There is very little known in regards to Monteverde’s Indigenous history due to lack of formal research and documentation. There are some indigenous artifacts that were found and are believed to be from around 600 A.C. It is possible that Monteverde was a convergence site where central and north pacific, as well as those from the northern Caribbean indigenous groups simply passed through on their way south.
The first non-indigenous pioneers arrived to Monteverde area between 1915 and 1920. These approximately, five to eight families, arrived independently in search of new lands to cultivate.
During the first half of last century, the families growing crops and raising livestock mainly for their own subsistence. They were able to survive thanks to their knowledge of agriculture, medicinal plants and natural alternatives to medicine, as well as a strong sense of community.
The first public primary schools were established in the 50’s, but it wasn’t until 1977 that the first local public high school was founded.
In April of 1951, a group of families from the United States arrived and settled in Monteverde. The Quakers emigrated from their country, mainly for religious principals; they are prohibited to participate in the military service, or to pay taxes designated to benefit the military.
The Quakers initiated a production of fine cheeses, which became the central socioeconomic opportunity for this area for the following 40 years. Productores Monteverde, S.A. (e.g. Monteverde Cheese Factory) became a national model for businesses; offering a high-quality product, its entrepreneurship and social impact. After fifteen years being managed by and consisting mostly of Quaker families, it then became a business with over 300 associates, the majority of whom were local Costa Ricans.
At the start of the 70’s two new actions took place which would define the social and environmental culture for years to come. In 1971 the Coopesanta Elena R.L. (eg. Santa Elena Cooperative) was founded. This was a multi-faceted company which became the second most important community initiative project. It was dedicated to the supply and demands of local agriculture, coffee processing and production, credit and savings opportunities, and encouraged a local women’s artisan project.
The second historically relevant event of the 70’s was the Tropical Science Center’s creation of the Biological Cloud Forest Reserve in 1972. For the next 30 years, this reserve became the epi-center of research, study and eco-tourism; all drawn to its unique biodiversity.
The 70’s also was when a local integrated development organization was created: the Asociacion de Desarrollo Integral (e.g. The Integral Development Association, or ADI) where two currently have a presence in the local area: ASI in Santa Elena (c.1975) and the ADI in San Luis. (c.1976)
The 80’s decade was a time of growth in the agricultural industry; with coffee being its second most important product. This was also the decade where the first women’s artisan organization was formed: “CASEM.” During its first 20 years it morphed from a small committee of female artisans, to one of the local Cooperative’s departments, to finally evolving into its own independent, and legally constituted Cooperative called: “CASEMCOOP R.L.”
The eighties also served as the decade when two other influential non-profit organizations were created: The Monteverde Conservation League and the Monteverde Institute; both of which have proved influential on matters related to nature conservation, protection and education. The first is owner and administrator of the largest privately run conservation area in Costa Rica: The Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (54,363.18 acres).
In October of 1988, the town held a community-wide seminar called: “Monteverde 2020.” This seminar created a vision and defined the strategies needed to fulfill such a vision: for Monteverde to become a sustainable community in 30 years’ time. One of its main objectives was to create a Monteverde “which didn’t depend on any resource nor product.” However, as the tourism development accelerated in the early 90’s, the local community turned their backs on this advice and dedicated their economy primarily to tourism.
Santa Elena Technical High School (CTPSE), (founded in 1977) also experienced a transformation due to the influence of tourism. It went from offering educational programs specializing in agriculture to offering course studies principally focused on the tourism. In 1993, the CTPSE was able to acquire management of a portion of the cloud forest, creating The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Since then, this serves as a center for research and professional development for the high school students, while at the same time, provides an additional source of income.
As the tourism boom continued to grow exponentially from the mid- 1990’s to the beginning of the 21st century, so did the increase in the diversity of local tourist attractions; eg: rural and adventure options.
The Coopesanta Elena R.L (2012) and the Monteverde Cheese Factory (2013) (as a Quaker-founded company) dissolved during the beginning of the 21st century due to local, national, and international influences. Some of the factors causing both business to fold were: tourism substituting local agriculture as its main source of local economy, rise in competition, increase in consumerism, signing of various FTA’s, and finally, the abandonment of the terms and long-term vision established for and by this community, in 1988.
Earlier, Santa Elena was the recognized name as our town center, however, in 2001 it was declared as District No.10 by the Puntarenas Municipality. Ever since, Monteverde was able to maintain a locale for its own Municipality (Local District’s Municipality Council), with limited power.
Today, Monteverde continues as an affiliate of Puntarenas’ Municipality, but has constituted a District Council, whose councilmen, mayor, and deputy mayor are voted in every four years via local popular election.
As of 2017, Monteverde’s residents have been trying to formalize their argument to have Monteverde legally recognized as a county.
2020 has become a major turning point in Monteverde’s history; currently referring to all that has happened as: before 2020 or after 2020. After enjoying almost 30 years of constant rise in tourism, its economy, job creation, and opportunities for the entire local population, including 200 surrounding families from neighboring districts, from one day to the next; time simply stopped…and it is uncertain for how long.
COVID-19 has forced the local habitants to remember the advice and warnings that were given during the seminar back in October of 1988.