Though generally associated only with its eponymous cloudforest reserve, MONTEVERDE actually covers a larger area, straddling the hump of the Cordillera de Tilarán between Volcán Arenal and Laguna de Arenal to the northeast and the low hills of Guanacaste to the west. Along with the reserve, you’ll find the spread-out Quaker community of Monteverde village; the neighbouring town of Santa Elena – with the majority of the area’s amenities and budget accommodation – and, further afield, its own cloudforest reserve; as well as several small hamlets, including Cerro Plano. Throughout the region, the enchantment of the cloudforests is magnified by a combination of tranquil beauty, invigorating weather and the odd mix of Swiss-style farms and tropical botanical gardens.
Seeking autonomy and seclusion, the Quaker families living here arrived from Alabama in the United States in the 1950s. The climate and terrain proved ideal for dairy farming, which fast became the mainstay of the economy – the region is famed throughout the country for its dairy products, and you’ll see a variety of its cheeses in most supermercados. Abroad, however, Monteverde is known for its pioneering private nature reserves. Of these, the Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde is the most popular, although the Reserva Santa Elena offers equally pristine cloudforest cover and, because it receives fewer visitors, may prove the more fruitful of the two for spotting wildlife. The huge Bosque Eterno de los Niños (Children’s Eternal Rainforest), established with funds raised by school kids from all over the world, surrounds Monteverde; day and night walks are offered in the Bajo del Tigre section, the easiest part of the reserve to explore. To avoid the inevitable crowds, consider visiting at the beginning or end of the wet season (May–Nov), when you should still get decent weather.
Note that the roads to Monteverde, built purely to serve small rural communities, are generally in poor condition. While tour operators bemoan their state, the Monteverde Conservation League (MCL) and the wider community have resisted suggestions to pave them, arguing that easier access would increase visitor numbers to unsustainable levels and threaten the integrity of local communities. Whatever the future holds, it’s unlikely that Monteverde will be ruined: the community is too outspoken and organized to let itself be overrun by its own success.