We are going in July - don't know if time of the year makes a difference with the daylight.
Daylight doesn't change that much in summer at these latitudes like it does farther north. The sunsets don't linger as long and it'll still get dark quickly around 6 p.m. In a perfect world assuming your flight's on-time, you clear customs smoothly, get your car at the airport, and hit the Pan Am Hwy. west directly from the airport, you might be on your way by 2:30, which would just barely get you there before dark. Of your three route options, generally the fastest is to cut off the P.A. at San Ramon and head north on 142 to La Fortuna...it's not a huge distance milage-wise, but still about 3.5 hrs.! There is some, but not alot, of signage (i.e. through San Ramon) so keep your eyes peeled, but generally it's a pretty straight forward drive from there on. (Watch your speed...lots of radar traps!!)
That said, any airport delays, maybe having to pick up your vehicle away from the airport, traffic (big, slow trucks, pedestrians on road, cyclists, etc.), WEATHER (you should be prepared for rain and possibly fog), necessary stops, wrong turns, slow-downs on the the one-way bridges, and then trying to navigate to your hotel when you finally do arrive will likely all conspire against you. I think there's a very good chance you could be doing the last 1/2-1 hr. in the dark. Definitely not recommended if you can help it, but many still do it...just drive very carefully and watch out for potholes.
P.S. Where's your hotel anyway? The Tabacon area is only 15-20 mins. past La Fortuna on good road...more urban, not as tough in the dark as the more isolated rural driving.
Thanks for the great info. We are staying at Arenal Volcano Inn. Where can I get directions? Do you have any car rental companies you recommend?
Here's a map link that will give you a rough idea of the 3 basic routes: http://www.arenal.net/map-to-arenal.htm
I know everyone else besides me says the "blue route" through San Ramon is the fastest, but I have had very bad luck with it. You'll be going late in the day in the middle of the rainy season so rain and especially dense fog is much more than a remote possibility particularly on that route which skirts the Cordillera Tilaran and passes through cloud forest terrain. I'd figure on closer to at least a 4 hour drive or more IF the weather looks at all questionable and would serious consider try for better conditions on one of the longer routes. YMMV.
Your hotel should be able to provide directions for how to get there but if you're heading to Fortuna getting to the Arenal Volcano Inn is just a matter of trying through town and looking on your right after a few kms.
This topic has already been covered MANY times in this forum as any search will show. For more general information on the drive from the airport to Fortuna, trying reading these links:
Thanks for all this great info.
Now I am really nervous about making it to Arenal before dark without getting lost. Sounds like my last hour will definately be in the dark.
1. Is the last hour a difficult stretch or pretty well set?
2. Out of the 3 routes, are there any hotels the last hour or two incase we want to pull over? If so, on which route?
3. Knowing that we really want to get to Arenal that day and are pretty adventourous with a decent sense of direction, we have never been there before, and we are traveling with our 3 kids and I don't want to start out the trip bad or put anyone in harms way. Having said that, do you think we should still set out for Arenal this late in the day?
Thank you very much for your input.
In my last post, I left out a link that probably addresses your latest questions best:
In that thread, most people were counseling the poster not to drive all the way after a late arrival at SJO. But that poster wasn't getting in until 3PM or 1.5hours even later than you. Your case is a little more borderline, but some of the same issues apply plus I also included several hotel options along the way.
Let me add a little more to address your latest questions:
1) The last hour along the San Ramon "blue" route is just past La Tigra and the road opens out a little straighter after that point. You go through a couple more small villages but there are no turns that you could miss. The bigger question in my mind is how long it might take you to get to Tigra.
The other 2 routes merge for most of the last hour. the middle or "green" route passes through Ciudad Quesada (known locally as San Carlos). Its a decent sized town and, to be honest, that is one of just a handful of places in CR that I've tripped up in my directions. On the map it looks easy enough but because of some one way streets you have to make a few turns and its possible to get a little confused. Beyond that there are a few other turns, one at Florencia (pretty straightforward during the daytime), another at Muelle (where the "green" route merges with the easternmost "red" route) and another couple near Tanque (which might be a little more tricky after dark). BTW, If you miss the Florencia turn you'll still get to Fortuna you'll just have to get there by a different route. These routes go largely straight past open fields.
Any of those routes would be "pretty well set" during the day. The real factor that would make them difficult after dark really applies to any road in CR after dark. Its next to impossible to spot any potholes in advance in the dark unless you're driving really slow and potholes are a fact of life in CR. You may go for several miles without encountering any and then suddenly you hit a minefield of them. And that situation becomes even worse during the rainy season because the road crews haven't had the chance to patch any of the new ones.
2) See that other thread for some hotel suggestions. I think you might find more options on the last part of the slightly longer routes than on that stretch between Tigra and Fortuna.
There may be a nondesript smaller place along the way from San Ramon with a few rooms, but I haven't noticed anything major. Of course, there has been a lot of development in the Fortuna area and that might have changed but most of that has been between the lake and Fortuna and not in that direction. The one exception to this is the Hotel Villablanca, but that place is quite some distance off the main road between San Ramon and Tigra and actually closer to San Ramon. So if you were thinking of staying there you'd have to make your decision at least a couple of hours or more short of Fortuna.
The other two routes offer more options closer to the Fortuna end of the trip. In Muelle there is the Tilajari Resort (www.tilajari.com) and a few kms before that in Plantanar there is the Hotel La Garza (www.hotellagarza.com) and the La Quinta Lodge (not to be confused with the lodge of the same name in Sarapiqui)
3) Like I said before that other case was a little different. Your case is a closer call that I think only you can decide. It sounds like you could probably handle driving for an hour or so on relatively easy roads if you had to if the conditions are not too bad, but you might not be able to make that call until you get there.
What if it takes you longer than an hour to get your bags, clear Customs and Immigration, pick up your rental and get on the road. BTW, if you pick up your rental car from theairport counters, you'll have to pay a large 12% airport surcharge. Even if you take a shuttle to a nearby rental lot, you shouldn't rush through the process to get on the road. You need to look over the car carefully and make them take note of any dings and dents unless you want to risk getting charged for them later. Plus there is the normal slow tico bureacracy. So its entirely possible you might not get out on the road until well after 2:30.
Then you have to look at the weather at the time. There are certainly some afternoons in the summer where it doesn't rain or doesn't rain too heavily. Of course you won't know what the real conditions are along the mountain route until you drive out there, but the weather at the airport might give you a clue. I've driven that road under whiteknuckle conditions where I had to constantly strain to make out the road just a few yards ahead of me and that was during the day. Others have reported clear sailing though I'm not sure when they made their drives. YMMV.
I'm adventurous too and have a good sense of direction. If I get a little off course I just consider that to be part of the fun. That part wouldn't bother me either. But then trying to figure out where you took a wrong turn and where you're going to find a bed for the night becomes even more adventure when you have to do it in the dark and possibly fog or rain and that might not be as much fun. But thats me. Its your call
If your planes arrives at 1:30pm...by 2:30 you will be on the road...3 hours drive to Arenal...you will be getting to Arenal by 5:30Pm almost dark ...but almost there!!
Do not worry...too much...sundays most of the big tractor trailers are not going to be on the road...at nice safe speed you will make it...even with some fog aroound Los Angeles...and san Lorenzo cloud forest..
Just buckleup and enjoy the ride in paradise..
Note: take the way of San Ramon...is easier...
we're landing at SJO at about 5pm and have arranged a pick-up and drive with tricolor to playa grande, to arrive that evening.
If Tricolor is picking you up...do not worry ..be happy!!
Just buckle up and enjoy the ride in paradise!!