It is nice to stay near town (the name of the town is Santa Elena, although the whole area, including the town, is generally referred to as Monteverde). There is a grocery store, though very small and with limited selections compared to what North Americans and NW Europeans will be accustomed to. Actually we did find that in small towns like this, La Fortuna and Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui you will only find very small grocery stores similar to what we call convenience stores. The grocery store is located directly across from the visitor information building (we never visited this so can't give you any info). The visitor's information building also has the town's taxi stand on the street out front.
The Monteverde Preserve is a $6 taxi fare from town and taxis from the center of town to outlying restaurants on the edge of town are only $2. These are within walking distance (not Monteverde Preserve or environs), but if it is raining heavily, you will probably want to take a taxi for $2. We always tipped $1 on top of all fares because the fares are so low, and these people do have to earn a living. Small details: Hotels and restaurants are accustomed to calling taxis for guests, a nice convenience. The way from the center of town toward the area with a concentration of restaurants (Sofia, Pizzeria de Johnny, Moon Shiva, etc.) is up a hill and on the way back from the restaurants it is an easier walk, being downhill. Thankfully they are in the process of building a side walk for a large portion of the route. The portion along the fairly steep hill has a nice sidewalk already.
Sadly, it is depressing to see the ditches around town strewn with large amounts of trash. For a community that draws in a large income from visitors who are there specifically to see the beauty of unspoiled nature it comes across as quite ironic. I did see one guy wearing a t-shirt with the inscription "send more tourists the last ones tasted good" with a picture of an alligator. So perhaps some of the locals aren't too happy with the influx of tourists. The area does not have recycling facilities either, something we learned from the owner of our lodge. You will also see a lot of stray dogs running around, sadly a typical sight in third world countries. On the plus side the drinking water is safe and the weather is perfect, nice and cool in September without being cold. And obviously the Cloud Forests... something very special.
Our experience with restaurants:
My husband and I followed the hordes and ate at Pizzeria de Johnny and we regretted it. I hadn't been too excited about eating at an Italian restaurant while in a Latin American country because I like to enjoy the local cuisine when I travel. However, it had gotten a good review in Fodor's so we decided to try it.
Big mistake. I ordered the Monteverde pizza which was listed as the most popular dish in my guidebook. My husband had asked, in Spanish (he is a native speaker), for pineapple to be substituted for the tomatoes. They brought the pizza with the assorted toppings including the tomatoes. This wasn't a big deal and I ate it anyway, even though they charged me for an extra topping. What was a big deal was that the pizza was cold and the crust was soggy. After eating a piece I saw liquid pooling at the bottom. Yuck. It was inedible and I left half of it uneaten. My husband ordered the Margherita (sp?) pizza which was a little better than mine but still wasn't any good. The crust had a bitter taste and the flavor was bland. He also ordered the baked spaghetti which had no flavor. Ragu and Prego have more flavor than the tomato sauce of this restaurant. The only decent dish was the Sicilian bruschetta, which is a traditional bruschetta and pesto sauce. Even this was very mediocre.
Aside from the lousy food, the service was awful. We were just a table of two and the waiter had a table with four people that he completely ignored us for. When we were ready for the check my husband tried to catch the waiter's attention, at one point even waving with the guy staring right at us. Finally my husband actually had to get up from the table to request the check. After waiting more than twenty minutes we finally just gave up and went to the front ourselves and asked if we could pay the cashier directly. For those of you who are going to say that service is more relaxed here and less rushed.-Let me stop you right there. This wasn't the case here, it went far beyond a more relaxed and slower way of doing things. My husband, who is from a Latin country, said that making us wait so long for the bill was a form of aggressive behaviour. Evidently the waiters had a chip on their shoulders at that restaurant, which is sad to take it out on us, because we are very easygoing and smile a lot and also communicate in Spanish with waitstaff. I guess they pulled that with us because we *are* so nice they figured they could get away with it.
Aside from everything else, the toilet in the ladies' restroom didn't have a toilet seat. Lovely! And when we sat down there were some dead bugs on the table cloth.
It was our only bad experience in a Costa Rican restaurant in a 12 day trip. Too bad. I don't understand why this place has crowds while the far superior Sofia sits virtually empty down the street! Well, people follow the crowds like sheep and I am sorry to say my husband and I were as guilty of this as the rest. I left a negative review in the Restaurant Review Book at the Arco Iris Lodge to warn others and did notice that the restaurant had gotten some scathing reviews from other guests. Wish I had read the reviews *before* going!!!
My husband and I were so happy to discover this delightful restaurant up the road from the awful Pizzeria de Johnny. After trying the Pizzeria de Johnny which had been listed in our guidebook, we were afraid of getting burned again. We decided to give Sofia, another restaurant recommended in our guide book, a try since it also had positive reviews in our lodge's Restaurant Review Book, which was a book that fellow guests contributed reviews to of local restaurants.
We took a $2 cab to the restaurant from Arco Iris in the early afternoon because it was pouring down rain. It is a short 8-10 minute walk from Arco Iris but the weather was very bad. When we arrived, there was only one other occupied table. This was so nice because we wanted a quiet meal to relax. We were told to choose whatever table we wanted and we decided to sit facing out toward the back of the restaurant toward some lush vegetation. We got to watch hummingbirds flitting back and forth drinking from the flowers as we ate. It was really nice.
We ordered the sweet plantains stuffed with barbecued pork. It was a huge serving and they were delicious. I had their black bean soup which was good. We also had their quesadillas which came with a side of mofo (sp?) which is sweet plantains sauteed with onions and bacon. It was nice to eat Latin cuisine in a Latin country. I like to try local cuisine when I travel. We live in Miami (Coral Gables) and have eaten at a wide range of Latin restaurants and this stands up to the best of them and exceeds most of them.
The decor was very stylish and the restaurant was spotless. The service was also great: very attentive.
Ahhh but the best were the drinks... just thinking about them makes me wish I was back there. The Sofia Colada was absolutely delicious- it is passion fruit juice, coconut milk, and light and dark rum. The Coconut Daquiri was probably one of the best cocktails I've ever had the pleasure of consuming: coconut rum, cream of coconut, lemon juice (sounds odd, doesn't it?) with cinnamon sprinkled on top. How do I remember these ingredients? The cocktails were so exceptionally delicious- I wrote down the menu description on the back of a taxi's business card!!!! My husband had the Latinopolitan which was also fabulous (but very stiff, so beware). If I remember correctly, the drink prices were $5? I remember thinking that they were very reasonably priced. The prices of the food were also very reasonable. My receipt doesn't list individual item prices in dollars, only colones. But it does list the total. We had a long leisurely meal with one entree (they have huge portions and this was enough for us to split), 3 appetizers, 2 beers and 3 cocktails including taxes and service charge was $51.66. Not bad. That would not have even covered the bar tab if this meal had been eaten here in the States.
I give this restaurant an enthusiastic recommendation! It was the best restaurant we ate at while in Costa Rica (with Las Brasitas in La Fortuna coming in at second place).
Note: I must thank all of you who took the time to write reviews. You made my trip to Costa Rica so much better than it would have been without your wisdom. Guidebooks are an indispensable tool but they simply can't tell you everything. Please see my reviews of Xandari, Arco Iris, Tabacon, Selva Verde Lodge and Peace Lodge, Sofia's restaurant and Pizzeria de Johnny in Monteverde and Las Brasitas restaurant in La Fortuna. Selvatura (canopy bridges) in Monteverde.