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How To Get From San Jose To Monteverde

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Hundreds of thousands of tourists travel from San Jose to Monteverde, Costa Rica, every year. 

I have personally done this trip hundreds of times over the last decade, and I have helped dozens of people do it through my travel agency, Monteverde Tours Online

In this post, I will share the best ways to get from San Jose to Monteverde, as well as the pros and cons of each option to determine which one suits you best. 

Let’s dive right in:

There are four ways to get from San Jose to Monteverde, Costa Rica. You can take the public bus, go on a group shuttle, hire a private transportation service or rent a car and drive. In general, the first two options are more affordable but the latter more convenient.

Riding the public bus is the cheapest way to get from San Jose to Monteverde, while driving is the fastest way to travel there.

On the other hand, getting a private transportation service is the easiest option, while going on a group shuttle gives you the best balance between cost-effectiveness and time efficiency. 

Keep scrolling to find out how each option ranks against each other based on its pros and cons, and learn a few tips and recommendations to help you make the best out of your trip from San Jose to Monteverde. 

What’s The Cheapest Way to Get from San Jose to Monteverde?

a passenger bus that is parked on the side of a road

The cheapest way to get from San Jose to Monteverde is to ride the public bus for $6 per person. The bus departs from San Jose downtown twice a day, at 6:30 am and 2:30 pm, and you need to buy the tickets online to reserve your spot.

Compared to all the other ways to get from San Jose to Monteverde, riding the bus is the cheapest way, as shown in the below comparison table:

Most Affordable Ways to Get from San Jose to Monteverde
Transportation Service Price Per Person (USD)
Public Bus $6 – $7
Driving (Car Rental) $30 – $60
Group Shuttle $50 – $60
Private Transfer $80 – $100

Notes:

  • The above rates do not include the 13% IVA tax.
  • These prices assume there is a minimum of two travelers.
  • Renting a car consists of the base rate, insurance, and fuel.
  • Prices can fluctuate throughout the year based on the market conditions and demand.

Keep scrolling for more detailed information on what each service entails and how they work.

Cons of Riding the Public Bus from San Jose to Monteverde

Even though riding the bus from San Jose to Monteverde is very inexpensive, there are a few significant disadvantages of using this means of transportation to get to Monteverde. 

The Bus from San Jose to Monteverde Takes a Long Time

The main disadvantage of using the public bus to get from San Jose to Monteverde is how long the process takes. The ride on the public bus to Monteverde takes between 5 and 6 hours. 

The morning bus leaves San Jose at 6:30 am and gets to Monteverde at around 11 am, while the afternoon bus leaves at 2:30 pm and arrives at around 7 pm. The afternoon bus takes more time because the traffic on the road is significantly heavier. The bus takes route 1 to get from San Jose to Monteverde, which is usually pretty busy in the afternoons. 

Catching the Bus to Monteverde by the SJO Airport is Difficult

The second disadvantage of riding the bus is that there are only three stops to catch it. You can take the bus from the terminal in San Jose, Terminal 7-10. You can catch it at a bus stop nearby the SJO Airport. Or you can also grab it at a stop in San Ramón, a small town about two hours away from San Jose, though it’s very uncommon to see people, especially foreigners, catch the bus there.

Catching the bus at the stop nearby the airport is very complicated. The problem is that public buses in Costa Rica do not usually make stops unless people need them to stop. 

There are two ways people can indicate the driver of a public bus to make a stop. If a bus user is inside the bus, they can ring the bell, and the driver will stop. On the other hand, if a user is at a bus stop and they need to bus to stop so they can catch it, the user needs to wave their hand as the bus is approaching, signaling to the driver that he needs to stop. So, if you are planning to catch the San Jose to Monteververde bus at this bus stop, you need to know that the bus will not stop unless you see it come and you wave for it to stop.

This process of waving your hand for a driver to see you and stop may sound simple, but it can get complicated. Throughout my adult life, I have lost dozens if not hundreds of buses around the country because I got distracted and missed seeing the bus or the driver missed seeing me. 

And the problem with this particular stop is the location. This bus stop is in the middle of a highway. And over 100 other bus routes use this bus stop to pick up users traveling to the northern towns and cities of the country. There can be more than 20 people waiting for their bus at any given time at this bus stop. And the bus stop is small, so it feels as though everybody is stepping on each other’s toes to have more visibility, so they can be ready to stop their bus. 

It can be highly stressful to be in a situation like this, where you are doing your best to stay on your toes to spot the little sign that says “Monteverde” so you can wave for the driver to stop. 

That’s why I do not recommend you catch the Monteverde bus at this bus stop, even if you are coming from a place where this stop is close to you (i.e., let’s say you are staying nearby the SJO Airport). 

Instead, I recommend you go to the terminal, from where the bus leaves San Jose. It might be a little more expensive because you will have to take a taxi to get there, but it’s the only way to ensure you do not miss the bus. 

I especially recommend this to those traveling from San Jose to Monteverde on the afternoon bus as there is only one bus in the afternoons. So, if you miss it, you will have to spend another night in San Jose and travel to Monteverde the next day. 

Riding the Bus to Monteverde Can Be Uncomfortable

Another disadvantage of using the public bus to get from San Jose to Monteverde is the discomfort you can experience during the trip. There can be babies crying, people talking, and even kids throwing up in the seat in front of yours (I have been in that position twice). And what is probably worse, you may end up traveling standing for the entire time. 

The bus to Monteverde can hold up to 70 people, out of which only 50 passengers can go seated, while the other 20 passengers will need to travel standing. Now, the bus doesn’t always get full. Almost everyone will get a seat on an average bus ride, but there will be a few users who will need to travel standing from time to time. For example, it’s common to see people traveling standing on weekends during the high tourism season, from December through April.

I experienced what it’s like to travel standing for 5+ hours on the way to Monteverde a few times when I was working for IBM back in 2015, and I had to travel to San Jose 2 to 3 times per week. It’s not dramatic, but it is pretty uncomfortable. 

Warning: You can buy the Monteverde bus tickets online, but that will not guarantee a seat. Purchasing your tickets online guarantees that you will get one of the 70 spots, but it will not ensure that you will get a seat. The online reservation system the bus uses does not show real-time availability. It only lets 70 people purchase a ticket. Then the administration needs to check who booked first and assign a seat to the first 50 people.

That’s why I recommend you call the terminal before buying the tickets to check on seat availability

Bus From San Jose to Monteverde – Quick Summary

  • The public bus is the cheapest way to get from San Jose to Monteverde. 
  • The bus from San Jose to Monteverde is $6 per person.
  • Link to Purchase Tickets for the Bus from San Jose to Monteverde
  • Buying the tickets online does not guarantee you will travel seated. 
  • You need to call the office to find out if they have seats available. 
  • Number to Call the Office (They only speak Spanish): +506-2645-7447. 
  • The following is the map to get to the terminal from where the bus leaves San Jose: 

What’s The Fastest Way to Get from San Jose to Monteverde?

a highway with a mountain in the background

Driving is the fastest way to get from San Jose to Monteverde, which will take between 2.5 and 3.5 hours. You can use a combination of route 27, route 1, and route 606, which will take about 3 hours. Or you can take only routes 1 and 606, which will take approximately 4 hours. 

Compared to all the other ways to get from San Jose to Monteverde, driving is the fastest way, as shown in the below comparison table:

Fastest Ways to Get from San Jose to Monteverde
Transportation Service How Long it Takes
Driving (Car Rental)* 3 – 4 Hours
Private Transfer* 3 – 4 Hours
Group Shuttle 4 – 5 Hours
Public Bus 5 – 6 Hours

*Going on a Private Transfer will be faster than Driving if you’re not used to driving in Costa Rica.

Cons of Driving from San Jose to Monteverde

As a general rule, driving is the fastest way to get from San Jose to Monteverde, but driving also has a couple of caveats you should consider before you decide on renting a car to make your way from San Jose to Monteverde. 

Driving Might Not Be the Fastest Way of Getting to Monteverde

Driving is not always the fastest way of getting to Monteverde. As mentioned above, on average, it takes between 3 and 4 hours to drive from San Jose to Monteverde. However, these averages are more realistic and applicable to those used to driving in Costa Rica. They do not necessarily apply to foreigners. 

The Google Maps average time from San Jose to Monteverde bases its calculation on real-time traffic speed. However, most tourists drive at a significantly slower pace than locals. You will experience this if you decide to rent a car for your trip to Costa Rica. More likely than not, you will drive more slowly than Costa Ricans, and that’s because you will probably want to enjoy the incredible scenery, while the average local will be rushing to get home from work. 

As a general rule, I recommend adding 30 to 60 minutes to the estimated driving time the GPS device/app gives you. I also recommend you use Waze, the most popular GPS traffic system used in Costa Rica. I drive approximately 50,000 kilometers per year (about 31,000 miles), and in my experience, Waze tends to be more accurate than Google Maps. The only drawback is that you need internet data to use Waze, so you will want to buy a chip with internet data if you want to use it.

Beware! GPS Devices Can Be Tricky When Driving to Monteverde

Using a GPS device is great to drive from San Jose to Monteverde, but it can also be tricky. Set aside some time to ask a local or study the routes before using a GPS whenever possible. Some travelers fail to do this and only follow whatever the GPS sends them to go. 

As a general rule, if you are not a local or you do not know the roads, relying 100% on a GPS device is not a good practice in Costa Rica. Many secondary farm roads can be tricky and complicated to drive if you do not know them. 

For example, if you use Waze to get from San Jose to Monteverde, Waze will take you through a shortcut about 5 kilometers (3 miles) before reaching Santa Elena on route 606. The shortcut is excellent if you have a 4×4 vehicle, but it can be a terrible idea if you don’t have one. The road is super steep, and you have to cross a small river, which you can’t do with a low vehicle. 

So, avoid making this type of mistake by taking some time to research your routes online before setting on your endeavor. 

Driving is Not the Easiest Way to Get from San Jose to Monteverde

Driving from San Jose to Monteverde is simple, but it’s not always easy. There are crazy local drivers, unpredictable and harsh weather conditions, and narrow roads in bad shape. 

As mentioned above, you will notice Costa Ricans drive significantly faster than foreigners. In addition to this, since we know the roads, as locals, we can make risky moves that might scare someone who has never driven in our country before. 

For example, on highway 1, one of the main routes to get from San Jose to Monteverde, you might see someone going at full speed, passing multiple vehicles at once on a relatively narrow road. If you live in Costa Rica and have been through that route thousands of times, you will not see anything particularly wrong with this. But if you come from a developed country where the roads are much broader, and there are usually multiple lines on all the highways, you might see such a move as imprudent. 

On the other hand, you have the unpredictable weather conditions of Costa Rica. You might be driving with a clear sky when suddenly a cloud forms ahead, and it’s pouring rain all over the place. Driving under changing weather conditions might not be such a big problem during the summertime from December through April, but it can get extremely challenging during the rainy season. 

In Costa Rica, the rainy season is not so bad from May through August and in November. However, it can get scary sometimes during September and October, especially if you stumble upon a storm while driving. These are the top 2 rainy months and the top months for accidents on the road. 

The rain also causes a lot of damage to the roads, which worsens during the rainy season. Lots of potholes come to life during this time of the year, and then it takes a couple of months for the government to repair the cracks. 

The main problem with potholes for a tourist is that they can make a vehicle’s tire explode. Exploding tires do not usually cause a significant number of accidents in Costa Rica. However, they can easily create a trip very stressful for a tourist, who will need to phone in the car rental to get another vehicle and then file the insurance paperwork. It’s not dramatic, but it can ruin a few hours of your dream vacation time. 

Over the last few years, the problem with the road condition, specifically the main road that leads to Monteverde, route 606, has gotten much better after the government paved the road back in 2019. However, even though that road is much better, it still has potholes threatening your driving experience, which begs the following question;

Do You Need a 4×4 to Get from San Jose to Monteverde?

In general, you do not need a 4×4 to get from San Jose to Monteverde because the government paved the main road in 2020. However, the government only paved the main road, not the secondary roads, so depending on where you are going during your visit to Monteverde, you may still prefer a 4×4 vehicle.

For example, if you plan to drive to visit a Monteverde Zipline Tour, you must go through unpaved roads. You will also need to navigate through unpaved roads if you plan to see the Monteverde Hanging Bridges. However, most adventure parks will offer complimentary roundtrip transportation, so you don’t want to use their vehicle.

Our Verdict on Whether You Should Drive From San Jose to Monteverde

Driving in a new country with narrow roads, crazy drivers, and severe weather conditions might not be the best way to travel. So unless you have some experience driving in Costa Rica, I recommend that you refrain from renting a car and try one of the other ways mentioned in this article to get from San Jose to Monteverde.

So, if you plan to drive from San Jose to Monteverde, I recommend that you consider bringing a 4×4 vehicle, and I would also suggest you take a few minutes to read my article “Is the Road to Monteverde Paved?” 

What’s The Easiest Way to Get from San Jose to Monteverde?

a group of people posing for the camera

Hiring a Private Transportation Service, or a “Private Shuttle,” as locals call it, is the easiest way to get from San Jose to Monteverde. With a private shuttle, you can arrange a specific time and place, and a transportation company will pick you up there and take you to your lodge in Monteverde. 

Compared to all the other ways to get from San Jose to Monteverde, hiring a private transportation service, also known as a private transfer, is the easiest way. You don’t need to worry about carrying your luggage around or catching a bus in the middle of the public road, compromising your safety and belongings. 

You also don’t need to worry about driving in a foreign country with roads that might differ significantly from the streets you’re used to riding back home. Instead, you arrange the time and place, and a local professional driver will pick you up with a modern vehicle to take you from your departure place in San Jose to your destination in Monteverde. 

The only disadvantage of hiring this type of transportation service is the price. Going on a private transfer is the most expensive way to get from San Jose to Monteverde. It’s the most comfortable, convenient, and easiest option, but it’s also pricey. 

Depending on the pickup place, getting from San Jose to Monteverde on a private transfer will cost between $160 and $200 for 1 to 4 passengers. The pickup time can also influence your pricing. For example, if you arrive at the SJO Airport late at night (usually after 10 pm), the prices might get $20+ higher for this service. 

Prices for private transfers are also subject to increase as demand rises, especially during the busiest days, so I would recommend that you book ahead of time. 

There is one scenario where hiring a private transfer will not be the most expensive option to get from San Jose to Monteverde. That’s when your party is 3 or 4 passengers. For example, if you have three adults in your party, you are close to the SJO Airport, and you book ahead, most of the time, the price will likely be $160 for the three of you. That comes to approximately $53.50 per person, which is less than riding a group shuttle, which I will explain in the next section. Getting a group shuttle from San Jose to Monteverde will cost $57 per adult, so the total for three adults would be $171. 

The same would apply if you had a party of 4 adults, in which case, taking the group shuttle would cost $228 while taking a private transfer would be $160 to $200. 

So, in this scenario, it’s not only more comfortable and convenient to hire a private transfer, but it’s also more economically efficient. 

Using a Group Shuttle to Get from San Jose to Monteverde

a van parked on the side of a road

A group shuttle is a daily door-to-door shared transportation service from San Jose to Monteverde. A modern Van with A / C will pick you up at your lodge in San Jose and take you to your destination in Monteverde. 

As a general rule, taking a group shuttle, or a “shared shuttle,” as the locals call it, is the most recommended door-to-door way to get from San Jose to Monteverde for most travelers. Group shuttles are convenient, and they provide the best balance, saving time and money for travelers in most cases.

On a group shuttle, you share the shuttle service with fellow travelers, and you also share the cost, which is usually the best option for solo travelers and couples. Using this option to get to Monteverde will be far more convenient than riding the public bus and significantly less expensive than hiring a private transfer. 

Using a group shuttle is also be a lot easier and less stressful than renting a car and driving yourself. The price can change depending on the seasonality and demand, but it’s usually around $57 per person per way. 

With my travel agency, Monteverde Tours Online, I’ve used the group shuttle services thousands of times over the last decade, bringing customers from San Jose to Monteverde, from San Jose to Arenal, and from San Jose to La Fortuna. If you are heading to any of these routes, you can use the following links to book this service: 

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About the Author

Daniel Lalinde holding a mountain bikeDaniel Lalinde

I am the founder of Monteverde Tours Online. I live in Monteverde, and I love nature, adventure, and Mountain Biking. My partner and I love spending time in the outdoors and dining out in Monteverde. We have more than 30 years of combined experience in the area, and there is no park, no coffee shop, and no restaurant we haven’t tried at least once!

We love helping visitors, connecting them with the different tours and activities to have a memorable experience in Monteverde.

If you need help planning things to do in the area, send us a message, and we will happily assist you! 

 

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