5 Best Ways to Get From San Jose to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

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Are you interested in visiting Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula and looking for the best transportation options from the San Jose International Airport?

Getting between the two locations can be a bit complicated because Santa Teresa is located on the remote Nicoya Peninsula. However, there are several transportation options to get here smoothly. 

We live in San Jose and Santa Teresa is one of our favorite places in the country, so we travel between the two destinations often.

We created this post to detail the five different transportation choices, give you info on the ferry to Santa Teresa, and give you all the safety tips you need. 

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Let’s get to it!

Getting to Santa Teresa from San Jose at a Glance

  • There are 5 different ways to get to Santa Teresa. These are; rental cars, private shuttles, shared shuttles, domestic flights, and public buses
  • It is possible to take a ferry that will drastically cut down on driving time
  • It is helpful to have a rental car once in Santa Teresa for day trips

San Jose and the International Airport

san jose Costa Rica map

The San Jose International Airport (SJO) is located on the western outskirts of the capital city of Costa Rica called San Jose. It is very centrally located in the middle of the country.

The airport is actually technically in the city of Alajuela instead of San Jose. This is good to keep in mind if you need a hotel for your first or last night here.

For more info check out:

Where is Santa Teresa?

5 Best Ways to Get From San Jose to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Santa Teresa is located on the Nicoya Peninsula on the northern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.

This is a remote destination that is popular with surfing enthusiasts, backpackers, eco-tourists, and yoga lovers.

The town itself is somewhat bustling despite the remote location. 

Check out the complete Santa Teresa Visitors Guide to plan your hotels, restaurants, activities etc.

The Puntarenas Ferry

5 Best Ways to Get From San Jose to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
Ferry goes between point A and B.

I will go through all the transportation options next, but first, you should know that there is a ferry that goes from the city of Puntarenas to the town of Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula. 

This is (usually) the fastest way to get to Santa Teresa from San Jose. 

  • You can bring your rental car on the ferry
  • Often private and shared shuttles will take the ferry
  • Public buses often take the ferry
  • You can also walk onto the ferry as a passenger by foot

The Ferry Departure Times

The ferry departs daily from Puntarenas to Paquera at: 04:00 AM, 6:30am, 9:00am, 12:00pm, 2:30 pm, 6:00pm, 8:00pm, and 10:00pm

The ferry going the other way also departs Paquera to Puntarenas at: 04:00 AM, 6:30am, 9:00am, 12:00pm, 2:30 pm, 6:00pm, 8:00pm, and 10:00pm

The travel time on the ferry takes approximately 80 minutes.

Facilities on Board

There is:

  • Indoor and outdoor seating
  • Bathrooms
  • Multiple food counters which sell drinks and some food snack items

Other Things to Know

  • If you are walking onto the ferry by foot you do not need to pre-purchase tickets. You can buy tickets at the terminal
  • If you are coming with a rental car it is best to pre-purchase your tickets. I get into more detail in the next section

For more info including the latest rates, check out the official Tambor Ferry website

Option #1: Rent a Car

road to to santa teresa costa rica

In the past, you needed a 4×4 to get to Santa Teresa. That is no longer the case. The roads are mostly well-maintained and all the main roads are now paved.

However, a lot of accommodation options are located in the hills above the towns on unpaved steep roads.

I suggest checking exactly where your hotel is located to help you decide the right car for you.

We suggest at least renting an SUV for decent clearance. 

Pros of Renting a Car

  • Will give you more flexibility to stop along the way and to travel when you want
  • There aren’t many rental car options in Santa Teresa, so it is often good to have a rental car ahead of time if you would like one for exploring once in Santa Teresa
  • A car makes onward travel easier
  • If you are traveling as a couple or family it can be more affordable to rent a car rather than take a shared or private shuttle.

Cons of Renting a Car

  • It can be a bit overwhelming driving in a foreign country. The roads on this route are pretty manageable, but still, it can be overwhelming.
  • If you are a solo traveler it can be a bit pricey to rent a car for only one person.
  • If you don’t think you will need a car once in Santa Teresa, than it is easier to pick a different transportation option.  

Booking a Rental Car

There are several rental car companies that offer cars from the San Jose Airport and the city of San Jose. 

We suggest the company Adobe Rent-a-Car for all your car rental needs. We love them because:

  • They are a local company with excellent customer service
  • They are completely upfront about costs and fees
  • And they have given us a 10% discount plus other great perks to pass on to you!

Check Availability and Book Your Rental Car with 10% Discount

Picking Up Your Rental Car

The San Jose Airport isn’t big enough to host all of the rental car companies. Instead, most companies have offices within a five minute drive of the airport. 

If you rent with Adobe:

  • You will enter your flight arrival information when you rent a car.
  • Upon exiting the airport an Adobe representative will be there to greet you.
  • They will then take you to the Adobe office in a comfortable shuttle. The office is less than 5 minutes from the airport. 
  • Here, you can pick up your car and be on your way to Santa Teresa!

The Driving Route to Santa Teresa

There are two ways to make this trip.

  1. Drive the entire way. This will take about six hours.
  2. Take the ferry from Puntarenas. This will take about five hours (but 80 minutes of that are no driving because you’ll be on the ferry)

Most people take the ferry because it will save you on several hours of driving and is much less stressful. However, there are some instances when driving makes the most sense.

So, let’s go through each transportation choice.

Note: Until late July 2024 the La Amistad Bridge is closed for construction. TAKE THE FERRY! The drive around will be insane

Driving the Whole Way

If you opt to drive the entire way we suggest driving from the city to the coast on Route 27. This is a toll road. They accept US dollars or colones.

Near Puntarenas, you will exit onto Route 1 heading north. This road has been under construction for a while because they are widening it. So, you may have smooth sailing, but might also hit construction.

In the town of La Palma you will come to a roundabout where you will go to the left onto route 18. 

If you need a bathroom or food break, there is a small plaza on the right before the roundabout that has a KFC and Subway in it.

Other than that, there are not a lot of options for quick meals.

Immediately after the roundabout there is also a gas station on the left on the corner. If you need a gas station, snack, or bathroom this is a good spot to stop.

From there, you will continue on Route 18 to Nicoya.

There are always police hanging out on Route 18, so stick to the speed limit. 

In Nicoya you will turn left and finally be heading south of the Nicoya hook. 

They recently redid all of these roads so they are super nice in many spots. But, keep an eye out, there are a lot of speed bumps that are sometimes not well marked. We have definitely flown over a few!

Drive along the coast until you hit the town of Paquera (this is where you would have come out if you took the ferry). 

From Paquera, continue driving on Route 160. Follow the signs for Cobano / Santa Teresa.

Continue on Route 160 until you reach Cobano, which is approximately a 30 to 40-minute drive from Paquera.

In Cobano, follow the signs for Santa Teresa. You will need to take a left turn to connect to Route 618.

Continue on Route 618 until you reach Santa Teresa. The drive from Cobano to Santa Teresa takes around 20 to 30 minutes.

Taking the Ferry

5 Best Ways to Get From San Jose to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

The best way to do this (if coming from San Jose) is by going on the Puntarenas ferry to Paquera.

Enter, “Naviera Tambor ferry” as your destination in your GPS. This will bring you to the ferry terminal in Puntarenas.

Basically, you will drive on Route 27 all the way to the city of Puntarenas.

Route 27 is a toll road. You will spend about $8 USD in tolls. They accept US dollars or Costa Rican colones. 

In Puntarenas you will exit and drive straight through the downtown area until the very tip of Puntarenas. 

This is a city so there are a lot of traffic lights and people walking everywhere.

At the ferry terminal you will drive your car onto the ferry, exit your car and sit up top and enjoy the ride.

⤷ Check out our guide to the Puntarenas ferry for all the details

We suggest pre-booking a ferry ticket here to ensure you get on board. You want to go in the direction of “Paquera”

Note: If you attempt to pre-book and it says that there are no tickets available, this does not mean that the ferry is fully booked. They set aside a certain number of spaces for people who just show up.

From Paquera, continue driving on Route 160. Follow the signs for Cobano / Santa Teresa.

Continue on Route 160 until you reach Cobano, which is approximately a 30 to 40-minute drive from Paquera.

In Cobano, follow the signs for Santa Teresa. You will need to take a left turn to connect to Route 618.

Continue on Route 618 until you reach Santa Teresa. The drive from Cobano to Santa Teresa takes around 20 to 30 minutes.

Note: We suggest using the free app Waze for directions in Costa Rica. It is widely used here and people are great about marking where there are police, things in the road, etc.

Ferry vs Driving

As I mentioned above, we live in San Jose and love Santa Teresa so we make this drive often. We usually end up driving around instead of taking the ferry. 

The reason is, in order to pre-book tickets you need to select a specific ferry time. it can be difficult to time when you will get to the ferry terminal in Puntarenas because you never really know with traffic here. 

You could of course just drive to the ferry terminal and hope that there are tickets available. But, it takes about 15 minutes off of the highway to drive to the ferry terminal.

And, if you miss the ferry or need to wait for the next one because the one you wanted was full, then you are left waiting for a few hours.

Note: Until late July 2024 the La Amistad Bridge is closed for construction. TAKE THE FERRY! The drive around will be insane

Usually, if you have not pre-booked a ticket and arrive about 20 minutes before the ferry departs you should be fine getting on. However, during the dry season and on holidays the ferry can be full.

The area around the ferry terminal is not the nicest for exploring. You could find a meal somewhere, but besides that Puntarenas doesn’t have much to offer. 

However, it is a long drive to go all the way around. 

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So, really I think it depends on your driving comfort level, your desire to experience the ferry, and how your timing in Puntarenas is looking in comparison to the ferry timetable.

You might also want to factor in the cost difference. To bring your car on the ferry costs about $25 USD plus about $2 for each passenger.

If you are going from Santa Teresa back to San Jose I suggest trying to take the ferry. It is not as much of a detour to the Paquera ferry terminal from the main road. If you are unable to get on and decide to drive around instead, you will only lose about 15 minutes.

For More Info on Driving, Check Out:

Option #2: Private Shuttle

5 Best Ways to Get From San Jose to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Best For:

  • People looking for a comfortable travel experience without the stress of driving themselves
  • People who do not need a rental car for onward travel
  • Larger groups of people.

If you don’t feel comfortable driving, a private transfer is always a good option. Adobe Car Rental now provides an excellent transfer service.

A trusted driver will take you from any place in the country directly to your place of choice in Santa Teresa. 

This private transfer will go on the ferry to save time.

You can find out more info and get a private transfer price quote here

Option #3: Shared Shuttle

5 Best Ways to Get From San Jose to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Best For: Solo travelers or couples who don’t want the stress of driving themselves. 

A shared shuttle service to Santa Teresa is an easy way to get to the beach town from San Jose without the stress of driving or the higher price tag of a private shuttle.

Some of these shuttles go on the ferry to save time, but they are usually a bit more expensive.

Check out all the Shared Shuttles from San Jose to Santa Teresa

Option #4: Domestic Flights

5 Best Ways to Get From San Jose to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Best For:

  • People who aren’t concerned about the higher price tag
  • Those who want to get to Santa Teresa as quickly as possible
  • People who are not afraid of small planes

There isn’t an airport directly in Santa Teresa, but the Cobano Airport is only about 20 minutes away by car or taxi. 

Sansa Airlines is the main domestic airline in Costa Rica and they offer direct daily flights from San Jose Airport to Cobano. Typically, a plane ticket for these flights costs about $130 per person one way.  

The airline flies to Cobano about 6 times a day and the flight takes about 40 minutes.

Options #5: Public Bus

Best for: Budget Travelers who are up for an adventure

The cheapest way to get to Santa Teresa is by public bus (if coming from San Jose).

However, this will take 7 to 8 hours and involves switching buses 3 or 4 times and going on the ferry. 

⤷ Check out the bus schedule for more info

It is possible to do this from the San Jose airport or from downtown San Jose.

The downfall of this is that if you miss one bus connection you are kind of out of luck and may need to wait several hours until the next bus arrives.

The bus goes onto the ferry (which I think is kind of cool). You will need to buy a ferry ticket at the terminal while you are there.

Transportation Once in Santa Teresa

5 Best Ways to Get From San Jose to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Once you arrive in Santa Teresa you will need transportation to get around town and to fun activities. Here is our opinion on that….

We always suggest renting a car because it gives you the most flexibility to do off-the-beaten-path activities and allows you to stay at a hotel that is not right downtown. 

The downtown area is very condensed and walkable, but most activities, besides surfing and relaxing on the beaches, are located within a thirty-minute drive of downtown.

You don’t need a 4×4 vehicle unless you are staying in the hills above Santa Teresa.

Also, if you plan to drive to Montezuma, it is best to go around rather than through the road at Mal Pais. If you go by Mal Pais you will need to do river crossings, which are mostly impossible during the rainy season. 

Another option is to rent an ATV for a day or two once in town to explore the surrounding areas. We don’t have a favorite place to suggest to you. But we suggest reading reviews before you book anything. Also, ask if you need to return the ATV with a full tank and ask where you can get gas. 

You Won’t Need a Car if:

  • You plan on spending all of your time in Santa Teresa and on Santa Teresa Beach. 
  • You are staying in a resort and plan on taking advantage of all the amenities there. 
  • You are doing a surf or wellness retreat in the area.
  • You plan to book day tours with transportation included. 

Things to Do in Santa Teresa with a Rental Car

Here are some fun things we love to do in the Santa Teresa area if we have a car.

Visit Cabo Blanco Reserve

playa cabo blanco

Cabo Blanco Reserve is a national park located on the very tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. To get here, you will need to drive around past Montezuma. The hike is intense, but you will be rewarded with this beautiful beach.

Check out our guide to Cabo Blanco for more info

Go Bioluminescent Kayaking

Have you ever experienced bioluminescence? Seeing the water light up at night as you are kayaking in pure darkness is one of the most unique things you can experience in Costa Rica.

This experience is possible in the Paquera Bay year round but, it is best on a night with a new moon.

I suggest booking this experience with Bahia Rica. They are located right next to the ferry teminal in Paquera.  

Check Availability and Book Your Bioluminescent Experience

Hike at Curu Reserve

curu reserve

Curu Reserve is located on the main road on the way to Paquera. This unique place is not heavily visited by tourists, but it should be!

There are several trail options, an abundance of wildlife, and a beautiful beach.

Find out more with our guide to Curu Reserve. 

Take a Beach Walk in Montezuma

5 Best Ways to Get From San Jose to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

The beach in Montezuma is our favorite beach to walk in the country.

Here you can walk several miles through pristine shores and a wildlife reserve before coming to a waterfall that flows into the ocean.

It’s amazing! 

Find out more with our guide to the Montezuma beach walk. 

Hike at the Montezuma Waterfall

montezuma waterfall

The Montezuma Waterfall is located just outside of teh downtown area of Montezuma. These falls consists of three cascades of varying heights.

You can find out more info in our Montezuma waterfalls guide. 

Go Beach Hopping

mal pais in february

The Gulf of Nicoya offers many beautiful beaches which are perfect for all sorts of activities from swimming to surfing to fishing.

In Costa Rica, all beaches need to have public access by law. This means that all of the coastline is yours to explore!

So, hop in your rental car and just drive along the coast to see what you find.  

Other Things to Know

  • We strongly suggest purchasing travel insurance for your trip to Costa Rica. This will help protect you from losing money due to injury, lost luggage, sudden change of plans etc. Get a Travel Insurance Price Quote Here
  • Our favorite way to stay connected in Costa Rica is with a eSIM card. You can find more in our guide to staying connected in Costa Rica or go ahead and purchase your eSIM here.
  • Keep in mind your onward travel possibilities. This is important in factoring in the best transportation method to Santa Teresa.

Conclusion: San Jose to Santa Teresa Transportation

In conclusion, there are several different ways to get to Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula from the San Jose area. These transportation methods all come with certain pros and cons and greatly depend on your particular travel style and needs.

If you have any questions about transportation to Santa Teresa don’t hesitate to leave your questions in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

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