Last November we travelled to Costa Rica to visit our son, who lives and works in Monteverde. We had only been to Costa Rica once before – many years ago and only briefly – and we were keen to spend more time in this increasingly popular destination.
Roadside vendors brave traffic to sell food products.
After a couple of days in the capital, San Jose, we set out for Monteverde by car. The journey is supposed to take two-and-a-half hours but it was more like three-and-a-half on both the outward and return journeys. This was caused by traffic congestion on the main highway and huge potholes in the last section of road up to Monteverde.
On the way we passed the port town of Puntarenas, the one place in Costa Rica we had visited before.
Travellers tend to use the name Monteverde loosely to refer to everywhere in the district, but the town centre is actually called Santa Elena, with Monteverde being the broader region containing the famous cloud forest. However, Santa Elena has its own less-well-known but equally attractive cloud forest reserve.
Regardless of where you stay in Monteverde, you will almost certainly spend some time in Santa Elena, where there are numerous restaurants, souvenir shops, grocery stores, at least a couple of supermarkets, a bank and the town’s own hotels. It sounds substantial but it’s quite small.
The three main roads into and out of Santa Elena form a triangle from where you can set off to the north for various parks and reserves, south to head back to San Jose and the international airport, and south-east to numerous hotels and lodges, more shops and tourist attractions and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
It was in this last area that we stayed at Los Pinos Cabins and Gardens, spacious lodge-type accommodations set in the cloud forest. It was very peaceful here and the extensive deck a good place to sit with a drink at sunset.
It wasn’t long before we were visited by a local resident – a coati. The White-Nosed Coati, or coatimundi to give it its full name, is found throughout Costa Rica and other parts of Central America. In Costa Rica it is also known as a pizote.
Coatis walked along our deck most days and once we saw about 30 of them running across the path of a neighbouring cabin, too fast for photography, unfortunately. These were most likely females, which are known to gather in packs, unlike males which are solitary.
We also saw an agouti and some colourful birds. The cloud forest teems with animal, bird and plant life and Monteverde is said to contain 50 per cent of Costa Rica's biodiversity. There are several species of wild cat in Costa Rica and the puma has been spotted in Monteverde.
We took a walk in the biological reserve, where bridges snake through otherwise impenetrable parts of the forest. A cloud forest is simply a tropical forest where the clouds intersect the mountain ranges. In Monteverde the reserve is situated on the Tilarán mountain range at an average elevation of 5000 feet and straddles the continental divide, attracting winds from both the Pacific and Atlantic/Caribbean sides of the country. In November the trade winds arrive, bringing with them vast clouds of mist, which linger until mid to late January.
Just outside the reserve is the Monteverde Hummingbird Gallery, which has gardens and feeders to attract the birds, as well as a café and gift shop.
Later we took a ride on the Sky Tram that glides high above the cloud forest. At the top there’s an observation platform from where, on a clear day, you can see over the surrounding forests to the Arenal Volcano in one direction and the Gulf of Nicoya in the other.
With the same firm that operates the Sky Tram you also have the option of riding the zipline, if you prefer to hang out in the open rather than be enclosed in a cable car.
We also paid a visit to Selina Monteverde, the entrance to which can be seen in the title picture. Selina is frequented by our son and it is an unusual place, very attractive to younger travellers. Selina is a global hospitality brand designed for the nomadic traveller, providing its guests with not just a place to stay, but also the infrastructure to travel and work abroad seamlessly. It has private and shared rooms, work areas, games rooms, bars and restaurants. I’ve inserted one of its own photos below to give you an idea of the ambience.
In Santa Elena we dined at the fabulous Tree House restaurant, which has a huge fig tree growing through the building. It’s a top-quality restaurant with very fast service and live entertainment.
We really liked Santa Elena. It felt like a safe haven after negotiating the treacherously potholed roads. I’ve seen it described as a “tropical ski-resort town”, which is a contradiction in terms if ever I heard one, and a pueblo, which is closer to the truth. It is simply an attractive and raffish small town where you could happily spend more time if you had to.
While shopping we noticed that Costa Ricans are very skilled at making things out of old tyres.
There is a surprisingly large choice of shopping on offer in Monteverde. This includes the usual arts and crafts, embroidered clothing, T-shirts, souvenirs and the like, but also Boruca weavings, locally grown coffee, jewellery and paintings.
There is also a cheese factory, art galleries and a number of cooperatives selling a range of locally produced goods. These are spread between Santa Elena, the area near our accommodation where there is also a grocery store, and up towards the cloud forest reserve.
Next time: a look at the capital, San Jose.
Photos © Judy & Barry Barford