Getting around Costa Rica is one of the hardest things for travelers to figure out due to the limited transportation options and high cost of traveling. Transportation can take up a huge chunk of your travel budget, especially if you’re a solo traveler.
If you’re visiting for a short amount of time and are looking for nice beach towns in Costa Rica, you should choose places that are not too far in order to minimize time on the road. Here are 5 beach towns in Costa Rica that are easy to get to from both San Jose and Liberia airports and are great places for fist time visitors or those on a budget.
*This post was updated 2019*
Jaco is the closest beach town to San Jose and the surfing mecca of the country, making it a popular destination for both locals and foreigners. It’s more a city beach with high rise condos, bars and clubs and good infrastructure but the beach is not the prettiest.
Since it’s so close to San Jose, it’s the easiest beach to get to in Costa Rica without a car. It’s also ideal for those looking for a good time as it is a big party destination. But you can also find some very nice quiet hotels and condos away from all the hustle and bustle.
How to get to Jaco by bus
From San Jose: There are direct routes from San Jose downtown, leaving from the 7-10 bus station to Jaco. (You need to get a taxi or Uber there from San Jose Airport). It takes 2 hours and costs around $5. You can read this guide on taking the bus from San Jose to Jaco here.
From Liberia: You need to go from Liberia –> Puntarenas –> Jaco. The bus from Liberia to Puntarenas departs daily at 5, 7:45, 8:30, 9:30, 10:30, 12:30, 14:30 and 15:30 and takes 3 hours. Puntarenas to Jaco departs at 4:30, 5:30, 7:30, 9:30, 13:00, 15:00 and 17:30 and takes 1.5 hours.
Driving to Jaco
From San Jose: The route takes about 1.5 hours depending on traffic and is all on a well paved road, mostly through the highway. You will drive onto Route 27 and exit at Route 34 to Jaco/Manuel Antonio.
From Liberia: This drive takes around 3-4 hours depending on which part of Guanacaste you are coming from. It’s all on a well paved road and you will go the same route as if you’re going to San Jose and then exit to Jaco/Manuel Antonio.
Shuttle to Jaco
From San Jose: A shared shuttle costs $45 per person, a private is around $100-140 for 1-4 people. For 6 and more, it’s $140-160.
From Liberia: A shared shuttle costs $55 per person, a private is around $200-250.
Tamarindo is a popular surfing town in Guanacaste, a favorite among backpackers since it has a fun night life and a good amount of hostels. It’s also a family friendly area and close to some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica such as Conchal and Flamingo.
It has decent infrastructure, lots of good restaurants, hostels and hotels and its own local airport, making it a very convenient beach town to visit.
How to get to Tamarindo by bus
From San Jose: There are 2 buses from San Jose. One leaves from Calle 14 daily at 11:30 by way of Liberia and 15:30 by way of Tempisque. Another one leaves from Calle 20 daily at 7:15 and 16:00. Both routes take 5.5 hours.
From Liberia: From Liberia, the bus leaves at 3:50, 4:30, 5:15, 6:10, 7:30, 9, 10. 11, 13:00, 14:00, 16:00, 17:00 and 18:00 which takes 1.5 hours.
Driving to Tamarindo
From San Jose: This is about a 4 hour drive by way through the Taiwan Friendship bridge, all on well paved roads.
From Liberia: It’s a one hour drive from Liberia airport, all on well paved roads with signs.
Flying to Tamarindo
Tamarindo has its own local airport. It’s about 30 minutes from San Jose and 10 from Liberia. Get 10% off and an extra 10 lbs with our promo code on Skyway CR!
Shuttle to Tamarindo
From San Jose: A shared shuttle from San Jose to Tamarindo costs $55, a private costs around $200-250.
From Liberia: Tamarindo Transfers & Tours has a shared airport shuttle for $20 per person, minimum 2 people. A private costs around $100-120.
The Caribbean coast has a laid back and very chill vibe, perfect for those looking for a relaxing beach escape. Puerto Viejo, the main town on the Caribbean side is surrounded by beautiful beaches, has a fun party vibe and offers a unique blend of cultures.
Lots of wildlife can be seen in the area due to the humid environment, lush rain forest, national park and protected reserves.
How to get to Puerto Viejo by bus
There is one bus from San Jose that leaves daily at 6, 10, 14:00 and 16:00 which takes around 4.5 hours. From Liberia, you can technically do it in one day if you want. There are buses from Liberia to San Jose at 3 AM (M-F), 4 AM (M-Sat) and 5-8 AM which takes 4.5 hours and you can make it in time to grab the other buses from San Jose to Puerto Viejo.
It is recommended to arrive at least 30 minutes early to the station in San Jose to purchase tickets as it is a very popular route.
Driving to Puerto Viejo
It’s about 4-4.5 hours from San Jose and 8 hours from Liberia. From San Jose, this road goes through a national park, is fairly straightforward and on a paved road.
Shuttle to Puerto Viejo
From San Jose: It is $55 for a shared shuttle, private is around $250
Flying to Puerto Viejo
Sansa flies into Limon and from Limon, you can take a shuttle to Puerto Viejo. The flight is around 20 minutes, the shuttle is around 1 hour
Manuel Antonio is one of the top destinations in Costa Rica and one of the best beach towns in Costa Rica. It’s not that big but the beaches are some of the most beautiful in Costa Rica! Not to mention Manuel Antonio has some of the only white sand beaches in the Central and South Pacific coast.
Surfing, snorkeling, jet skiing, hiking and parasailing are just a couple of the fun things to do in Manuel Antonio.
How to get to Manuel Antonio by bus
The main town where the bus station is is Quepos, which is right next to Manuel Antonio and the national park.
From San Jose: There is a direct bus from San Jose to Quepos every day at 6, 9, 12, 14:30, 18:00 and 19:30. This takes about 3 hours and 45 minutes. There is also a colectivo (stops a ton of places) from San Jose to Quepos every day at 7, 10, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00 and 17:00 and takes about 4 and a half hours. I also wrote a post on taking the bus from Jaco to Manuel Antonio.
From Liberia: From Liberia, take the bus to Puntarenas and then to Manuel Antonio, every day at 5, 7, 9, 11, 13:00, 14:30, 16:30 and 17:30 which takes 3 hours.
Driving to Manuel Antonio
From San Jose: This is about a 2 hour drive, depending on traffic in San Jose all on a well paved road. You will go through Route 27, exit at Jaco, and continue all the way down the Costanera Sur.
Flying to Manuel Antonio
There is a local airport right outside of Quepos that SkywayCR flies into. From the airport, you can get a taxi or have your rental car delivered and it’s about a 10 minute drive to the national park, 5 to Quepos town. It’s a 10 minute flight from San Jose, about 40 from Liberia.
Shuttle to Manuel Antonio
From San Jose: A shared shuttle is $45 per person, a private is around $200.
From Liberia: A shared shuttle is $55 per person, a private can be around $300.
Playas del Coco
Playas del Coco is the main beach town in the Gulf of Papagayo, up in the North Pacific of the Guanacaste coast. It’s popular with retired North Americans and families and is the best launching point to go fishing or to explore the beautiful beaches in the Papagayo Gulf.
How to get to Playas del Coco by bus
From San Jose: There are 3 buses from San Jose to Coco every day.
From Liberia: The Pulmitan de Liberia (public bus) runs from Liberia to Coco from 5 AM to 7 PM every hour. It costs 550 colones (~$1).
Driving to Playas del Coco
From San Jose: It’s about a 4 hour drive through Route 27 and Interamericana highway 1.
From Liberia: This is an easy 30 minute (20 from LIR airport).
Shuttle to Playas del Coco
From San Jose: It’s $54 for a shared shuttle and around $200 for private.
From Liberia: There are no shared shuttles, a private is $50 for 1-4 people.
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As you can see, all these beaches are easy to get to from San Jose and Liberia airports and have lots of different things to do, see and offer. Great beach towns in Costa Rica for those short on time, taking only the bus or on a budget.
Read about other articles on traveling in Costa Rica below!