The Puntarenas Ferry in Costa Rica

paquera ferry

Did you know that there is a ferry that can be taken from Puntarenas, Costa Rica to either Paquera or Naranjo on the Nicoya Peninsula?

This is a great way of getting from the San Jose area, Central Pacific, or South Pacific to the towns of Santa Teresa, Montezuma, Mal Pais, and Tambor.

By taking this Costa Rica ferry you can save yourself a whole lot of travel time on your vacation.

And, let’s be real, we all want to get to our vacation destinations as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Where Does the Ferry in Costa Rica Go?

ferry view

The ferry port is located at the very tip of the city of Puntarenas. Puntarenas is located about a 1.5 hour drive from the San Jose International Airport. If you are coming from the Central or South Pacific, it will also take about 1.5 hours to drive here.

From the ferry terminal, it is possible to take a ferry either to Naranjo or Paquera (and back). This ferry trip takes about 70 to 80 minutes.

Most people take the ferry to Paquera because that is the best option if you are then going to Santa Teresa, Montezuma, Paquera, Mal Pais, or Tambor.

If you are traveling to Playa Coyote or Playa Bejuco you are better off taking the ferry to Naranjo.

Click here for a map so you can see what we mean.

The Ferry Process

ferry puntarenas

Buying Tickets Online

It is now possible to buy tickets online if going between Paquera and Puntarenas. Yeay!! You can do so on the QuickPayCR website.

Just note that they do ask that you arrive 30 minutes before departure time. They ask this because they will hold your spot for you. If you do not show up they may give your spot away to someone that did not book online ahead of time.

The site is in Spanish, but we took some screenshots of the booking process to help you figure it out.

paquera ferry
paquera ferry
paquerra ferry

Keep in mind….

– When you purchase tickets online it will ask for your license plate number. If you are renting a car and don’t know your license plate number yet just type in “rental car”.

– They only offer a certain amount of online tickets. Don’t worry that the ferry is sold out if it says there are no more online tickets available. There will likely still be plenty of spots available in person, but definitely arrive early.

– This service of prebooking is only available for the route between Puntarenas and Paquera. Between Puntarenas and Naranjo it is not possible to prebook.

Crossing by car

If you prebook your tickets online then you just need to pull up when you arrive and an attendant will let you through.

If you do not prebook your ticket you will join a line of other cars when you arrive. The attendant working will tell you if you can go buy tickets at the ticket booth or if you need to wait.

FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

If they are unsure if all vehicles will fit on the ferry they will have you wait in line until they have a better idea if you will be able to make it on.

When it comes time to buy tickets it is best to have one of your passengers go buy the tickets at the nearby stand. That way the driver can stay in the car and stay in line if the cars move up.

When it comes to actually boarding the ferry, all passengers will need to get out of the car and board on foot. The driver will then park the car on the ferry and can then join everyone else up on deck.

The attendants are definitely lenient on this if you are driving alone with small children or an elderly person, they will let you park with them still in the car and you can all head to the deck together.

Crossing by foot

If you have transportation to the ferry and transportation on the other side, it is possible to just walk on the ferry (with a ticket of course).

You can book your tickets online ahead of time with the QuickPayCR website, but if you are traveling by foot it usually is not necessary. I have only seen the ferry actually filled to the max with people on big travel days such as Easter week.

However, if you already know exactly which ferry you plan on taking, it doesn’t hurt to book ahead of time. At least you then have your ticket and don’t need to stress.

If you do not book your ticket ahead of time you just need to go to the ticket booth before you get onto the ferry and purchase a passenger ticket.

Crossing by private transfer

If taking a private transfer service (shuttle), your ferry ticket will likely be included in your booking. However, it is always a good idea to double-check when you book.

When you arrive at the ferry terminal you will disembark the shuttle and walk on to the ferry.

Note: If you need a private transfer service to the Nicoya area we highly recommend Adobe Transfers. You can find out more and book your transfer here.

Crossing by bus

If you are taking a bus from San Jose to the Nicoya Peninsula the bus will likely go on the ferry.

If you are traveling by public bus you will likely have to purchase your ferry ticket on your own. This can be done when you disembark the boat at the ferry ticket office or online ahead of time.

Disembarking

An announcement will be made on the ferry stating that it is time to disembark.

If you have traveled by bus you will need to walk off of the ferry. Your bus will drive off of the ferry and pick you up on the side of the road.

If you have traveled by car the driver will go to the vehicle to drive it out. Usually, the passengers of the vehicle can also head to the car at that time, but I have also experienced it where they have made the passengers walk off the boat and meet their car/ driver on the side of the road after exiting the ferry.

If you have walked onto the ferry, you can walk off and continue your journey.

What can you expect on the ferry?

ferry seats

The ferry has plenty of room for you to sit either inside or outside. The outside area is mostly covered, but if the sun is coming in at an angle it can sometimes shine directly on you.

The last time we took the Puntarenas ferry the AC was cranked up so high inside. It was much more comfortable to sit outside.

There are plenty of bathrooms on board and a snack bar where you can buy things like chips, candy bars, sodas, beer popcorn etc.

The benches are not the most comfortable, but they are manageable for a little over an hour.

Important Info About the Ferry

ferry

Timetable

The ferry leaves from Puntarenas to Naranjo every day at 6:30am, 10:00am, 2:00pm, 5:30pm.

From Puntarenas to Paquera: 7:00 am, 10:00 am, 12:30 am, 3:00 pm, 6:00 pm, 8:00 pm

From Naranjo to Puntarenas: 8:00pm, 12:00pm, 4:00pm, 7:00pm

From Paquera to Puntarenas: 6:00 am, 10:00 am, 12:30 am, 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm, 8:00 pm

Note, this schedule does change sometimes, so check here for any updates.

Cost

A car with a driver costs $25 for a one-way ticket.

Single passengers cost about $1.50 per person.

Directions

When trying to get to the Puntarenas ferry port you need to enter “Naviera Tambor Ferry” if using Waze or Google maps. Do not enter “Puntarenas ferry” because this point gives you directions to the Nicoya Peninsula side.

To get here you will need to drive through downtown Puntarenas. There are a lot of traffic lights and things can get a bit backed up here.

For directions to the Paquera ferry (if going from Montezuma or Santa Teresa back to Puntarenas) you can enter “Ferry Paquera” in both Waze or Google Maps.

FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

For directions to the Naranjo ferry port you can enter “Boleteria Ferry Playa Naranjo” in Waze and “Ferry Playa Naranjo” in Google Maps.

I know, it is super confusing!

Also, keep in mind that Waze wants you to take the ferry. If you do opt to drive around you will need to check the route and make sure it is not taking you across on the ferry.

What to Bring

I always bring a few snacks, sunscreen if I want to sit outside, and some motion sickness pills just in case. On windy days it does get a bit choppy.

How Long Does it Take

The ferry ride is only 70 to 80 minutes long. So, it’s not bad. But I will warn you, it feels like it is the slowest moving boat ever.

Should You Take the Puntarenas Ferry?

Puntarenas ferry

We have done things both ways. We have taken the ferry and we have also driven around to the Nicoya Peninsula. Taking the ferry is definitely easier.

However, we actually usually drive because we tend to spontaneously go to the Nicoya Peninsula and often aren’t able to prebook tickets.

It ends up being faster to drive around rather than driving through Puntarenas to get to the ferry super early to ensure we get a ticket.

But, if you are better at planning ahead and can prebook your tickets, it’s 100% worth it to take the ferry.

Pros of Taking the Ferry

– Way less driving

– It’s typically a bit faster than driving around

– It is super affordable for passengers or walking on

– If heading from Paquera to Puntarenas the ferry terminal is not too far off the driving route. In other words, if you miss the ferry and decide to drive it’s not so much of a hassle to get back on track.

Cons of Taking the Ferry

– You need to get there about 30 minutes before the ferry leaves

– It’s not exactly cheap to take a car on the ferry

– The drive through the town of Puntarenas takes about thirty minutes. If you are cutting it close and miss the ferry you then either have to sit there for several hours until the next ferry or drive another thirty minutes through Puntarenas to get back to the highway to drive around.

What You Can Expect if You Drive to Nicoya

drive to santa teresa

We don’t think the drive is THAT bad, but it is definitely long and interesting. From Puntarenas (where you would turn off to go to the ferry) the drive to Santa Teresa or Montezuma will take about 4.5 hours.

After passing Puntarenas the road turns into a two-lane highway that has a lot of big trucks on it. In other words, it is not unusual to get stuck behind a big truck that is nearly impossible to pass.

Eventually, you will turn off on a smaller main road called Paso de Tampisque.

If you need to stop for a quick meal or bathroom, there is a small plaza on the right-hand side of the road with a Subway, Papa Johns, and Taco Bell located just before you make a left-hand turn on to Paso de Tampisque.

Other than that, there are not many quick food options along the way.

However, there are several gas stations if you need a bathroom break. Most of the gas station bathrooms are actually fairly decent.

From the turn on Paso de Tampisque, it is usually smooth sailing until you take a left to head onto the Nicoya Penisula.

Just not that police tend to hang out in the first few miles of your turn onto Paso de Tampisque controlling speeding.

We suggest downloading the free app Waze for directions in Costa Rica. It is the best and often other drivers are really great about inputting where the police are hanging out. 

Once you get on to the Nicoya Peninsula you will drive through lots of little towns. All of the roads have been redone in the past few years and are actually really nice to cruise along.

Keep in mind that there are speedbumps and they are not always well marked. We’ve definitely flown over a few of them!

Our Tips for the Ferry

ferry view costa rica

Arrive Early

When it is full, it’s full. You’ll have to wait for the next one if you haven’t booked online ahead of time.

There are Tolls

If coming from San Jose keep in mind that there are tolls on the highway as you head to Puntarenas. They do accept dollars or colones. If you only have dollars I suggest paying with a $10 bill. The person working will give you change in colones. This change will be enough for the rest of your trip.

Keep Valuables with You

You will probably leave your suitcases in the car during the ride, but keep things like passports and money on you. I’ve never heard of anyone having their car vandalized while on the ferry, but it is always best to be a bit cautious.

Don’t Plan on Hanging in Puntarenas

Puntarenas is not a place you probably want to spend much time in. I call it “the armpit of Costa Rica,”….sorry Puntarenas!

If you need to spend the night in Puntarenas, there are plenty of hotels at various price points you can stay at.

The Ferry Fills Up On Certain Days

Christmas, Easter, and during Costa Rican school vacations the ferry is almost always full. During the dry season (peak tourism time) it can be difficult to get a spot. This also can happen on Friday afternoons when heading from Puntarenas to Paquera and on Sundays when heading from Paquera to Puntarenas.

Keep in mind that this usually only applies to vehicles. I have rarely seen that people can not walk on the ferry.

We Love the Nicoya Peninsula!

Montezuma and Santa Teresa are two of our favorite places in all of Costa Rica. We definitely suggest checking out these areas if you can. By taking the ferry it becomes very easy to get to both places.

Don’t Forget Your Mask

Face maks are currently required while on the ferry. You can stay up with all the latest COVID restrictions in Costa Rica here.

If you have any questions about the Puntarenas ferry in Costa Rica please leave them in the comment section below and we’ll be happy to help you out!

Book Your Trip: Our Go-to Travel Companies

Flights: Skyscanner is always our go-to choice for finding flights. They seem to always have the best prices on the internet. 

Transportation: We suggest a local company called Adobe Rent a Car for your rental car needs. Book through us for a 10% discount plus other great perks. For private shuttles, we always use Adobe’s transfer company for dependable service and great prices. For taxis from the Liberia airport and Guanacaste area, contact our favorite family of local registered taxi drivers for a $10 discount.

Hotels: We always use Booking.com because they almost always have the lowest rate and offer great cancellation policies. 

For home rentals, we are now using VRBO instead of Airbnb. They have much better customer service. 

Activities: It is always nice to book activities directly through local activity companies. However, lately, we have been booking most day trips through Viator due to their good cancellation policies. 

Travel Insurance: Trawick International is the best insurance we have found that will cover you for COVID related travel changes, illness, lost luggage, and more. 

About Us

We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica. It was a spontaneous decision to move here, but it was the best decision!

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14 Responses

  1. Hi there,

    We are planning to take the ferry driving from SJO to Montezuma. We are concerned about making the 3PM ferry but want to chance it. If we buy tickets for 3PM and don’t get there on time will they bump us to the next ferry or do we need to buy tickets again? Also, we are planning to purchase global entry in hopes of getting through immigration quicker. Any experience with this? We really are hoping to maximize our time in Montezuma and don’t want to spend the night in SJO… but we get in at 12:47PM… so making the 3PM is probably pushing it.

    Let me know your thoughts.
    Thanks,
    Ally

    1. Hi Ally,
      I hate to say it but I dont think you will make it for the 3pm ferry. The line at customs has been a lot crazier lately because they need to check vaccine info as well. The last time we flew in it took us about 45 minutes to get through the Customs line. And then you will need to pick up your rental car which will take a bit of time.
      I would say at the earliest you will hit the road at 1:45, which won’t be enough time.
      Global entry only works for entering the US, so it won’t help in this situation.
      I actually dont know what happens if you book the ferry and miss it, let me check for you and I’ll get back to you.
      I would say to aim for the 5:30pm ferry. Yes, you will be driving from where the ferry lands to Montezuma in the dark, but it shouldn’t be too bad. We’ve done it more times than I can count, and it’s always been alright.
      The one nice thing is that you will have a bunch of cars in front of you from the ferry which definitely makes it easier to follow the road.
      Also, you’re going to our favorite place! We love Montezuma so much.
      Let me look into the ferry booking question for you and feel free to email me if you have other questions [email protected]
      -Sarah

  2. The thing that bothers me about the QuickPayCR site is that the email receipt does not show the date or time of your reservation. I made two; one to get to the peninsula and one to get back, and the receipts look identical. There are different receipt numbers etc., but nothing showing the date and time. What’s up with that?

  3. Thank you, Sarah, for your helpful information. That is quite reassuring. I feel more comfortable now. Costa Rica seems like a lovely place. I am sure after our first trip we will return in the future winters. Thanks again for all your help.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  4. Hello! We are planning to go to Montazuma and Pacific coast using ferry crossing from Puntarenas to Paquera. Through our hotel we booked a private shuttle involving two vehicles/drivers for our trip. The first vehicle will pick us up at SJO, and take us to Puntarenas, where we will spend the night after a long travel day. The second vehicle is supposed to wait for us at Paquera Ferry Landing the next day.

    We are told to pay the entire amount to the first driver who drop us at Puntarenas. We are unfamiliar with how private shuttle operates in Costa Rica. Is it a common practice to pay in full to the first driver and pay nothing to the second? We don’t want to ask questions perceived as offensive but we are concerned if the second driver does not show we have no way to recover our portion of paid amount.

    Any observation or suggestions are very much appreciated. You have a nice site. The information is very help. Enjoyed it a lot. Thank you!

    1. Hi Helen,
      Do you know what the shuttle company name is? I can let you know how trustworthy they are. 🙂 Also, You will love Montezuma! Its my favorite place! Definitely spend a morning walking the beach. You can work for hours there.

      1. Thank you, Sarah, for your reply. I actually don’t know the name of the shuttle company. I asked the hotel person, and he did not answer that particular question. He only told me the two drivers came from the same company. I will ask the question but before doing so I want to get a sense about the common practice concerning private shuttle in Costa Rica. I don’t want to offend anyone since the hotel seems to just try to be helpful to us.

        It’s nice to know you love Montezuma. We will spend several days there. We love long walk. Definitely we will walk the beach, go to Cabo Blanco, etc. Really look forward to that. If you have any favorite spots in Montezuma, let us know. Thank you again.

      2. Hi Helen,

        Yes, if the two drivers are from the same company you should be completely fine. Most hotels work with very reputable companies, so it should not be a problem. They want you to have the best experience as well so that you are happy with their hotel, so I would guess that it will be OK.

  5. Hello,
    Thanks for all your information. It is very helpful. My question for you is…
    If our flight lands in SJO at 12:41pm, which ferry time should we plan to take if going from Puntarenas to Paquera. I see there is a 5:00pm time but worry that may be cutting it short. I dont want to be scrambling going thru customs and renting the car and finding our way down. Please note that Ill be arriving Dec 26 2019 so I worry about holiday traffic as well.
    Thanks,
    Robert

    1. Hi Robert,

      Traffic actually shouldnt be too bad heading from the airport. If anything, all the locals will be heading from the beaches back to the city so most traffic will be in the other direction. As long as you get on the road from the airport by 2:30 you should have no problem making the 5pm ferry. You should be fine. The one hold up will likely be the rental car. It is hard to say how many people will be working/ in front of you in line. It can take a bit of time.

      1. Thank you for your response. We ended up going thru ‘Montezuma Expeditions’ to bus us to Montezuma. Online there was no rental availability so it appeared to be our only hope. But now that we are here and checked into a hotel near the airport, I see there are alot of rental places that you do not see online. It was $100 US dollars for my wife and I and they pick us up at the hotel, drop us off at the ferry, and another shuttle picks us up and takes us into Montezuma. Talking to them when we called, they were professional and helpful, so let hope all goes well.
        Happy Holidays
        Robert

  6. Hello! I’m planning my first trip to Costa Rica! I will be heading there this January. I’m flying into San Jose and plan on staying in Monteverde for a few days and then making my way to Santa Teresa. I’m renting a car (my entire trip will be close to 2 weeks). I just want to confirm that the ferry runs 7 days a week? Thank you so much! Your website has been super helpful. Still overwhelmed with how much I should try to do on my first trip. I want to see everything but also want to relax at some point!

    1. Hi Alison! Yes, the ferry runs 7 days a week. Haha it is overwhelming to plan. There are just so many options! Let us know if you have more questions as you figure out your plans. 🙂

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