There are four ways to get to La Fortuna, and it will take you from 2 hours and 30 minutes to 3 hours, and from 72 miles to 103 miles. The route will depend on the weather and the conditions of the roads, and they are all rough winding, bumpy roads.
Options To Get There
For going there you have several options, depending the hour you arrive at SJO Airport, the number of people in your group, your budget, and even how fast you want to get there. You can take a plane, rent a car, take a public bus, or take a taxi.
On A Rented Car
If you are adventurous enough, and you have the budget, renting a car is always the most freedom-given choice. However, I always also sais that you should acknowledge that Costa Rica thinks that our car accident rate is a big problem. We have lots of cars on minimal and ancient and inadequate maintenance infrastructure. That join with bad driving education is a mix of what we consider an epidemic problem. That is a big thing to acknowledge when renting a car. The route to La Fortuna is a specially hard one, I like to recommend that you get to what you want to go outside the Central Valley, and there, analyze your renting options.
On A Public Bus
The cheapest way is on a public bus. You can take a taxi from SJO to Estación 7-10 where you take the bus to La Fortuna, Ciudad Quesada, San Carlos. Here is their website. This choice will work if you arrive early, or if you have a place to sleep for the night and take the bus early the next morning. For La Fortuna, departures times vary from 5:00 am, to 11:50 am. You cannot make a reservation online for the bus, and sometimes buses are sold out. The price will be less than $5 per person. The bus is not very comfortable; seats are to close to each other, and coaches do not have restrooms nor air conditioner. If you had a long flight, getting on a coach may be close to torture.
San Carlos: The bus station to La Fortuna is Estación 7-10, at Barrio México. They lump together some destinations in one bus station, one of them is San Carlos. Website http://terminal7-10.com/. Riding time is about 3 hours. This station is a new, beautiful building, with shops and small restaurants, but be aware of the surroundings, since this is a dangerous zone of the city.
On A Small Plane
You can go to La Fortuna on a small airplane. You take a taxi from SJO to the Tobias Bolaños Airport, which is the airport where you can take a small plane to La Fortuna, for about $25. You can make a reservation online on their website https://www.aerobell.com/. The name of the company is Aerobell. Depending on the schedule, you will have to sleep one night in San José, and depending on the number of people, this could be the most expensive way to get there. The price is $65 per person.
On A Taxi
The best faster way is to go to La Fortuna is on a Taxi. Depending on the size of the group you are traveling with, sometimes this is even the cheapest way. You can take it from outside the airport, or even better, make a reservation online on our website here, to go to any town in Costa Rica you want to go. Let the professional driver take responsibility so you can have the rest you deserve before the time you spend on an airplane. No matter the hour you arrive.
Price of the taxi service will depend on the hour of the service, and this is because of the amount of traffic you can find, but also depends on the size of the unit, a sedan will take up to 3 persons, and microbus will take up to 8 persons per travel. From SJO Airport to La Fortuna is from $140 to $180. From SJO Airport to Quepos Manuel Antonio can go from $180 to $240. You can make a reservation of the taxi on our website, click here
For your safety DO NOT TAKE any Pirate services outside the Airport. Pirate service is a big problem that our airport has. Since this is a rigorous country on rights, and no so much on responsibilities, there is a lot of insecure pirates offers outside the Airport that the police cannot control entirely (Or do not want to). That provokes that naive trusted people to take these services.
If you go to Estación 7-10, as a tourist you may be the target of thieves, so you should always be aware of your belongings. May sure you have all your things on hand until you put them on the trunk of the bus. Your handbag is also a thing you should always have on sight on the bus. Other than that, it is pretty secure inside the bus station or on the bus itself. Outside 7-10 is a lousy zone of the city. During the day you can walk around with precautions, in the afternoon or at night, always take a taxi. On the same bus station, there are official red taxis that you can take.
Let me give you security advice on the driving part. Driving the route to La Fortuna is not easy; any path you choose. These routes pass high range mountains, full of active volcanoes, you may be an experienced driver, but these routes are something else. Consider this a warning, it is not impossible, but it is hard. Me, as a Costarican living here and having my car, sometimes I prefer to go on a bus than driving those ways.
The Road To La Fortuna
From the airport, you take the west on route 01 up to the town to San Ramón. It is a 45 to 60 minutes ride, for 27 miles. This is a dangerous route, four-lane for some parts, and two-lane on the bridges, full of transit, all the way to San Ramón.
Once you get to San Ramón, you go north on route 702. It is about one hour and 45 minutes, for 45 miles. This road is a two-lane road, a very narrow and ancient, waining, rough, bumpy, hazardous way, many times with fog. Driving on this road is a very tiring task. It has beautiful sightseeing, and you pass through lovely towns and charming countryside.
As a mountain road, it always depends on weather conditions to pass throw. The route suffers from constant mud spate and landslides. The administration is frequently working on the way, and some times they have regulated pass, adding 30 minutes to one our to the riding time. That is why we give you some other options to go to La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano. Total Ride time is two and a half hours.
Other Road Options
Instead of going west on route 01, you take north on Francisco J Orlich to the city of Alajuela. This is a 1 mile well build a four-lane new road. Alajuela is a very crowded full of transit city, you have to go through.
You continue on route 172 for 11 miles and half an hour into Fraijanes. Fraijanes is a beautiful place with countryside views, mountain road but not so winding, a bit coldest with lots of strawberries fields, and cattle. They sell strawberries and cheese on the roadside, among other things, this is the way to Poas Volcano and a very touristic route.
From there you take a right on route 146 for about 2 miles, and then take a right on the way 120 for about 3.5 miles, then you take a left on beat 126 on Vara Blanca, a famous spot on that road. Astonishing sightseen, but a very rough and winding road, hard and tired to drive. The total drive time of this part is about 10 to 15 minutes.
On route 126 you continue with this astonishing sightseen, passing famous La Paz waterfall, for 45 minutes, and 16 miles, and then take a hard left on route 140 on San Miguel, Rio Cuarto, on the way to Aguas Zarcas, for half an hour and 15 miles. This continuing as a hard winding rough road. From Aguas Zarcas you have a couple of ways to La Fortuna, but those are flat roads, passing some picturesque towns. Total Ride time is two hours and 45 minutes.
There are two other ways. The first one is going on route 01 to Naranjo, and from there north through Ciudad Quesada for two hours and 30 minutes. The last one is going to Downtown San José, and then going north on route 32 up to highway 04 crossroads, then north to Sarapiqui, and from there west to La Fortuna. The riding time is 3 hours.
For choosing the right route, the weather is a significant factor, as well as the conditions of the roads. This place is in a severe weather zone, full of high range mountains and active volcanoes. Ask the locals for some help on choosing the right route for the time.
What To Do At La Fortuna
Arenal Volcano: No doubt the Arenal Volcano is the major point of interest at La Fortuna. There is a safe range viewpoint where you can hike, passing some primary and secondary rain forest and some solidified volcanic lava. You can find lots of tours you can book online, or from your hotel tour desk.
Hot Springs: La Fortuna is packed with hot spring sites, coming from the volcanic area around. There is a lot of hotels and water parks, with pools constructed around this warm water, full of healing salts and healing mud.
Rain Forest: The other big thing is the dense rain forest around La Fortuna town. There are some hanging bridges to enjoy the forest canopy, and several trails, where you can see the forest and its fauna.
Frequently ask questions
Is Arenal Volcano Active? Yes, the Volcan Arenal is an active volcano. It has one of the “most perfect” cones in the world, full of loose material, the word Arenal translates as sandy. For years they use to call it Arenal hill and was considered an extinct volcano until it erupted in 1968. From there, sometimes you can see it emits fire and material, and that is its beauty.
Can you hike to the top of Arenal Volcano? As an active volcano is dangerous to hike to the top, and authorities take that as a serious matter. It is prohibited to hike to the top for your safety. In the past, some tourist has violated this rule, paying with death their daring. You may not believe it but it is a serious matter.