Road access to the northwest is by way of the paved two-lane Pan-American Highway, which starts from the west end of Paseo Colón in San José and runs northwest to Peñas Blancas at the Nicaraguan border. Turn north at Naranjo for La Fortuna; at Lagarto for Monteverde; and at Cañas for Tilarán. This region manages to mix some of the country's smoothest highways with some of its most horrendous roads. The various roads to Monteverde are legendary in the latter regard—but the final destination makes it worth the trip. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are best on the frequently potholed roads. If you don't want to pay for 4WD, at least rent a car with high clearance (many rental agencies insist you take a 4WD vehicle if you mention Monteverde as part of your itinerary). You'll encounter frequent one-lane bridges; if the triangular "CEDA EL PASO" sign faces you, yield to oncoming traffic. Driving in this region can be slow going if you get behind a large truck transporting sugarcane. As the north is prime sugar country, that’s quite likely.
It is possible to rent a car in La Fortuna, but for a far better selection, most visitors pick up their rental vehicles in San José or Liberia. GPS units, programmed with Costa Rica’s maps, cost about $15 per day and are available at most car-rental agencies. These voice-activated devices are a great way to keep from getting lost, especially since street names don't exist in much of Costa Rica. Vamos Rent-A-Car includes a free cell phone, roof rack, child car seat, cooler, map, and usually a GPS.