Costa Rica Transportation – How to Get Around

costa rica transportation

Take your pick for Costa Rica transportation; plane, train, or automobile? Just kidding, you probably won’t be taking the train in Costa Rica. Although, there actually is a train, but it is only located in San Jose. Instead, you will likely use a rental car, public bus, or private shuttles to get around.

Anyway, 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.

To help you figure out the absolute best transportation options for you, we have created this guide of all your choices and when you should use each one.

Alright, let’s get to it!

Public Busses in Costa Rica

costa rica bus

Costa Rica has a decent bus system throughout the country. Taking the public bus is incredibly cheap, but it is not always the most comfortable.

On some busses, 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 busses, 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 that most of the buses are not the most comfortable. The seats are hard, sometimes the windows won’t open etc.

Here is a picture from the bus I recently took to Cahuita. That is an inside temp during our ride. For all you people from the US that translated to roughly 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, I ran straight to the shower when I arrived at my hotel in Cahuita.

cahuita bus

You also need to consider that from the San Jose 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.

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.

So, in other words, we don’t suggest taking the bus if you are planning to visit multiple locations that are not located near each other because there usually are no good connections.

Our Tips for the Bus

-We have heard of people getting things stolen on the bus. We suggest keeping all your valuables with you in a backpack instead of below the bus with the luggage. Do not put your bag in the rack above your seat. That is how people steal things. They will wait until you are asleep, grab your bag off the rack, and get off the bus.

-Bring clothes for all temperatures while taking the bus. We have had bus rides be brutally hot (as we showed you above) but we have also taken bus rides in which the AC was cranked to the max.

-Check out this complete schedule of Costa Rica busses.

Private Shuttles in Costa Rica

private shuttle

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 get married last year in Tamarindo. Most of our guests flew into San Jose. We thought about renting a private shuttle so nobody needed to worry about renting a car up to Tamarindo and back

Private Shuttle Companies

There are TONS of private shuttle companies in Costa Rica. Our personal favorite is Caribe Shuttle. They are trustworthy, comfortable, and reliable.

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Renting a Car in Costa Rica

renting a car costa rica

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 second driver, and a free cell phone to use!


FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

When you should rent a car

car rental costa rica

We 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.

 Taxis and Uber in Costa Rica

taxi in costa rica

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 use 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.

We have a guide to taxis and Uber in Costa Rica for more info. We suggest reading this so you can be aware of pirate taxi drivers and don’t get scammed.

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.

Costa Rica Ferries and Boats

costa rica ferry

There are certain destinations in Costa Rica in which 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. To me, it always feels like you are taking a ride in Jurassic Park (minus the dinosaurs of curse).

Costa Rica Domestic Air Travel

domestic air costa rica

There is always the option of domestic air travel in Costa Rica. There are currently multiple airlines in Costa Rica which offer this service. The three we have heard the best things about are Skyway, Sansa, and Aerobell.

When you Should Take a Domestic Flight

san jose plane view

Domestic air travel within Costa Rica is great for when you are visiting the country for a limited time and want to get to your destination quickly.

For example, Corcovado National Park is an amazing place to visit but it will take you five hours to drive there from the nearest international airport (San Jose). To fly there will take about one hour.

We have also considered flying to Bocas del Toro, Panama. It is a super fun place, but such a pain to get to. Flying there saves you the hassle of taking the bus, dealing with the border crossing, taking a scary taxi ride, and then taking a boat. In other words, flying will save you a full day of travel.

We do not suggest taking a domestic flight if small planes freak you out.

Our Transportation Tips

-It is always possible to combine multiple transportation methods. In other words, you could take a private shuttle to your destination if you don’t feel comfortable doing the long drive and then rent a car for day trips while there.

FIND OUT HOW TO GET UP TO 10% OFF YOUR CAR RENTAL IN COSTA RICA!

-Keep in mind that all transportation in Costa Rica is much cheaper in the rainy season (May to December). In the high season, everything goes up in price.

-We have created destination guides for all the major tourist towns in Costa Rica. Definitely check them out for more transportation tips. Each guide includes our tips for getting to the location as well as tips for getting around once there.

You might also like: 

What You Need to Know Before Renting a Car in Costa Rica

How to Use Your Cell Phone in Costa Rica

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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costa rica transportation
costa rica transportation

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About Us

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

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica. It was a spontaneous decision to move here, but it was the best decision!

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One Response

  1. Hi Sarah, Thomas – thanks for all this information. To add to the ‘Renting a car’ section – it is mandatory to buy insurance while renting a car – our credit card covered some but we still had to buy 3rd party liability insurance.

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