Most people may think of hot weather and the beach when they think of Costa Rica, but that is only one aspect of the many environments in this diverse country. In 2013, my husband and I did a trek across Costa Rica from the beach to the rain forest. We flew into Liberia, visited the Pacific side of the coast, and did a trek to Arenal to explore the volcano and the famous hanging bridges. During that trip, we were already planning our return before we had even left the country the first time!
We returned to CR in late January 2017; this time taking a different route. We landed in the capital city of San José, spent a night to explore there, and then headed north into the mountains with the final destination of Monteverde.
Getting there: San José
Monteverde sits equidistant from both of the major airports in Costa Rica. Our choice to fly into San José rather than into Liberia was determined by flight schedules and the fact that we had seen the city of Liberia on our previous trip. Southwest has easy flights to San José from the East Coast with only one quick layover in BWI, which was a big plus. Less time in the air means more time on the ground.
The city of San José is rich in architecture and history. We landed late in the day and, after a quick dinner at Restaurante Las Mañanitas, we took a mile-long walk toward the famous Central Market (Mercado Central). Although we could have taken an Uber, it was nice weather for a walk and it allowed us to see some of the city. We would hop back into our car and drive to Monteverde the next morning, so we only had a few hours to see what we could see.
The Central Market in San José is definitely a place for the locals to shop for anything from meats and seafood to fruits, veggies, flowers, and household items. It is a tourist attraction, yes, but it is also an authentic market. Space is at a premium here, so the stalls are jam-packed with merchandise. Not a centimeter of space is wasted.
It was so fun to follow the maze-like hallways and see everything that was for sale. Below are a few of my favorite photos. You can see more in my trip gallery.
Side trip: Poás Volcano National Park
The next morning, we hopped in the car and waved goodbye to San José until we would return in a few days to fly home. We steered north toward our first stop of the day to see the Poás Volcano, a short 30-mile drive from the city. The popular lure to this attraction is the ease at which you can see the crater lake. At almost a mile across, it’s the largest active crater in the world. But, as you can see from the photo below, the famous steaming geysers of this lake were quiet on the day we visited.
What wasn’t calm were the winds. You are at 8,885 feet – high enough that the winds are strong and constant. The clouds are also a factor here. Most guidebooks say to arrive early since the clouds generally roll in during the afternoon and it really limits your view. Below is a time lapse video I made of the clouds rolling in:
Getting there: Monteverde
From Poás Volcano we headed south and then west toward Monteverde. This 97-mile trip would take 3.5 hours, according to Google Maps and verified by our GPS. At first we thought it was because the route took us through small towns on windy roads where the speed limit was low. That was only part of the speed problem. The last 15 miles or so into Monteverde is unpaved! That was a surprise since the roads in CR are fairly well-maintained.
We looked into the history of why the roads leading into the town are unpaved. It seemed odd since the roads in town are paved. Turns out that the outer roads are unpaved to make it difficult to get there. There is a strong conservationist belief in this area – one that thinks paved roads would lead to chain hotels and too many tourists ruining the natural landscape here.
So, you crazy tourists, you have been warned…
Touring Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
The highlight of our trip – and, frankly, the main reason we wanted to visit Monteverde – was spending the day at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Founded in 1972, the Reserve measures over 26,000 acres of cloud forest in its boundaries. It also has the most number of orchid species in one place in the world, as well as 400 bird species, 120 reptiles and amphibians, and thousands of insects. The biodiversity here is amazing. In addition, 100% of the money collected by the entrance fee and other services like tours are used to fund education, preservation, and research programs.
We were lucky enough to have Ricardo Guindon (below) as our guide at the Reserve. He is the son of Quakers who came to Costa Rica in the 1950s to settle this part of the world. His father, Wilford “Wolf” Guindon, was integral in the ecological preservation in CR and is one of the founders of the Reserve. The hanging bridge at the Reserve (later pictured in this post) is named after the elder Guindon.
During the multi-hour tour, we saw many bird species, as well as mammals such as this coati (below).
After the tour, we hiked to the hanging bridge named after Mr. Guindon (pictured below). The hanging bridges of Costa Rica will never, ever get old for me.
We continued our hike from the hanging bridge and pushed on toward the Continental Divide where you can experience the trade winds that come in from the Caribbean side, hit the mountain range, and then flow up and over to the Pacific side of the country. The winds are fierce and constant. What an experience!
After spending all day hiking the Reserve, we returned to explore the town of Monteverde and were treated to this sunset (below).
For more pictures and videos from this trip, check out the trip gallery. Happy travels!