Our Thinking the Day Before:
Depends upon our sense of which is better...getting to Cahuita the same day (must go via San Jose) or spend an extra day in Costa Rica and go by the back way, and new territory via La Fortuna...gravel roads and slow travel, plus a 5 am colectivo the next day to Cahuita.
The bus trip from Santa Elena to La Fortuna was fantastic...see pics. Actually two buses, 7:15 lv to Tilaran...here we spend 3 hours waiting in Me Choza (My Hut) Restaurant. Very nice folks, the daughter spoke great English which she learned caring for her sister's child plus TV. The sister being an English teacher and spoke only English to her newborn. Bus to La Fortuna lv at 12:30, arr 2:45...a hustler who seemed/was helpful lead us to Hotel Cabinas Monte Sion
...basic $8 US w/ hot water and private bath, and only 2 blocks from bus.
We walk the town and decide to go onward, but discover that the colectivo is $45 US to go direct to Cahuita in 5 hrs! We opt to take bus to San Jose 6 hrs and then 6 more hrs to Puerto Viejo. We found tourists mostly upper end ones do the jeep-boat-jeep option from Monteverde to La Fortuna - 5 hrs for $20 US each. We had opted for the public buses 7 1/2 hrs for less than $7 US...most of it was a wait in Tilaran spending time talking w/ daughter. Granted it's not a great connection w/ locals other than drivers and sometimes a bit on the bus, but still it gives us more contact with locals and we save money to boot. Often traveling out of the tourist track makes the journey more interesting just for what we see, and the challenge also gives more appreciation for what locals contend with.
The roads mostly Forest Service-type in both gravel-bumpy surface and following the lay of the land, one and half lanes. Going thru high plateau mtns, cow/cattle ranches cut from rain/cloud forests. The bus driver clearly knows everyone and waves to them almost like a 'blessing' of sorts. Great views and scenery (Arenal Volcano not the least!) all along the way make the trip totally worthwhile.Arenal Volcano Info