Monteverde is actually a sprawling agricultural community; the Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde (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 here and 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.

Jewels of the Rainforest Insect Museum

The Jewels of the Rainforest Insect Museum (tel. 506/2645-5929, 7am-5pm daily, $15), at Selvatura, three miles northeast of Santa Elena, displays more than 50,000 insects, yet it’s just a small fraction of Richard Whitten’s findings from more than 50 years of collecting. It’s the largest private collection of big, bizarre, and beautiful butterflies, beetles, and other bugs in the world. And it’s surely is the most colorful—a veritable kaleidoscope of shimmering greens, neon blues, startling reds, silvers, and golds.

Whitten began collecting “bugs” at a tender age; today his 1,900 boxes include more than one million specimens, many of them collected in Costa Rica. Part of the exhibit is dedicated to a collection of every known species in the country. Some beetles are bigger than your fist; some moths outsize a salad plate. Other exhibits include shimmering beetles displayed against black velvet, like opal jewelry, and boxes of bugs majestically turned into caskets of gems.

Owner David Makynen at Monteverde Butterfly Garden. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Owner David Makynen at Monteverde Butterfly Garden. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

It’s the largest private collection of big, bizarre, and beautiful butterflies, beetles, and other bugs in the world. And it’s surely is the most colorful—a veritable kaleidoscope of shimmering greens, neon blues, startling reds, silvers, and golds.Covering 232 square meters (2,500 square feet), exhibits include a Biodiversity Bank with dozens of spectacular and informative displays; a wall of Neotropical Butterflies; a World of Beetles, from Tutankhamen scarabs to the giants of the beetle word; a Phasmid Room (stick insects and their relatives); and a Silk Room, displaying elegant moths. The dynamic displays combine art, science, music, and video to entertain and educate about insect mimicry, protective coloration and other forms of camouflage, prey-predator relationships, and more. A 279-square-meter (3,000-square-foot) auditorium screens fascinating videos.

Selvatura also has a hummingbird garden ($5), a vast domed butterfly garden ($15), and a reptile exhibit ($15). Guided nature hikes ($45) are offered.

The Bat Jungle

The Bat Jungle (tel. 506/2645-7701, 9am-7:30pm daily, adults $12, students and children $10), between the gas station and the cheese factory, is the first in Costa Rica to provide an insight into the life of bats (Monteverde has at least 65 species). Eight species of live bats flit, feed, and mate within a sealed enclosure behind a wall of glass. Fascinating exhibits illuminate bat ecology and an auditorium screens documentaries. The guided tour is truly fascinating and illuminating. Guaranteed, you won’t leave here without a deep admiration for these adorable and much misunderstood creatures. You can even don giant ears to get a sense for bats’ supersize sonar hearing.

Monteverde Theme Park

The impressive Frog Pond of Monteverde, by which the Monteverde Theme Park (tel. 506/2645-6320, 9:30am-8:30pm daily, adults $12, children and students $10), on the south side of Santa Elena, is better known, displays 28 species of frogs and amphibians, from the red-eyed tree frog and transparent frogs to the elephantine marine toad, all housed in large, well-arranged display cases. It also has salamanders and a few snakes, plus termites and other bugs to be fed to the frogs, as well as a mariposario (butterfly garden, adults $12, children $10, $20 with Frog Pond). Evening visits are best, when the frogs become active. Admission cost is valid for two entries, so you can see both daytime and nocturnal species.

Herpetarium Adventures

The Herpetarium Adventures (tel. 506/2645-6002, 9am-8pm daily, adults $12, students $10, children $6, including guide), previously called the Serpentario, on the eastern fringe of Santa Elena village, lets you get up close and personal with an array of coiled constrictors and venomous vipers as well as their prey: frogs, chameleons, and the like. The dreaded fer-de-lance is here, along with 30 or so other species staring at you from behind thick panes of glass.

Monteverde Butterfly Garden

The Monteverde Butterfly Garden (tel. 506/2645-5512, 8:30am-4pm daily, adults $15, students $10, children $5, including 1-hour guided tour), signed off the main road about one mile east of Santa Elena, features a nature center and three distinct habitats: a 450-square-meter (4,800-square-foot) netted butterfly flyway and two greenhouses representing lowland forest and mid-elevation forest habitats. Together they are filled with native plant species and hundreds of tropical butterflies representing more than 40 species.

Fascinating guided tours begin in the visitors center, where butterflies and other bugs are mounted on display and rhinoceros beetles, stick insects, and tarantulas crawl around inside display cases. There’s a computer station with interactive software about butterflies, plus an auditorium where videos are shown. Go mid-morning, when the butterflies become active (and most visitors are in the reserve).

A blue morpho butterfly sits in a person's hand.

The electric blue morphos, the neon narcissi of the butterfly world, make even the most jaded of viewers gape in awe. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Orquídeas de Monteverde

Orquídeas de Monteverde (Monteverde Orchid Garden, tel. 506/2645-5308, 8am-5pm daily, adults $10, students $7), in the heart of Santa Elena, took five years of arduous work to collate the results of the Monteverde Orchid Investigation Project, an ongoing effort to document and research local orchids. Short paths wind through the compact garden, displaying almost 450 species native to the region arranged in 22 groups (“subtribes”), each marked with an educational placard. Miniatures are preponderant, including the world’s smallest flower, Platystele jungermannioides, about the size of a pinhead (fortunately, you are handed a magnifying glass upon arrival).

Finca Ecológica

Finca Ecológica (Ecological Sanctuary Wildlife Refuge, tel. 506/2645-5869, 7am-6pm daily, adults $10, students and children $8), on the same road as the Butterfly Garden, has six signed trails through the 48-hectare (119-acre) property, which has waterfalls. You have an excellent chance of seeing coatimundis, sloths, agoutis, porcupines, white-faced monkeys, butterflies, and birds. It offers a twilight tour (adults $25, students $20, children $15, including transfers) at 5pm daily.

White-faced Capuchin monkey.

White-faced Capuchin monkey. Photo © Roy Luck, licensed Creative Commons usage.

Santamaría Night Walk

The great majority of critters in the cloud forest are nocturnal. To see them, take a guided tour at Finca Agroturística Santamaría (tel. 506/2645-6548, $22 including transfers), a great chance to spot sloths, snakes, and all manner of insects in this 10-hectare (25-acre) reserve to the northeast of Santa Elena.

Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.