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Santa Elena (Costa Rica)

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Santa Elena (Costa Rica)

Santa Elena Costa Rica Banner.jpg

Santa Elena is a city in Costa Rica.

Get in[edit]

Santa Elena is located a little over 100 miles from San Jose, Costa Rica. You can get there by bus, nominally in 4.5 hours, but often in actuality 5 or 6 hours. The cost for bus transport is very little, around $4US. Easier and faster transport is by Interbus which takes 3 hours and costs about $29US. Interbus will take you door to door from hotels in San Jose and Santa Elena.

If you come from the La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano area, you have 2 options:

  • You may choose to use bus company TRANSPISA leaving "La Fortuna" bus station at 8.00AM and arriving at around 10.00AM at Tilaran's bus station. Then connects with another public bus (chicken bus) leaving from the same place at 12.30PM and arriving at Santa Elena at around 3.00PM (1500 ₡). Please note that the road between Tilaran and Santa Elena is unpaved but you can enjoy awesome views. Many options for eating are available around the bus station at Tilaran while you are waiting for your bus connection.
  • You may also choose to take the water route across Lake Arenal, variously referred to as Taxi Boat Taxi, Jeep Boat Taxi, and similar. It costs about $25US and includes a van from your hotel in Santa Elena to the dam (around 30 minutes), a scenic boat ride across Lake Arenal (around 40 minutes), and a further van to your hotel in Monteverde or Santa Elena (around an hour and a half with a bathroom/rest stop). You'll be given a small ticket by the first van driver with a number indicating which van to use on the other side of the lake. Be prepared to carry your own luggage up/down dirt paths at the lake.

You can also drive, in which case a 4x4 is recommended. If you are coming south along Highway 1 from Liberia, take the turn off to Sardinal (near a gas station), which will give you a paved road until about Guacimal, at which point the road becomes dirt and is quite rough. The views along these roads are stunning. The drive to Santa Elena once you leave Highway 1 will take anywhere from 1 to almost 2 hours depending on your vehicle type and how often you stop to take pictures. Santa Elena has a gas station and a supermarket. Currently the roads in the centre have been paved.

Get around[edit]

Santa Elena is a very small mountain town located in the cloud forests of Costa Rica. The main part of town is where three roads come together forming a single block triangular center to the town. Everything in Santa Elena can be seen on foot. Busses and taxis queue up along one street for transport to nearby Monteverde and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. In the center there is also a discotheque, which offers music, a bar, and karaoke. Although it can be a fun time, it is often occupied by drunk locals looking for a good time with female tourists.

See[edit][add listing]

Note that all of these cost money, from about $8 to enter the Ranario and Butterfly gardens to $35-$50 to do the zip line tours.

  • Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve
  • Monteverde Coffee Coops
  • Children's Rainforest
  • Zip Line tours of Cloud Forest Canopy
  • Ranario (frog pond)
  • Butterfly and insect garden)
  • Orchid garden
  • Sepetorium

Do[edit][add listing]

A tour operator in Santa Elena described as a "giant amusement park" which is not far from the mark. There are many touristy things to do, like zip line canopy tours, ATV or horseback riding, and many flora and fauna exhibits. As far as touristy towns go, however, Santa Elena feels different, as the activities are all centered around enjoying the natural beauty and diversity of the region, and there generally seems to be a good deal of respect for the environment, due in part to the presence of nearby eco-tourism and sustainability universities.

The main attraction in Santa Elena is of course the cloud forest. You have two basic options here: the Monteverde cloud forest (the classic) and the Santa Elena cloud forest. There are very similar in terms of what you will see and experience, but Santa Elena is cheaper. Monteverde is about $17 to enter per person (about $9 for students; be prepared to show a student ID), and $17 per person for a guided tour. The guided tours are strongly promoted by the parks, to the extent that they seem to have removed signs describing trees and wildlife to make a guide all the more necessary. That said, the guides really do know what they are doing and talking about. They are adept at spotting wildlife and identifying plants and trees, and discussing the ecosystem, and they will get you close-up views with their telescopes (and even snap pictures for you through the telescope).

In the cloud forests, you will have a decent chance of seeing any of the following, in addition to a wide variety of trees (including the spectacular parasitic fig trees), plants, and fungi.

  • Quetzals, the national bird of costa rica
  • White-faced capuchin monkeys
  • Howler monkeys
  • Orange-kneed tarantulas
  • Any of 8-9 species of hummingbird
  • Sloth
  • Puma do inhabit the forest, but the most you will see are prints

Admission to the parks is good for a full day. Tours generally start early (around 7:30AM) and run for about 3 hours, so you'll be able to do some walking around by yourself after the tour. At Monteverde, you will also be able to enjoy a coffee or espresso (made with locally-produced beans) and sandwich next to the Hummingbird garden.

Buses run to the Monteverde reserve several times a day. Lodgings should be able to provide the current schedule. The bus costs 600 colones per person. The bus to Santa Elena reserve must be arranged in advance and costs $2 per person.

Buy[edit][add listing]

There really isn't too much in the way of tourist junk to buy. There is a local super market and many hostels, several places to eat and a bakery.

Eat[edit][add listing]

  • Kako's Pizza. Serves pizza, Italian food, and Casados for reasonable (if a bit touristy) prices. Service, while typical Tico service is friendly and not terribly inefficient. It is located behind the bank, up a driveway. If there is a football game on the TV, the staff can get caught up in that instead of cooking however.  edit
  • M&F Burgers, (located just below the center of town). Serves typical Tico food. The special burger comes on a tortilla, with ham and many interesting toppings not found at McDonalds. Also, very cheap casados.  edit
  • Chimera, (located across the road from El Establo hotel). Excellent latin inspired dishes and fancy reasonably priced drinks. I recommend the coconut rice, roasted eggplant, yucca fries, and fried plantain all about 3 USD each.  edit
  • The Open Kitchen. A clean open spacious place with an Open Kitchen. You can find here Couscous, Hamburger, Fish and Chips and much more deliscious food.  edit

Drink[edit][add listing]

  • Monteverde Beer House. The best place to hangout with good Craft beer. Amazing fresh farm to table food. Some of the dishes that are available are: Falafel, Hummus, Kebab, Shakshuka and much more. At the place, an extra advantage, buy tickets to activities around for a good discount.  edit
  • Tap House. A bar with (sometime) Live music and great atmosphere. Lots of Craft and Draft Beer. Happy Hour every day for the Cocktails.  edit

Sleep[edit][add listing]

  • Casa Tranquilo is a good budget option, 5 minutes from the centre of Santa Elena. The rooms are clean, nice rustic cabin Dorms or private rooms are available with shared or private bathroom. Free internet and free unlimited breakfast in the shared kitchen area. ~$8-$12 per person per night. Staff can book tours and future accomodations.
  • Pension Santa Elena is a good choice for low budget travel. The staff is extremely helpful and there is a shared kitchen and the lobby / dining areas are always full of fellow travelers with interesting stories. Located right in the heart of Santa Elena, it is a great jumping point for any and all activities in the area. Private room with bath and breakfast included was circa $36 for double occupancy in winter 2017.
  • El Establo is situated in the heart of the touristic zone of Monteverde 7 km from the Santa Elena Rain Forest and 4 km from the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Set in a private 150 acres farm (50 % protected primary forest) adjacent to the Monteverde Reserve.
  • Arco Iris. A bit more expensive, but worth it if you're after some luxury. The accommodations are very nice, but not flashy, running from about $60 for a double to $180 for the amazing honeymoon suite. The staff are very helpful and knowledgeable, and a breakfast buffet is available for $7 per person.  edit
  • Cabinas Eddy, [1]. an awesome midprice place that has both private and shared rooms. It is more expensive than a shared room at a hostel but on the cheap side for a private room (delicious breakfast is included - try the pancakes!). Cabinas Eddy feels like a cross between a hostel and a hotel. The lobby area gives it a hostel feeling, there are several tables that people tend to congregate at to eat and chat, but the room accommodations are more similar to a hotel. The owner, Freddy, is super nice and will help you book tours at a discount if you're staying with him. Each room is ~ $15-$25 per person per night.  edit

Get out[edit]

The bus station for the TransMonteverde company is located five to 10 minutes' walk outside central Santa Elena on the road towards Monteverde, in a shopping center across from Restaurante Sabor Tico. The station's normal office hours start at 5:00 am (although there are earlier departures). Buses go to Puntarenas via Las Juntas and via Lagartos, and to San Jose. Note that the ticket counter accepts only cash.

To go to Liberia, take the bus for Puntarenas via Lagartos and get off at Lagartos, which is the junction of route 605 and the Panamerican Highway. There, you can hail a bus going to Liberia. Be prepared to wait as much as an hour. Lagartos itself is just a roadside concrete pad, but a supermarket is located one block up the road towards Puntarenas.

Also recommended is the Jeep/Boat/Jeep trip to La Fortuna. This trip takes about half a day. Also consider horseback/boat/jeep to La Fortuna. Ask at the desk at Pension Santa Elena, they know everything about the area.

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