One of the greatest Cloud Forest in the world
Continuing our tour in Costa Rica, we spared today for enjoying the nature at one of the most worldwide renown forest the country is famous for, the Cloud Forest. While you can find it at many parts in the country, the nicest one, also the “easiest” to reach is Monteverde. Being at 150 kilometres from San Jose, it is the nearest to the capital, since the other forests that actually surround the capital are Rain Forests.
Before coming here, the four of us were quite excited about the possibility to see animals. After all, those forests and overall the country itself, is famous for the incredible biodiversity. With such small land mass it houses the most % of biodiversity of anywhere else on earth. Our expectations were to be able to see sloths, toucans and the likes, but well, that did not happen! At least, not for us. Although they strongly promise you over the internet at the many tour operators selling you tickets for any activity in Monteverde that you will see animals, they also mention the unsocial hours for this to happen. So unless you are brave enough to arrive around 5.00am, later than that you will only see a plain forest without any animal, not even birds.
So 150 kilometres from San Jose where our base was, meant driving for almost 4 hours! Yes take that note. And thankfully we had a powerful big car, otherwise forget about even getting closer to Monteverde. While for the first half of the journey you will be driving on the Panamerican Highway, the following quarter will be on a tiny bending road, and the last quarter on an unpaved narrow road, climbing up and up the mountain. This section was never ending and the one to blame for the trip to be that long and tiring.
The length of the journey, however, was actually nothing compared to our return journey back to San Jose via Arenal Lake. That was clearly a mistake to do. First of all, for thinking that way might be a bit better than the way in, with better road. Yes, in part it’s true, the road was better indefinitely. But then after the lake, the “fun” started. Not only it was already getting dark, but the road seemed never ending. It took us through Juan Castro Blanco National Parks, through the Poas Volcano National Park and next to Barba Volcano, all of which might have been a very pretty and scenic ride, but was pitch dark, through extremely narrow roads where we could see the edges of what would be cliffs. Out of the sudden, some large waterfall while crossing a narrow bridge, and yes, above us the entire Milky Way very visible. 6 hours driving since we left Monteverde, for just around 200 kilometres. No, definitely once and no more.
So, if in Monteverde we did not see any animal, while around the Arenal Lake, no views of the Arenal Volcano. The clouds in Costa Rica in general tend to come around 15.00pm and remain until the night. Of course there we were in the middle of those timings. Anyway, not the best experience, yet still a nice day out in the nature well spent in good company.
For more information about Monteverde Cloud Forest check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The currency in Costa Rica is the Colon. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
How to get there
While there are different options to come here from within Costa Rica, the easiest one is accessing from the capital San Jose. It is 150 kilometres to the west, but expect few hours to reach the place.
Either you can use the public transport, quite of a hassle as you will need to change buses along the route, and once you reach Santa Elena, the main village next to the forest, you will need to find the shuttle bus from whichever the tour operator you booked your tickets and activities in the National Park. I will not recommend this option at all in any case.
The easiest option would be booking an organised tour from San Jose. This way you do not have to worry about anything as you are taken A to B and back to A in a comfortable way. However this option won’t come cheap though. In fact, it is quite of a high expense as I could see the prices in the websites of the tour operators when making my research.
As last, a mixed option, and the one we did. Having a rental car, and booking the tickets only for accessing the National Park. So we drove all the way, found our tour operator installations and accessed directly showing our printed tickets bought online. Easy and simple way, also the “fastest”.
It is difficult to give you a proper information at this point. The possibilities are too wide. It all depends on which activity/activities you are interested in doing while in the National Park. There are many combinations, and way too many tour operators to chose.
After a long research online, I found Costa Rica Sky Adventures as the best choice to our needs. For a direct access to their website click here. We did the Sky Walk since we did not wanted to take the tram but rather walk, nor doing zip lines. There are other packages on offer anyway, simply have a look to their site.
As for prices, again it depends on what package you wish to buy. Even, on each package, then you have a farther option if you would like to have a guide or not. We opted for doing the Sky Walk on our own, this was US$25 per person. It was a little bit hidden where to find the option with all the packages listed on one view with the relevant cost, so if you like to see this quick without navigating around the website, click this direct access.
Surprisingly, the small village of Santa Elena, right on the footsteps of Monteverde Natural Park was full with tourists and plenty of hotels and resorts. We did not expect to see this anyway. Not sure about the availability nor cost as we did not stay over in here, so I can only talk about our stay in San Jose where our base was.
Being the capital and largest city in the country, and also so business and finance orientated (well, apparently, although you do not get to see or feel it at all), there are lots of large international chain properties all over, and more discrete, smaller and family run hotels. If you are looking for a recognised hotel brand, then be prepared to pay for it. Hotels in Costa Rica in general are not cheap, and they come second in cost factor after what we paid in Nicaragua, the most expensive in our entire trip. In the other hand, a more modest property, which does not mean having less or worse facilities, will be way cheaper. From our experience, we’ve been at both ends, the first days staying at a top hotel, and the last day before flying back to Europe at a smaller local chain.
As usual, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
For the first 3 days we stayed at the Barcelo Palacio, by Autopista General Canas Kilometer 3, to the west of the city. While not near the city centre, still easy to reach by a short taxi ride to La Merced Park, or as we had, a rental car. We had 2 very different opinions and experiences on this property. At one side, it is incredibly great for all the facilities it has, the amazing landscaped pool and large garden area. Nice breakfast, large rooms and overall well taken care. On the other hand, the people. We had quite a bad experience with everyone except the breakfast waiters which were fantastic. Receptionist and bellboys were all careless to any of our requests, and so the line managers. Not only we had that bad experience, another 2 of our friends had the very same in their case and worst. Said this, I will actually not recommend you this hotel but staying somewhere else. There are plenty of large international chains with same or even better facilities as Barcelo.
On our last day before flying back to Europe, we went for something smaller and local, which turned to be great on facilities itself. KC Colaye, meters away south from Parque Metropolitano La Sabana. With a beautiful pool and larger than average room, very quiet and very well cared all together. Staff, once again, seemed to be more worry about their mobile phones and other things than attending properly to the guests. But after 6 days in Costa Rica, this is something that applies to the entire country! So patience… really, patience.