Costa Rica's mountainous Monteverde region is a traveler favorite, topping lists for its distinct cloud forest ecosystem, abundant wildlife, and options for hiking and zip-lining. Perfect for a quick getaway, the five-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

  • Hike suspension bridges in Monteverde for tree-top views of the cloud forest
  • Zip-line through the cloud forest canopy for a bit of adventure
  • Embark on a night hike of Monteverde with a naturalist guide
  • Dive into the culinary and cultural scene of San José

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José San Jose
Day 2 San Jose to Monteverde Monteverde
Day 3 Free Day and Night-time Nature Tour in Monteverde Monteverde
Day 4 Monteverde to San José San Jose
Day 5 Depart San José  

Detailed Itinerary

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 Santamaría 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 such market in the city, featuring over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). These little eateries are 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. Check their events calendar in case you happen to be in town for a dance, music, or theatre performance
  • Exploring a pair of museums. First, visit the Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), which holds one of the largest Pre-Columbian gold collections in all of Latin American. Continue on to the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum), which is 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, head to Tiquicia, a hilltop stalwart featuring views of the Central Valley below. They serve delicious local fare accompanied by live folk music on weekends. 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 cuisine supported by 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 north to Monteverde, known as Costa Rica's "green lung" due to its rich biodiversity. Located in the mountainous northwest region of the country, Monteverde is famous for its 26,000-acre Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. Suspension bridges throughout allow for walks above the forest canopy and afford plenty of opportunities for birding. Get lucky and you might spot to spot the aptly named and colorfully-plumed resplendent quetzal. The reserve’s marked trails pass by exotic fauna and flora, too, including the greatest number of orchid species on the planet. 

Upon arrival, you'll check-in at your hotel and spend the afternoon at Sky Adventures Park, an aerial amusement park. You’ll have your pick of various ways to explore this cloud forest. There's zip-lining for adrenaline junkies, "sky tram" gondola 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. You'll overnight in Monteverde. 

Day 3: Free Day and Night 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 for activities. If you just can't get enough cloud forest, consider taking the Sky Tram guided tour that leads up to the Continental Divide—one of the highest mountains in the area. In the afternoon you'll return to your hotel and have the rest of the day to spend as you like. Other options include:

  • Visiting a coffee farm to see how one of the country's most important exports is grown, harvested, and roasted
  • Getting up close and personal with Costa Rica's insects, arachnids, and butterflies at Monteverde Butterfly Gardens
  • Viewing more than 450 species of orchids at the Monteverde Orchid Garden in Santa Elena
  • Walking along the nature trails of the Curi-Cancha Reserve for more bird-watching opportunities

This evening, you'll have the chance to see the region's wildlife at its most active on a guided night tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A naturalist will point out sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous, as well as sleeping birds. Examples of nocturnal animals you'll encounter here include agoutis, porcupines, grey foxes, tarantulas, and frogs.

Day 4: 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'll have the rest of the night to explore, perhaps taking advantage of anything you may have missed at the beginning of the trip. Maybe explore Barrio Amón, a historic neighborhood that's home to cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of this area’s historic buildings have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and galleries, making Amón a popular district for architecture enthusiasts. 

Day 5: Depart San José

Plaza Juan Mora Fernandez, in San José
Plaza Juan Mora Fernandez, in San José

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 home.

Map

Map of Monteverde Cloud Forest - 5 Days
Map of Monteverde Cloud Forest - 5 Days