San Jose to La Fortuna

One of the annual events my wife and I are starting to enjoy is a visit to La Fortuna (LF) during the low season in September, which is also the green or rainy season.  September and October are two of the rainiest months in CR, which means there are fewer people and better deals.  In 2015, we took the bus from San Ramon to La Fortuna for a couple of days of R&R link.  The inexpensive bus from San Ramon to LF runs four times a day and provides quite a scenic ride; however, if you tend to experience motion-sickness, I recommend you take a Dramamine tablet when you board the bus. We stayed in a hotel for $30 a night and took a few adventure tours which were half the usual high-season rates.  So we enjoyed a $35 half-price guided tour of Arenal.  At the end of the tour, the sky opened up and we experienced the full force of mother nature and were drenched.  We learned from that experience that the rain is not all that bad and we could live with it for the discounted prices being offered.  We also learned there was a free hot spring enjoyed by the locals and budget minded Free Hot Springs in La Fortuna.

So in September of 2016, we wanted to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary and decided to explore the hot springs in LF.  I have been collecting all the  Hot Springs in Costa Rica locations so we can eventually try them all.  You might enjoy reading this review of  The best hot springs in La Fortuna.

There are about eight hot springs in LF, so we chose two high-end places –  Tabacon and Eco Termales.  Tabacon is a high-end, tourist experience and Eco Termales is a smaller, more intimate experience.

Step 1: Terminal 7-10

The first step in any CR bus adventure is finding the right bus station.  There are many bus stations in San Jose – normally one for each bus company and route.  Terminal 7-10 is new and fortunately has a number of bus companies located in the facility, which is also a shopping mall with stores, a pharmacy, and a food court.

We always take a taxi to the station because the area has a reputation for being dicey.  The area between Terminal 7-10 and the central avenue is known as the “red zone” and, in addition to having many hourly hotels, has many homeless and drug users and is best avoided on foot.


Here is a Facebook Album of Terminal 7-10 with photos link and here is where to eat link.

On the third floor, go the ticket station on the left end (there is another bus company to the right), and buy your ticket to La Fortuna from the window on the far right of the counter.

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Note: on the left, all the times leaving for Ciudad Quesada, a major hub in San Carlos that offers frequent trips back and forth to La Fortuna

I bought my ticket a few days before because I am risk-averse; however, except for holidays, you can probably show up an hour beforehand and buy a ticket without a problem.  There are three buses a day going to La Fortuna from San Jose.  I purchased the 8:40 a.m. bus.

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An alternate route, shown below, is to take the bus from San Jose to Ciudad Quesada and from Ciudad Quesada to La Fortuna, which runs frequently.

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BTW, I typically type out the information for the ticket I want to buy so there are no misunderstandings.  Remember that Costa Rica’s date format is DD/MM/YYYY so I normally write it out (ex: September 26, 2016) and the day of the week (Monday) with the Spanish translation to reduce the chance for error.  The bus ticket to LF costs about $5 USD.  You get a white ticket which you give the driver and a yellow copy for your records. In addition, the driver will give you a temporary ticket to re-board at the midway rest stop.

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Step 2: The Bus Trip

The phone app, Map.Me, which I use to follow the trip, indicated the trip would take about two hours, not accounting for traffic or stops.  We left at 8:40 a.m. and arrived at 1 p.m., so the duration was more like four hours.  There are no bathrooms on the bus, which has only one rest stop halfway through the trip (at Ciudad Quesada), so use the bathrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floor of Terminal 7-10 before you leave.  The attendant charges c200.

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Note: if you have a seat preference, there is no reserved seating on this route and the bus boards 15 minutes before leaving.

Also, this bus does not have AC, so if you need air, get on early to find a seat with a window that will open.  Once you are seated is a good time to take that Dramamine if you need it.  I sat on the right side hoping to get better views, which proved correct. I was excited that my backpack fit in the overhead (photo below) since many times the overhead space is very tight and I have to keep my backpack between my legs the whole trip, which would not have been good on this route given how tightly the seats are spaced.  I always put my backpack across from me so I can keep an eye on it. The driver put all the big luggage under the bus and gave people a luggage receipt, which was reassuring.

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The bus left at 8:44 a.m. and was probably 1/4 full.  You give the driver the white receipt and keep the yellow copy.  Something different this time was the driver handed me the plastic card below to use to get back on the bus at the midway rest stop at Ciudad Quesada, so don’t lose it. Warning: the rest stop is only 10 minutes and not everyone will get off; also, if you don’t get back in time, new riders will be lined up and may take your seat, so get back in time to reclaim your seat and don’t leave valuables behind.

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I plotted the bus route and stops here link.  Most notable: the bus stopped in Alajuela (Central de Autobuses del Norte) across the highway from SJO airport. If you fly in and want to avoid coming into San Jose ($30 taxi ride) to board where the bus starts, you can board in Alajuela.  Warning: since there are no reserved seats, there is a possibility you could be standing for four hours!

What I find so fascinating about Costa Rica are the changes in elevation and the resulting weather pattern.  To understand the graph on the elevation map below from Google Earth, read from left to right to follow our trip from San Jose to La Fortuna.  The trip starts  at 38oo ft. above sea level in San Jose, dips down by Alajuela and then heads higher going north into the cloud forest.  Around Naranjo, you can feel the temperature drop. Interestingly,  the elevation drops under 1000 ft. when you get to La Fortuna (right side of graph below) which means it is hotter than I like.  I prefer life above 3000 feet, which is normally 70F (+/- 10 degrees) most of the time.


The bus stops in Zarcero, which has a beautiful central park full of topiary arches, so look right.  It could be a final destination for anyone wanting to explore this pretty town.

Facebook album of Zarcero photo link.

Step 3: La Fortuna Bus Station

Here are some pictures from the La Fortuna Facebook Album link.

The La Fortuna bus station is modern, small, safe, clean and easy to navigate.

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Note: attached to the bus station is a MegaSuper, a full grocery store where you can buy your supplies before heading to the hostel or trail.

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If you want to go around the lake, this station has a bus going to Tilaran on the west side of the lake.

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Another great feature of this station is the soda (small restaurant) located near the bus station just past the MegaSuper. Soda La Hormiga has a clean bathroom, a wide selection and reasonable prices.  Soda Website.  It is only open for breakfast and lunch.

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Here are some hot springs ideas: Tabacon (expensive) to Free Hot Springs in La Fortuna (cheap).

Step 3: Getting back to San Jose

When the time comes to return to San Jose, Tyler Wenzel at CRTravel wrote up the details here La Fortuna to San Jose Return Trip.  The bus returning to San Jose stops at SJO airport in case you are flying out.


21 thoughts on “San Jose to La Fortuna

  1. Thank you for this wonderful description. It is the most detailed I have found online. Our flight lands at 4 pm on a weekday and we plan to head to La Fortuna that same day. It looks like the direct buses would not be an option but hopefully we could either catch the 6:15 or 7:30 pm bus. From your experience, are three hours enough time to get from the airport to the 7-10 station and get on the bus? And would we get to Ciudad Quesada in time for the last bus to La Fortuna at 9:30 or is it advisable to spend the night in San Jose and take a bus to La Fortuna the next morning?


    • Some information and thoughts.

      You land:

      I think it can take from 1-3 hours to clear immigrations and customs.

      I think it takes 1- 2 hours to get from the airport to Terminal 7-10 All depends on the weather and traffic.

      Remember it gets dark here at 6pm.

      Notice how often buses run to Ciudad Quesada. The last one leaves at 7:30pm which you could make but I am guessing you would get stuck over night there.

      “From your experience, are three hours enough time to get from the airport to the 7-10 station and get on the bus? “

      Yes, but there would be no buses there possibly. You would be better to go across the street from the airport and catch San Jose bus as it pass through Alajuela . Mind you it might be sold out. You can stand for three hours.

      “And would we get to Ciudad Quesada in time for the last bus to La Fortuna at 9:30 or is it advisable to spend the night in San Jose and take a bus to La Fortuna the next morning?”

      I think you are calling close for my taste but I am low risk.

      Personally, I think you should leave the airport and take a taxi across the highway from the airport to Alajuela and get a place to stay , walk around town and have a good meal there and catch the bus out in the morning from there. In fact, I would buy my ticket beforehand when in town so when you show up in the morning you have a seat.

      BTW, someone just talked about what you are trying to do on the bus forum it you want to search it at


      • This was so helpful! Thanks to your advice we were able to select a different flight that gets to SJO in the early morning and only cost slightly more than the original one. With that being said, we should have plenty of time to clear immigration and make our way to the right bus terminal for a direct trip to Arenal. We will stay in Alajuela on the way home so with only a little over a week to spend in Costa Rica, we didn’t want to stop there for two nights. We will definitely keep in mind your tip to buy the bus ticket on the day before our departure.


  2. Thanks for the info!
    Would you recommend booking the tickets in advance? We are planning on arriving in san jose on October 12 and then heading to la fortuna that night. I can’t seem to find the bus schedules online or how to book a ticket in advance if we wanted to.


    • I personally always buy my tickets beforehand but I am super cautious and live near by. I typically go in the day before and typically buy the first or second person seated. But than I live a few miles from the station and swing by during my day. The buses are typically filled but many folk show up last minute. Normally, buying your ticket at least an hour beforehand is going to work since all the backpackers show up in that hour beforehand and consume the tickets. I may take chances on routes that have frequent departures since I can catch the next bus but I don’t think there are that many direct departures per day to LF though there are frequent departure to Quesada which is the capital of the region and frequent buses between Quesada and LF as plan B. You know the last bus for LF leaves are noon. The last bus for Quesada is 6pm minus three hours for customs, migration, traffic would make landing at night and leaving not work. Depending on your budget and schedule, you may want to hire a private van to get you up to LF if yo really need to be there that night. Beware the roads are dark and foggy if you are thinking of renting a car to do it.


  3. Thank you for this information. This is very helpful because I leave for costa Rica in a couple days and didn’t know how to get to la fortuna. As far as buying a ticket, if I arrive early in the morning like around 6, will the ticket booth be open?


    • Except for holidays like Easter, normally, if you buy your ticket at least an hour before the bus leave, you will get a seat. The young folks and backpackers tend to show up during that hour and can consume all the seats. If you get there at 6:00 for the 8:40 bus, you should be fine. There is a food court on the third floor where you buy your ticket which I am not sure will be fully open but there are a number of sodas around the terminal where you could get breakfast. Here is a photo album with all the places to eat


    • Thank you for the update. Normally, the buses are never that full and the danger zone for not getting a ticket is within one hour of departure when the backpackers show up


  4. Hi there! I am looking to plan a trip in costa rica in August and would love to ask you some questions about getting around because the private shuttles to me are looking quite expensive!


  5. Hi! I am leaving from the station in San Jose and was wondering if you knew if they accepted debit / credit cards? Or US dollars? Thanks!


    • Tough one. I have only used colones so I am not sure. It is likely they would do either but I just have no knowledge and experience. If you are coming into SJO there is an ATM where you can get colones


  6. I really appreciated your advise on how to take the bus. We will be arriving in San Jose on Dec 4th- 2018 and departing San Jose December 9, 2018.We will purchase our bus ticket to Arenal the day before and spend a couple of days there. Do you have any suggestions on what would be the best things to do in Arenal?
    Lynn and Doug from Iowa, USA


    • Smart move getting the tickets beforehand so there won’t be any surprises when you go. I love going to the hot springs while in LF. The big, tourisy ones are Baldi and Tabacon. I understand you negotiate a deal on the street of LF. We typically go to a smaller more intimate hot springs called that we especially like. We bought lunch and dinner which was too much food. Just buy lunch and snack from the bar if you get hungry. I think the big tour company in LF is Red Lava ( We took the six hour volcano tour which was fun and affordable. Of course, try a canopy zipline too.


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