Despite not being the most well-known desitnation, Monteverde, Costa Rica, still lands on many traveler’s itineraries. As a budget traveler, I’ve culminated a list of all the free (or cheap) activities I personally did while in Monteverde. This isn’t everything we did, just the cheap or free things. Also, since we’re living in the digital nomad era, I’ve included some places I think have good potential for photographers.
Transportation: It may sound crazy, but we walked everywhere (except to activities which included transportation). We stayed in downtown Santa Elena. It is doable, but keep in mind the area is tons of steep hills, so it’s not for those who need accessibility.
Accommodations: We stayed at Hostel Sloth (private room). I’ll link you to their Tripadvisor page (which also happens to have my review on it). Our room was incredibly clean, and had a mini fridge. The only drawback is there doesn’t seem to be a big social aspect to this place versus some of the other hostels.
Climate: We visited in mid-August, and much to our surprise (more like, we didn’t research), Monteverde was chilly and windy! To quote some other backpackers at our hostel: “I packed for Hawaii, not Anarctica!” It’s true, you will need a pair of long pants and a windbreaker/rain jacket while here. It’s not objectively cold, but it’s much cooler than you’d expect.
Note: Location links will be in Google Maps.
Hiking/Cloud Forrest Access
Cerro Amigos: Cerro Amigos (location link) is the most recommended free thing to do in Monteverde. It’s advertised as a free hike, and it is free, but I’ll warn you that this hike is no joke. There are two small parts of the hike that are relatively flat, but other than that, it’s an hour and a half of steep uphill death.
The two *REAL* reason to hike Cerro Amigos:
- The trails off the peak give you free access to the cloud forest. Check out this blog for the map of the trail. Or you can ask the radio tower watchman. Speaking of which…
- There is a jewelry shop at the top run by the radio watchtower man, I believe his name is Carlos. Go visit Carlos. He’s nice (brush up on your Spanish beforehand), and he makes really unique pieces for really affordable prices (cash only, obv).
Directions: Go to Hotel Belmar. Follow the signs for “Cerro Amigos”
The jewelry shop: These were 8 USD and 15 USD. I didn’t see anything else like this the whole trip. The eye pendent didn’t have a cord, so he braided one for me on the spot.
Edit: I swear there was a Google Listing for this little shop, but I cannot find it! So I assume he’s still there and maybe it’s because I’m no longer in CR that I can’t find it.
Climb the Fiscus Tree
The Fiscus Tree bridge: I am conflicted about sharing this; I’m not going to drop the exact directions, sorry. Tourists are known for destroying beautiful landmarks like this. If you want it bad enough, you CAN find directions to it online if you search hard enough, which is how I found it.
Hint: trying to get here from near the Ecological Sanctuary wasn’t successful.
Free Views – a necessity for budget travel
Free viewpoint (Cerro Plano): If you can’t hike Cerro Amigos stop at this road side vista if you’re on foot. It’s across the street from the Cloud Forest Santuary. If you don’t venture out of Santa Elena, you’d easily miss this. It has a hand-painted map of what you can see, and two benches.
Second free viewpoint: This viewpoint has a bigger bench. Cute place to sit and eat? I can’t seem to ping the exact location. It’s down the road from the first viewpoint, just around the first bend (in the direction of the Bat Jungle). If you’re coming from the direction of the Bat Jungle, you’ll reach this viewpoint first.
I’m not a very gifted photographer (yet), but I found several cool places to take photos that I didn’t see mentioned online. These are for all you digital nomads and photographers out there. Please don’t be a destructive tourist, thanks.
Near the bottom of Cerro Amigos: an abandoned structure. May or may not belong to somebody? It doesn’t look like anybody is keeping up with this place. It’s near the bottom of the hill, if you’re paying attention you’ll spot the stone steps off the side of the trail. You could easily miss this if you go up too far.
Abandoned kitchen/venue: Diagonally across the street from the Art House. I mean this is awesome, no?
Graffiti corner: There wasn’t a “No Tresspassing” sign, but use good judgement. Also, watch out for broken glass. It’s around here.
These steps: Travelers seem to be obsessed with stairs. Here’s some for you. It’s near the “grafitti corner.” I didn’t pose on these, but I’m sure you could get a nice shot. This is actually a boulevard that gets you to a neighborhood, so like, don’t be a disrespectful tourist?
CASEM or Cooperative of Artisans Santa Elena Monteverde: I didn’t go inside, but there’s cute animal statues here. Fun place for families to take pictures.
Art House, but not for art: If you’ve been looking at things to do in Monteverde, you’ve probably seen the Art House. I’d go to linger around the cute little footpaths and mosaic footbridges. This could be another cute place to take pictures! I wasn’t particularly impressed with the stuff they were selling, it was very expensive and I found a lot of similar stuff in La Fortuna (for cheaper).
Foresta Art Local: I recommend this place. I bought adorable cat earrings made from recycled tire for 14 USD. And the woman at the counter was beyond friendly. I think the prices here were more reasonable.
I loved the Bat Jungle. Not free, but I have a tip for you! The guided tours are 11 USD each, but an unguided tour was about 5 USD (or something) each. Score! Save the money on the tickets and then buy some stickers to further support the bat cave. The man working there was more than willing to answer questions about the bats, and very friendly.
Bonus points because the grounds are beautiful. You can see many hummingbirds here. Also, there’s a place to eat upstairs that sells chocolate. Mmmm!
This isn’t free (maybe not even cheap?) It’s 12 USD per person. You may think that’s a rip off given how small it is, but do you know what real orchids are? No? Then you want to take the tour at the Orchid Gardens. You’re free to wander around after your tour is done and take more photos.
Thrifting, CR style: Ropa Americana.
If you need an article of clothing fast (like if it’s much chillier than you expected) and don’t want to spend lots of money – check out Ropas/Ropa Americana. They’re kind of like thrift stores. I think there’s a few others but they don’t have locations on Google Maps.
And that’s a wrap! Anything to add? Comments? Questions? Clarifications? Please let me know down below. Stay tuned because next post I’ll be discussing free/cheap places in La Fortuna!