After spending three nights in Montezuma, I travelled north to Monteverde, one of the major ecotourism destinations of Costa Rica. The area is host to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, as well as three smaller cloud forest reserves. The largest town in the area is Santa Elena, and this is where I checked into a hostel.
I took public buses from Montezuma to Monteverde – a bus to Paquera, ferry to Puntarenus, short local bus across town to the bus terminal (which you could also do by taxi to make things a little easier), and finally a very long, very slow bus up to Santa Elena. That final bus covered very little distance, but took hours, weaving round hairpin bends in the potholed roads, dangerously close to the edge. If you get even vaguely travel sick, take some meds! There are some stunning views on the way though (when the bus is still enough to get a good shot!):
Based on recommendations of other travellers, I stayed at Pension Santa Elena, a hostel which I too would highly recommend. The rooms and bathrooms are spacious, clean and comfortable. The showers are sometimes even hot! Right next to the hostel is a Mexican food stand, Taco Taco, and you will receive a breakfast token to eat there each morning. I also enjoyed a good dinner there too! The hostel staff are incredibly helpful, and will help you plan any tours you wish to take part in, recommend hikes and other activities and help arrange onward travel.
Once I had settled in, the guy at the desk helped me arrange a night hike tour, for $20. This price includes roundtrip transportation from the hostel and a guided night hike, with flashlights provided. During the tour we saw a tarantula, sleeping toucans, coati, a blue-eyed anole lizard, and the very poisonous side striped palm pit viper! The tour was great and the guide was amazing at hearing even the quietest animal noises and distinguishing between species of frog! The only downside to the tour was that my group was me and a large American family, who complained about looking at things for too long and that we weren’t seeing any large mammals such as monkeys or sloths. While I too was disappointed not to see a sloth, this is wildlife and the guides cannot control what you see! I’d rather have a real, natural experience – if I really desperately wanted to see a sloth, I’d go to a zoo.
The next morning I woke up bright and early and headed to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve for a guided hike – entrance to the reserve is $19 ($8 for students!) and you pay a further $20 to the guide. I would highly recommend organising a guided tour of the forest – without him, I wouldn’t have seen ANYTHING, whereas my guide was able to point out all kinds of plants and small animals, as well as tell stories of the forest and explain the geology of the area.
I had a much better tour group, and we spent almost three hours walking through the forest.
The guide also took us to the hummingbird gardens at the end of the tour where the birds fluttered around our heads and settled on our fingers – incredible!
Throughout the tour I chatted to an American couple, and at the end we decided to book a zip-lining trip together for the afternoon. We arranged this back at the hostel. There are a number of companies in Monteverde that operate zip-lining trips, and we choose to go with Selvatura as they operate in primary forest as opposed to secondary forest (other companies make up for this by offering greater adrenaline activities). Zip-lining costs $45 and you zip down 15 cables of varying lengths. To put it simply, it was incredible. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the views, but flying down a line over the forest, green as far as you can see, and clouds coming in around you, it was an experience I won’t forget any time soon! At the end there is an optional ‘tarzan swing’, where you are dropped from a high platform until the rope catches, and then you swing through the trees – I was nervous for this but so glad I did it!
The final activity I did in Monteverde was a little hike out to a strangler fig tree which you can climb the inside of! Seeds grow their roots downwards and envelope their host tree. Eventually, over time, these roots and vines ‘strangle’ the tree inside, killing it and leaving a hollow central core, perfect for climbing!
Very different from the beautiful beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula, Monteverde was great for nature, exploring and adrenaline-seeking!