One of the Costa Rica’s best-loved protected areas is Arenal Volcano National Park. It’s home to the mighty cones of two dormant but still venting volcanoes, crystal-clear lakes, and thundering waterfalls, all amid a lush jungle. To get there, you’ll first need to make the journey from the cultural wonders of Costa Rica’s capital San Jose, to La Fortuna, the small town gateway to the Arenal Volcano National Park.
La Fortuna is situated approximately 110 km north-west of San Jose. Thanks to its international reputation as a wonderland, reaching Arenal Volcano National Park from San Jose is incredibly easy, whether by car, shuttle bus, public transportation, or domestic flight, as we detail below.
Though 100 km as the crow flies, by road the journey from San Jose to La Fortuna is roughly 140 km in length (or just 115 km from San Jose’s airport), depending on the exact route taken. The shortest route (but not by much) is via the Inter-Americana highway and Route 702, passing through the towns of San Ramon and La Tigra. It takes about 3.5 hours, although congestion in the center of the capital may mean it takes a little longer.
This is the route also followed by shuttle buses, and is a beautiful winding drive through hills and farmland on well-paved road, meaning a 4x4 isn’t necessary but a whole lot of fun! The route via Naranjo and Ciudad Quesada is slightly longer but otherwise has similar road conditions, making it a great alternative route for returning to San Jose.
- You can rent a car from Costa Rican car rental companies like Adobe Rent a Car and Fast Rent a Car or other global companies like Alamo, Budget and Thrifty.
- Since the road becomes very twisty in places, those who get travel sick should definitely consider medicating appropriately before hand.
- Even though the routes to La Fortuna are well maintained, its generally advised to avoid driving at night on unfamiliar roads, particularly as routes are not lit and signage can be difficult to read.
Several companies operate a shuttle from San Jose to La Fortuna (and vice versa). A one-way ticket will cost around USD 55 if you’re happy to share the journey with other travelers, or about USD 200* for a private shuttle service. Shuttles can be easily booked through hotels, but reserving a seat at least 24 hours before you plan to head to La Fortuna is recommended as they regularly become fully booked. In any case, unlike with public transportation, shuttles always need to be pre-booked. The door-to-door service take a similar amount of time as the car rental option, without the necessity of driving yourself.
- Shuttle buses pick up passengers from both hotels in downtown San Jose (saving the hassle of getting to a pick-up point) and the international airport
- Interbus is widely considered to be the most reputable shuttle operator with services at 8 am and 2 pm from San Jose. Tickets can even be booked online in English.
Should costs be first and foremost in your mind, direct buses also ply the route between the capital and La Fortuna. A ticket will cost approximately USD 5*, with departures at least three times a day, evenly spaced out throughout the morning. A little longer than by car rental or shuttle, the journey by bus will last between four and five hours. Autotransportes Venecia is the official bus company between San Jose and La Fortuna. Their buses depart from the new Terminal 7-10 Bus Station on Calle 8.
If you’re heading straight for La Fortuna after arriving at the airport in San Jose there’s no need to battle the traffic in the city center. Instead, head to the bus station at Alajeula (a taxi there will cost less than USD 5*).
- A number of other bus companies also operate from Terminal 7-10, a hub for services for six different private companies. There are several bus terminals in the city, so make sure you get the right one!
- The earliest bus of the day leaves from San Jose around dawn (6.30 am), and the last just before midday.
- If you arrive at the bus station after the last direct bus has departed, you can still make it to La Fortuna. Simply board a bus to Ciudad Quesada, from where there are onward connections to La Fortuna.
- Not all buses have air conditioning, so seek out a window seat to take advantage of the cooling breeze (and better photo opportunities too).
- Tickets for buses in Costa Rica are bought at the bus station immediately before departure, with no need to pre-book.
There are no international flights direct to La Fortuna, however regular domestic flights connect Juan Santamaria International Airport on the outskirts of San Jose and that at La Fortuna. Flights take just half an hour and cost around USD 150* one way from airlines Nature Air and Sansa Airlines. Nature Air offers one flight per day from San Jose to Arenal, departing at 11:30 am, while Sansa Airlines has flights at noon four times a week (on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays).
- A domestic flight between the capital and La Fortuna is a great option if you’re heading straight to Arenal after arriving into the country on an international flight, or if you’re short of time.
Transportation from San Jose to La Fortuna comes in a number of forms, offering visitors various options whether budget, comfort or speed are the primary concern. Car rentals, shuttle services, public transport, and domestic flights are all options with their own advantages.
Note: Prices listed above are as per December, 2018.*