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. Without an efficient transportation system and adequate infrastructure, getting around Costa Rica 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 found a way to get around Costa Rica that fits with their travel style. 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!
This post has been updated January 2019.
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- Tour Interconnections
- Which One is Right For You?
How to Get Around Costa Rica: Driving, the Most Flexible Way
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 more efficient for those who are here for just a few days.
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. Simply stated, having a car is the best way to explore Costa Rica since many of the less touristic areas require a 4×4 or don’t have many buses.
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 with extra benefits like 2 free drivers, surf racks, cell phone and cooler.
Worried about driving in Costa Rica? Check out our Costa Rica driving tips article and an driving in Costa Rica guide. You can also check out our Costa Rica road conditions guide or popular types of cars to rent in Costa Rica.
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 of 4 or more.
- Private shuttles can pick you up directly at the airport, take you directly to your Airbnb and stop anywhere 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.
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. The only exception are your pick up and drop off locations. The company will pick you up in one place and drop you off in another after the tour. Skip sitting on a bus or shuttle all day! Go on a fun tour and get dropped off in your next destination.
Rios Tropicales offers a 1 day white water rafting trip where they pick you up in San Jose, La Fortuna or Puerto Viejo, take you to the tour and drop you off in one of those three destinations. Excellent way to get around Costa Rica!
Want to do this 1 day tour and book the interconnection? Get $10 off with our Rio Pacuare white water rafting discount. Please note that they do require a minimum of 2 passengers to do the interconnection.
Another example is the Tortuga Island cruise. They can pick you up in San Jose and drop you off in La Fortuna/Manuel Antonio/Jaco/Guanacaste. Read more about the Tortuga Island day trip and get $10 off!
Flying around Costa Rica with Local Airlines
Flying is the quickest way to get around Costa Rica. What would take you 4 hours driving will take 30 minutes flying!
There are several local airlines in Costa Rica: Sansa, Aerobell, Green and Skyway (get our discount). They fly from San Jose International Airport and Liberia International Airport to local airports throughout the country.
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 to $300 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.
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 hours on a bus. Buses also tend to run late or super early, so you need to be flexible in time.
Additionally, it is difficult to get around for long distances. Another example is Tamarindo to La Fortuna which requires 3 buses, taking around 7 hours (driving is around 4). La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio takes 4 buses and around 9 hours (driving is around 5).
The bottom line is that we don’t recommend taking the bus if you’re here for a short vacation or if you are going to multiple destinations far apart from one another.
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 only exists in San Jose right now (a few in Jaco and Manuel Antonio) 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.
Read our tips to using Uber in Costa Rica and get $10 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 and we recommend buying or bringing a motorcycle.
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.
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 comfortable 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.
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 (which doesn’t have a car rental).
For Drake Bay, the best way is to fly or take the boat from Sierpe. You can drive too but that road is treacherous and requires a 4×4 in dry season. Not recommended to drive in rainy season even with a 4×4.
For Tortuguero, you can fly directly there. If not, you will need to drive, take a shuttle or bus to the La Pavona or Moin dock and then take a boat 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, 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 get around.
Extra Things to Take into Consideration
Tours require a minimum of 2-3 passengers so if you are a solo traveler, you will need to see if you can join an open group or make friends. If you rent a car, you can drive yourself and not worry about not being able to join a tour. In low season, rates are fairly reasonable.
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. For private transfers, companies will recommend a coaster in order to fit everyone and luggage which will be quite expensive. If you’re less than 9, they can get a H1 which is cheaper for private transfers.
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.
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