Monteverde, northwest of San Jose, is both a major tourist attraction and an amazing place to learn about the country's nature and culture.
The best approach to one of my favorite areas of Costa Rica, Monteverde, is to come from San JosÃ© — but even that road can be difficult, especially in the rainy season. If you plan to drive to Monteverde on your own, you absolutely must have a four wheel drive vehicle. Once you leave the highway, the roads to Monteverde are steep dirt roads, often with lots of potholes. Specialty vehicle rentals are expensive but in this case necessary.
Another choice is to buy a package and let someone else do the driving. It takes several hours to drive to Monteverde from San Jose so you should plan on staying at least one night. Two nights would be ideal.
Monteverde’s Quaker Community
The name Monteverde refers to two different things: the Quaker community of Monteverde as well as the adjacent cloud preserve. The history of the community is interesting and bears repeating. Back in the early 1950’s some Quakers from the state of Alabama were jailed for refusing to register for the draft in the U.S. and decided to move to a more peaceful country whose military policy coincided with their Pacifist beliefs. Costa Rica, having no army, fit the bill. There were 44 original settlers from 11 different families. Some flew to San JosÃ© while others drove from Alabama, a three-month journey. Eventually they settled in the Monteverde area where land was cheap and plentiful. They supported themselves through dairy farming and cheese production. Today their modern factory supplies cheese to all of Costa Rica. The Quakers have been instrumental in keeping Monteverde and the surrounding area in its pristine state. They are respectful of the land and its fragility.
There are several art galleries and craft centers to visit in Monteverde as well as the cheese factory, called La LecherÃa. The Hummingbird Gallery (see Costa Rica’s Defining Moment) is a must-see. Being completely surrounded by buzzing hummingbirds is one of Monteverde’s fun experiences. You can also arrange for horseback riding and guided wildlife walks. Because of the Quaker heritage English is widely understood in this area. There are several lodges in the Monteverde area as well as in the nearby town of Santa Elena. Most will sell out during the busy winter and summer season. You can reserve these properties on a room only basis as well as on a package basis. We recommend you reserve ahead.
Monteverde’s Cloud Forest Preserve
This privately owned and operated cloud preserve is the major attraction of Monteverde. You can hike it on your own – there are several trails – or you can hire a guide for a half day or more. Guides run about $15 for a half day and we recommend going with a guide (Guides are not included with entrance fee). The cloud forest is a very misty place and it is hard to see wildlife. The guide can point out things you would ordinarily miss on your own. Other special tours may be offered or can be arranged upon request, such as night tours of the preserve or birding tours. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded at Monteverde, including the resplendent quetzal. There is a limit to the number of people who can enter the preserve at one time. During the busy season we recommend you arrive as soon as possible after the opening time of 7:00am. Admission is about $13.00 with discounts for students and children. Children ages 10 and under are admitted without a fee. For more information contact Monteverde Info (506/645-7070). [Editor’s Note: The cloud preserve can be muddy and wet so bring raingear and boots.]
Volcan Arenal National Park
Located a few miles west of the town of Fortuna, this national park contains one of the most active volcanoes in Central America, the Arenal Volcano. There are only a few visitors services at the park; the main attraction is viewing the smoldering or fiery volcano, especially at night.
If the volcano is active, you will be able to see the eruptions from outside the park. Day Tours are available to see the volcano and often include other activities available in the surrounding area. This is an all-day trip from Monteverde.
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