North of Puntarenas near Santa Elana, the Monteverde Preserve is one of the best known protected areas in the tropics, and also most crowded. The Quakers of Alabama originally owned this 11,000 hectacres forest inhabitated by 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds and 120 species of reptiles. The Preserve has 13 kilometers of paths and trails open to daily visitors in an area called The Triangle. This area covers 2% of the Preserve. The paths start at the entrance of the Preserve. The Triangle trails can be very slick, but have some foot holds.
Outside of The Triangle, there are two trails to the north and west of the Triangle lead to the shelters in the cloudforest and may be used under special circumstances. The longest walks extend beyond the Triangle area and require overnight stays in the shelters within the Preserve, therefore they are not recommended for un-experienced hikers. These trails are muddy, slick and treacherous. Those who wish to take long hikes may contract an experienced guide by contacting the Preserve for additional information and a list of guides. See the other trail listing for El Camino.
Here is a complete list of trails in the region (keep in mind that there are period closures for revegetation):
SENDERO BOSQUE NUBOSO - CLOUD FOREST TRAIL 1.9 km (1.2 mi) ; Rise 65 m. (213 ft.); 1.5 hours. A self-guided tour booklet of this trail is available @ the entrance for $1 and is available in English or Spanish. One of the most popular trail because its one of the prettiest. Very good examples of strangler figs.
EL CAMINO - THE ROAD 2.0 km (1.2 mi.); Rise 45 m. (148 ft.); 1 hour. Wider & more open than the other trails so gets more sunlight and this attracts butterflies. Ecellent for bird watching.
SENDERO PANTANOSO - SWAMP TRAIL 1.6 km (1.0 mi.); Rise 40 m. (131 ft.); 1.25 hours. This trail passes through a swamp forest while traversing the Continental Divide. Numerous light gaps, magnolias, plants with stilt roots and podocarpus; the only conifer in the preserve.
SENDERO RIO - RIVER TRAIL 1.9 km (1.2 mi.); Rise 65 m. (213 ft.); 1.5 hours. This trail leads along the Quebrada Cueda with a short trail to a waterfall. Near the waterfall are good examples of Zapote trees with buttressed roots.
SENDERO CHOMOGO 1.8 km. (1.1 mi.); Rise 150 m. (492 ft.); 1.25 hours. Highest trail reaching 1,680 m. (5,510 ft.). Oak, bamboo and heliconia are common around the higher areas. Hot lip plants abound.
SENDERO BOSQUE ETERNO - ETERNAL FOREST TRAIL .6 km (.4 mi.); Rise 35 m. (115 ft.); 20 min. Good examples of strangler figs trees, a typical cloud forest.
SENDERO GEORGE POWELL .2 km (.1 mi.); Rise 20 m. (66 ft.); 10 min. Area of 2nd growth forest. Trail named after one of the founders of the preserve.
SENDERO BRILLANTE .3 km. (.2 mi.); Rise 16 m. (49 ft.); 10 min. Takes you along the Continental Divide to La Ventana, an overlook with a wide view of the elfin forest. Bamboo is common.
SENDERO ROBLE ..6 km (.4 mi.) Lovely narrow trail with a beautiful Heliconia grove. Uphill in northerly direction.
BACKPACKING: There 3 backcountry huts are available in Monteverde Cloud Forest for a fee of $3.50 pp per night plus the entrance fee for each day of stay. You must be accompanied by a reserves guide, cost is $20 per group and you must reserve at least one day in advance. For reservations & more details about the huts:firstname.lastname@example.org
Eladios Hut (Portland Audubon Center) - Most developed of the three, it features 3 separate dorm rooms , large deck and trails for bird watching nearby. 5 hours hike.
La Leona (The Germans or Aleman) - Beautiful setting on the Rios Penas Blancas with a cable car upstream for crossings. 3.5 hours hike.
El Valle - Shortest hike to a hut. 2.5 hours hike. Note: as of April 2007, this hut has fallen into disrepair and is not recommended.
Huts have bunks with mattresses, running water, propane and wood stoves, cooking pots and utensils. No sheets or blankets. Dont forget to bring candles and toilet paper!
One of the better long distance trails runs through the Monteverde Preserve to the Childrens Rain Forest Preserve covering 24 km through dense primary premontane rain forest.
To reach Monteverde from San Jose, head west on RUTA 1 (aka InterAmerican highway) towards Puntarenas. Continue past the Puntarenas Exit for roughly 20km. Just past milepost 123 (obsured), turn right heading to Sardinal (2.8km). At 2.8km from RUTA 1 in Sardinal, turn left. This road was paved in early 2007 to a distance of 12.5km from RUTA 1. At the end of the pavement, the road is a very rough, rocky, winding, climbing 4WD route requiring a high clearance to avoid damage to the underside of the vehicle. At 17.0km from RUTA 1, pass through Guacunal, and continue climbing up this treacherous road. At 19km, turn right. At 26.6km, veer left. At 36.6km, enter Santa Elena. At 41.5km pass the Trapp Family Lodge. At 42.4km, arrive at Monteverde Cloud Forest. Overall, it is roughly a 4 hour drive from downtown San Jose, and about a 1.5 hour drive from RUTA 1.
To reach Monteverde from the north, head south on RUTA 1 (InterAmerican highway) towards Canas. At about 25.5km south of Canas and about 1.8km past the large bridge over Rio Abangares, look for signs to Juanitas near milepost 163. Turn left heading east towards Juanitas (6km). The first 12km of road is paved. Continue through Juanitas crossing Rio Abangares and head east. After 12km from RUTA 1, the road becomes rough dirt and rock road. A 4WD is recommended but not necessary. Stay right at most intersections. Overall, the road is 35km from RUTA 1 to Santa Elena and takes about an hour.
Here are some basic notes on driving in Costa Rica for the tourist. There is a myth about the quality of the roads and of VW bus sized pot-holes. This may have been true years ago, but on the main routes, this is no longer true. With that said, there are still numerous challenges for first time drivers in Costa Rica. First, do not expect much out of so-call “highways”, like the InterAmerican Highway. The fancy name makes the uninitiated think this is a major 4 lane divided, restricted access road. Well, yes, about 1% is. The rest is two lane (marginally), undivided, rural roads with tons of traffic constantly stopping, turning, passing or driving slowly. Like every other road in the country, you can expect to see on the road numerous unexpected cows, cyclists, pedestrians, bus stops, school crossing zones, dogs, mud slides, police check points, unannounced one-lane bridges, missing manhole covers, and, of course, a never ending stream of semi-trucks driving erratically fast. What you do not find on any roads is much signage. There are infrequent signs indicating the distance to the next town, and even more infrequent are road names or numbers (if at all), including even within major towns. To make matters worse, signs that used to exist are disappearing due to deterioration or theft. Also, do not expect drivers to use their head lights, even in a heavy rain shower, unless it is really dark. This makes passing in rain a game of roulette since you can't see the oncoming traffic. Speaking of dark, do not drive at night since the roads in some areas can be ruled by those under the influence of alcohol.
If you have to drive through San Jose, make sure to do it at dawn to avoid the horrendous traffic all day long, including weekends. Keep in mind several maps show highways passing through San Jose. This is not true. They end abruptly on the outskirts of town and you have to slug it out in a crazy stop-and-go traffic and many unmarked turns to get to the other side all day long. There are unsigned so-called by-pass routes around San Jose, but finding them can be a challenging game of trial-and-error, and they are only marginally better.
If you have to drive on the Nicoya Peninsula, you can expect to find generally better roads with better signage. However, there are numerous unmarked eroded road sides, especially over stream culverts. do not drive at night. Watch out for the iguanas sprinting across the road.
A GPS unit can be helpful when navigating roads, however, the maps in Costa Rica were created using a special map datum. This datum is not usually available on GPS units but the road base maps were created with it. Therefore if you use the default WGS84 datum with a base road map on the GPS unit, you will always show a position being about 0.5 miles to the north of the road base map.
When picking up a rental car, make sure to check all the tires for wear, check the spare tire pressure, check the tire jack, and make sure to test the lock on the spare tire. It would be wise to quickly purchase a can of Fix-A-Flat.
Overall, Monteverde Cloud Forest is the 6th most popular walking & backpacking of all 20 hiking in Costa Rica.