Coming from Tilaran on the Interamericana, one passes first through Santa Elena. As you approach from the Interamericana you turn onto an unpaved gravel road that goes into the rain forest.
The residents of Monteverde and Santa Elena have repeatedly expressed their opposition to a paved access road. They fear that their peaceful gem in the rain forest would suffer under the mass tourism that tourist busses would bring. Already 200,000 tourists visit the cloud and rain forest each year. In 2007 Costa Ricans voted Monteverde one of Costa Rica's Seven Wonders.
Travelers that are discovering Costa Rica on their own in a rental car need a 4x4 with a high clearance for the route to Santa Elena and Monteverde. Buses commute from various towns to this unique place in the green hills of Costa Rica.
Visitors should pack rain gear and hiking shoes, the rain forest didn't get its name without a reason. Temperatures range between 13 and 24°Celsius (55 and 75°Fahrenheit), the maximum rain falls between June and December.
Bird watchers have to get up early as the best time so observe birds is in the early morning hours and in the late afternoon. With some patience one can spot and maybe even take a picture of a Black Guan, an Emerald Toucanet, a Three-Wattled Bellbird, a Hummingbird or a Quetzal.
Right after sunrise is a good time to spot Quetzals. During mating time, which lasts from April to May, they can been seen more frequently. The male Quetzal is distinguishable from female due to his beautiful long tail feathers.
Several trails can be explored around Santa Elena, some of them even at night.