Getting around Costa Rica is a big concern for travelers especially for those who are here for a short period of time and on a budget. In this article I’m going to outline the different ways and their cost and efficiency. You can also find our Costa Rica transportation discounts too!
How to Get Around Costa Rica: Driving, the Most Flexible Way
Driving is the best way to get around Costa Rica to explore the country.
Driving gives you the flexibility and freedom that you can’t get with any other method of transportation. Leave when you want, where you want. Go where you want, when you want. Simply stated, having a car is the best way to explore Costa Rica.
If you want to rent a car in Costa Rica, check out our car rental discount. We partnered with Adobe Rent a Car, a Costa Rican car rental company to give our readers a discount and extra freebies.
For more details, check out our tips for renting a car in Costa Rica post and our tips for driving in Costa Rica post. You will learn all about the costs of rental cars, insurance, type of cars and much more.
Shared and Private Transportation in Costa Rica: Shuttles
Taking a shuttle is an excellent Costa Rica transportation method for those who don’t want to drive. It’s faster than taking the bus, they offer door to door hotel service and you don’t have to stress out about driving in a foreign country.
Here are some things to know about booking a shuttle in Costa Rica.
- There are private and shared shuttles. Shared usually have up to 10-15 passengers depending on the company.
- Private shuttles are more expensive but this is the best option for groups and families who don’t want to drive.
- Private shuttles can pick you up directly at the airport, take you directly to your Airbnb and stop along the way. Shared shuttles can’t.
- On the other hand, shared shuttles are excellent for solo travelers who don’t want to take the bus or pay for an entire private shuttle.
Want to know how to make a boring transfer more fun? Take a tour and book an interconnection! Here’s how it works.
You will book a tour like normal. Everything is exactly the same except your pick up and drop off locations. So you get to skip sitting on a bus or shuttle all day and instead, you get to go on a fun adventure.
For example, a Pacuare rafting company can pick you up in San Jose, La Fortuna or Puerto Viejo and then drop you off after the tour to any of those three locations.
So if you aren’t renting a car, this is a great way to get around. If you are landing in San Jose and your next destination is Puerto Viejo, you can do the rafting as a way to get to Puerto Viejo. Sooo much better than taking a 6 hour bus ride!
Want to do this 1 day tour and book the interconnection? Get $10 USD off with our Rio Pacuare white water rafting discount.
Flying around Costa Rica with Local Airlines
Flying on a domestic flight is the quickest way to get around Costa Rica. What would take you 4-5 hours driving will take 30 minutes flying!
There are a couple local airlines in Costa Rica: Sansa, that fly throughout the country. They fly from San Jose International Airport and Liberia International Airport to local airports throughout the country like La Fortuna, Quepos, Puerto Jimenez, Drake Bay and Tamarindo.
It is important to note that it is much more expensive to fly around Costa Rica. High season (December through April) is more expensive than low season (May through November). The price also depends on your destinations so flights can range anywhere from $50 USD to $300 USD one way per person.
But it all comes down to time vs money. You spend more by flying but you save an incredible amount of time and erase the stresses of driving. What’s even better is that you get amazing views from the plane!
Costa Rica Public Transportation
Taking the bus is the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica. Costa Rica public transportation is actually very good if you’re going to popular tourist destinations and major areas. It’s the cheapest method of transportation and a great way to save money on your trip to Costa Rica!
From San Jose, there are direct routes to nearly every main tourist destination and big town. It’s cheap and a fun way to immerse into local life. You can read our article on taking the bus in Costa Rica for more information.
The downside is that it takes much longer. For example, from San Jose to Playas del Coco takes around 4 hours driving but 6-7 hours on a bus. Once, because of traffic, it took us 10 hours! Buses also tend to run late or super early and don’t have many schedules, so you need to be flexible in time.
Additionally, it is difficult to get around for many routes. Another example is Tamarindo to La Fortuna which requires 3 buses and takes around 7 hours (driving is around 3.5). La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio requires 4 buses, around 9 hours (driving is around 5).
The bottom line is that we don’t recommend taking the bus if you’re with a big family or on a short trip. But if you have the time, are keen on a bit of adventure or are on a budget, the bus is an excellent option for major destinations.
Taxis are good for short trips like from the supermarket to the hotel, especially if it’s raining, it’s late out or you’re carrying a lot of stuff. However, it’s best to book a shuttle for long trips instead of taxis.
The most important thing to know is to take an official taxi and not a pirate one. Why? Well pirate taxis don’t have insurance and their cars are usually old and not in good condition. That can cause a lot of problems if you get into an accident or if they get caught by the police.
Read more tips for taking taxis in Costa Rica.
Good news! Uber works in Costa Rica and has been a gift to travelers. Uber is everywhere in San Jose, Heredia and Alajuela and there are some in Jaco, Quepos, La Fortuna, Tamarindo and Liberia. It makes getting around the city so much easier.
It’s cheaper than taxis and more efficient and faster than buses. Perfect for getting around San Jose or to and from the airport. We even know tourists who used Uber for long ride like San Jose to La Fortuna (just remember the driver needs to accept this trip).
Read our tips to using Uber in Costa Rica and get $10 USD credit for your first ride!
Getting around Costa Rica by motorcycle isn’t very popular due to the road conditions and infrastructure. Some people have done a motorcycle trip around the country though.
You can buy a brand new motorcycle around $2000 USD and up depending on the brand and size. Also note that you do need to have a separate motorcycle license to legally drive one here and it goes by CC’s.
ATVs are a very popular way to get around in more rural areas. It’s the main mode of transportation in Santa Teresa actually! You can rent the by the day, week or month down in that area.
Ferry or Boat Rides
If you’re planning on going to the Nicoya Peninsula from San Jose or Puntarenas, the ferry is what you should take. It’s faster than driving all the way around, cheap and a fun way to get around Costa Rica via water. Check out our tips for taking the Puntarenas Paquera ferry.
There is also a taxi-boat-taxi from Arenal to Monteverde and vice versa that takes you across Lake Arenal, a boat from Sierpe to Drake Bay, Jaco to Montezuma boat and a ferry across the Golfo Dulce.
Which Costa Rica Transportation Method is Right For You?
To help answer your question of “How to get around Costa Rica?” you will need to figure out what your priorities are and what you’re willing to spend in terms of both aspects.
Costa Rica transportation methods summary
- Most comfort and flexibility: renting a car.
- On a budget: the bus.
- In between car and bus: shared shuttles.
- For big groups: private shuttles or renting a car.
- With kids: private shuttles or renting a car.
- No tight budget & short trip: flying.
- Solo travelers: shared shuttles or bus. Rent a car if not on a budget.
Don’t forget you can do a mix. Here are some ideas.
San Jose – Puerto Viejo. A lot of people do not want to do this drive so they will take a private shuttle or the rafting tour from San Jose to Puerto Viejo and then rent a car in Puerto Viejo.
Drake Bay: A lot of people will rent a car for their whole itinerary but leave Drake Bay as their last destination. They return the car in Sierpe, take the boat to Drake Bay and then fly to San Jose.
San Jose – Guanacaste. If you are flying into San Jose Airport but going to somewhere in Guanacaste, you can fly to the Liberia or Tamarindo airport. Then rent a car when you are in Guanacaste.
If you’re going to major touristic destinations like La Fortuna, Tamarindo, Puerto Viejo, San Jose, Manuel Antonio, Puerto Jimenez, Samara, Tambor, Santa Teresa, Montezuma, Jaco, and Monteverde, you can get there via car, bus and shuttle. All of them also have their own local airport except Jaco, Samara, Montezuma, Santa Teresa and Monteverde.
For Drake Bay, the best way is to fly or take the boat from Sierpe.
For Tortuguero, it is boat or plane access only. You can fly directly there or take the boat from La Pavona or Moin dock to Tortuguero. You can read about how to get to Tortuguero here.
If you are going to non-touristy places like Atenas, Grecia, San Ramon, Boca de Tapada, San Isidro de Perez Zeledon, San Vito, San Gerardo de Dota, Santa Cruz and Nicoya or any remote beach, then a car would be the best way. You can also get there via bus but then it will very difficult to visit places and no tour companies include transportation from those places.
Extra Things to Take into Consideration
Shared shuttles normally require a minimum of 2-3 passengers so if you are a solo traveler, be aware that there may not be availability for your requested route.
If renting a car, for groups for 9 or more, you will have to rent two full size SUV’s or a H1 van (seats up to 9 with luggage) and a second car.
If your hotel or Airbnb/vacation rental is outside of town or far away from the main tourism hub, then it is best to rent a car. Tour companies don’t pick up at Airbnbs and shared shuttles can’t drop off at vacation rentals. Usually these rentals are far from the supermarket and things like that so it will be much better to have a car.
How to Get Around Articles
We wrote articles on how to get to certain destinations which you can read below.