Cloud forest ziplining. Canyoning. Bungy jumping. High altitude canopy tours. The biodiversity-rich Monteverde in Costa Rica is known for being an adventurous destination; however, at this point in my Intrepid Travel Way to San Jose Tour I was craving a break from structured experiences and craving a day of unplanned exploration and discovery. So while most of my group signed up for various tours, I took a different path, literally.
A Trip To The Clouds
From my rustic family-run hotel, Historias Lodge, the public bus — a giant yellow school bus — was just a five minute walk, costing 600 Colones (about $1.15). It takes only 10 minutes to reach the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, featuring more than 4,000 hectares of lush ecosystems, over 100 mammal specials, more than 400 birds and over 3,000 plants, including the largest diversity of orchids on the planet with over 500 species. The Reserve was established in 1972 to help stop the growing threat of settlers moving up the mountain.
While admission is $20 my student ID gets me in for $10, and I’m given a map depicting 13 trail options, many interconnecting to allow for numerous adventures. I start with the Sendero Nuboso which connects to Sendero La Ventana, heading up to the La Ventana lookout, the highest point in the Reserve at 1,840 meters (6,037 feet) above sea level.
The trail isn’t particularly challenging; however it’s astounding aesthetically, thick trees stretching toward the sky covered in hanging vines and fungi, red ginger interspersed with dew dropped moss, giant ferns and wet bark. A cloud mist envelops the whole scene giving an ominous feel.
I don’t walk fast; just enjoy the scenery and sounds — the various bird calls, the rushing streams, the cracking twigs. The lookout is cloudy but beautiful, as despite not being able to see anything I feel like I’m on top of the world, literally.
I decide to follow the map to link with Sendero Puente, an uphill climb taking me to a shaking suspension bridge (which Javier, my silly Intrepid Travel guide, of course insists on jumping all over). To me the view here is better than the lookout, and I get a slight shiver as I glance down and notice my elevated perch above the forest.
The way back to the visitor center is an uphill battle, and when I finally make it I’m in need of some energy — via coffee — at the onsite cafe. What I’m greeted with is so much more than caffeine, however, as the venue has setup hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water. The rapid-winged birds glimmer green and purple in the sun, and I can’t get enough of watching them hoover in mid-air deciding their next move, wings flapping so fast you think they might open a time portal, beaks long and elegant.
The entire trekking experience takes about 2.5 hours including stops for photos and to enjoy the scenery.
I grab the 11am bus back toward town (same price) but stop at the local Heladeria Monteverde, renowned as a top local experience. Monteverde has a strong dairy culture — they even have cheese factory tours at the Monteverde Cheese Factory — and the homemade ice cream I savor proves it. I’m allowed two free samples, and choose sour cream with stawberries (so rich!) and a mint chip (so flavorful with huge chocolate chunks). I grab a scoop of the mint chip and watch the local teens enjoying their treats from a table.
Costa Rican Craft Beer
One of the other Intrepid Travel girls, Rachel, accompanies me on a journey into the main town, Santa Elena, small but not lacking tourism offices, restaurants, bars and shops. As we walk I see a sign that reads “Beer Shakes,” and naturally gravitate into its doors.
While the beer shakes are no longer being made — though they do have a stout float — the Monteverde Beer House is a microbrewery that makes three different ales: Amber, Red and Scottish. After drinking the prominent Miller-type beers like Gallo and Tona around Central America it was a welcome change. The venue has a hipster vibe, with lots of wooden accents, a small production facility in view, and indoor-outdoor seating.
Costa Rican Coffee Culture
They’re also near to what becomes my favorite coffee shop: Beso Espresso. Tip: look hard at their logo; the steaming cup also shows two mouths kissing. The amazing experience begins with the barista going over the profiles of the nine different varieties of Costa Rican beans offered. I choose a “Red Honey” from the Central Valley, with aromas of ripe fruits, flavors of plum and caramel, and a sweet chocolate finish. Delicious, especially paired with an epic electronic playlist and the barista going over the different coffee regions with me. It’s a delicious lesson in Costa Rican coffee culture.
Rest & Raging
At this point it’s time to rest up before dinner and salsa dancing, and Historias Lodge is the perfect respite. My balcony offers views of the lush surroundings, while the hot water and strong pressure of the showers makes a great beginning to a nap under the comfy flannel bed blankets. My favorite part of the stay, however, is the adorable one-eyed dog and chatting over coffee and cookies with the owner, Luis, something I do many times during my short stay.
It’s a Friday, so around 8pm my group convenes at the outdoor tables with bottles of rum and Coke, getting tipsy before dinner and dancing at Bar Amigos. We laugh over shots, clinking glasses and spilling Flor de Cana, our voices getting louder as the drinks flow. Luis closes up the hotel and walks us to his house next door to kindly drive us the five minutes to the bar, where I promptly shovel delicious heaps of chicken and rice with fries and veggies into my sloshing stomach.
As always, never a dull moment with this crowd, who, as our 17-day Way to San Jose trip nears to a close, I realize I’m going to miss everyone terribly. That’s the beauty and bad of this type of trip; you create memories with amazing people you’ll never forget, but you also need to at goodbye to them at some point, although I have a feeling for most of us it’ll be more of a so-long than a final farewell.
Luckily, we still have a few more days of fun left. Next up: La Fortuna, Costa Rica.
For more posts from my Way to San Jose trip, click here. Bonus: Get 25% off last minute deals with Intrepid Travel by clicking here.
Border Crossing Notes: During my Intrepid Travel Way To San Jose journey, we crossed from Guatemala to Honduras, Honduras to Nicaragua, and Nicaragua to Costa Rica. In terms of safety, the crossing into Costa Rica was the worst, with pickpocketers and spammers literally waiting for tour buses at the border. You may want to get a combination lock to seal up your backpacks, or at least wear packs with valuables in front of you.
Also, don’t purchase customs forms off the street. You’ll receive one from the immigration officer for free when you leave Nicaragua.
Lastly, be sure to check the immigration officer really stamped your passport. I had an issue where they forgot to, and I had to go back and have the Nicaragua customs official redo it.
Currency: You can use US dollars in Costa Rica everywhere — many places even list prices in US dollars over the local Colon. As of October 1, 2015, the exchange rate is $1 USD = about $535 Colones.
Outlets: My USA plugs worked fine without an adapter, including my laptop.
Language: Spanish, but many people speak English in Costa Rica, especially it’s the most developed in terms of tourism in Central America. Javier believes it’s because instead of putting money into an army they don’t need they put it into education and infrastructure.
Safety: While I didn’t feel particularly unsafe in Costa Rica, the border is really crazy, and you still need to watch your back. I’d recommend a lock for your day bag with your valuables inside (I lock the zippers together), a safety whistle and Clever Travel Companion pickpocket-proof garments.
Read: Lonely Planet Costa Rica (Travel Guide) by Lonely Planet; Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries by Jennifer Turnbull; Living in and Visiting Costa Rica: 100 Tips, Tricks, Traps, and Facts by Greg Seymour
*My trip to Central America was hosted by Intrepid Travel. I was not compensated nor required to write this post. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.
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