So, you’ve made it up the mountain to Monteverde and visited a cloud forest reserve or two, but now you’re ready for something different. How about swimming in warm thermal pools, visiting an artist’s workshop en route to fabulous views of the Gulf of Nicoya, basking in a butterfly garden, or venturing out on a more ambitious hike, to be rewarded with views of Arenal Volcano? Below are a few of our favorite outings in the Monteverde region, all of them beyond the reserves.
A short taxi ride outside of Monteverde, Finca Lindora is a family-owned farm with warm thermal pools set next to a bubbling river. You’ll start at the farmhouse and then amble, for about half an hour on horseback or foot, down a verdant valley, with sweeping views, to a wooded riverbank where the family has built rock-walled pools. The water is not hot, but we find it perfectly comfortable to pass an hour or more, and also love the walk coming and going. In our minds, this is one of Monteverde’s best-kept secrets. Call for reservations and more details.
Within walking distance of both Santa Elena and Monteverde, the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens is another place our family loves to visit. Included in the price of admission is a very professional, hour-long tour. In the four tented gardens you’ll meet all sorts of bugs and arachnids, including a tarantula, scorpions, leaf cutter ants (with a peek inside their colony) and, of course, all sorts of butterflies. The guides here are pros. After our visit, we found ourselves identifying all sorts of butterflies around Monteverde.
One of the limitations of the cloud forest is that with all of the dense vegetation, it’s hard to get up out of the green to get a good mountaintop view. Though I said this post would cover options beyond Monteverde reserves, Valle Escondido or Hidden Valley, located just next to the Monteverde Butterfly Garden, is technically a reserve, but feels like much more. With a very manageable 1.8 kilometer trail loop, dotted with one spectacular view after another, Valle Escondido offers something unique. You’ll see a waterfall, my favorite hollow ficus tree in Monteverde, and several breathtaking views of the Gulf of Nicoyo. If you’re lucky to visit on a misty day (often the case in Monteverde), your views will be topped with rainbows. The generous owners of Valle Escondido allow public access to the trails, but I recommend supporting their efforts by combining your visit with lunch in their café, or possibly even a stay at the Monteverde Inn, located in the reserve.
Roberto Wesson’s Studio and the San Luis Valley
For those looking to combine art with outdoor adventure, this is the perfect outing. Have the Santa Elena-Monteverde bus drop you off near the Villa Verde Hotel; start walking southwest on the road that splits off to the right, heading toward the San Luis Trocha. You’ll wander along the road cut through pasture (and possibly get to say “Hello!” to the horse featured at the head of this post). After about a half mile, you’ll see a gate and sign reading Arte Jaguar. If the gate is open, it means Roberto Wesson is home and at work in his gallery. Roberto is extremely gracious about welcoming guests. When we stopped in, unannounced, he showed us his koi pond, his collection of hundreds of orchids (Roberto is also a naturalist guide), and his stunning studio and paintings. Consider buying one of Roberto’s very reasonably priced prints after your visit. (We hope to bring several of them home to the U.S. with us when we return next summer.) If you continue down the road from the gallery, the dirt surface will turn to concrete, signaling that things are about to get steep, but also that the views of the San Luis Valley and the Gulf of Nicoya beyond are about to get spectacular. Halfway down the paved section you will see two wooden benches and the mirador, or lookout. Enjoy the view!
From here, you have several options: hike back up (the high-intensity workout option), call a taxi for a ride back to Monteverde (Taxi Central number: 2645-7171), or for big adventurers, continue walking down into the San Luis Valley. If you call ahead for a reservation, you can even end your walk at the stunning Ecolodge San Luis, for an overnight stay which includes meals and a suite of guided activities on this satellite campus of the University of Georgia.
Another great option for a lengthy hike and an overnight stay with all meals included (or simply a day hike, if a stay is not in your budget) is the San Gerardo Research Station. Start your hike from the parking lot of the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and follow the road (three and a half kilometers and no more than two hours, one way). Be ready for a climb—downhill going, and uphill on the return—but also a spectacular endpoint with orchid-laced trees, premontane rainforest, and beautiful views of both Arenal Volcano and Lake. My husband and I did this hike last January and were warmly welcomed by the resident hosts, one of whom grew up on his family’s farm, previously located right here where the current research station is, before it was incorporated into the extensive Children’s Eternal Rainforest. Though our first visit to San Gerardo was a day trip, we can’t wait to do an overnight-stay in the research station’s bunk house. We hear that the food, included in the stay, is just as terrific as the company, the views, and the extensive trail system. Reservations can be made online or by phone through the Monteverde Conservation League.
For those looking to climb to the highest point in the Monteverde region, the Cerro Amigos, or Friends Trail, starts near the Belmar Hotel and climbs to over 1800m (5900 ft). This steep ascent, along a service road to the ridge—three kilometers and no more than two hours, one way—is not for the faint of heart, but access is free. Along the way, you will encounter an area with ground-dwelling bees. They are big, but our experience, and that of friends, has been that if you keep moving along the road, they may buzz, but they won’t sting. The ridge at the top is covered in cloud forest, but on a clear day you will be rewarded with expansive views, including one of Arenal Volcano. From here you have two options: head right toward the many towers lining the ridge and, if the caretaker is home, he’ll likely invite you to climb right up into the tower (one of the joys of being away from the litigious U.S.!). Alternatively, head left along the ridge, past a small house, and onto a heavily-forested trail. We haven’t followed this trail to its end, but apparently it continues all the way down into the beautiful Santa Elena Reserve.
Leave a comment if you decide to visit one of these or the many other wonderful corners of Monteverde, and enjoy!