The Puntarenas Ferry in Costa Rica

paquera ferry
about us

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

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica.

Want the whole crazy story?

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.

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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.

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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.

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!

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