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Top 4 Best Ways How To Get From Manuel Antonio to Arenal Volcano

How To Get From Manuel Antonio to Arenal

Hundreds of thousands of tourists travel from Manuel Antonio to Arenal every year. If you’re planning on going this route, and you’re not sure whether you should rent a car and drive, take a flight, take a shuttle, hire a private car service, or use the public transportation system, this article is for you.

I’ve helped hundreds of tourists find the best option from Manuel Antonio to Arenal. And in this article, I will discuss the four main ways to get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal, from public buses to private car services.

Let’s dive in and find out which option is best for you.

The Best Ways To Get From Manuel Antonio To Arenal

  1. Public Transportation
  2. Group Shuttles
  3. Private Car Service
  4. Driving (Car Rental)

Let’s dive right in:

There are four ways to get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal. You can use public transportation, go on a group shuttle, hire a private transportation service, or drive a rental car. Generally, the first two options are more affordable, and the latter is more convenient.

Public transportation is the cheapest option from Manuel Antonio to Arenal. However, hiring a private car service is the fastest and easiest option. And going on a group shuttle generally gives you the best balance of time and cost. 

Keep scrolling to find out how each option ranks against each other based on its pros and cons so that you can make the best of your trip from Manuel Antonio to Arenal. 

Let’s explore each option’s pros and cons to help determine the best way for you to get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal, starting by comparing prices.

Cheapest Ways to Get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal

Transportation Service Price Per Person (USD)
Public Transportation $30 – $45
Driving (Car Rental) $30 – $60
Group Shuttle $60 – $70
Private Transfer $160 – $170


  • 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 market conditions and demand.

Note: The above prices are estimations to give you an idea.

Keep reading more detailed information on each service and how they work.

Public Bus From Manuel Antonio to Arenal

The cheapest way to get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal is to use the public transportation system. However, the trip is not straightforward because no direct bus connects these destinations. You must take four buses from Manuel Antonio to La Fortuna, and then take a taxi from La Fortuna to Arenal. And the entire trip will take twelve hours of travel time

Due to the long and complex trip, I generally don’t recommend it for tourists unless they’re traveling on a tight budget. If that’s your case, let’s look at the step-by-step process for getting from Manuel Antonio to Arenal by bus. Along with the instructions, I will share the links to Google Maps landmarks, which will be essential to make this trip. 

1. First, you must walk or take a taxi from your lodge in Manuel Antonio to the Manuel Antonio Bus Terminal. Then you must take the bus from Manuel Antonio to Quepos. Even though there are eight bus schedules from Manuel Antonio to Quepos, the one you need leaves Manuel Antonio at 6 AM, and you can’t purchase the tickets ahead of time, so I recommend you get to the terminal by 5:30 AM. 

Depending on the location of your lodge in Manuel Antonio, you may need to check out by 5 PM or earlier, so make sure you check with your host if checking out that early is acceptable. There are some lodging options very close to the Manuel Antonio bus terminal. For example, San Jose Bus Terminal at around 12 MD. 

4. Once in San Jose, you must take a taxi to reach the you must purchase the tickets for the San Jose to La Fortuna bus leaving at 2:45 PM. This bus from San Jose to La Fortuna will cost $6 per person (cash only), and it takes about 3 hours and a half, so you will arrive at the La Fortuna Bus Terminal at around 6 PM. 

6. Once you arrive at the La Fortuna Bus Terminal, you must take a taxi to Arenal. Depending on how far in Arenal your lodge is, this taxi should take between 15 and 30 minutes and cost between $10 and $20.

There you have it. That’s how you get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal by bus. Even though the trip is relatively inexpensive ($32 – $47 total), the journey is long, taking up the entire day.

Besides, switching buses four times can be tiring. And none of the above four bus routes has air conditioning, making the trip hot and uncomfortable. Additionally, you can’t purchase the tickets ahead of time and may not get a seat, so you would need to travel standing on some of the routes.

From experience, having helped hundreds of tourists over the last decade, I can tell that only a teeny tiny percentage of travelers going from Manuel Antonio to Arenal use public buses. Most travelers use the alternatives explained below, as they’ve determined that the cost savings achieved by using public buses are not worth the long trip and the lack of comfort.

Let’s explore the other ways to get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal.

Drive From Manuel Antonio to Arenal

Now that we know how long it takes to get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal using public transportation let’s talk about how to make this trip much faster. 

Driving is the fastest way to get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal, which will take between 5 and 6 hours. A more precise estimate will depend on the traffic conditions and your experience driving around the country. On average, tourists take 6 hours to drive from Manuel Antonio to Arenal.

Compared to all the other ways to get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal, driving is the fastest way, as shown in the following comparison table. 

Fastest Ways to Get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal

Transportation Service How Long it Takes
Driving* 5 – 6 Hours
Private Transfer* 5 – 6 Hours
Group Shuttle 6 – 7 Hours
Public Bus 12 – 13 Hours

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

Aspects to Consider When Driving from Manuel Antonio to Arenal

Let’s discuss a few drawbacks of driving in Costa Rica, which you should consider before renting a car from Manuel Antonio to Arenal. 

Driving Time Can Be Much Longer Than GPS Apps Estimate From Manuel Antonio to Arenal

Generally, driving from Manuel Antonio to Arenal takes 5-6 hours. However, these averages are more realistic and applicable to local Costa Ricans used to driving in our country, and it’s not the case for foreigners. 

If you search on Google Maps for the route from Manuel Antonio to Arenal, Google estimates the driving time is about five hours. However, from my experience working with hundreds of tourists, I rarely see anyone get across that distance in that timeframe. 

The distance between Manuel Antonio and Arenal is 224 kilometers (139 miles), which is relatively significant but not excessive. However, the roads in Costa Rica are pretty narrow, and traffic can get out of control at any given moment should an accident block the streets. Consequently, Google estimations can be disproportional, and your driving time can escalate quickly. 

For example, one day I drove from San Jose to Monteverde the other day, and Google estimated my driving time would be 3 hours and 50 minutes. And then, there was a landslide on Highway 1 (one of the main roads you will need to use when driving from Manuel Antonio to Arenal), which turned my travel time upside down. What was supposed to be a four-hour drive ended up a ten-hour endeavor, and I got home at 1 am.

Even though this was an extreme case, this type of thing happens in Costa Rica regularly. Our country’s topography, with huge mountain ranges, volcanoes, and vast nature, makes the roads vulnerable to these events. ThereforeI recommend adding 60 to 120 minutes to the estimated driving time the GPS device/app gives you.

Driving is Not the Easiest Way to Get From Manuel Antonio to Arenal

Driving from Manuel Antonio to Arenal seems like a simple thing to do. After all, you might be an avid driver, and a four-to-five-hour ride might not be a big deal. However, driving in Costa Rica can be very different from how you’re used to driving at home. 

In Costa Rica, crazy local drivers, unpredictable and harsh weather conditions, and narrow roads make driving here a challenge and an overwhelming task for some

For example, on highway 1, one of the main routes from Manuel Antonio to Arenal, it’s common to see local drivers going full speed, passing multiple vehicles on a relatively narrow road. Witnessing a car pass like that on these roads can make some drivers feel uncomfortable and anxious. 

We, Costa Ricans, have witnessed this scenario many times before, and it still feels a bit uncomfortable for me. Getting past at full speed in such narrow streets means the car passing by comes very close to you, and it’s not cool. And it’s one of the main complaints I’ve heard from foreigners visiting Costa Rica for the first time. 

On the other hand, the weather conditions in Costa Rica are pretty unpredictable. Costa Rica has more than 300 microclimates (a local set of atmospheric conditions that differ from those in the surrounding a. And that means you can experience a handful of different atmospheric conditions over a four-hour drive. 

You might leave Manuel Antonio with a clear sky when suddenly a cloud forms thirty minutes later, pouring rain all over the place. Driving under changing weather conditions is not a big deal from December through April (Costa Rican summertime) as there are few rain showers, and they’re not too hard.

However, rain is more prominent from May through November (Costa Rican rainy season). During this time of the year, it rains more often and much harder, especially during September and October, when heavy thunderstorms are a daily norm. Generally speaking, driving during those months is significantly challenging, even for locals, especially during the afternoons when the rain is more likely to come. 

And lastly, a final aspect that makes driving in Costa Rica challenging for foreigners is the poor condition of the roads. There are many potholes, so you must be extra careful, and 100% focused when driving in our country. You will want to dodge those bad boys as they can be so sharp that they can flat your vehicle’s tire.

Flat tires do not usually cause many accidents in Costa Rica, but they can still be a hassle. Since most roads are narrow, you will need to find a safe parking stop so you can change the tire. Changing tires is not super fun, and it can be incredibly discouraging if it begins to rain in the middle of the process, as it’s happened to me a few times. 

Costa Rica Rental Car Comparison Tool

After considering the above drawbacks, if you decide that renting a car is still a good option, it may be time to find a reasonable Rental Car. And I recommend using the . You can find the best car rental deals in one place. All you need to do is choose the city or airport where you plan to pick up a car, and the Costa Rica Rental Car Comparison Tool will instantly display the best deals across the major rental car companies in Costa Rica. Give it a try. 

Private Car Service From Manuel Antonio to Arenal

We have already explored how complicated it is to get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal using public transportation. We also covered how driving can be problematic, so what’s the easiest way to make this trip? 

Booking a private car service is arguably the easiest way to get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal.

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

Here at Arenal Tours, we offer a private door-to-door service, so you can relax and enjoy the ride while we take care of the heavy lifting and drive for you. 

That way, you don’t need to worry about carrying your personal belongings around using public transportation. Neither will you 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 pickup time and place. Then, one of our local professional drivers will pick you up with a modern vehicle to take you from your departure place in Manuel Antonio to your destination in Arenal.

The only disadvantage of hiring this type of transportation service is the price. Going on a private transfer is the most comfortable, convenient, and straightforward option but also pricey. 

Depending on the pickup and dropoff places, a private transfer from Manuel Antonio to Arenal will usually cost $317 for 1 to 6 passengers. And your pickup time can also influence your pricing. For example, if you want to depart Manuel Antonio before 7 am or after 5 pm, there is a $20 additional fee for this service. Additionally, private transfer prices will increase as demand rises, especially during the busiest days, so I recommend booking ahead of time. 

Book a Private Car Service from Manuel Antonio to Arenal here

Group Shuttles From Manuel Antonio to Arenal

Getting a group shuttle from Manuel Antonio to Arenal is an excellent choice for solo travelers and couples. A group shuttle is a daily shared transportation service from Manuel Antonio to Arenal. A modern Van with air conditioning and WiFi will pick you up at your lodge in Manuel Antonio and take you to Arenal.

Generally, taking a group shuttle, or a “shared shuttle,” as the locals call it, is the most recommended door-to-door way to get from Manuel Antonio to Arenal for most travelers. Group shuttles are convenient and provide the best balance, saving time and money for travelers in most cases.

Here at Arenal Tours, we offer group shuttles, where you share the shuttle service with fellow travelers and the cost, making it an excellent option for solo travelers and couples. Using our group shuttle to get to Arenal will be far more convenient than riding the public bus and significantly less expensive than hiring a private transfer. 

Using our group shuttle is also more manageable and less stressful than renting a car and driving. The price can change depending on the seasonality and demand, but it’s usually around $67 per person per way. 

Can You Fly From Manuel Antonio to Arenal?

You can’t fly directly from Arenal to Manuel Antonio. Instead, the closest option is to take a taxi to La Fortuna and take a flight from La Fortuna to SJO Int. Airport, followed by a 1-4 hours layover, another flight from SJO to Quepos, and then a taxi to Manuel Antonio.

Even though going with the above route is relatively impractical, I decided to include this topic because many travelers have asked me about it. In an ideal world, there would be a short, direct flight from Arenal to Manuel Antonio, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.

However, you can arrange a flight through a private helicopter, which would cost between $1,000 and $2,000 and would take less than an hour to get to Manuel Antonio.

If you’re interested in this service, send us a message, and either myself or someone on my team will connect you with a private helicopter transfer. 

Here’s the end of this article. Thank you for reading this far, and feel free to share this info with fellow travelers as you deem appropriate. Happy travels and ¡Pura Vida, amigos!

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About the Author

Daniel Lalinde

I am the founder of send us a message, and we will happily assist you! 


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