The distance between Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna and Monteverde—as the crow flies—is pretty short. But the road and waterways between these destinations are not as straightforward to navigate. The best option is taxi-boat-taxi. It is quick, convenient, and affordable.
If you prefer to avoid the water and go the whole 73 miles (118 km) around the large lake and up the rugged mountain, a shared shuttle leaves the rough roads for someone who drives them every day while you share a ride in air-conditioned comfort. Private transfers are another good option, especially if you're traveling in a group. Renting a car and driving yourself is possible with a 4WD vehicle and a real sense of adventure.
A horseback tour can add to the fun of your vacation while getting you from here to there. And finally, the public bus is reliable and low-priced but extremely time-consuming.
This 14-day best of Costa Rica itinerary spans both areas in addition to Manuel Antonio.
Duration: 3 hours
The taxi-boat-taxi trip is easy and affordable. With departure times in both the mornings and afternoons, a van will pick you up from your hotel and drive you the 20-30 minutes to Lake Arenal. There, you'll board a covered boat (trips run rain or shine) and enjoy a 30-minute boat ride across the lake, enjoying views of the volcano and the mountains of Monteverde.
For the last leg of your journey, on the other side of the lake, a taxi will pick you up and take you on a 1.5-hour ride to your hotel in Monteverde. There are shared and private options available.
By Shared Shuttle
Duration: 4.5 hours
The door-to-door shared shuttle is an extremely agreeable option. The shuttle drivers are courteous and bi-lingual. The road, while bumpy and winding, offers beautiful vistas to enjoy since no one has to look at white knuckles on the steering wheel. The downside is picking up and dropping off fellow passengers adds some minutes to your ride. Shared shuttles are priced per rider, so for just a few commuters, this is an affordable way to travel.
By Car or Private Transfer
Duration: 3.5 to 4 hours
The road to Monteverde can be treacherous, so a 4WD vehicle is mandatory if you choose to drive. You'll take Route 142 to Lake Arenal and follow the north shore of the lake to the town of Tilaran, a little under two-hour drive. This part of your drive is paved and scenic, with lots of places to stop for food and drink.
In Tilaran (the last place on this route to get gas until you are in Monteverde), you'll connect to Route 145, which winds up the mountain, some sections unpaved, turning into Route 606 and heading right into Monteverde. Remember, it's recommended to drive during daylight hours only, which means arriving in Monteverde before 6:00 pm.
Private transfers are priced per group, so if you are traveling with a lot of people who will split the cost, a private transfer is cost-effective. Solo travelers or couples will find this a more expensive but always pleasant way to travel. You will be able to enjoy the views, stop whenever you like, and relax.
By Horseback or Mountain Bike
Duration: 5 hours
Many tour companies offer horseback riding tours, combination horseback-boat, or horseback-taxi-boat. The same combinations are available for mountain bike tours. For experienced riders and bikers, this can be a fun way to travel, with opportunities to see wildlife and breathtaking panoramas. This tends to be a pricier option because it is not just transport but an off-the-beaten-path experience.
Duration: 8 hours
The public bus is a reliable option but not very convenient, with lots of wait times and switching buses in addition to the long and bumpy rides. There is an 8:00 am bus that stops in Tilaran, about a 2-hour ride. Here you'll wait for a 1:00 bus arriving in Santa Elena, the neighboring town to Monteverde, around 4:00 pm. The buses between the two towns don't run after 3:00, so you'll have to take a taxi to Monteverde.