How to Experience the Top Things to Do in Monteverde Costa Rica in 3 Days

Monteverde was one of my favorite stops on our two-week Costa Rica trip; the cloud forests are an experience unlike any other. This post will give you a rundown of the best things to do in Monteverde Costa Rica if you’ve got three days. From animal sightings to ziplining through the jungle, there are plenty of exciting activities waiting for you in this beautiful destination.

Best Things to Do in Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde is one of the greenest places I’ve seen and is truly a traveler’s paradise. From the Monteverde zip lines we did to the butterfly garden to walking the secluded trails of the Santa Elena Cloud forest, it was one adventure after another. Here are the best things to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica, in three days.

Day 1: Travel to Santa Elena and Visit The Monteverde Butterfly Gardens

Since we were coming from La Fortuna, the easiest way for us to get to Monteverde was using a shared Jeep, Boat, Jeep service. 

It is possible to drive around the large Laguna de Arenal, but taking a boat across and then catching another shuttle on the other side saves a considerable amount of time, and the experience of riding across the lake is fun in and of itself.

Our entire trip lasted around 4 hours, with a brief stop at a convenience store with restrooms.  

 Monteverde is just a 2-and-a-half-hour drive from Sán Jose, so if coming straight from the capital, you can either use a shared shuttle service or rent a car. 

our jeep, boat, jeep ride from La Fortuna to Monteverde
The boat ride portion of our ‘Jeep, Boat, Jeep’ transportation from La Fortuna to Monteverde

Our goal was to see both the Monteverde and Santa Elena cloud forests (many people choose only to do one or the other), so we decided to stay at Hostel Cattleya in Santa Elena.  Jonathan was a great host, and we loved the experience of having access to a shared full kitchen.

After checking into our room, we decided to walk the 30-minute distance to the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens.  We paid $20 per adult for a tour, which initially seemed a little pricey, but the experience was so hands-on and informative that we were glad we did it. 

In addition to the butterfly buildings at the end of the tour, this facility also has beetles, centipedes, ‘stick bugs,’ tarantulas, and scorpions.  We learned all about these insects and even got to hold a few. 

Besides our Manuel Antonio National Park walkthrough, this was my favorite wildlife experience of our entire stay in Costa Rica.

Tours are offered daily from 9 am-3:30 pm; no reservations are required.

centipede at Monteverde Butterfly Gardens | Best Things to do in Monteverde Costa Rica
Monteverde Butterfly Gardens | Best Things to do in Monteverde Costa Rica

We ended the day at a local restaurant. Esther tried the traditional Costa Rican Casado, a large dish with portions of rice, meat, fried plantains, and a small salad, and I got a chicken dish with papaya sauce.  Both were delicious.

Plate of food with a large salad, a scoop of rice, fried chicken, fried plantains, and a cup of shredded pork

Day 2: Monteverde Cloud Forest

Hands down, one of the best things to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica, is explore the cloud forest via a guided tour.  We had booked a combo tour through SkyAdventures Monteverde that included a cloud forest walk, cable car ride, and ziplines. 

We were picked up at 8:00 from our hostel, and from there, we headed to the cloud forest.  We started with the hanging bridges walk. 

These bridges were even longer than those at Mistico (which is why we might recommend skipping Mistico Park if also visiting Monteverde), and we loved how we almost felt like we were walking through the clouds themselves. 

Our guide talked about the unique plant life; we saw some beautiful birds and even spotted a tarantula.  

We loved how green everything was! Compared to our favorite hikes near Spokane, my current hometown, Monteverde was a tropical wonderland.

Monteverde Cloud Forest guided tour | Best Things to do in Monteverde Costa Rica
monteverde cloud forest hanging bridges best things to do in monteverde costa rica

We then took a cable car up to the start of the zipline portion of our tour, which included seven lines. Esther and I did one line in tandem due to the wind conditions, which we thought was awesome. 

We loved flying over the trees through the clouds; the views were magnificent. I had traveled to the Peruvian Andes the previous year, and one thing that stood out when comparing Peru to Costa Rica was this walking-through-the-cloud experience in Monteverde.

At the end, we put on body harnesses to do an auto-belay jump from the last zipline platform back down to the ground. 

We hadn’t known that this was part of the tour!  That was the most thrilling part for me (most terrifying for Esther).  

cable car ride sky adventures tour monteverde costa rica
zipline sky adventures tour monteverde costa rica

After our tour, we returned to our hostel and took advantage of the full kitchen to cook some Peruvian ceviche (Esther had just gotten back from living in Peru), and we took it easy for the rest of the afternoon.

Day 3: Santa Elena Cloud Forest and Night Walk Tour

When planning an international trip, we tend to focus on hiking and the outdoors. So, although many people decide to visit either the Monteverde cloud forest or the Santa Elena cloud forest, we wanted to experience both.  

We had heard that Monteverde was more crowded, but it also had the tour options we wanted, and we also really wanted to have the opportunity to walk through the more secluded Santa Elena forest. 

We loved the tour we did with SkyAdventures, but in comparing the actual cloud forests, I would say that Santa Elena was my favorite.  It had more of a true ‘walking through a cloud-covered jungle’ feeling, and there were fewer people. 

Much like our more secluded stay at Drake Bay, this was a great way to step away from the crowds and feel like we were exploring a bit of Costa Rica on our own.

We walked a large loop that included parts of Sendero Encantado and Sendero Cano Negro.

Santa Elena Cloud Forest

That evening, we decided to book a night tour; we had heard that the animal spotting opportunities were especially good in the Monteverde/Santa Elena area. 

We went with Kinkajou Night Walk Tours because they had a deal with our hostel, so the booking and pick-up were simple even though we reserved at the last minute. 

Kinkajou had mixed reviews on Tripadvisor, but we had a fantastic experience.  The group sizes were larger with this tour company, but our tour guide ensured everyone could see the animals and hear what he said. 

Some of my favorites were the transparent butterflies and the scorpions(they shine fluorescently under the black light our guide was carrying).

transparent butterfly nightwalk tour monteverde costa rica itinerary

With More Time: Additional Things to Do in Monteverde Costa Rica

  • See the hummingbirds at Selvatura Park
  • Do a waterfall rappelling tour
  • Bungee jump from the highest jumping spot in Central America with Monteverde Extremo Park
  • Take a birdwatching tour
  • Do a chocolate, coffee, and sugar cane tour

Getting to the Cloud Forests

Getting to the Monteverde Cloud Forest

Since we had booked a Monteverde combo tour (walking tour, cable car, and ziplines), we were transported straight from our Airbnb to the cloud forest by our tour shuttle. 

If visiting the cloud forest on your own, the cheapest option is to use the public bus that leaves from downtown Santa Elena at 6:00 am, 7:30 am, 9:30 am, 11:30, 1:00 pm, and 3:00 pm and then returns from Monteverde to Santa Elena at 6:40 am, 8:30 am, 11:00 am, 2:00 pm, and 4:00 pm. 

Times may vary; check this website for the most updated bus schedule. 

The ‘Centro Comercial Monteverde’ is the most common pickup spot, but the bus continues to pick up passengers along the road through Cerro Plano. 

The bus tickets are less than $2.00 per person, but you must pay in cash (either USD or Colones). 

A more convenient but much more expensive option would be to take a taxi, which ends up being around $20 each way. 

Depending on your group size and if you want to do guided tours, it often makes much more sense just to coordinate transportation with your tour company.

Getting to Santa Elena Cloud Forest

The options for getting to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest are essentially the same: coordinate transportation with your tour company (although there are much fewer tour groups that go to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest), or take a taxi or public bus. 

The only difference is that this bus requires that you reserve a spot by 8:30 p.m. the night before using their Whatsapp number (8346 0748 or 8964 2288), and the cost is $3 per person. 

Our hostel was happy to set this up for us, and many other hotels will do the same.