Since I didn’t have much time to spend in Costa Rica (only 5 days), I had to opt for either exploring the cloud forest in Monteverde or heading south for the squirrel monkeys in Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. Since I was so excited about exploring a biosphere completely new to me, combined with the fact that Monteverde is close to an active volcano made the choice that much easier…
Day 1: Bus to Santa Elena and hostel
I took a morning bus (around 07:00) from Alajuela (right outside San José) to Santa Elena, which is the closest town to the Monteverde cloud forest. The ride takes more or less all day so you won’t arrive until early afternoon around 14:30, which means most of the cloud forest tours and activities have already stopped.
I stayed at Pensión Santa Elena which had a full kitchen (mandatory on my list), shared rooms, social rooms and included a breakfast at the next-door taco eatery, which had a very imaginative name: Taco Taco.
The cloud forest(s)
The Monteverde national park has two entrances: Monteverde cloud forest and Santa Elena cloud forest. Depending on the weather one might give you better views than the other so do make a note to check ahead of time. You can book your transport at your hostel/ hotel (costs about $4-$6 round trip). When getting there, you pay $10 for the park entrance fee which is good for two days and valid for both entrances to the park.
Since I arrived in the afternoon, it was recommended I head to Santa Elena to do some brief hiking. And so I did… Because of the higher altitude, you are able to get great views of Volcán Arenal. On the same token, because of the high altitude it gets pretty chilly. This is where that stylish top hat definitely comes in handy.
I did the blue and purple loop as I found that the time suggested it take to finish them was highly overestimated. Check out some pictures below that I snapped from this reserve visit! Getting there in the afternoon was definitely a huge plus as there were not many people around: it’s just you, the cloud forest and whatever animals and insects that cross your path.
Day 2: Exploring the Monteverde cloud forest, bungee jumping and night-time safari
The next day I made sure to wake up bright and early to make the very first bus to the Monteverde cloud forest (it’s supposed to be less cloudy in the morning but let’s be real, that doesn’t say much when we’re talking about a cloud forest…). My advice: bring a windbreaker, it’s far from calm up there! I also highly recommend checking out the Wilford Guidon trail where you can walk the famous hanging bridge.
For more detailed info on the different trails, visit: http://www.monteverdeinfo.com/monteverde.htm
Though the park offers more in terms of fauna, you’re able to make out the occasional monkey noises and I even spotted a few toucans. Before heading back to Santa Elena, don’t forget to visit the hummingbird house right by the entrance. Great spot to get really close to wild hummingbirds.
Apart from one of the waterfalls I saw while wandering about in this reserve, my favorite part about this forest was a tree I spotted: vines on top of vines. If I ever were to reincarnate as a tree, I’d love to be this guy. Hands down.
OK so hummingbird photography is far from easy. Capturing these fellas in motion requires a hefty dose of patience (a good camera doesn’t hurt either).
The very little town of Santa Elena doesn’t offer too much in itself (there’s maybe one bar and not that many great places for food, in my opinion). What it does host though, is a little Mecca for adventure seekers. Looking for Latin America’s tallest bungee jump? Want to go zip-lining thorough the cloud forest or feel your stomach jump as you take off on a giant Tarzan swing? You’ve found your place.
Only having done bungee jumping one time previously in Baños, Ecuador and loved it, I was all up for taking the leap (pun intended). Though a bit on the pricier side at $70, I highly recommend it. I went with a company called “Monteverde Extreme Canopy”, which I conveniently booked at the hostel only to have them pick me up there. The company also offers a zip-line – bungee jump combo for those thrill-seekers with a higher tolerance level.
This jump is no joke. After taking the trolley out to the middle of a canyon you really feel your heart start to race. Standing by the edge of the cart, looking down to the 143 meter drop I felt a mix of excitement, fear and curiosity come over me. And… then there’s that jump! Diving into nothingness, feeling yourself pulled up by sheer force hanging upside down you’re really able to see the roundness of the earth. Pretty fantastic. It’s safe to say that my legs felt like complete jello after…
Night-time safari tour
Looking to get as much as possible out of my stay in Santa Elena, I decided to catch a night-time safari tour. More than likely, your hotel or hostel will have some sort of advertisement for these nightly excursions. You can book them a few hours ahead even. The tour costs about $20 and includes transportation to and from the reserve. During the visit, if you’re lucky, you’re able to spot sloths, scorpions, boas and other nocturnal wildlife.
Equipped with a flash light, you venture out into the pitch darkness. Tour groups leave about 20 meters apart, so you’re able to make out everyone else’s flash lights against the impenetrable black night, they almost resembled stars or fireflies in the darkness.
A note on Costa Rican transportation
If you, like me, don’t plan on renting a car (which is rather pricy here) I suggest you check out the following links for info on the country’s public transportation system. It runs fairly accurately, is very cheap and relatively comfortable. Essentially, you can get to just about anywhere in the country by public transport (yay!).
Let’s say public transportation ain’t your thing. Why not try a shared ride service? With the rise of Uber and Lyft is was only a matter of time before someone started this type of service. I haven’t used it myself but from what I’ve gathered, it’s rather common in Costa Rica.
“Cool story, bro. But how much did it cost?”
Hostel (two nights): $24
Night safari tour: $20
Bus Santa Elena – Monteverde and back: $4
Monteverde park entrance: $10
Bungee jump: $70
Santa Elena Cloud forest bus trasnport: $2
San Jose – Santa Elena bus: $5
Grand total: $141
*Note: I found that paying in Costa Rican Colones proved much cheaper than paying in USD (the numbers above are converted)