Here it was. The trip we had been planning for over six months. Our respective families had digital and hard copies of our itinerary (we had spent the holidays split between two families – the perils of two mothers wanting to see their sons on Christmas Day!), and we had spent weeks collecting piles of toiletries and clothes we thought we might want or need whilst away and packed them all into our rucksacks. A last minute repack of Christmas stocking sun tan lotions and insect repellent and we were good to go! Boxing Day saw us take the direct flight from London Gatwick to San José, the capital of Costa Rica.
San José airport was fairly easy to navigate; the queue at immigration and customs was minimal, and our luggage was fairly quick to arrive. This was all very welcome after 11 and a half hours on a plane! We were hounded by taxi drivers as soon as we walked through arrivals, but they were pretty quick to leave us alone once we made it clear we were going local.
We found the bus stop on the main highway outside the airport, and waited for a San José bus (the majority that arrived were heading to Alejuela). We told the bus conductor at the stop we were heading there and he shouted to us when the right bus was there, and paid C$550 (around 70p/$1) each. It was full and we stood the whole way, but it was only about half an hour, and a lot cheaper than the $20 taxi drivers wanted!
We stayed at Hotel Novo, which we had worked out was right next to the bus drop off so that we didn’t have to walk much. The room was fairly basic and had no windows, but the city was dark, dirty and noisy, and so we weren’t missing out on much. We probably missed out on some potentially interesting sights to see in San José, but wanting to kick off our busy itinerary straight away we decided that a quick one night turnaround in the capital city was best.
We made sure that we visited the bus terminal that evening before our journey the next day (T7-10), conveniently located near to our hotel as well. We paid C$2495 (£3.20/$4.50) each for our 8:40am bus to La Fortuna (Arenal). The buses leave from the ground floor to the right of the station, but you have to buy your ticket from the ticket office on the second floor (we were able to buy our ticket the night before).
We arrived the next morning at about 7:50am and Matt asked where the queue was for the bus and the bus guard pointed to an empty lane, and then announced it to the crowded bus station. Scores of people then joined the queue behind us, and when it was time, Matt took the two rucksacks to the hold, and I took our day bags onto the bus to secure front seats. The bus took just over four hours, which was only a little over the scheduled time. The best thing about public buses, apart from the obvious cost benefits, is that they run non-stop, unlike the tourists shuttles or minibuses where stopping at services is common.