Take your pick; plane, train, or automobile? Just kidding, you probably won’t be taking the train in Costa Rica. However, there are several options for transportation in Costa Rica. It can be difficult to settle on which one is perfect for your travels. In fact, you might find yourself taking several different types of transportation during your vacation in Costa Rica.
To help you figure out the absolute best transportation options for you, we have created this guide of all your options and when you should use each one.
Alright, let’s get to it!
- 1 Transportation in Costa Rica – Public Busses
- 2 Transportation in Costa Rica – Private Shuttle/ Private Shared Shuttle
- 3 Transportation in Costa Rica – Flying
- 4 Transportation in Costa Rica – Renting a Car
- 5 Transportation in Costa Rica – Taxis & Uber
- 6 Transportation in Costa Rica – Boats / Ferries
Transportation in Costa Rica – Public Busses
Costa Rica has a surprisingly good public bus system throughout the country. Taking the public bus is incredibly cheap, but it is not always the most comfortable. On some of the bus trips you will get an assigned seat number, but from our experience, we’ve only had that when taking the bus from San Jose to the Panama border.
On most public bus trips, seats are on a first come first serve basis. If you are one of the last people to get on the bus you may be left standing for the whole ride. This could be 5 or more hours depending on where you are going.
Another thing to consider is most of the buses are not the most comfortable. The seats are hard, sometimes the windows won’t open etc.
You also need to consider that from the airport you will have to get downtown to the main bus terminal for most of the buses. Downtown can be a bit crazy to navigate if it is your first time in the country.
Pro Tip: Download the free app Off the Grid Traveler for all Costa Rica bus schedules.
When you should take the bus
We recommend taking the bus if you are going to only one destination and don’t plan on doing much traveling within that location.
We also recommend taking the bus from San Jose if you plan on going to Panama. The public bus we took to Panama was really modern and comfortable.
if you plan to go to Jaco and just want to spend time on the beach there, you should consider taking the bus from San Jose. The trip only takes about two hours, costs about $5 one-way and runs frequently throughout the day.
If you plan on traveling anywhere else (let’s just say La Fortuna) you would then have to take the bus all the way back to San Jose and then up to La Fortuna because there isn’t a bus between La Fortuna and Jaco. What would be a four-hour drive would turn into a full day trip.
If you would like a little more comfort in your life and don’t want to drive in Costa Rica, you can opt to take a private shuttle. These shuttles can sometimes be pretty expensive, but it will be a whole lot more comfortable than taking the public bus.
When you should take a private shuttle
We suggest taking a private shuttle if you do not feel comfortable driving, are going to one destination (for example a resort), don’t mind spending a bit more money, and want a little comfort. Also, if you are traveling with a large group you can rent a private shuttle just for your group.
For example, we are getting married in July in Tamarindo. Most of our guests are flying into San Jose. We have thought about renting a private shuttle so nobody needs to worry about renting a car up to Tamarindo and back
Private Shuttle Companies
There are TONS of private shuttle companies in Costa Rica. We personally do not have much experience taking a private shuttle but here are the companies we have heard good things about…Interbus, Caribe Shuttle, Grayline, and EasyRide.
Transportation in Costa Rica – Flying
When you should fly
We suggest flying if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of taking a long drive to your destination and plan on staying in one spot. Also, Nature Air charges you based on your baggage weight, so if you have a lot of luggage it could be expensive. I don’t suggest flying if you have a major fear of flying. These planes tend to be pretty small and can be a bit scary if you are an anxious flyer.
I just checked flight prices to Manuel Antonio from San Jose. If you only have 15 pounds of luggage it will cost you about $60 one-way. It is definitely convenient and at this price, I would say it is a better option than taking a private shuttle (unless you have a large group and can rent out a whole shuttle). You can always rent a car once you arrive at your destination for day trips.
Update 2/5/18: Nature Air has had two crashes with the past several months. At the moment, I would suggest putting any plans to fly on hold. The company did shut down business for a little while, but they are back to running now. Obviously, it is completely your call, but besides safety, I am hesitant to tell you to book with them because I am unsure of the future of the company. I wouldn’t want you to book something and then have them go out of business and you lose money over it.
Transportation in Costa Rica – Renting a Car
We believe renting a car is the absolute best way to get around Costa Rica. We tend to opt for off the beaten path activities and find that the only way to get to non-touristy things is by car.
Renting a car in Costa Rica can be a bit expensive, but we find we usually end up saving money because we don’t have to depend on pre-packaged tours and can do our own thing.
Our absolute favorite rental car company in Costa Rica is Adobe. In fact…
Because we love Adobe so much we asked if they would like to partner with us. They have kindly decided to give all Costa Rica Vibes readers a 10% discount on car rentals, a free econd driver, and a free cell phone to use! You can find out more about this awesome deal here.
When you should rent a car
I suggest renting a car if you want the flexibility of really exploring the country in depth. If you are planning on doing a resort/ relax type of vacation, it is not necessary to rent a car. You should also only rent a car if you feel comfortable with the thought of driving in a foreign country. If you are not sure if driving in Costa Rica is the best for you, you can read more about tips for driving here.
Transportation in Costa Rica – Taxis & Uber
As of now, Uber is legal in Costa Rica, but it exists in some type of gray area. The government doesn’t like it and has been cracking down on Uber drivers recently, so please the service with caution.
We personally love Uber and continue to use it on a regular basis. Uber tends to be about half the price of taxis.
If you do opt to use a taxi please make sure it is a registered red taxi (they are orange if taking it from the airport). Also, make sure they immediately turn the meter on. We have heard of taxi drivers “forgetting” to turn on the meter and drastically overcharging tourists.
When you should take a taxi or Uber
If you need a ride to your hotel from the airport, I would only use a taxi if it is a really short distance. Instead what I tell people to do is take advantage of the free wifi in the airport and order an Uber before stepping out of the airport.
When you step out of the airport you will be bombarded by taxi drivers asking if you need a ride. You will need to arrange a meeting spot with your Uber driver, or state what you are wearing or something so you can easily find them.
We also take Uber if we need to get a short distance in the evening. Costa Rica is pretty safe, but we like to be cautious especially in the dark. It is much safer to get an Uber than to walk.
Transportation in Costa Rica – Boats / Ferries
There are certain destinations in Costa Rica when your best, or only option, to get there is by ferry or boat. We suggest taking the Puntarenas ferry if you are going over to the Nicoya Peninsula. In fact, we have a complete guide to taking the ferry here.
The other time you will need to take a boat is if you are going to Tortuguero. There are no cars on Tortuguero so you will have to park your car on the mainland and take a fun and fast speedboat ride out to Tortuguero.
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Let us know if you have any questions about transportation in Costa Rica in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!
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