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The 5 Best Ways to Get from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Are you looking for the best ways to get from San Jose, Costa Rica to Manuel Antonio?

San Josรฉ, the capital city of Costa Rica, is home to the main international airport. Manuel Antonio is a popular beach town with a renowned national park. There are multiple transportation options including rental cars, private shuttles, public buses, and shared shuttles.

We live in San Jose and frequently visit Manuel Antonio, so this guide is based on our experiences. You’ll find information on the 5 best transportation options, what to expect, our recommendations, and a helpful map for your journey.

Let’s get started!

San Jose to Manuel Antonio at a Glance

There are five great options to get to Manuel Antonio from San Jose. These are:

Option Cost Time Convenience Flexibility Comfort Best For
Rental Car $40 – $80/day + fuel 3-4 hrs High (flexible, door-to-door) High (explore freely) High (private, controlled) Exploring, families, groups
Private Shuttle $150 – $250 3-4 hrs High (door-to-door, stress-free) Moderate (set schedule) High (private, driver) Stress-free, groups, families
Shared Shuttle $40 – $60/person 3.5-4.5 hrs Moderate (set schedule, shared) Low (fixed schedule) Moderate (shared, comfortable) Budget, solo, small groups
Public Bus $10/person 3.5-4.5 hrs Low (fixed schedule, stops) Low (fixed schedule) Moderate (shared, basic) Budget, backpackers, solo
Domestic Flight $70 – $150/person 25 mins flight + 30 mins taxi High (quick, taxi needed) Low (fixed times) High (quick, scenic) Quick travel, limited time

San Jose and the International Airport

taxis san jose airport

The Juan Santamaria International Airport is the largest in Costa Rica, located near Alajuela, west of San Jose.

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Traffic around the airport can be heavy, and downtown San Jose is about 20 minutes to an hour away. Instead, we suggest spending your first night in the city of Alajuela.

After a long flight, consider spending the night near the airport and heading out in the morning.

However, if you’re eager to get to the beach, Manuel Antonio is only a four-hour drive. We just don’t suggest doing this after dark (the sun sets around 6pm) if it is your first time driving in the country.

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Where is Manuel Antonio?

manuel antonio national park beach

Manuel Antonio is a beach town located in the Central Pacific region of Costa Rica, approximately 100 miles south of San Jose.

The drive usually takes around 3 to 4 hours, depending on traffic.

The town is most famous for the Manuel Antonio National Park. It features beautiful beaches, hiking trails, and abundant wildlife, including monkeys and sloths.

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Option #1: Rental Car to Manuel Antonio

The 5 Best Ways to Get from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility in your travel plans. You can start your drive whenever you want and 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.

When you rent your car, make sure to select “San Jose International Airport (SJO)” as your pick up location.

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The 5 Best Ways to Get from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

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Picking Up Your Rental Car from the Airport

car rental liberia 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. If you have rented your car with Adobe, look for someone holding an Adobe sign.

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 Santamarรญa 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 Manuel Antonio.

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.

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Note: 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 Jose and Manuel Antonio, you can rent any car. The highway is paved and mostly flat.

However, if you plan to explore once you are in Manuel Antonio, 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, but an SUV will provide a more comfortable ride and better handling on rough roads.

The Driving Experience

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 (Waze is great for directions in Costa Rica), you will see two options. You can either take Route 27 out of San Jose or Route 3.

We suggest taking Route 27. It is a 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 reach Manuel Antonio. This is approximately 62 miles. You will pass through several towns including Jaco and Quepos.

The total travel time should be about 3 to 4 hours. However, traffic here is completely unpredictable. We have experienced this route taking as little as 2.5 hours and as long as 6 hours during peak times.

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Things to Know When Driving in Costa Rica

The 5 Best Ways to Get from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Here are some things you should know before getting on the road in Costa Rica.

Tolls

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.

Pro Tip: Costa Rican colones 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. 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 beforehand.

Merging

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 many tourists almost get in bad accidents because they donโ€™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.

Traffic

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 Jose is very congested.

On weekends, Manuel Antonio is a popular beach destination for people living in San Jose, so this route gets busy.

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 Manuel Antonio.

Additionally, Sunday afternoons are the worst time to head from Manuel Antonio 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 itโ€™s delicious!

Travel Tip: If you are doing this route in reverse and traveling from Manuel Antonio to the San Jose Airport, pay close attention to your flightโ€™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.

GPS

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.

Need info on staying connected while in Costa Rica? Find out our SIM card suggestions here

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 wonโ€™t happen on your route from San Jose to Manuel Antonio. The road is well-marked with street signs indicating any turns.

Addresses

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.

Getting Gasoline

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.

There are several gas stations along this route, so you should have no problems.

Bathroom Stops

Gas stations are often the best places to stop to use the bathroom. If the restroom at a gas station is locked, just ask the attendant for a key.

Food Stops

Costa Rica isn’t known for having the best quick food stop options. The country is home to a few fast food places such as McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, and Subway; but if you want anything a little nicer you will usually have to opt for a sitdown place.

  • For snacks, I suggest just stopping at any gas station.
  • For a meal, there are several roadside places before you reach Jaco. Otherwise, I suggest going to Esterillos Town Center plaza which is about 40 minutes before Manuel Antonio. There are several food options here without having to get off the highway and you can eat outside and keep an eye on your car. There is also a grocery store here if you need.

Safety

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.

If we stop we like to always make sure that our vehicle is within view.

Other than that, you should feel pretty safe!

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Things to See Along the Drive

There are plenty of interesting things to do along your drive, but 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.

Stop at a Fruit Stand

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

crocodile

Rio Tarcoles is a river in Costa Rica that is home to tons of big crocodiles. On your way to Manuel Antonio, 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.

Itโ€™s a great spot for stretching your legs.

Find it on Google Maps here

Stop at the Jaco Sign

The 5 Best Ways to Get from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

After driving past downtown Jaco you will come to this viewpoint and Jaco sign. You can easily just pull your car off from the highway here and snap a picture.

Also, look out for macaws. You can often spot them in the trees in this area.

I marked this on Google Maps here

Visit a Beach

esterillos beach

There are several beaches we suggest visiting along the way, including Playa Hermosa and Playa Esterillos.

Playa Hermosa is known for its great surfing conditions, and Playa Esterillos is perfect for a more relaxed beach experience.

Option #2: Private Shuttle to Manuel Antonio

road in manuel antonio

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

  • Private Transportation: You are alone and donโ€™t need to deal with other passengers.
  • Flexible Scheduling: 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.
  • Custom Stops: Your driver will often be willing to make short stops along the way. For example, when going to Manuel Antonio, we suggest making a quick stop at Rio Tarcoles to see the large crocodiles.

Cons of a Private Shuttle

  • Cost: It can be expensive to take a private shuttle. Typically, you pay for the shuttle not per 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

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!

๐ŸšŒ If you are interested in getting a price quote for a private shuttle, you can do that here ๐Ÿš

Option #3: Shared Shuttle

san jose to manuel antonio

Shared shuttles are a cost-effective and comfortable way to travel. They operate from the San Jose airport, nearby hotels, and downtown San Jose.

This option is more affordable than a private shuttle but offers less flexibility in terms of departure times and routes.

We find that the Bookaway website is typically the best for finding shared shuttles within Costa Rica.

Shared Shuttle from the San Jose Airport to Manuel Antomio

Easy Ride offers shared shuttle services from the San Jose Juan Santamaria International Airport to Manuel Antonio 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 request that you please arrive at the pickup point at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

๐Ÿš Check Availability and Book Your Shuttle ๐ŸšŒ

Shared Shuttle from Downtown San Jose to Manuel Antonio

Easy Ride also offers shared shuttle services from downtown San Jose hotels to Manuel Antonio three times a day at 8:00am, 11:00am, and 3:00pm.

You are allowed to bring 2 suitcases plus a handbag per passenger. The pickup point will be directly at your hotel in downtown San Jose, making it very convenient for travelers staying in the city.

They also request that you please be ready at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time to ensure timely departures.

๐ŸšŒ Check Availability and Book Your Shuttle ๐Ÿš

Option #4: Public Bus

Taking a public bus is the most economical way to get from San Jose to Manuel Antonio.

This option is ideal for budget travelers who donโ€™t mind a bit of adventure.

Bus Schedule and Booking

Direct buses to Manuel Antonio depart from the Tracopa Bus Terminal in San Jose. The schedule is frequent, with several departures throughout the day.

The journey takes around 3.5 to 4.5 hours. Tickets can be purchased at the terminal or online through the Tracopa website.

Prices are very reasonable, typically around $10 per person.

Travel Time and Comfort

The buses are comfortable. They make several stops along the way, including a longer stop for refreshments and restrooms.

Option #5: Domestic Flight

manuel antonio national park

For those who prefer to travel quickly and enjoy aerial views of Costa Rica, a domestic flight is an excellent option.

Next to the San Jose International Airport there is a domestic terminal

There is also a domestic airport in Quepos (the town next to Manuel Antonio) that you can fly into from San Jose. From there you can take a taxi to your hotel in the area.

The two nice things about taking a domestic flight are that you will get to enjoy some amazing views of Costa Ricaโ€™s central valley and the flight time is really short.

If you want, you can then always rent a car upon arrival. Adobe has an office located in Quepos and they will happily deliver your rental car for free within 12 miles of their office.

Booking a Flight

The main airline that flies between these two destinations is called Sansa.

Prices vary depending on the season and how far in advance you book, typically ranging from $70 to $150 one-way.

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Travel Time and Comfort

The flight duration to the Quepos Airport is approximately 25 minutes. So, it is definitely the fastest way to reach Manuel Antonio.

The planes are small, typically seating around 12 passengers, and offer stunning views of the coastline and mountains.

However, I don’t recommend this option if small planes scare you.

Our Opinion on Getting from San Jose to Manuel Antonio

san jose to manuel antonio

Typically, we suggest you opt to rent a car when traveling from San Jose to Manuel Antonio. This gives you the most flexibility to explore the beautiful surroundings at your own pace.

However, there are certain times when renting a car might not be ideal. For example, if you’re on a tight budget, if you’re staying at a resort where you won’t need a car, or if you’re nervous about driving in Costa Rica.

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For those on a very tight budget, the public bus is the cheapest option. However, if you’re arriving at the San Jose airport, you’ll need to take a taxi downtown to the bus terminal. Considering this cost, it might be more economical to take a shared shuttle that picks you up directly from the airport.

If you’re staying at a resort, a shared or private shuttle is a convenient option.

You can also rent a car for a few days to explore the surrounding areas instead of having one for your entire trip. Adobe Rent-a-Car has an office in Quepos and can deliver your car to your hotel in Manuel Antonio.

Alternatively, there are plenty of excursion companies in Manuel Antonio offering day trips with transportation included.

This way, you can enjoy activities like guided tours in Manuel Antonio National Park or boat trips without needing a rental car.

View Our Favorite Manuel Antonio Activities on Viator Here

Manuel Antonio itself offers a mix of beautiful beaches, hiking trails, and wildlife spotting, but having the flexibility of a car allows you to explore nearby attractions like the Nauyaca Waterfalls.

Conclusion: Getting to Manuel Antonio

In conclusion, there are multiple ways to get to Manuel Antonio depending on your particular needs.

Whether you choose the flexibility of a rental car, the comfort of a private shuttle, the affordability of a public bus, or the speed of a domestic flight, each option for getting from San Jose to Manuel Antonio has certain pros and cons.

By planning ahead and selecting the transportation method that best fits your needs, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey to this popular beach town.

If you have any questions about planning your trip to Manuel Antonio don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. we are always happy to help you plan!

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Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

๐Ÿš— 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 also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

๐Ÿ„๐Ÿฝ How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

๐Ÿ I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

โœˆ๏ธ 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).

๐Ÿ›๏ธ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธ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.

๐Ÿ’ฐ What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colรณn (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

๐Ÿ“ž What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

๐ŸŒด 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.

๐Ÿ›‚ Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.