Head to the Monteverde region if you want to experience a distinct ecosystem, spot wildlife, and have plentiful options for hiking and zip-lining. Perfect for a quick getaway, the 6-day version of this itinerary will take you to both Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves, along with two nights in vibrant San José.

Highlights

  • Cross suspensions bridges for tree-top views of the cloud forest
  • Have the chance to spot nocturnal wildlife on a guided night hike
  • Identify exotic birds like the resplendent quetzal in Santa Elena Reserve
  • Get to know the history, culture, and cuisine of vibrant San José

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San Jose
Day 2 San José to Monteverde Monteverde
Day 3 Free Day and Night-time Nature Tour in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 4 Santa Elena Birdwatching & Jungle Hike Monteverde
Day 5 Monteverde to San José San Jose
Day 6 Depart San José  

Detailed overview

Day 1: Arrive in San José

The Neo-Classical Teatro Nacional in San José
The Neo-Classical Teatro Nacional in San José

Welcome to the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, you'll transfer to your hotel. 

The rest of the day is free for you to explore the country's capital city. Suggested activities include: 

  • Taking a stroll through Mercado Central (Central Market), the largest in the city, with over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants) perfect for an inexpensive lunch of casado, a traditional dish of rice, beans, and meat, served with tortillas. 
  • Visiting the Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late 19th century, which offers free guided tours on the hour.
  • Exploring a pair of museums. First, visit the Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), which holds the largest Pre-Columbian gold collection in all of Latin American. Continue on to the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum), dedicated to preserving the archaeological heritage of the region. The museum features the largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts in the world with over 7,000 items on display, most dated between 500 BCE and 300 BCE.

For a casual dinner try Tiquicia, a hilltop stalwart that serves up delicious local fare accompanied by live folk music on weekends, with views of the Central Valley. Or, for special-occasion dining, try Restaurante Grano de Oro, a local favorite helmed by French chef Francis Canal, who uses European techniques to prepare Costa Rican-fusion fare paired with an excellent wine list.

Day 2: San José to Monteverde

Zip-lining through the cloud forest
Zip-lining through the cloud forest

After breakfast, you’ll head toward Monteverde, known as the "Green Lung” of Costa Rica due to its rich biodiversity. Located in the mountainous northwest region of the country, Monteverde is famed for its 26,000-acre Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout allow for walks above the forest canopy, with plenty of opportunities to spot the colorfully-plumed resplendent quetzal. The reserve’s marked trails pass through exotic fauna and flora, including the greatest number of orchid species on the planet—500—with new ones discovered regularly. 

After check-in at your hotel, you’ll spend the afternoon at the Sky Adventures Park, where you’ll have your pick of ways to explore the cloud forest: zip-lining for the action-inclined, sky tram trips for a panoramic perspective, or walks along suspension bridges for up-close encounters with elusive bird species and other wildlife. 

Take the evening to enjoy nearby Santa Elena, a charming town with a heavy Quaker influence that’s known for excellent coffee and cheese. Here are a few restaurant suggestions: 

  • Grab a seat on the front porch of local favorite Orchid Coffee, which serves a menu of smoothies, salads, and sandwiches. Sweet-toothed visitors will appreciate the café’s extensive hot chocolate menu made with Costa Rican chocolate and mixed with unique ingredients like cardamom and orange.  
  • El Jardin Bar & Restaurant wins visitors over with its lovely setting overlooking the trees, friendly service, and fresh homemade bread served alongside every meal. 
  • Built around an old higueron (fig) tree, the Tree House Restaurant & Café serves well-prepared Costa Rican standards like ceviche and arroz con pollo in a romantic, open-air setting. 

Overnight: Monteverde

Day 3: Free Day and Night-time Nature Tour in Monteverde

Monteverde's Cloud Forest
Monteverde's Cloud Forest

Today is a choose your own adventure today. The Monteverde region has a long list of options, which include: 

Explore the Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout the reserve allow for walks above the forest canopy, with plenty of opportunities to spot the colorfully-plumed resplendent quetzal. At the Sky Adventures Monteverde Park, you can also zip-line through the forest canopy, navigate hanging bridges through the forest canopy, and take the Sky Tram guided tour that will lead you up to the Continental Divide—one of the highest mountains in the area. Among the reserve’s exotic flora are over 500 species of orchids.

In the afternoon you'll return to your hotel and have the rest of the day to spend as you like:

  • Visit a coffee farm to see how one of the country's most important exports is grown, harvested, and roasted
  • Get up close with Costa Rica's insects, arachnids, and butterflies at Monteverde Butterfly Gardens
  • See more than 450 species of orchids at the Monteverde Orchid Garden in Santa Elena
  • Take a walk along the nature trails of the Curi-Cancha Reserve for more bird-watching opportunities
  • Uncover the mysterious and fascinating life bats during a tour at the Bat Jungle

This evening, you'll have the chance to see the wildlife at its most active after dark on a guided night tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A naturalist will point out sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous, as well as sleeping birds. You'll have the chance to hear and see different wildlife than during the daytime, like agoutis, porcupines, grey foxes, tarantulas, and frogs.

Day 4: Santa Elena Birdwatching & Jungle Hike

A blue-throated toucanet
A blue-throated toucanet

This morning you'll embark on a guided hike of the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, home to some of the country's most exotic birds including the resplendent quetzal, hummingbird, black guan, toucanet, and more. You'll also see mammals like howler monkeys, agoutis, coatimundis, tapir, and pumas. A naturalist at the reserve will help you spot the animals, and provide information about the area and its wildlife. 

The afternoon is free for you to spend on your own in and around Monteverde and Santa Elena.

Day 5: Monteverde to San José

Monteverde
Monteverde

After breakfast in Monteverde, you'll begin the 4.5-hour return drive to the capital city of San José. Once you check into your hotel, you will have the rest of the night to explore, perhaps taking advantage of anything you may have missed at the beginning of the trip.

Day 6: Depart San José

The Plaza Juan Mora Fernandez
The Plaza Juan Mora Fernandez

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica. Depending on your departure time, you'll have the morning to explore more of San José or relax in a coffee shop before boarding your flight.

Map

Map of Costa Rica's Cloud Forests - 6 Days
Map of Costa Rica's Cloud Forests - 6 Days