Monteverde, 35 kilometers north from the Pan-American Highway, means “Green Mountain,” an appropriate name for one of the most idyllic pastoral settings in Costa Rica. Cows munch contentedly, and horse-drawn wagons loaded with milk cans still make the rounds in this world-famous community atop a secluded 1,400-meter-high plateau in the Cordillera de Tilarán.
Monteverde is actually a sprawling agricultural community; the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve , which is what most visitors come to see, is a few kilometers southeast and higher up. A growing number of attractions are found north of Santa Elena (the main village), which has its own cloud-forest reserve . The two reserves are at different elevations and have different fauna and flora.
The reserves lie within the Arenal-Monteverde Protection Zone. Created in 1991, it encompasses more than 30,000 hectares extending down both the Caribbean and Pacific slopes of the Cordillera de Tilarán, passing through eight distinct ecological zones, most notably cloud forest at higher elevations. Wind-battered elfin woods on exposed ridges are spectacularly dwarfed, whereas more protected areas have majestically tall trees festooned with orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and vines. Clouds sift through the forest primeval.
February through May, quetzals are in the cloud forest. Later, they migrate downhill, where they can be seen around the hotels of Monteverde. Just after dawn is a good time to spot quetzals, which are particularly active in the early morning, especially April and May.
The fame of the preserve has spawned an ever-increasing influx of tourists and a blossoming of attractions—the area is in danger of becoming overdeveloped and overpriced.
Beware touts who intercept arriving buses and cars to direct you to properties or businesses at which they’ll receive commissions.
Transportes Monteverde (tel. 506/2645-5159, in San José tel. 506/2222-3854) buses (four hours, $5) depart San José  from Calle 12, Avenidas 7/9, at 6:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily; return buses depart Santa Elena at 6:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily. The office in Santa Elena is open 5:45 a.m.–11:30 a.m. daily, as well as 1:30–5 p.m. Monday–Friday and until 3 p.m. Saturday–Sunday. Buy your return bus ticket as soon as you arrive in Santa Elena. Buses also depart Calles 2 and 4 in Puntarenas  at 7:50 a.m., 1:50 p.m., and 2:15 p.m. daily (you can pick it up at the Río Lagarto turnoff for Monteverde on the Pan-American Highway) and depart Monteverde at 4:30 a.m., 6 a.m., and 3 p.m. daily. A bus departs Tilarán  for Monteverde at 12:30 p.m., returning from Monteverde at 7 a.m. daily.
Interbus (tel. 506/2282-5573, www.interbusonline.com ) and Grayline Costa Rica (tel. 506/2220-2393, www.graylinecostarica.com ) operate shuttles between San José and Monteverde ($35) and key tourist destinations.
If driving, there are two turnoffs for Monteverde from Highway 1. The first is via Sardinal (the turnoff is at Rancho Grande, about 10 kilometers south of San Gerardo). The second is about seven kilometers north of San Gerardo  (100 meters before the bridge over the Río Lagarto), 37 kilometers north of Esparza. The roads lead 35 kilometers uphill along a gut-jolting dirt road as famous as the place it leads to. The drive takes 1.5–2 hours.
There is no local bus service except to the Monterverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve . The gas station in Monteverde is open 5 a.m.–10 p.m. daily.