Planning Your Costa Rican Adventure – Monteverde or Arenal?

Both tucked away up in the northwest of the country, Monteverde and Arenal are undeniably Costa Rica’s most popular mountain destinations.  And it’s often difficult to choose between the two. Rightfully world-famous for its mystical cloud forests is mountain-top Monteverde, while Arenal is known for its now dormant volcano which once spewed lava on a daily basis.  If you can visit both, great!  If not, you might want to consider the destination that just made CNN’s list of 25 Most Beautiful Places around the World – the enchanting Monteverde.  

A Truly Rare Ecosystem

In Arenal – as in much of the country – you’ll find primary and secondary rainforest to explore. Monteverde is much higher in elevation, so instead of hot and humid rainforests you’ll find cooler cloud forests – and cloud forests at their most spectacular. According to National Geographic, Monteverde is the “jewel in the crown of cloud forest reserves”.

Cloud forests make up only 2% of the planet’s woodlands, making them one of the world’s rarest ecosystems. They’re home to flora and fauna you won’t find anywhere else in the country too. Think iconic birdlife like the Resplendent Quetzal and more species of orchid than anywhere else on Earth.

Monteverde is home to the country’s most iconic birdlife like the Resplendent Quetzal

A Less Touristy Mountain Escape

If you prefer to encounter more wildlife than other tourists on your travels, you might wish to consider Monteverde too.  Arenal is one of the most visited places in the country and while Monteverde is also a firm favorite, it’s home to so many reserves (at least five with carefully managed maximum visitor quotas), that you’ll never be hiking beside swathes of trekkers.

A Cooler Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s steamy rainforests and sun-kissed beaches are must-visits. But if you’re after a small respite from the sticky, salty sunshine, and perhaps the mosquitos too, you’ll find it in Monteverde over Arenal which is hot year-round.  Monteverde’s higher altitude means cooler spring-like temperatures and next to no bothersome bugs, so you can hike without breaking a sweat and enjoy the tropical experience without any of the drawbacks.

Monteverde’s famous cloud forests provide a cooler respite from the rest of the country

Adventures with an Edge

When you read around, you’ll likely find a lot of crossover between activities available in Monteverde and Arenal. Think zip lining, hiking, hanging bridges and horseback riding. What you’ll find in Monteverde though, is that almost every adventure you could possibly have comes with a story.

Want to zip line? You can experience that on the world’s very first recreational zip line system in Monteverde. Keen to hike? You can take your pick of inspiring Monteverde reserves including Costa Rica’s largest, originally founded by Swedish schoolchildren concerned about deforestation. As for hanging bridges, they don’t just take you across the treetops in Monteverde. They take you through the clouds.

A Magical Family Destination

Home to hot springs, Arenal is a popular choice for couples looking to relax. As a result, luxury hotels in the area are often geared up for romantic getaways over family vacations. In Monteverde, you might find more scope for high-end family accommodation, including our Cayuga Collection property Senda Monteverde.

As for things to do, Monteverde might also be one of the most accessible destinations for families in all of Costa Rica, with countless fun activities concentrated in a small area. In addition to the ones mentioned above, there are frog ponds, butterfly gardens, bat jungles, chocolate tours and plenty more to experience.

The Senda Monteverde Hotel is located adjacent to a private cloud forest nature reserve.

The Real Costa Rica

If you’re looking for a taste of everything that Costa Rica stands for, there’s only one place in the country that exemplifies it all: Monteverde.  It’s the birthplace of Costa Rican ecotourism; it’s an official Natural Wonder of Costa Rica and a conservation trailblazer; it’s the country’s most popular destination for birdwatching and it’s downright magical.


Still, deciding where to visit in Costa Rica? Our specialist Travel Advisors are here to help answer any questions you might have about Monteverde or elsewhere in the country. Chat with at us or send us an email at to start planning your escape!

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Hans Pfister

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