Nature Air ((tel) 800/235-9272 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2299-6000 in Costa Rica; www.natureair.com) and Sansa ((tel) 877/767-2672 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2290-4100 in Costa Rica; www.flysansa.com) each have one daily flight to Arenal/La Fortuna (airport code: FOR) from Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José (airport code: SJO). Fares range from $80 to $110 one-way. Nature Air also sometimes has direct flights between La Fortuna and Tortuguero, which eliminate a lot of driving and long layovers.
The La Fortuna airstrip is actually in the small village of El Tanque, about a 15-minute drive from La Fortuna, and anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes from most of the popular area hotels. Taxis are sometimes waiting for arriving flights. If not, you can call one at (tel) 2479-9605. The fare to La Fortuna runs around C8,500 to C16,000. Also, Nature Air can arrange to have a van waiting for you, for $65 to $130 for up to six people depending upon the location of your hotel.
By Car: Several routes connect La Fortuna and San José. The most popular is to head west on the Inter-American Highway (CR1) from San José, and then turn north at Naranjo, continuing north through Zarcero to Ciudad Quesada on CR141. From Ciudad Quesada, CR141 passes through Florencia, Jabillos, and Tanque on its way to La Fortuna. This route offers fab views of the San Carlos valley as you come down from Ciudad Quesada; Zarcero, with its topiary gardens and quaint church, is a good place to stop and snap a few photos (see chapter 7).
You can also stay on the Inter-American Highway (CR1) until San Ramón (west of Naranjo) and then head north through La Tigra on CR142. This route is very scenic and passes the Villa Blanca Cloud Forest & Spa. The travel time on any of the above routes is roughly 3 to 3 1/2 hours.
By Bus: Buses ((tel) 2255-0567 or 2255-4318) leave San José for La Fortuna at 6:30, 8:40, and 12:30am from the Atlántico del Norte bus station at Avenida 7 and 9 and Calle 12. The trip lasts 4 hours; the fare is C2,600. The bus you take might be labeled TILARÁN. Make sure it passes through Ciudad Quesada (also known as San Carlos). If so, it passes through La Fortuna; if not, you’ll end up in Tilarán via the Inter-American Highway, passing through the Guanacaste town of Cañas, a long way from La Fortuna.
You can also take a bus from the same station to Ciudad Quesada (San Carlos) and transfer there to another bus to La Fortuna. These buses depart roughly every 40 minutes between 5am and 7:30pm. The fare for the 3 hours trip is C1,900. Local buses between Ciudad Quesada and La Fortuna run regularly through the day, although the schedule changes frequently, depending on demand. The trip lasts an hour; the fare is C1,500.
Buses depart Monteverde/Santa Elena for Tilarán every day at 7am. This is a journey of only 35km (22 miles), but the trip lasts 2 1/2 hours because the road is in rough shape. People with bad backs should think twice about making the trip, especially by bus. The return bus from Tilarán to Santa Elena leaves at 12:30pm. The fare is C1,300. Buses from Tilarán to La Fortuna depart daily at 7am and 12:20 and 4:30pm, and make the return trip at 8am and 12:15 and 5:30pm. The trip is 2 to 3 hours; the fare is C1,600.
Buses depart La Fortuna for San José roughly every 2 hours between 5am and 6pm; in most instances, you will have to transfer in Ciudad Quesada to one of the frequent buses to San José.
Gray Line ((tel) 800/719-3105 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2220-2126 in Costa Rica; www.graylinecostarica.com) and Interbus ((tel) 4031-0888; www.interbusonline.com) have two buses daily leaving San José for La Fortuna. The fare is around $54. Both will pick you up at most San José-area hotels. And both companies also run routes from La Fortuna with connections to most other major destinations in Costa Rica.
Boats, Horses & Taxis
You can travel between La Fortuna and Monteverde by boat and taxi, or on a combination of boat, horseback, and taxi. A 10- to 20-minute boat ride across Lake Arenal cuts out hours of driving around its shores. From La Fortuna to the put-in point is about a 25-minute taxi ride. It’s about a 1 1/2-hour four-wheel-drive taxi ride between the Río Chiquito dock on the other side of Lake Arenal and Santa Elena. Trips can be arranged in either direction for between $30 and $60 per person.
You can also add on a horseback ride on the Santa Elena/Monteverde side of the lake. Several routes and rides are on offer. The steepest heads up the mountains and through the forest to the town of San Gerardo, only a 30-minute car ride from Santa Elena. Other routes throw in shorter sections of horseback riding along the lakeside lowlands. With the horseback ride, this trip runs around $85 per person.
Warning: The riding is often rainy, muddy, and steep. Many find it much more arduous than awe-inspiring. Moreover, there have been complaints about the condition of the trails and the treatment of the horses, so do your research before signing on. Find out what route you’ll be taking, as well as the condition of the horses. Desafío Expeditions ★★ ((tel) 855/818-0020 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2479-0020 in Costa Rica; www.desafiocostarica.com) is one of the more reputable operators. It will even drive your car around for you while you take the scenic route.
If you’re looking to make the ride just by taxi and boat, check in with Jeep Boat Jeep ((tel) 8305-0113; www.jeepboatjeep.com), which has daily fixed departures in each direction at 8am and 2pm for $25 per person. Note: This is a very popular service and it is booked by almost all of the hotels and tour operators in town. However, it’s also very rugged adventure. Travelers often have to carry their own luggage from the van or jeep to the boat (or vice versa), sometimes over rough, muddy terrain, and there’s often confusion during the transitions between boat and van or jeep. Desafío Expeditions has begun its own Monteverde Express van-boat-van shuttle between Arenal and Monteverde. It’s a little more expensive, but much better in terms of service and ease of use. Moreover, it can also be combined with a stop at the Don Juan Coffee Farm and lunch.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.