Monteverde Cloud Forest is a very popular tourist destination in Costa Rica which makes for heavy crowds in certain areas. I will share my tips for visiting Monteverde and the surrounding area while hiking in some cool places off the beaten track.
From San Jose, there are two buses to Monteverde, Costa Rica that leave from Terminal Atlantico Norte (6:30 am and 2:30 pm). This trip costs around $6 and takes between 4-5 hours depending on the road conditions. If you are coming from the Pacific Coast or Nicoya Peninsula, you can catch a bus from Puntarenas to Monteverde every day at 2:15 pm. The trip costs around $3 and takes between 3-3.5 hours. If you are coming from La Fortuna/Arenal it is possible to take a morning bus to Tilaran and take a connecting bus to Monteverde in the afternoon (leaving around 1:00 pm).
Monteverde Cloud Forest
This is one of the most popular places to go hiking in Costa Rica. The trails are well-marked, easily accessible and relatively flat. There are some steep inclines on the Roble and Chomongo trails. Hiking all of the trails should take 4-5 hours to complete. I was unable to hike every trail due to the heavy afternoon rain. However, I don’t think you are missing out if you don’t hike all of the trails.
You will be running into a lot of other people if you stick to the popular trails like Bosque Nuboso and Camino. I didn’t see a lot of people on the Roble and Chomongo and El Rio trails. Although Monteverde Cloud Forest isn’t necessarily the place to get away from the crowds. I heard a lot of wildlife on the trails (quite a few birds chirping in the eastern area of Bosque Nuboso). However, I didn’t see a lot of wildlife other than caterpillars and butterflies. Go early in the morning if you want to spot a lot of birds.
The entrance fee here is $20(!) which I think bothers a lot of people. They expect to see a lot more for what they paid to explore the area. If you have a university student card, the entrance fee is 50% off, which is good for the budget traveler. You can catch a bus in the center of town heading to Monteverde Cloud Forest for $1. It leaves daily at 6:00 am, 7:30 am, 9:30 am (except Sundays), 11:30 am, 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm. The bus departs from the reserve at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm, and 4:00 pm. You can also walk to and from the reserve. It takes around 60-70 minutes.
Santa Elena Cloud Forest
This area is perfect for those looking for that Monteverde Cloud Forest experience without the crowds. The trails here are also well marked and easy to navigate. Hiking all of the trails here should take no more than 3-3.5 hours to complete.
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is much quieter than Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. I was able to explore this section of the cloud forest without bumping into many tour groups. There was also a platform you could climb up to get a view of the surrounding area. However, it was cloudy and rainy during my visit so the view wasn’t as good. As a result, trails were flooded but it was not too difficult to navigate most of them.
The entrance fee here is $14. Again if you have a university student card, the entrance fee is only $7. Let your hostel know if you plan to visit here. They can contact the driver and have him pick you up from the hostel and take you to the Santa Elena Reserve for $4 roundtrip. It leaves daily at 6:30 am, 8:30 am, 10:30 am and 12:30 pm. You can catch the bus back at 8:00 am, 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 4:00 pm.
Cerro Amigos Hike
The trailhead for this hike is at the Belmar Hotel which is no more than a 30-minute walk from the center of town. Getting here is pretty simple. Follow the road towards Monteverde until you get to the gas station (only one in town). Turn off the main road and follow this road until you reach the hotel entrance. I posted a map of the area around the Belmar Hotel for easy navigation. There is no entrance fee for this hike, which is excellent considering how expensive it can be to do hiking in Costa Rica. I definitely recommend doing this hike if you are in Monteverde.
The climb up is steep in a few parts but nothing too difficult because you are on a dirt road. The top is filled with radio towers but on a clear day, you are rewarded with a beautiful view of the surrounding area. You might even see Volcan Arenal on a perfect day. In my YouTube vlog of this hike, I also did some extra exploring in the area. I descended down a different side path on the side and explored the cloud forest with no one else in sight. It is possible to hike all the way down to Santa Elena Reserve from Cerro Amigos. However, I did a big loop which took me back to the top of Cerro Amigos again.