Getting there & away
The government has been planning to build a series of bridges across the several rivers that feed Laguna de Arenal’s southwestern shore for about 20 years. If completed, this would provide a road connection between Monteverde and La Fortuna, which would probably be the end of the ecoparadise formerly known as Monteverde. There are always a few scattered spots where some construction work is going on, but fortunately it doesn’t look like they’re going to make too much progress (at least in this century).
All intercity buses stop at the bus terminal (645 5159; 6-11am & 1:30-5pm Mon-Fri, closes 3pm Sat & Sun) in downtown Santa Elena, and most continue on to the cheese factory in Monteverde. On the trip in, keep an eye on your luggage, particularly on the San José–Puntarenas leg of the trip, as well as on the Monteverde–Tilarán run.
Purchase tickets to Reservas Monteverde and Santa Elena at Hotel Camino Verde, which can also make reservations for pricier trips with private companies. Destinations, bus companies, fares, journey times and departure times are as follows:
Managua, Nicaragua (Tica Bus) US$11, eight hours; a small shuttle bus (US$1.50) departs from the bus station at 6am and brings you to the highway where you can pick it up.
Puntarenas US$2.50, three hours, departs from the front of Banco Nacional at 6am.
Reserva Monteverde US$0.50, 30 minutes, departs from front of Banco Nacional at 6:30am, 7:30am, 9:30am, 11:30am, 1pm and 2:30pm, returns 6:40am, 8am, 10:40am, noon, 2:10pm and 3pm.
Reserva Santa Elena US$2, 30 minutes, departs from front of Banco Nacional at 6:30am, 8:30am, 10:30am, 2:30pm and 3:30pm, returns 11am, 1pm and 4pm.
San José (TransMonteverde) US$4.50, 4½ hours, departs from La Lechería at 6:30am and 2:30pm, with pick-up at the bus station in Santa Elena.
Tilarán, with connection to La Fortuna US$2, seven hours, departs from the bus station at 7am. This is a long ride as you will need to hang around for two hours in Tilarán. If you have a few extra dollars, it’s recommended that you take the jeep-boat-jeep option to La Fortuna.
While most Costa Rican communities regularly request paved roads in their region, preservationists in Monteverde have done the opposite. All roads here are shockingly rough, and 4WD is necessary all year, especially in the rainy season. Many car-rental agencies will refuse to rent you an ordinary car during rainy season if you admit that you’re headed to Monteverde.
There are four roads from the Interamericana: coming from the south, the first turnoff is at Rancho Grande (18km north of the Puntarenas exit); a second turnoff is at the Río Lagarto bridge (just past Km 149, and roughly 15km northwest of Rancho Grande). Both are well signed and join one another about a third of the way to Monteverde. Both routes boast about 35km of steep, winding, and scenic dirt roads with plenty of potholes and rocks to ensure that the driver, at least, is kept from admiring the scenery.
A third road goes via Juntas, which starts off paved, but becomes just as rough as the first two a few kilometers past town, though it’s about 5km shorter than the previous two. Finally, if coming from the north, drivers could take the paved road from Cañas via Tilarán and then take the rough road from Tilarán to Santa Elena.
The fastest route between Monteverde/Santa Elena and La Fortuna is a jeep-boat-jeep combo (around US$30, three hours), which can be arranged through almost any hotel or tour operator in either town. A 4WD jeep taxi takes you to Río Chiquito, meeting a boat that crosses Laguna de Arenal, where a taxi on the other side continues to La Fortuna. This is increasingly becoming the primary transportation between La Fortuna and Monteverde as it’s incredibly scenic, reasonably priced and it’ll save you half a day of rough travel.