Accommodations may be difficult to obtain in dry season, when tour companies block space. Book well ahead.
Camp at Pensión Santa Elena (tel. 506/2645-5051, www.pensionsantaelena.com , $4 pp).
A popular offering among budget travelers is the
Pensión Santa Elena (tel. 506/2645-5051, www.pensionsantaelena.com , $6–7 pp dorm, from $10 s or $14 d private room with shared bath, from $17 s or $22 d private bath, from $25 s or $305 d deluxe, from $33 s/d cabin), owned by super-friendly Texan siblings Randa and Shannon, who earn high marks from readers. It has 25 basic rooms of varying sizes (some dark). Some have private baths; all have hot water. A two-story annex has three rooms, a bar, and a restaurant, and you get secure parking. The hotel provides free use of kitchen, plus laundry service ($2), Internet access, and travel information.
Monteverde Backpackers (tel. 506/2645-5844, www.monteverdebackpackers.com , $10 pp dorm, $20 s or $30 d private rooms) is a splendid alternative. Rates include free breakfast, coffee, Internet, and lockers.
The Hotel El Sueño (tel. 506/2645-5021, www.hotelelsuenocr.com , $15–25 s, $40–60 d), in the heart of town, has pulled its socks up of late and now offers 20 cozy, albeit minimally furnished, rooms with private baths with hot water. It also has a restaurant.
At the southern entrance to Santa Elena , Rainbow Lodge (tel. 506/2645-7015, www.monteverdecostarica.info , $30–50 s, $35–60 d), run by a pleasant Minnesotan, has two spacious, cross-lit, and cross-ventilated rooms in a lovely lodge with awesome views across the forested valley toward Monteverde. The lower of the two units has no valley views, but monkeys frolic in the treetops at fingertip distance. Readers rave about Rolf, the owner.
Farther out, the hilltop Sunset Hotel (tel. 506/2645-7070, $40 s, $51 d), one kilometer northeast of Santa Elena (conveniently close to Selvatura), has 10 brightly lit, simply furnished wood-trimmed rooms with private baths. You have panoramic views from your veranda and the restaurant. Rates include tax and breakfast.
There are at least a dozen other options in this category. On the hilly north side of Santa Elena, I’m charmed by the cozy rusticity of the Rustic Lodge (tel. 506/2645-6256, www.monteverderusticlodge.com , $56 s/d). The family is a delight, and their handsome lodge makes great use of natural woods, including cut tree trunks. Its 13 rooms are simple yet tastefully furnished.
In Santa Elena  proper, the splendid German-owned Albergue Arco Iris (tel. 506/2645-5067, www.arcoirislodge.com , $25 s or $35 d budget, $65 s or $75 d one-bedroom cabins, $80–130 two-bedroom cabins) is run with Teutonic efficiency. It has six “economic” bunkrooms, 11 standard rooms, and two handsome stone-and-hardwood cabinas amid a spacious garden with deck chairs on a hillside backed by a two-hectare forest reserve. They feature terra-cotta tile floors and orthopedic mattresses with Guatemalan spreads. Best of all is the fabulous honeymoon suite with kitchen, sexy tiger-print bedspread in the upstairs bedroom, and gorgeous black-stone walls and sea-blue tiles in the bathroom with his-and-hers whirlpool tub. An airy restaurant offers breakfast only. Horses can be rented, and there’s a library, laundry, and safe-deposit box.
The nonsmoking Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge (tel. 506/2645-5058 or 877/623-3198, www.cloudforestlodge.com , $90 s, $100 d), northeast of Santa Elena, earns raves from readers. It is surrounded by gardens set on a 25-hectare private forest reserve. The 18 wood-and-stone cabinas are clean and spacious, with large clerestory windows, peaked ceilings, and large bathrooms. There’s a large-screen TV and VCR. It has lawns, a duck pond, and five kilometers of trails into the nearby forests, plus views of Nicoya from the deck. A daunting circular staircase leads to the entrance to the Sky Walk , at Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve .
“High-rise” is creeping in, as at the contemporary-style three-story Hotel Poco a Poco (tel. 506/2645-6000, www.hotelpocoapoco.com , $80 s or $90 d low season, $90 s or $100 d high season), about 500 meters outside the village center. Every year it seems to grow poco a poco (little by little), expanding from its original 5 rooms to 35 rooms with lively color schemes and sophisticated modern fittings, including cable TV, WiFi, and DVD player (the hotel has a DVD library). It has an elegant restaurant and one of only two swimming pools in Monteverde, this one heated and set in a flagstone sundeck with views.
The venerable Hotel Finca Valverde (tel. 506/2645-5157, www.monteverde.co.cr , $85 s/d standard, $102 s/d superior, including tax and breakfast), about one kilometer east of Santa Elena and reached by a suspension bridge, has 16 standard wood-paneled rooms and four superiors. Ten have loft bedrooms and spacious bathrooms with tubs marvelous for soaking after a crisp hike. Its atmospheric alpine-style restaurant has plate-glass windows, and you can rent horses.
One of the more exciting hotels, and an excellent bargain, is Hotel Claro de Luna (tel./fax 506/2645-5269, www.clarodelunahotel.com , $79 s or $88 d standard, $88 s or $109 d deluxe year-round), on the southwest of the village. The main lodge resembles a Swiss cottage with cantilevered eaves and gingerbread trim. Its nine rooms draw heaps of light and have sponge-washed walls, polished hardwoods, and beautiful bathrooms with colonial tile. A newer block has spacious rooms with ceramic floors. Breakfast is served in a gracious dining room, with a terrace overlooking the landscaped garden.