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Are you looking for the best way to get from San Jose, Costa Rica to Jaco?
San Jose is the capital city in Costa Rica and home to the main international Airport. Jaco is the closest Pacific Coast beach town from San Jose. There are multiple transportation options between these two locations including; rental car, private shuttle, public bus, and shared shuttle.
We live in San Jose and often travel to Jaco for beach getaways. We created this guide based on all of our experiences traveling between the two towns.
In this guide you will learn about all the transportation options, what to expect with each one, our suggestions, and even made a helpful map for you with the driving route, restaurants, and things to see along the highway.
Let’s get to it!
San Jose and the International Airport
The area around the airport is often very congested with traffic.
Downtown San Jose is located slightly to the east of the airport. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour to get between the airport and the downtown area of the city.
Most of the main public bus terminals are located downtown.
After a long flight, we suggest spending the night near the airport and heading out in the morning.
However, if you are really eager to get to the beach, Jaco is your best option.
Where is Jaco?
Jaco is a Costa Rica beach town located in the Central Pacific region of the country. It is almost directly west of San Jose. Typically, it takes about 1.5 to 2.5 hours to drive here depending on the traffic conditions.
This is the closest major beachside destination from the San Jose Airport.
From the San Jose Airport, it is approximately 54 miles to Jaco Beach.
In our opinion, Jaco is definitely not the nicest of beach towns in Costa Rica. However, it is not a bad spot to spend a night or two as a jumping-off point for other adventures. The town is known for its active nightlife scene and long flat stretch of beach known as Playa Jaco.
Alternatively, you can stay at Playa Herradura, just north of Jaco. This beach town is home to the large Los Suenos Resort owned by Marriott.
Or, you can stay just south of Jaco in the small village of Playa Hermosa. This is one of the biggest surfing locations in the country.
Another popular town near Jaco is Manuel Antonio. This is about an hour south of Jaco and is home to the most popular national park in the country.
If you arrive at the San Jose Airport and want to head straight to the coast, but don’t want a long drive, Jaco is your best first-night option.
Let’s go through your different ways of getting here.
Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility in your travel plans. You can start your drive whenever you want and can stop at all the interesting places along the way.
Recommendations on Best Car Rental Agencies
We always suggest renting your car with Adobe-rent-a-Car. They are our favorite local rental company in the country.
Because we like them so much we asked if they would be willing to partner with us.
We now have an excellent 10% exclusive discount to pass on to you plus a bunch of other great perks.
- 10% discount for Costa Rica Vibes readers
- Free second driver
- 0% deductible on Liability Protection Insurance
- Excellent customer service
- New fleet of well-maintained vehicles
Picking Up Your Rental Car from the Airport
When your flight lands at the SJO airport you will go through border control. pick up your luggage, and then head outside into the nice Costa Rica heat.
Once outside you will be confronted with a lot of people asking if you need a taxi or holding signs for various shuttle and tour companies. Look for someone holding a sign saying “Adobe”.
This employee will then take you on the comfortable Adobe shuttle to their office located across the street from the airport. The airport is not that big so most rental companies are not located directly on-site.
At the Adobe office, you will get the keys to your vehicle and be on your way!
We have a complete guide to renting a car from the San Jose Airport for more info.
Pro Tip: If you opt to spend the night near the Juan Santamaría International Airport you can always have Adobe deliver your car to you in the morning. They are happy to deliver your rental car to your hotel for free within 12 miles of their office.
So, in this case, I would suggest staying at a hotel with a free airport shuttle, spending the evening relaxing, having your car delivered in the morning, and then making your way towards Jaco.
Picking Up Your Rental Car from Downtown San Jose
If you are staying in downtown San Jose, Adobe has an office in this area where you can pick up your rental car. Just make sure you select “downtown San Jose” as your pick-up location when you make your car rental reservation.
Alternatively, Adobe will deliver your rental car to you for free within 12 miles of any of their offices throughout the country.
Driving in downtown San Jose is pure madness, so we suggest picking up your car and heading straight out of the city.
Which Car to Rent
If you are just going between San José and Jaco, you can rent any car. The highway is paved and mostly flat.
However, if you plan to explore once you are in Jaco it is helpful to have an SUV.
A lot of places such as waterfalls and hiking areas are located in the hills above the town. Most of these places have unpaved roads or roads that are steep and not well maintained.
You typically do not need a 4×4 in this area.
The Driving Route
The driving route is pretty straightforward, but let me give you some detailed information to make it as clear as possible.
When you look at the driving route on Google Maps or Waze you will see two driving options. You can either take Route 27 out of San Jose or you can take Route 3.
We suggest taking Route 27. It is a more main highway and better maintained.
Route 3 is much more of a back road with lots of curves. It is easy to get stuck behind trucks on this route and have no chance of passing.
If you would like more scenery through a lot of small towns, Route 3 is a good option for that.
From the San Jose Airport, you will:
- Start by heading west on Route 1 (the big highway directly outside of the airport) for about 6 miles. From the Adobe Car Rental office, you will already be on the correct side of the road. Just turn right out of the parking lot and you will be on your way!
- Exit at the roundabout. There are signs for Route 27. You will continue on this road for about 3 miles.
- Exit onto Route 27. Stay on Route 27 for approximately 23 miles until you see the exit for Jaco and Route 34. Note: Route 27 is a toll road
- Stay on Route 34 until you get to Jaco. This is approximately 22 miles. You will enter downtown Jaco on your right.
The total travel time should be about 1.5 to 2.5 hours. However, as I mentioned through this post, you just never really know!
Traffic here is completely unpredictable.
We have gotten to Jaco in about an hour from San Jose and we have also experienced it taking up to 4 hours to get here.
Things to Know When Driving
If it is your first time in Costa Rica, we understand that driving can be a bit overwhelming at first. Here is everything you need to know before getting behind the wheel on your way to Jaco.
Route 27 is a toll highway. There are about 3 toll stops along the way. The toll booths accept US dollars or Costa Rican colones. If you only have US dollars I suggest paying at the first toll with a $10 bill. They will give you change in colones.
The change will be enough to pay the rest of the tolls along the route in colones.
There have been talks of them starting to accept credit cards, but that hasn’t fully happened yet.
Pro Tip: Costa Rican colons is the local currency. It is always helpful to have some cash. The money exchange counter at the airport will not give you a good rate.
Instead, we suggest asking your bank at home to order colones for you before your trip. They often won’t charge you anything for this.
Alternatively, you can always stop at an ATM in Costa Rica to get cash out. Your bank might charge a small withdrawal fee though, so it is best to check with them before.
Check out our guide to Costa Rica currency for all the tips.
One of the scariest parts about driving on Route 27 is the merging of lanes. Most of the highway is one lane in either direction. However, there are certain parts of the highway that turn into multiple lanes. This is great for passing slower cars and trucks.
The downside is, the signs for remerging are often very last minute.
We have seen so many tourists almost get in bad accidents because they don’t realize until the last minute that their lane is suddenly going to end.
So, keep an eye out for signs and try to follow what the drivers in front of you are doing.
This is one of the most widely driven routes in the country, so the traffic can get very bad depending on the time of the day and time of year.
For example, during rush hour the area around San José is very congested. On the weekends, Jaco is a popular beach to go to for people living in San Jose so this route gets busy.
Also, during high season there are generally more cars on the road due to more tourists.
To combat that, we suggest driving in the middle of the day on a weekday if possible. Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings will be notoriously bad traffic times from San Jose to Jaco.
Additionally, Sunday afternoons are the worst time to head from Jaco back towards San Jose.
If it seems like you might be in for some bad traffic, check out both Waze and Google Maps. Waze is especially good at predicting traffic and giving alternative routes when necessary.
If you get really stuck in the thick of it, get ready for an interesting cultural experience. Locals will walk along the highway selling snacks to cars that are sitting in traffic.
If you want a snack we suggest buying some green mangos with salt from a passing seller. It sounds weird, but it’s delicious!
Travel Tip: If you are doing this route in reverse and traveling from Jaco to the San Jose Airport, play close attention to your flight’s departure time. You never know what traffic will be like. We suggest spending the night near the airport the day before your flight just to give yourself some peace of mind.
We suggest using Google Maps or Waze for all driving directions in Costa Rica. We usually prefer Waze because it is the most widely used in the country. People are very good about marking obstructions in the road, police checkpoints etc.
You should have no problem holding a 3G or above connection during the entire drive. However, we suggest downloading the map of Costa Rica on Google Maps before driving, just in case. This will be helpful if you do lose cell phone service for whatever reason.
Also, make sure your phone is fully charged and bring a backup cell phone power bank if possible. There is nothing worse than having your phone die in a foreign country and having no idea where to go.
Luckily, this likely won’t happen on your route from San José to Jaco. The road is well-marked with street signs indicating any turns.
I know it sounds crazy, but there are no addresses in Costa Rica. Instead, you will need to put in the name of the place you are intending to go to in your GPS.
For example, you might enter your hotel name, an Airbnb name, a beach name etc.
I marked a few different gas stations on the map along your driving route.
Gas stations in Costa Rica are full-service. This means you will stay in your car and an employee will come fill your gas tank for you.
Also, all gas stations in Costa Rica are government-regulated. In other words, you do not need to drive around looking for the lowest gas prices. The price will be the same no matter where you go.
Gas stations are often the best places to stop to use the bathroom. All of the gas stations I marked have restrooms and they are usually already unlocked.
If they are locked, just ask the attendant for a key.
Grocery Store Stops
If you would like to buy groceries foir your stay in Jaco, the best places to do that are in Jaco. I marked two stores for you.
One will be on the main road right before you turn into the downtown area. It is not a fancy store by any means, but it has all the basics you could want.
The other store I marked is in downtown Jaco. It is called Mega Super. This grocery store is slightly larger with a better selection. However, it is in a shopping plaza and it can sometimes be difficult to find a parking space.
Note: If you would like snacks during your drive, most gas stations have a little mini market with plenty of snack options.
Be careful about leaving your car unattended. Petty theft can sometimes happen and a car filled with suitcases that is left alone will be a prime target.
Other than that, you should feel pretty safe!
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Things to See Along the Drive
On the Google Map of San Jose to Jaco, we marked a few different things you can do along the way.
This list includes plenty of interesting things to do along your drive, but please please use caution.
Make sure your car is always being watched by a guard and that your suitcases or belongings are not easy to spot.
Some fun things to do include:
Stop at a Fruit Stand
One of our (many) favorite things about Costa Rica is all the delicious fresh tropical produce.
On your drive, on Route 27, you will pass by a collection of fruit stands. These stands are on the opposite side of the road, so you will need to turn around in order to reach them.
At these stands you can buy a variety of fruits that you may have never even seen before.
Having a tropical fruit taste test is always a fun cultural experience!
Check Out the Crocodile Bridge
Rio Tarcoles is a river in Costa Rica that is home to tons of big crocodiles. On your way to Jaco you will pass over the Rio Tarcoles Bridge.
It is possible to pull your car off before the bridge and walk onto the bridge lookout point to see the crocodiles sunning themselves below.
It’s a great spot for stretching your legs.
Visit a Beach
There are three beaches we suggest visiting. All three are located right before you will get to Jaco.
The beaches are: Playa Pógeres and Playa Mantas.
Playa Pógeres is easy to get to. You can literally pull off the highway right into a parking area. This beach is not the nicest, but it will be your first glimpse of the Paific Ocean, so you might want to stop.
Note: There are often guys selling fresh red snapper on the side of the road here. I don’t know exactly how “fresh” it really is because sometimes it seems like they might have been standing in the sun for a long time. But, if you need a tasty meal idea to cook up for your first night, this might be a good option.
Playa Mantas and Playa Blanca are located within a private resort called Punta Leona. However, all beaches in Costa Rica need to have public access by law. So, you can enter through a side street and park in a lot within the resort to access the beaches.
Unfortunately, these lots fill up fast during the day.
I love Playa Blanca (it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in the country in my opinion) but you might be better off to visit here as a day trip during your stay in Jaco so you can arrive early in the morning to get a parking spot.
You can find out all the details in our guide to Playa Blanca.
Go Hiking at Carara National Park
Carara National Park is a well-maintained park with jungle trails. It’s a great place to stretch your legs on a mostly flat walk after a long flight.
This park is popular with bird watchers. Definitely look up in the trees if you choose to hike here.
We always see tons of Scarlet Macaws in this area.
Go Hiking at a Waterfall
There is the impressive Bijagual Waterfall located just before you will get to Jaco. The waterfall is down a narrow, curvy, and hilly side street.
I think this is a really cool spot to visit, but maybe it would be better as a half-day trip during your stay in Jaco.
The reason I say this is because the hike is intense! You might rather arrive in Jaco and get settled in before you attempt this. There are a few different entry points for the falls. I marked one of them titled “Catarata Manantial de Agua Viva” on the map.
Restaurants on the Way
One thing Costa Rica is sometimes lacking in is quick food stops. I’m not saying necessarily fast food chains, but just places you can quickly grab a sandwich or something during your drive.
The route to Jaco is no exception to that.
However, there are a few good traditional Costa Rican restaurants along the way that are very fairly priced.
I marked four places for you along the way. Three of them are very close together, so you can easily pick which one looks like the best place to you once you arrive.
We suggest getting some fresh fish, ceviche, or a typical Costa Rican casado. A casado is a typical Costa Rican meal that consists of a protein (beef, chicken, pork), rice, beans, a vegetable, and sometimes fried plantain.
Alternatively, you can wait until you arrive in Jaco to eat. There are several delicious local restaurants in town. We actually recently created a guide to all the best places to eat in Jaco.
And that is all the info on renting a car and driving to Jaco! Let’s move on to some other transportation options for getting here.
Get to Jaco by Private Shuttle
A private shuttle is typically an air-conditioned and comfortable van driven by an experienced driver.
This van is designated only for you and your group. So, a private transfer is a great way to sit back and comfortably get to your destination without the stress of driving and without having to deal with any other passengers.
Pros of a Private Shuttle
- It is private transportation so you are alone and don’t need to deal with other passengers
- You can plan your shuttle for whenever you arrive. Typically, you will give your shuttle driver your flight information so they can be waiting for you when you exit the airport.
- Your driver will often be willing to make short stops along the way. For example, when going to Jaco we suggest making a quick stop at Rio Tarcoles to see the large crocodiles (we talk more about that further in this post).
Cons of a Private Shuttle
- It can be expensive to take a private shuttle. Typically you pay for the shuttle not by person., So, if you are a group of people, then it is a good option. But, if you are one or two people traveling together a shared shuttle will likely be more cost effective.
Book Your Private Shuttle
If you are interested in getting a price quote for a private shuttle, you can do that here.
Adobe Rent-a-Car has recently started a private shuttle company. They are reliable and excellent!
They will be happy to stop along the way if you need to get groceries, want to see the crocodiles etc.
Also, they can pick you up from anywhere in the country and deliver you straight to your next hotel. Door-to-door service at its finest!
Taking a shared shuttle bus is a comfortable way to get to Jaco that is often a lot more affordable than a private shuttle.
It is possible to take a shared shuttle from the San Jose Airport, from a hotel near the airport, or from downtown San Jose.
Typically these shuttles will be willing to bring you to any hotel in the main Jaco area.
We find that the Bookaway website is typically the best for finding shared shuttles within Costa Rica.
They have tons of different options for bus companies offering transportation services between San Jose and Jaco at different times of the day.
You can even search shuttles by number of passengers and reviews.
Our go-to shared shuttle company is Easy Ride.
San Jose Airport to Jaco Shared Shuttle
Easy Ride departs from the San Jose Juan Santamaria International Airport to Jaco four times a day at 4:30am, 10:00am, 3:00pm, and 5:30pm.
You are allowed to bring 2 suitcases plus a handbag per passenger. They ask that you meet their driver at Malinche Restaurante on the right side of the main customs exit at the airport.
They also ask that you please arrive at the pickup point at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time.
San Jose Hotels to Jaco
Easy Ride departs from San Jose area hotels to Jaco three times a day at 4:00am, 9:00am, and 2:00pm.
When you make your reservation on Bookaway they will ask that you select your San Jose area hotel so they know where to pick you up from.
Taking a public bus from San Jose is the cheapest way to get to Jaco, but often not the most comfortable.
Just note that the bus leaves from downtown San Jose, NOT the airport. So, from the airport you will first need to get downtown.
The bus from San Jose to Jaco will leave from Terminal 7-10 which is located in the center of the city near the Childrens Museum and National Theater.
There is an indoor waiting room with seats. In the waiting room there are screens showing upcoming bus departures and which gate they will leave from.
This terminal can be a little bit confusing, so it is a a good idea to get here with plenty of time to find the correct bus stop.
The bus departs at: 6:00am, 7:00am, 9:00am, 11:00am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm, 5:00pm, 7:00pm
We suggest pre-purchasing your bus tickets online so that you know that they are secured. You can purchase a ticket through the official Transportes Jaco website.
Alternatively, you can purchase a bus ticket at the bus terminal, but we suggest arriving there at least an hour before departure if you opt to do this. Although the bus runs multiple times a day, it often fills up because this is one of the most popular routes in the country.
The bus costs about 3,000 colones per person ($5.60 USD) for a one-way ticket.
The bus stops a lot along the way at several differents stops. If you need to get off, just ring the bell and the bus driver will stop at the next stop.
The very last stop is at the Jaco Bus Termimal in the downtown area of the beach town. From here you can easily walk to any hotel in the downtown area.
Public Bus Travel Tips
- If you are traveling from Jaco back to San Jose and arrive at this terminal, please be careful about taking a taxi from here. A lot of pirate taxi drivers are known to hang out here and they will drastically overcharge you. Make sure you take an official taxi (red car with yellow triangles on the doors).
- This area around the 7-10 Terminal can be a bit sketchy at night. If you take the 7pm bus it will already be dark. Be aware of your surroundings.
- On the bus, keep your valuable and important belongings (like passport) with you. I have heard of people putting their backpack on the roof racks, falling asleep, and waking up to find it has been stolen. You can have larger bags put under the bus in the luggage storage area.
- The bus has a tendency of being either extremely hot if the AC is broken or absolutely freezing. I suggest bringing layers. You never know what it will be like on board.
- If you get bad motion sickness, you might want to take a motion sickness pill ahead of time. The road is not super curvy, but in general it is easy to get car sick in Costa Rica, especially when on a bus.
- These buses tend to leave on time, but that is never completely guaranteed. You will need to take things with a somewhat Pura Vida attitude here because you never know what will happen. The public transportation can be a bit unreliable here.
We do not suggest taking a taxi from the San Jose International Airport or downtown San Jose to Jaco. The route is too long and will be very expensive. You are better off pre-booking a private shuttle.
However, you might need to take a taxi from the San Jose Airport to downtown San Jose if you plan to catch a public bus.
Make sure you always take an official taxi. An official taxi from the airport will be orange with green triangles on the sides. If you are taking a taxi from another part of San Jose, look for a red taxi with yellow triangles.
If you tell your taxi driver that you need to go to the 7-10 Terminal for the bus, they will know exactly where to go. It is a well-known spot.
Next to the San Jose International Airport there is a domestic terminal.
There is also a domestic airport in Quepos (about an hour south of Jaco) that you can fly into from San Jose. From there you can take a taxi, rent a car, or take a shuttle to Jaco.
However, we just don’t think it is worth it.
The two nice things about taking a domestic flight are that you will get to enjoy some amazing views of Costa Rica’s central valley and the flight time is really short.
But, it becomes somewhat of a hassle if you still then need to get from Quepos to Jaco.
So, technically this is the fastest way to get between the San Jose airport and Jaco. But, you will still need to figure out transportation from Quepos to Jaco.
Our Opinion on the Different Transportation Options
Typically, we suggest you opt to rent a car. This just gives you the most flexibility.
However, there are certain times when you might not want to rent a car.
For example, if you are traveling on a tight budget, if you are staying at a resort and won’t need a car, or if you are nervous about driving in Costa Rica.
If you are on a very tight budget, the public bus is definitely the cheapest option.
However, if you are coming from the San Jose Costa Rica airport, you will still need to take a taxi to get downtown to the bus terminal. When you factor in that cost, it sometimes makes more sense and might end up being a better price to just take a shared shuttle that can pick you up from the airport instead.
If you are staying at a resort, we suggest a shared or private shuttle.
If you opt to take a shuttle or bus to Jaco, you can always still rent a car for a few days to explore the surrounding areas instead of having one for your entire trip.
Adobe has an office located in Jaco and they can deliver your car for free to your hotel within 12 miles of their office.
Alternatively, there are plenty of excursion companies in Jaco that offer day trips with transportation included.
We actually recently put together a list of fun things to do in Jaco that contains a lot of day tour with pickup and drop off from Jaco area hotels.
The downtown area of Jaco is interesting for a few hours, but you will definitely want to explore the surrounding jungle and beaches.
Conclusion: Getting from San Jose, Costa Rica to Jaco
In conclusion, there are numerous ways to travel between San Jose and Jaco Beach. These transportation options range in comfort, flexibility, and cost. We hope you now have a better grasp on what is the best transportation option for you.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!
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Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know
🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?
Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will allow you to visit more off-the-beaten-path destinations and will allow you to take fun day trips on your own.
☀️ Should I buy travel insurance for Costa Rica?
Yes, travel insurance is always a good idea. It is not just for illness or injury, but also lost luggage, delayed trips, and more!
We like Heymondo for Costa Rica travel insurance.
✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?
Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).
🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?
🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?
The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.
💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?
The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas
🌴 Is Costa Rica safe?
Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.
🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?
Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.