We were only able to go to Monteverde as a very brief stop heading south towards San José. Even though we only ended up having two nights there, we were thoroughly glad we made the effort – in fact we were a bit gutted we couldn’t spend longer there. It was a really nice little town, up in the hills or Northern Costa Rica, clean, safe and cool – everything Nicaragua wasn’t. It also has the added attraction of being surrounded by beautiful forest. Here’s a (very) short guide on what to expect:
By far and away the hardest bit of Monteverde – well connected it ain’t. From San José and the south it isn’t too bad, you can get direct buses from the capital for about US$6, which take four hours or so. I believe it only runs once a day though. From the North and the Nicaraguan border it is a different story. You need to get to a place called La Irma by 3pm or (like us) you will end up stuck in the middle of nowhere, or a town called Las Juntas to be precise. If you do decide to undertake the journey in a day, SET OFF EARLY. The Nica-Costa Rica border is chaotic. Once you cross into Costa Rica, take pretty much any of the San José-bound buses and ask them to tell you when you reach La Irma, which takes about 2 hours and should cost between US$9-12. The bus from La Irma, or Las Juntas if you do get stuck, costs about US3.50 and takes a further 2 hours up the scenic route to Monteverde.
Monteverde is awash with hostels and hotels as the town is something of a tourism hub. We stayed at Sleepers hostel, which was reasonable and had hot showers and good wifi. We had a bit of confusion with booking them through Hostelworld however and ended up accidentally overpaying so be wary. Average dorm beds cost about US$10 per night, private rooms for two about US$20-25.
You go to Monteverde for the activities. It’s surrounded by national park – and it’s all rainforest. What you choose to do pretty much depends on the extent of your budget. We went to the Selvatura Park and did the Hanging Bridge Canopy Tour for US$20 each, then went to the Hummingbird garden for an additional $5. There you could also do a zip line canopy tour for about $40 which looked an absolute blast, if that is you don’t have a crippling phobia of heights.
Selvatura is not your only option though. You can go and visit the Cloud Forest park for $10 and walk around nature-spotting. There are similar bridge and zip line tours there too, only your views are likely to be obscured by clouds, hence the name. The prices are similar at both parks so it’s a case of personal choice.
Food & Drink
Only one recommendation here because we cooked for ourselves: Taco Taco was a fantastic and reasonable Mexican place. Get the beef burrito with the mango salsa and send me your thanks on a postcard.
Costa Rica is one of those countries where incredibly large numbers are perfectly reasonable. At the time of writing, there are approximately 560 Colones to the US Dollar, and 700 to the pound. What makes things even more confusing is that a lot of stuff aimed at tourists is priced in dollars, but the expect payment in Colones. You have to watch out for the exchange rate. Do the maths yourself and pay in whichever is cheaper.
On the subject of currency, cling on to your smaller denomination notes like your life depends on it. ATMs often only dispense 10,000 Colones notes. Yes this is less than $20 but the look you get from people when you try and pay with one is like you burned down their mum’s house and pissed on the ashes. Get change from supermarkets, banks and the like and avoid the death stare when you need to buy something little.
Lastly, tap water is fine to drink in Costa Rica, especially in Monteverde. Avoid it if your stomach is particularly sensitive, but otherwise save yourself a couple of dollars a go for a bottle and go native.