Getting to Monteverde from Southern Costa Rica

Costa Rica     Destinations, Getting To and Fro
Here's the place where you can wait across from the Best Western in Quepos. Nice shady benches, or have a walk on the path up above that goes along the beach.
Here's the place where you can wait across from the Best Western in Quepos. Nice shady benches, or have a walk on the path up above that goes along the beach.
Not an easy task to string together, I managed to get from Zancudo (via Paso Canoas) to Monteverde in one day!
Itinerary / Cost
$2
5:45am bus to Comte
$5
shared taxi to Paso Conas
$15
8:30 bus to Quepos
$30
shuttle to Monteverde
$5
tip
 
6pm arrival

Wow, I spent a lot of time over 2 days trying to figure out how to get from Playa Zancudo to Monteverde in anything less than 2 full days and/or $100. I was getting so frustrated and was feeling really hopeless that I was going to have to spend so much money on this. Surely the locals don’t spend this kind of money to get around, do they!?

I was talking to one of my taxi drivers saying how I was having to spend so much money at every turn and he just laughed and said “Welcome to Costa Rica.” Sigh.

But I’m not one to give up on a challenge. I WILL figure this out! Even David (Tico in Zancudo) tried to help me be creative with the few buses available. Here are a few options I looked at in case you are looking at the same. Then I’ll tell you exactly how I ended up going. This gets a bit lengthy because there are so many things to consider.

Also, the reason I wanted to get there quickly is because somehow when I reserved my lodging, I didn’t leave time in between for travel so I didn’t want to double pay by taking multiple days to get there.

The General Plan of Attack

The basic gist of it all is that whether it be Rio Claro or Paso Canoas, you need to get back out to the mainland (so to speak) (step 1) to get a Tracopa bus (the bright pink or green coaches that run all over Costa Rica) heading North (step 2) (I’ll go over the options of where to head North in a second). From there you either get a shuttle or public bus to Santa Elena/Monteverde out of either Puntarenas or San Jose (step 3).

Further narrowing down Step 1 (Getting to the Mainland):
See Leaving Playa Zancudo for more details on the options. Basically, between taking the boat over to Golfito or going over land to Paso Canoas, in this case I chose Paso Canoas because:
A) It picks you up in front of your house.
B) It's cheaper.
C) The 8:30 bus from Paso Canoas works for getting up to Quepos on time.
D) I was leaving on a Thursday and the boat to Golfito was not running.

Further narrowing down Step 2 (Heading North):
I looked at so many bus options/times out of Golfito, Rio Claro, and Paso Canoas to both San Jose and to Quepos (where I’d have to get another bus to Puntarenas). I swear the timing of everything was off everywhere by about an hour. Every option I looked at, I’d arrive about an hour too late to catch the last bus to Monteverde. Taking the bus to San Jose, I’d have to spend the night there. Taking the bus(es) to Puntarenas, I’d have to spend the night there.

After asking some locals (namely a woman who lives in Puntarenas), the best route to get to Monteverde is via Puntarenas (on the coast) rather than going inland to San Jose. You need to get the bus going to San Jose and ask them to let you off at La Vaquita Restaurant near Orotina. From there you get the bus into Puntarenas, then the bus (possibly the next day) up to Monteverde. Visit CentroCoasting for more information and times on the bus to Monteverde (read user comments for the most updated information).

Further narrowing down Step 3 (Getting to Monteverde):
Of course the public bus is the cheapest, but depending on the timing of the buses, the shuttle looks a little better. Most of the private shuttles to Monteverde cost around $50+ (!) making it cost prohibitive. However, there is one local company to Monteverde called Roca Verde Transporte that (only IF they have a dropoff) will take you for $30. This turned out to be my savior.

The Best Route Combinations

OPTIONS 1a & 1b
This can be done in one day from Paso Canoas so you might want to spend the previous night there. From Zancudo, you’ll have to weigh out the cost of bus/collectivo/hotel the day before vs. private taxi the morning of.

Go to Paso Canoas the day before
TOTAL COST: $23 + cost of hotel (2 days)
1. Go via 1 pm bus from La Langostino - you’ll need to get a ride there from someone, or via 5:30 am bus from Zancudo (approx. ₡2,000)
2. 4 am Tracopa bus from Paso Canoas to San Jose (get off at La Vaquita) ($15)
3. Bus from Orotina to Puntarenas (₡745)
4. Bus from Puntarenas to Monteverde (₡1,590)


Go to Bella Luz the morning of
TOTAL COST: $49 (1 day)
1. Get private taxi to Bella Luz ($30 vs. $50 all the way to Paso Canoas)
2. 3 am Tracopa bus from Bella Luz to San Jose (get off at La Vaquita) (same as 4 am out of Paso Canoas) ($15)
3. Bus from Orotina to Puntarenas (₡745)
4. Bus from Puntarenas to Monteverde (₡1,590)


OPTION 2
This requires and overnight in Puntarenas. Weigh this out with option 3 and the cost of your hotel vs. convenience. There are a few hostels at around $13/night but are a bit far from the bus terminal. There is one nearby for $25.
TOTAL COST: $48 (2 days)
1. 5:30 am public bus then collectivo taxi to Paso Canoas (₡2,100)
2. 8:30 am Tracopa to San Jose (get off at La Vaquita Restaurant) ($15)
3. Bus from Orotina (La Vaquita) to Puntarenas (₡745)
4. Spend the night in Puntarenas ($25)
5. Bus from Puntarenas to Monteverde (₡1,590)
Be ready with your map of Puntarenas. Know where the bus terminals and hotels are.
Be ready with your map of Puntarenas. Know where the bus terminals and hotels are.
OPTION 3
This can be one in one day, and is the route I took, so I have detailed it out below.
TOTAL COST: $49 (1 day)
1. 5:30 am public bus then collectivo taxi to Paso Canoas (₡2,100)
2. 8:30 am Tracopa to Quepos ($15)
3. Rocas Verde Transporte shuttle to Monteverde (IF the shuttle is running on your particular day) ($30)


If you decide on going to Golfito rather than Paso Canoas (maybe you just really like boats), there are a few Tracopa buses that leave from Rio Claro that will work including the ones coming through from Paso Canoas. Total cost is about $3 more plus the cost of getting to the dock.
*** Buses sell out **** Mainly the popular routes. I was told that it’s best to buy a ticket for the 3am bus out of Bella Luz the day before and from my experience the same is true for the 8:30 am out of Paso Canoas. The 8:30 was full but the 9 was almost empty. Yes, this causes a problem all the way around. I just went for it and ended up on a more expensive and less convenient bus.

You could always invest in a field trip to Paso Canoas a few days in advance to buy the ticket (round trip it would cost you around ₡4,200 / $7+) or try to find someone in town who is going and have them buy the ticket for you. Or just take it slow and plan on experiencing either Golfito, Rio Claro, or Paso Canoas for a day or two.

Step 1: Getting to Paso Canoas

My Cost:
₡3,600
Depart: 5:45 am
Arrive: 7:30 am
Could Have Cost:
₡2,100
Depart: 5:45 am
Arrive: 8 am


See Leaving Zancudo by Way of Land for details and options for getting to Paso Canoas.

Stand out on Zancudo road at around 5:45 and wait for the public bus to pass by. The first bus that comes by is the school bus so don't panic if it doesn't stop for you. The real public bus will take you to Laurel (₡1,600 ish). From there you get a shared taxi for ₡1,000 to Paso Canoas (the Panamanian border town).
Early morning bus picking up roadside in Zancudo. You can see from the sign that it stops in Comte, Laurel, then Ciudad Neily.
Early morning bus picking up roadside in Zancudo. You can see from the sign that it stops in Comte, Laurel, then Ciudad Neily.
If you feel you are running late to Paos Canoas on the slow Zancudo bus, you can get off the bus one town early in Comte and take a shared taxi into Paso Canoas from there for ₡2,500. I did this because I was nervous about the time but it turns out I would have been fine going on to Laurel.

My arrival time in Paso Canoas: 7:30 am

Step 2: Tracopa Bus to San Jose / Quepos

My Cost:
$21.50
Depart: 9 am
Arrive: 12:30 pm
Could Have Cost:
$15
Depart: 8:30 am
Arrive: 12:30 pm


The taxi drops you off on the corner at the border for Panama. Off to the left and across the street is the ticket office for the Tracopa bus line. The buses actually leave from just a bit further down that road (same side of the street) where the immigration offices are.
This is about where the taxi drops you off in Paso Canoas. Panama is to the right (seen here) and the bus ticket window is to the left.
This is about where the taxi drops you off in Paso Canoas. Panama is to the right (seen here) and the bus ticket window is to the left.
Here's where to buy your bus ticket in Paso Canoas. There's an ATM right next door that will give you either US dollars or colones.
Here's where to buy your bus ticket in Paso Canoas. There's an ATM right next door that will give you either US dollars or colones.
When I went, the 8:30 bus was sold out and I had to take the 9 am bus which was a bummer because the 8:30 am is $3 cheaper and actually pulls into the bus terminal in Quepos rather than dropping you off at the side of the highway where you then have to take a taxi into town (more cost). For the direct bus, make sure to tell both your driver and the guy who puts your luggage under the bus where you'll be getting off. Otherwise 1) the driver wont' stop at Quepos and 2) your luggage will be buried in all the San Jose luggage.

Whatever bus you end up getting, make sure it's the Costanera (coastal route) and not the Cerro de la Muerte (mountain route)!

So I bought a ticket for the 9am Direct bus. I walked up to the departure point and hung out. I watched as the 100 daily immigrants come across the border from Panama (not sure where they originate from), get stamped into Costa Rica, then are all put on a bus and shuffled up to the Nicaraguan border where they go through the same process there until they eventually end up on the US border in Mexico.
Departure location for Tracopa from Paso Canoas
Departure location for Tracopa from Paso Canoas
The Tracopa coaches are nice and comfy with air conditioning.
The Tracopa coaches are nice and comfy with air conditioning.
At around 11:30 am, the bus makes a 20 minute stop just before Uvita for lunch. The restaurant has clean (free) bathrooms and reasonably priced cafeteria style food. But being the budget traveler I am, I packed my own lunch. ;)

On the map it looks like there's a dropoff point (after you pass the first entrance to Quepos and loop around to the other side) that is only about a mile walk down to the main part of town. But my coach dropped me off at the first entrance which was too far to walk down a long and winding road (insert Beatles tune here). Try for a collectivo or pay ₡2,000 for a private taxi for the quick drive into town.

My arrival time in Quepos: 12:30 pm

Step 3: Shuttle to Monteverde

My Cost:
$30
Depart: 2 pm
Arrive: 6 pm
 
₡3,000
tip


I was told that the shuttle would pick me up at the Best Western Kamuk Hotel which is only a block from the Quepos bus terminal. The shuttle is not affiliated with the hotel at all, it’s just a landmark as to where to wait.

Quepos is a very touristy town but it seems to have some charm. The Best Western is right across the street from some shady benches with tile designs and also the malecón if you want to have a stroll along the ocean while you wait. There is an ice cream shop, grocery store, coffee shop, and some local eateries right around there.
Map showing how close the bus terminal is to where the shuttle picks you up.
Map showing how close the bus terminal is to where the shuttle picks you up.
The malecón in Quepos
The malecón in Quepos
Here's an inexpensive place to get some food in Quepos. It's about 2 doors down from the bus terminal.
Here's an inexpensive place to get some food in Quepos. It's about 2 doors down from the bus terminal.
My driver found me waiting on one of the benches where I had just finished the peanut butter & jelly sandwich and 2 Chiky cookies I had packed.

Well aside from the fact that my driver was so friendly and pointed out the various beaches and views as we passed, he also stopped for me to take photos at the Jaco view point, let me out to view the crocodiles on the Rio Tarcoles, and stopped for me to take photos of the sunset on the way up the hill. So that’s something else to consider when deciding to take the shuttle or bus; you get a bit of a tour with the shuttle AND they take you to the door of your lodging vs. having to walk from the bus station (which for me would have been pretty far)! All of that earned him a ₡3,000 tip (more cost ;) ).
I suggest you pay in US$ as requested or you get a bad exchange rate if paying in colones (615 ₡/$ vs. the current official rate of 576).
So there you have it. Break it up if you wish or give it a shot and see if you can make it in a day. I did and I was so happy.
The shuttle on the way up the mountain.
The shuttle on the way up the mountain.
A nice stop for the Jaco view on the way to Monteverde.
A nice stop for the Jaco view on the way to Monteverde.
Crocodiles at Rio Tarcoles!
Crocodiles at Rio Tarcoles!

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