Transportation in Costa Rica

Take your pick for Costa Rica transportation; plane, train, or automobile? Just kidding, you probably won’t be taking the train in Costa Rica.

Although, there actually is a train, but it is only located in San Jose.

Instead, you will likely use a rental car, public bus, or private shuttles to get around.

Costa Rica Airports

Are you looking to book your flight to Costa Rica? Did you know that there are actually two international airports? 

The most popular airport is located in San Jose. From here it is easy to get almost anywhere in the country because it is so centrally located. This airport is called Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO).

The other international airport is located in the northwest corner of the country near the city of Liberia. This airport is called Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR).

This is a great place to fly into if you want a short drive to the beautiful Guanacaste beaches and aren’t as focused on seeing the Caribbean Coast or Southern Pacific

You can find out all about both airports in our guide to picking Liberia or San Jose airport.

And to make your travel day a little smoother we suggest you read our guide to Costa Rica entry requirements as well as our guide to landing at the San Jose airport

san jose airport

Travel Tip – Make sure you book your flight to airport code SJO if flying in to San Jose. The full name is Juan Santamaria International Airport.

There is also a San Jose International Airport in California and, yes, we have heard about people flying to the wrong location.  😉 

Flights to Costa Rica

For affordable flights, we usually have the best luck with the Skyscanner website.

You can find out all about our flight-finding tactics in our Costa Rica flight guide.

We are frequently looking for flights to and from the US and Europe so we have accidentally become really good at finding good deals. 

Find Your Flight

Renting a car

We believe that renting a car is the absolute best way to get around in Costa Rica. It will give you so much flexibility for seeing a lot of things. 

rental car costa rica

We suggest renting a car if you want the flexibility of really exploring the country in depth. If you are planning on doing a resort/ relax type of vacation, it is not necessary to rent a car.

You should also only rent a car if you feel comfortable with the thought of driving in a foreign country. If you are not sure if driving in Costa Rica is the best for you, you can read more about tips for driving here.

For directions, we suggest the free app Waze. It is the best for giving up-to-date traffic info. However, you can read all about directions in Costa Rica with our maps guide

It can be difficult to determine what is the best car to rent for the places you are visiting. Sometimes you will need 4 wheels drive and for other places, it is not necessary. To determine what car is best you can check out our destination guides for the places you are visiting. 

Rent Your Car

We have partnered with our favorite rental car company in Costa Rica called Adobe to bring you a car rental discount. 

The price you receive by booking through us is 10% cheaper than the rate on Adobe’s website. You will also get other perks such as:

– A free second driver

– Free roof racks to use for surfboards

– Free delivery of your car within 12 miles of any of their offices

– Discounted smartphone usage

 and sooo much more! 

You can find out more on our car rental page

Note: We strongly suggest renting your car through Adobe because they are so trustworthy. However, if you are considering another company please just first read our guide to Costa Rica rental car scams. We just want you to be aware of what to look out for. 

Taking a Private Shuttle

WHEN YOU SHOULD TAKE A PRIVATE SHUTTLE

We suggest taking a private shuttle if you do not feel comfortable driving, are going to one destination (for example a resort), don’t mind spending a bit more money, and want a little comfort. Also, if you are traveling with a large group you can rent a private shuttle just for your group.

For those of you who want a rental car but don’t want to drive from the airport to your destination, you can always take a private shuttle to your destination and then rent a car.

PRIVATE SHUTTLE COMPANIES

We suggest Adobe Transfer for all your private shuttle needs.

This company is run by the same great team that operates Adobe Rent a Car. They will take great care of you.

BOOK YOUR PRIVATE SHUTTLE HERE

Using a Taxi

If you need to get around in the town you are staying in or need a ride that is an hour or less from the airport, a taxi is generally the cheapest and most convenient option. 

You need to make sure you are taking a legally registered taxi. Legal taxis are red with a yellow triangle on the driver’s and passenger’s side door. 

This is super important because fake taxi drivers have been known to scam tourists.

If you are flying into the Liberia airport and need to get to your hotel in this area we suggest reserving your taxi with our favorite registered taxi drivers.

This family of four adult brothers and their father all operate as legally registered taxi drivers in Costa Rica. They will take such great care of you. 

They have given us a $10 taxi discount to pass on to you.

Reserve Your Liberia Area Taxi

taxi
public bus

Taking a Public Bus

Costa Rica has a decent bus system throughout the country. Taking the public bus is incredibly cheap, but it is not always the most comfortable.

On some busses, you will get an assigned seat number, but from our experience, we’ve only had that when taking the bus from San Jose to the Panama border.

On most public busses, seats are on a first come first serve basis. If you are one of the last people to get on the bus you may be left standing for the whole ride. This could be 5 or more hours depending on where you are going.

Another thing to consider is that most of the buses are not the most comfortable. The seats are hard, sometimes the windows won’t open etc.

WHEN YOU SHOULD TAKE THE BUS

 

We recommend taking the bus if you are going to only one destination and don’t plan on doing much traveling within that location.

We also recommend taking the bus from San Jose if you plan on going to Panama. The public bus we took to Panama was really modern and comfortable.

If you plan to go to Jaco and just want to spend time on the beach there, you should consider taking the bus from San Jose. The trip only takes about two hours, costs about $5 one-way and runs frequently throughout the day.

If you plan on traveling anywhere else (let’s just say La Fortuna) you would then have to take the bus all the way back to San Jose and then up to La Fortuna because there isn’t a bus between La Fortuna and Jaco. What would be a four-hour drive would turn into a full day trip.

So, in other words, we don’t suggest taking the bus if you are planning to visit multiple locations that are not located near each other because there usually are no good connections.

OUR TIPS FOR THE BUS

-We have heard of people getting things stolen on the bus. We suggest keeping all your valuables with you in a backpack instead of below the bus with the luggage. Do not put your bag in the rack above your seat. That is how people steal things. They will wait until you are asleep, grab your bag off the rack, and get off the bus.

-Bring clothes for all temperatures while taking the bus. We have had bus rides be brutally hot, but we have also taken bus rides in which the AC was cranked to the max.

– If you plan to travel extensively by bus check out our guide to backpacking Costa Rica. It has some great itinerary ideas that can easily be done all by public bus. 

-Check out this complete schedule of Costa Rica busses.

Domestic Flights

Domestic air travel within Costa Rica is great for when you are visiting the country for a limited time and want to get to your destination quickly.

For example, Corcovado National Park is an amazing place to visit but it will take you five hours to drive there from the nearest international airport (San Jose). To fly there will take about one hour.

We have also considered flying to Bocas del Toro, Panama. It is a super fun place, but such a pain to get to. Flying there saves you the hassle of taking the bus, dealing with the border crossing, taking a scary taxi ride, and then taking a boat. In other words, flying will save you a full day of travel.

The main domestic airline in Costa Rica is Sansa.

I’ve done some comparisons and it seems that booking directly through their website will give you the best rate. 

costa rica domestic flights

The Ferry in Costa Rica

There are certain destinations in Costa Rica in which your best, or only option, to get there is by ferry or boat.

We suggest taking the Puntarenas ferry if you are going over to the Nicoya Peninsula. In fact, we have a complete guide to taking the ferry here.

The other time you will need to take a boat is if you are going to Tortuguero. There are no cars on Tortuguero so you will have to park your car on the mainland and take a fun and fast speedboat ride out to Tortuguero. To me, it always feels like you are taking a ride in Jurassic Park (minus the dinosaurs of course).

The Nicaragua & Panama Borders

Are you going to Nicaragua or Panama over the border after your travels in Costa Rica? Border crossings are always an experience….

Nicaragua border: If you are traveling from San Jose the best way to get to Nicaragua is with Tica Bus. If you are traveling from another part of the country it is best to take a public bus to the border. You can read all about how to do the border crossing here.

Panama border: If you will be traveling to the Panama border on the Caribbean coast from San Jose the best way to do it is by taking the MEPE bus from San Jose to the border town of Sixaola. There are also busses from all Caribbean coast towns to the border. You can find out all about the border crossing here.

transportation costa rica

Transportation Tips

-It is always possible to combine multiple transportation methods. In other words, you could take a private shuttle to your destination if you don’t feel comfortable doing the long drive and then rent a car for day trips while there.

– Gas stations in Costa Rica are full service. That means that when you pull up at a gas station an attendant will come fill your gas for you. 

Still Looking for transportation info?

Check out our Destination Guides for the area of the country you are visiting. Each Destination Guide includes a section on how to get there with specific road condition info as well as detailed information on how to get around in the destination. 

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