This is Part I of three posts about our recent visit to Monteverde, Costa Rica from May 31 – June 4.
We have visited Costa Rica several times but until now had never been to Monteverde. While the actual community of Monteverde is quite small and consists of about 500 residents, the larger surrounding area is generally referred to as Monteverde and includes the town of Santa Elena with a population of around 6500.
The present-day town of Monteverde was founded in 1951 by Quakers from Alabama, USA. They chose the area for its cool climate which was suitable for dairy farming, friendly local population and Costa Rica’s abolition of its army in 1948.
While the influence of the Quakers remains strong, Monteverde has developed into a major ecotourism destination based in great part on the strength of decades of conservation and protection of the unique cloud forests of the area.
Getting to Monteverde is part of the adventure and can be done in a number of ways. From our base in Playas del Coco we chose to use one of the many shuttle services available throughout the country. The cost was $49 USD per person each way for the approximately 3.5 hour drive. The last hour from the main highway is about an hour uphill and offers dramatic views of the valleys and all the way to the Gulf of Nicoya. The road is often quite rough and is only partially paved so be prepared for a few bumps and watch those curves!
We arrived in the dark and the rain around 6:30 but we immediately felt at home at Casa Batsu, which we had chosen for our stay in Monteverde. We absolutely loved it there and have decided to do a full post on it (Part II), which we will publish soon.
As soon as you arrive in Monteverde you can sense this is a special place. Everyone we met from the cab drivers to restaurant staff to local guides were all anxious to greet us with smiles and to fill our heads with facts and information about their community and the cloud forests of which they are so proud. The street signs, sidewalks and local shops all speak to a different approach to tourism, one that from what we could see is based more on mutual respect and cooperation than we have encountered in many other places.
A great example of this hospitality was Heyner, the co-owner of the Choco Cafe, a great little coffee shop, restaurant and gift shop combination in Santa Elena. He was busy roasting fresh coffee beans when we were there but he took the time to explain the whole process and gave us some great tips for roasting and grinding coffee. We ate a great lunch there with excellent coffee and in the end bought several bars of delicious dark chocolate which we are still enjoying!
You may be wondering why we haven’t been raving about the cloud forests and the wonderful birding in Monteverde. Well, we were going to try and cram everything into one post but it very quickly became obvious that we would miss something and the experience of hiking and birding in the cloud forests deserve a separate post (Part III).
The mornings were our favorite time of the day as the sun rose in a relatively clear sky and the air was fresh from the rains of the previous day. Temperatures were very pleasant and we could have actually used a long-sleeved shirt for the evenings as it was quite damp and cool. It was a far cry from the hot dry weather we had been used to back at Playas del Coco. As the mornings wore on clouds would begin to form which created ever changing landscapes and vistas.
For the 5 days that we were there the rain was quite predictable and began near lunch, sometimes accompanied by violent thunder and lightening, often extremely heavy and it would generally start to taper off towards the end of the afternoon.
We particularly enjoyed a typical casado for lunch one day at this small soda located in the basement of the local craft cooperative. We had just finished a 4 hour walk through one of the reserves so we were especially hungry. Most of the sodas serve freshly made juice with your meal.
There are a large variety of attractions, accommodations and restaurants in Monteverde and we just scratched the surface during our stay. We chose to take our time and limit the attractions we visited; instead taking the time to meet as many people as we could and soak up (quite literally at times) the experience. We did do two wonderful hikes and added many bird species to our life list which we will talk about separately, but it was the overall atmosphere of the area that lingers and will remain with us. This is formed by a unique blend of the beautiful natural setting as well as the hospitality and positive attitude of the people who call Monteverde home. We are not quite sure why it took us so long to visit, but we are certain we will be returning.