Getting around Costa Rica is a big concern for travelers especially for visitors who are here for a short period of time and on a budget.
Without an efficient transportation system like the subway and with an ever developing infrastructure, traveling within the country can be a bit of a headache. It seems like it’s either super expensive or takes forever.
But don’t fret! Plenty of travelers have made it and found a way to get around whether it’s by foot, car, bus, etc. And luckily the system is improving and there are several handy tools you can use. (Plus we offer some sweet discounts you will find in the post!)
In this article I’m going to outline how you can get around Costa Rica and break it down by cost and efficiency. This will help you get a much better idea of which type of transportation in Costa Rica is right for you.
Click on the section to skip to the type of transportation in Costa Rica.
Flying is the quickest way to get around Costa Rica. What would take you 4 hours driving will take 30 minutes flying. The two international airports are LIR and SJO in Liberia and San Jose. Then to get around the country by flying, there are two domestic airlines, Nature Air and Sansa Air.
Nature Air flies to 15 destinations and that’s not limited to Costa Rica, they also fly into Managua, Nicaragua and Bocas del Toro, Panama. For Costa Rica, they have flights going to the major destinations which are Liberia, Arenal, Drake Bay, Golfito, Limon, Nosara, Puerto Jimenez, Punta Islita, Quepos/Manuel Antonio, San Jose, Tamarindo, Tambor, and Tortuguero. Nature Air is known for having wide windows on their 12-19 seater planes.
Sansa Air flies to 12 destinations in the country which are: San Jose, Liberia, La Fortuna/Arenal, Puerto Jiminez, Golfito, Palmar Sur, Drake Bay, Manuel Antonio/Quepos, Tambor, Tamarindo, Limon and Tortuguero. They are one of the five “zero emissions” airlines in the world.
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) so flights can range anywhere from $50 to $300 one way depending on your route.
It also depends on your destinations. San Jose to Drake Bay for October (the lowest tourism month of the year) and it is $204 round trip on Nature Air. On Sansa Air I checked San Jose to Tamarindo during Christmas time (peak season) and it is $300 round trip.
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 and looking up bus schedules.
Shared/Private Shuttles and Private Transportation in Costa Rica
Taking a shuttle in Costa Rica is a great option for those who are coming in large groups, with young ones or seniors with disability or don’t want to drive/take the bus. Many of the shuttles are the 10-18 passenger shuttle vans so they are very spacious and comfortable and the companies go all over the country.
Here are some things you should 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.
- You don’t have to use a shuttle company, many tour companies provide shuttle service and can work out arrangements with you for your entire trip, day trips, etc.
- Private shuttles are more expensive than shared but you have more flexibility with private. But if you have a big group of at least 4 people, the cost will equal out to the same as shared shuttles or even less.
- Shared shuttles cost about $50 per adult and private can be up to $75 per person depending on the route.
If you want to book a private shuttle, you can also hire a private driver for your Costa Rica trip. This is a good option if you’re going to various places around the country, in a group and don’t want to wait for other people/adhere to the shared shuttle company’s schedule. You can request quotes for private transportation in Costa Rica from a tour/transfer company.
We are happy to announce our partnership with Interbus, a shared shuttle company to give our readers 10% off. You can read more tips for taking shuttles in Costa Rica or contact us at hello @ mytanfeet . com for a quote or to book a shuttle. Please includes your name, date and time of shuttle, number of passengers and pick up and drop off hotels.
Taxis are popular in Costa Rica for short trips like from the supermarket to the hotel. They come in handy if it’s raining and you don’t want to get wet. However, if you are thinking of using a taxi for long trips, it’s best to book a shuttle because taxis will be more expensive.
The good thing about taxis is that they are everywhere, you can find them in pretty much every touristic destination. If you take a taxi, the most important thing to know is to take an official taxi and not a pirate one. Official taxis are red, official airport taxis are orange and pirate taxis are… well you will recognize them immediately when you see one.
Read more tips for taking taxis in Costa Rica.
Uber arrived in Costa Rica in August 2015 and it has been a gift to travelers. It only exists in San Jose right now but 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.
Driving is in our opinion, the best way to get around Costa Rica. I know a lot of people argue for taking public transportation and I would too if the bus system was a bit more efficient for those who are here for just a few days.
However, if you have a good chunk of time in the country or are living here, then I definitely suggest taking public transportation at least a couple times since it does give you a good idea of the local life here.
Driving gives you the flexibility and freedom that you can’t get with any other method of transportation to get around Costa Rica. You don’t have to adhere to someone else’s schedules and leave whenever you want. Having a car is the best way to explore Costa Rica since many of the hidden gems don’t have any buses or require a 4×4.
Rates depend on the type of car, time of year and insurance you get but you can find some pretty good deals online. We partnered with Adobe Rent a Car, a Costa Rican car rental company to give our readers a steep discount with lots of extra benefits such as 2 free drivers, free surf racks and cooler.
Worried about driving in Costa Rica? Check out our basic driving tip article and an in-depth driving tip guide. If you’re not sure which type of car to get or what the roads are like for your itinerary, check out our Costa Rica road conditions guide.
Taking the bus is the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica (except hitchhiking). Costa Rica public transportation is actually not that bad if you’re going to popular tourist destinations and major areas.
You can find routes to all of the major cities and beaches and it’s pretty easy if you are coming from San Jose since it’s the capital. You can find routes from San Jose to every big town or beach. Once you get to the bus station you’ll see all their routes, times and fares and all you have to do is buy your bus ticket and then you’re off.
In this tips for taking the bus in Costa Rica article, you will find all the information and tips for taking the public transportation in Costa Rica including an itinerary of buses. Costa Rica’s bus system is really great for budget travelers/backpackers because it is cheap.
We have taken the bus from San Jose to Playas del Coco (and vice versa) several times and it’s about $9 per person one way with spacious seats, AC and luggage storage. The downside is that it takes much longer as these buses usually make a lot of stops and are slow. Driving from San Jose to Coco takes us about 4 hours but on a bus, it’s about 6-7.
We don’t recommend taking the bus if your itinerary is very short or if you are going to very far destinations. It will be better to rent a car, fly or book shuttles for short itineraries.
Traveling the country on a motorcycle is getting a bit more popular and though you don’t see a ton of motorcycles on the road, you can find scooters for rent in most beach towns.
If you’re planning to do an around the country on motorcycle trip, I recommend buying a motorcycle instead of renting – there aren’t scooter rentals in every destination and you can sell the motorcycle when you’re done. You can buy a brand new motorcycle around $2000 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.
Also be aware that rainy season is much more dangerous for motorcycles since it rains really hard in some areas and unexpectedly too, so be well equipped if you come during that time (read our essentials for rainy season here). Roads in certain areas like Arenal are incredibly curvy and can get slippery when wet. We always hear on the news about motorcycle accidents because they were going too fast around a corner. Don’t be one of them and always wear a helmet!
We haven’t actually hitchhiked before but we see a lot of hitchhikers from time to time. It is pretty common in some areas like Dominical/Uvita and I actually don’t advise against it.
You hear a lot of horror stories about it in general but Costa Rica is a pretty safe country, in fact I’ve never heard anything bad about foreigners hitchhiking. I have however, heard stories about locals pretending to hitchhike and then robbing the driver.
I don’t know if I’d suggest using this as your only form of transportation since it is a gamble as to how long it’ll take to get a ride and it’s definitely more of a backpacker thing. Many other foreigners are fairly open to picking up hitchhikers though so you may get lucky and if you’re not in a rush, then time isn’t too much of an issue. Just be careful and use your common sense!
If you’re planning on going from Puntarenas to Montezuma/Santa Teresa/Paquera area, the ferry is what you should take. It’s faster than driving all the way around obviously, it’s cheap and a fun way to see the Costa Rican waters. Taking the ferry? Check out our tips for taking the 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.
There are also a couple of other fun options for getting around. Rios Tropicales offers a 1 day white water rafting trip on the Rio Pacuare where they can pick you up in San Jose, La Fortuna or Puerto Viejo and drop you off at either of those three destinations! So instead of sitting on a bus all day, get picked up at your hotel in San Jose, go on a crazy fun white water rafting adventure and then get a transfer to your hotel in Puerto Viejo!
We offer discounts for the Rio Pacuare white water rafting, just be aware that they need 2 passengers minimum for pick up and drop offs in Puerto Viejo and La Fortuna.
If you like this article, follow us on Facebook for more Costa Rica/travel tips and inspiration!
So here is the answer to the question of “How to get around Costa Rica?” Sometimes when it comes down to it, it’s time versus money. Are you on a budget but here for awhile so you can afford to spend 7 hours on a bus? Or are you only here for a few days and want to maximize your time as much as possible? Figure out what your priorities are and what you’re willing to spend in terms of both aspects.
If you have any questions about transportation, renting a car or need recommendations for shuttles, please don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or email us. We’re here to help you make planning and your actual vacation as fun and smooth as possible!
This post has affiliate links.