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Monteverde with Kids

Updated: Jan 28

Monteverde is a beautiful region of Costa Rica, mountainous and green with both cloud forest and rainforest environments. These distinct ecosystems make Monteverde pretty unique and insanely biodiverse, attracting nature enthusiasts and researchers from all over the world. Exploring Monteverde is the perfect opportunity for kids (and grown-ups!) to experience nature in its purest form.

Getting to Monteverde

Monteverde sits in the northwest of Costa Rica so for us it was our first stop out of Nicaragua. Generally, the most common way to get there is by driving from San Jose (approx. 3.5 hours) - there are also daily shuttle buses. We arrived overland from the Peñas Blancas border crossing and collecting our hire car before driving south to the incredible forest biomes. The trip should have taken around three hours, but with awful traffic due to an accident, typically on a mountain road, it took us four. Thankfully (sensibly!) we built in some back up time, but still barely made it to our stop on time!

Accommodation in Monteverde

There are several family-friendly accommodation options in Monteverde that offer a range of hotels, lodges, and eco-cabins that blend in with the natural surroundings. On our budget, we opted for a great place called “Vistaverde Lodge” and their vista was indeed verde! The views from this great value option were incredible. One minute you would be standing in a cloud rising up through the valleys and the next second the sun burnt it all away, steaming up the hillsides all around us, giving way to the best view of lake and volcano Arenal in Monteverde (more on that next week!). The place had very friendly owners, a nice communal area with games, darts and good food on top. It’s well outside of town with nothing even remotely close and the road getting there is a real undertaking - you'll need a 4x4 or you might not make it! Thankfully we learnt from our mistake from our San Juan del Sur river adventure!

Things to do in Monteverde

Monteverde is a nature lover's paradise – early conservation efforts have given rise to some of the most pristine and dense biodiversity on the planet - and yet it is so accessible! Costa Rica’s eco-tourism model has a perfect balance of being respectful and unintrusive of wild places, but letting you up close and explore, it feels wild and adventurous and yet safe and “easy”. It may be a damn expensive nation, but it is so worth it. Here are some of the ways to admire the natural beauty of Monteverde, with or without young children.

Night-Safari in the Childrens Eternal Rainforest:

On our youngest’s 1st birthday we opted to see some of Costa Rica’s rainforest. The “Childrens Eternal Rainforest” is 25,000 hectares of lush, protected greenery filled to the brim with all sorts! This place feels particularly special to visit with kids. Established in the 1980s, funds were raised by children from around the world who donated their pocket money to purchase and protect this precious piece of nature. Today, it stands as a living testament to the power of youth and the importance of conservation (and the role young people play in the preservation of our planet!).

We opted for a night safari here. Night walks are on offer in most of the parks and reserves in the area and are a great way to see the nocturnal animals that call Monteverde home. We knew we would arrive late on our first day in the country so this seemed like the day/place to do. We pre-booked a private guided tour (mandatory) in advance online. In true Costa Rican respectfulness, the tours are conducted with red lights, which don't disturb the animals' natural behaviour. Our guide was knowledgeable, great with kids and found us a whole of great stuff!

What’s in the hole…?

On our two-hour trek we saw loads of crazy bugs, snakes, spiders (multiple tarantulas!!) tree frogs, sleeping birds (including Quinn’s favourite, the toucans) - a casual armadillo strolled out in front of us, agoutis just snuffling around the pathways and a porcupine too (a species with a prehensile tail, sitting in a tree!). Kids handled it well especially considering they are always asleep by 7pm and we didn’t get to even check in to the new place until 8:30 Max and Quinn loved finding the various lift-the-flap-boards with facts and questions, and Willow got to stay up late for a birthday treat (but we had to save the cake for the next day!).

Visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is the main attraction in Monteverde and is a must-visit for anyone. The reserve is home to an incredible array of flora and fauna, including over 500 species of birds, hundreds of types of orchids, sloths and monkeys. You can explore the reserve on guided tours, which are a great way to learn about the ecosystem and its inhabitants or you can just pick and choose your path (nicely labelled, range of difficulties and durations). We hiked for 3 hours straight (3.6 miles), and only saw 5 other people, just two groups in all that time. Wow.

The place was so lush. Cloud forests are a specific type of tropical forest that is constantly shrouded in cloud, mist, and fog. These conditions provide a high level of moisture and create a unique environment that makes plants and wildlife go nuts. Any human structure or object looked like it was being taken over/taken back by the jungle! Lush vegetation, dripping wet moss-covered trees, and a rich diversity of bugs and beasties were everywhere. This misty and mysterious environment is a paradise for nature lovers and offers fantastic opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife observation, it’s like sitting or walking through a natural history lesson. The kids found it thrilling - we were walking through a cloud the entire time even though the sun was out which was a strange feeling. This place is understandably very wet – dress appropriately as there were many shallow streams, dripping alcoves to walk through and waterfalls to dunk our heads in when overcome with heat and humidity!

On the way back from Santa Elena we ate at Soda La Cocinita de Lety because it was quite highly ranked on “cheap eats” trip advisor and was probably the best meal we had in Costa Rica – Lime and Pork soup was out of this world and around £6 for a decent size. It rained giant splats on the tall glass windows which was cool to watch and listen to them thumping while we tucked in.

Go on a Canopy Tour

There are canopy tours throughout Costa Rica, and Monteverde is no exception. A canopy tour is a unique way to experience the cloud forest. You'll soar through the treetops on zip lines and suspension bridges, providing a bird's-eye view of the forest below. Many tour operators offer family-friendly canopy tours with shorter zip lines and slower speeds for younger children. It’s a bit of a minefield to research, and we chose to do ours in Arenal later in our Costa Rican road trip.

Visit the Butterfly Garden

The Monteverde Butterfly Garden is hands down the best butterfly garden I’ve ever been to - so much more than a butterfly garden and perfect for the kiddies! The insect demonstrations and exhibits are amazing – knowledgeable researchers pop whatever they have into your hand be it tarantula, cockroaches, Hercules and rhino beetles or giant millipedes and show you all the bits! Our family of normally insufferable know-it-all's actually learnt some new facts about bugs including

  • Certain butterflies land on caimans and poke them in the eye so they can get the salt from their tears.

  • It is a myth that you cannot touch a butterfly for fear of preventing flight by rubbing powder off their wings and killing them. The worst you can do is rub a scale off if you try very hard, which only makes them less attractive.

  • Cockroaches have a nice smile under the gross exterior and are actually…cute…?

There's also a hummingbird garden, miles of trails and of course, the garden is home to over 40 species of butterflies (the "glass-wings" were awesome!), and you can see their entire life cycle from egg to adult.

Learn about Coffee Production

Costa Rica is famous for its coffee, and Monteverde is home to several coffee plantations that offer tours for visitors. You can learn about the process of coffee production from start to finish, from the picking of the beans to the roasting process. Many tours also include a coffee tasting session, where you can try different types of coffee and learn to appreciate the nuances of the different flavours – we’ve done a bit of this already elsewhere in Central America (and Asia) and had quite limited time, so we opted out of this one.

Monteverde Summary

Monteverde is a unique blend of nature, adventure, and education that went down a treat for all of us. Whether you're exploring the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, going on a canopy tour, taking a night walk, visiting the butterfly garden, or learning about coffee production, there's something for everyone in Monteverde. We benefited hugely from the car and would recommend the self-drive 4x4 - everything was 20-30 mins away with good quality roads. With its unparalleled natural beauty and numerous family-friendly ways to access it, Monteverde is a truly special place and the perfect destination for the trip of a lifetime.

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