The most affordable and convenient way to get from the scenic peaks of Arenal to the coastal paradise of Manuel Antonio is driving the circuitous 168 miles (271 km). Another excellent alternative is to book a private transfer, so you're not too busy worrying about wrong turns to take in the gorgeous views. A shared shuttle is another good option, with door-to-door convenience, but you will have other passengers to pick up and drop off.
Flying from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio is the most expeditious option. It is more expensive and doesn't save a ton of time, but does get you there about 2 hours quicker. The most time consuming and frugal way to travel between the two destinations is by bus. Whichever way you decide to travel, take a look at this 6-day Arenal and Manuel Antonio itinerary to experience the adventure and beauty that is quintessential Costa Rica.
By Rental Car or Private Transfer
Duration: 5 hours
Driving between Arenal and Manuel Antonio is safe and straightforward—as long as you know the best roads, and which to avoid. In this case, you'll want to head out of town on 702, and stay on this road for 1.5 hours until you get to the town of San Ramon. Here, you'll get on Route 1 west for another 1.5 hours. Merge on to Route 23, then Route 27, and finally Route 34. Keep change handy, you'll be going through some tolls. If you'd like to stop, consider pulling off at the Tarcoles Bridge to stretch your legs and see the collection of crocodiles sunning themselves in the river below.
There are other (seemingly shorter) routes, but remember that in Costa Rica, the shortest way on a map may not always be the best. Some areas are notorious for thick fog, while other paths curve precariously close to steep cliffsides. If you prefer to leave the driving to someone else, booking a private transfer is the way to go. Especially if you're with a group, a private driver is a practical and cost-efficient way to cross the country.
By Shared Shuttle
Duration: 5.5 hours
A shared shuttle is an economical, comfortable, and handy way to get to Manuel Antonio. A cordial driver will pick you up where you are staying, and do the work of driving while you sit back and enjoy the ride. They will be picking up and dropping off other riders so your trip won't be as fast as if you were with a private driver, but for a solo traveler or a couple, it is more economical.
Duration: 3.5 hours
Regional airlines offer daily flights between La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio with a stop in Liberia. It costs about double per person the amount for a shared shuttle, and you shave a couple of hours off of your trip (not counting time spent getting to and from the airport).
Duration: 9+ hours
The bus trip from La Fortuna involves at least three buses, as well as some walking between stations. It is by far the most inexpensive option, and the most complicated.