Introducing Monteverde & Santa Elena
Strung between two lovingly preserved cloud forests is this slim corridor of civilization, which consists of the Tico village of Santa Elena and the Quaker settlement of Monteverde. A 1983 feature article in National Geographic described this unique landscape and subsequently billed the area as the place to view one of Central America’s most famous birds – the resplendent quetzal. Suddenly, hordes of tourists armed with tripods and telephoto lenses started braving Monteverde’s notoriously awful access roads, which came as a huge shock to the then-established Quaker community. In an effort to stem the tourist flow, local communities lobbied to stop developers from paving the roads. And it worked. Today, the dirt roads leading to Monteverde and Santa Elena have effectively created a moat around this precious experiment in sustainable ecotourism.
The cloud forests near Monteverde and Santa Elena are one of Costa Rica’s premier destinations for everyone from budget backpackers to well-heeled retirees. On a good day, Monteverde is a place where you can be inspired about the possibility of a world in which organic farming and alternative energy sources are the norm. On a bad day, Monteverde can feel like Disneyland in Birkenstocks and a zip-line harness. Take heart in the fact that the local community continues to fight to maintain the fragile balance of nature and commerce.
Driving from either of the Interamericana’s first two turnoffs to the region, you’ll first arrive in Santa Elena, a bustling community of budget hotels, restaurants and attractions. A road beginning at the northern point of the triangle leads to Juntas and Tilarán, with a turnoff to Reserva Santa Elena. From the westernmost point of the triangle (to the right as you enter town) you can access a scenic and heavily rutted 6km road to the Monteverde reserve. About 2km from Santa Elena, the neighborhood of Cerro Plano has a nucleus of cute businesses centered on Casem and the Monteverde Cheese Factory. Almost 5km from town, a turnoff leads down a steep 3km to the epic Ecolodge San Luis and the San Luis Waterfall.