • Bird Watching – From Quetzals to Rainbow Toucans, Monteverde is home to some amazing bird life. We were fortunate enough to see both when exploring!

Don’t Miss Restaurants

  • Orchid Coffee and Restaurant – A great cafe in Santa Elena to visit before an activity. They open before many other cafes in the area which is great if you’re in a time crunch to make a tour.
  • Open Kitchen – A clean and simple cafe in the heart of Santa Elena. Stop in below for a moody cocktail at their partner sushi and cocktail bar.
  • Tree House – The food quality isn’t spectacular but the experience is why you’d go here.
  • Colibri Cafe – A tourist cafe at the entrance to the Cloud Forest Biological Preserve where you can watch hummingbirds zoom by. 
  • Jiménez Bakery & Coffee Shop – A great local bakery with  a variety of breakfast and lunch items.
  • Ona Cafe – Perched on the cliff, this simple walk-up cafe has one of the best views in town. 
  • Monteverde Brewing Company – One of our favorite breweries in Costa Rica. The overall energy, friendliness, and food quality make this a must visit spot. Oh, and the delicious beers. 
Orchid Cafe in Monteverde
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The perfect place to start your day

Monteverde Brewing Company
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And to end it 🍻

Our itinerary

Time Needed – 2 to 3 Days

Unless you have an extended visit to Costa Rica, we think 2-3 days is a good amount of time to spend in Monteverde. Any more and you’ll be missing out on some other amazing places like Playa Flamingo or Manuel Antonio.

Day 0 – The Travel Day

This is your day to get there, decompress, and enjoy your first night exploring the town. We recommend stopping at Monteverde Brewing Company for a nice burger and a brew.

Day 1 – Zipline and Explore Town

Let’s start this trip with some zip-lining. It’s hard to go wrong when deciding which company to choose for zip-lining. Our friends just visited Monteverde and said that their experience with Treetopia was the highlight of their trip. We went with 100% Aventura and loved them, too. Then let the adrenaline settle while you explore the charm of Santa Elena. Stop over at Open Kitchen for a meal in the center of town.

Just go for it

Don’t miss the Beer Garden below Open Kitchen

Day 2 – Cloud Forest Biological Preserve

The Cloud Forest Biological Preserve is one of Monteverde’s main attractions. You can explore this nature park on your own or join a guided tour. We recommend buying tickets ahead of time, especially if you’re going in the morning. We got there, and there was a two-hour wait for standby tickets. We ended up paying more to join a tour so we could get in faster, and then politely ditched the tour right away because it was painfully slow.

Fewer crowds in the afternoon

So stoked to see a Quetzal

Day 3 – Hike to El Tigre Waterfalls

No guide to Monteverde would be complete without mentioning these falls. Exploring the El Tigre Waterfalls could be done after zip-lining, but we decided it deserved its own day. Expect to spend 3-4 hours here because it’s more than just a waterfall. El Tigre is a nature park with numerous falls, suspension bridges, and optional activities like horseback riding and their famous bicycle zip line. We kept it simple with the waterfalls and bridges.

The nature walk is really only for travelers in good physical fitness. The path down is steep, muddy, and there are no easy options for returning if you decide it isn’t for you. There’s no cell service in the valley and there are emergency radios along the way to contact the office if you get into trouble. Arriving at 8am was amazing because we had the place to ourselves. El Tigre was the highlight of our time in Monteverde and we’ll have a separate post on it soon.

30 minutes of dirt roads later

Cody at El Tigre Waterfalls
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We didn’t photoshop any people out

Day 4 – Optional Free Day

This is a free day to relax and revisit anything you may have missed. There is so much to see, and we’re always on the move, so sometimes a free day is much needed. Maybe three days is enough, and it’s time to keep exploring?

Anna and Cody in Monteverde
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Always be cruisin’ 🤙


  • Supermercardo Vargas – A well-stocked local market in the center of Santa Elena.
  • Super Compro – A larger chain supermarket in the heart of town. Good for a big shop and larger brand selection.
  • Minimarket y Licorera Nómada – A small liquor store in Santa Elena town.


Ideally, you won’t need any of these, but we’ve listed them here just in case. Depending on the type of trip you’re booking, trip insurance could be a helpful peace of mind. We’ve used Safety Wing Travel Insurance. It’s affordable and covers most activities you’ll encounter on your trip to Costa Rica. Check their coverage here and see if it’s right for your trip.


  • Consultorio Medico Emergencias – A small local urgent care center nearby. It’s okay for minor injuries but anything major may require transportation to a larger hospital in San Jose.
  • Centro De Salud by Dr Hernández – Another small local medical center for travel ailments and minor injuries.


  • Clínica Dental Steven – A small dental office located in the heart of town.


  • Farmacia Vitosi – A highly rated pharmacy with the essentials in the heart of Santa Elena.

Monteverde Travel Tips:

  • The weather can change in a second so plan to get wet at any time.
  • Start activities early and beat the crowds.
  • Book your tours in advance. We learned the hard way at the Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. We didn’t buy tickets before and the wait was 2+ hours.

Don’t Forget

You can buy almost anything you need in Monteverde, but the prices of some items may surprise you. Sunscreen can cost upwards of $20 USD for a normal size tube at the local market. Some of our don’t forget items are listed below.

  • Sunscreen – Reapply all day when you’re outside. The sun is no joke here!
  • Bug Spray – Mosquitos and other bugs are around all day, especially in the shady areas near still water.
  • Quick-dry towel – These quick-dry towels are also sand free.
  • Waterproof hat – I like this floating hat, but any good hat works.
  • Polarized sunglasses – They don’t have to break the bank. Check out these polarized sunglasses by Blenders.
  • Waterproof phone case – Great if you’re planning on water activities.

Let’s Go

So that’s our guide to Monteverde and Santa Elena. Remember, this itinerary is just a starting point. Feel free to customize it to suit your preferences and add additional activities or destinations along the way.

Thinking about where else to go for your Costa Rica adventure? Add some time in Playa Flamingo for the perfect mountain and beach combo trip. Check out our guide to Playa Flamingo here.

Note: Always check travel advisories, local regulations, and current conditions before planning your trip.

Thanks for your support 🤙

We just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU. This 100% all-content, junk-free website’s biggest source of support is when you use our affiliate links for any purchases. It helps us continue sharing our guides and tips, without any ads. There is no extra cost to you and it’s the easiest way you can support us. We truly appreciate it!

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Cody & Anna

Cody and Anna Traxler

We’re Cody and Anna, and we’ve fallen in love with Costa Rica over the past decade. We’re not experts in every part of the country, but our countless adventures have inspired us to create this travel guide. Our goal is to share our experiences and help you jet off on your own unforgettable journey. Enjoy Ultimate Pura Vida and start planning here 🤙

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