Taking shuttles in Costa Rica is a time efficient and comfortable way to get around the country. If you don’t want to drive or take the bus, booking shuttles is your best option. Here are important things you need to know about taking shuttles in Costa Rica.
First, should you book a shuttle?
There are many ways to get around Costa Rica. Which one is right for you really boils down to these factors: time, budget, number of people and the destinations in your itinerary. We have flown, driven, bused and shuttled all around Costa Rica and each one offers a different experience. However, taking a shuttle is ideal for those who are:
- On a time limit.
- Not on a super strict budget.
- Not interesting in driving.
- Looking for something simple and efficient.
If that sounds like you, then taking shuttles in Costa Rica will be the best transportation option.
Private VS Shared Shuttles
In Costa Rica, there are private and shared shuttles. Here are the differences below.
Private Transportation vs Shared Transportation
The key differences between a private and shared shuttle in Costa Rica are that with a private shuttle, they wait for you directly at the airport, you can be picked up or dropped off at a vacation rental, you can ask them to stop during the drive and they don’t have a set schedule. Additionally, most companies offer refreshments (bottled water) and free Wi-fi. But the best part is that you’ll have the entire shuttle to yourself and your group.
Shared shuttles have a set schedule, normally cannot pick up directly at the airport, only make 1 stop and pick up and drop off at hotels only. They can take from 10-15 passengers so you will have to wait to pick up and drop off other people. You can’t really choose seats as it goes by whoever gets picked up first according to their schedule. Luggage is also more limited, usually for shared shuttles passengers are allowed 1 check in and 1 backpack.
Costs vary depending on destinations and number of people. Private is more expensive, especially for 1- 2 travelers but is a good value for groups of 4+. For example, a shared shuttle from La Fortuna to Tamarindo is around $59 USD per person and a private is around $250 USD total for 1-4 passengers.
So if you have a big group of at least 4 people, the cost works out to be about the same as a shared shuttle.
Space and Privacy
Private shuttles are excellent for families with young kids or seniors since you will be able to ask the driver to stop at any time and have the whole vehicle to your group. That way, you have all the space, privacy and flexibility. Private shuttles also give you a more personalized experience, since many drivers like to share information about Costa Rica so someone can sit up front and talk to them. If you’re in a big group and don’t want to drive, private shuttles are the way to go and aren’t very expensive when you calculate it out the cost per person.
Additionally, if you are a bigger person like very tall or stout, a shared shuttle will not be very comfortable because usually the vehicle is full. When it’s full, it gets cramped, especially if the other passengers are also bigger adults. You can’t stretch out or ask the driver to make stops so if that is you, I would book a private shuttle for the most comfort.
Advantages of Taking Shuttles in Costa Rica
There are quite a few advantages of taking shuttles in Costa Rica.
- Faster than a bus. Private shuttles being direct and hotel door to hotel door, it’s super convenient. You don’t need to switch buses or wait for people to get on/off along the way.
- You don’t need to worry about directions or bus schedules. Getting lost is one of my personal fears when traveling abroad. A shuttle takes away all that stress.
- Efficient. Did I mention that shuttles are super stress free? All you have to do is book the shuttle, get picked up at your hotel and you’re good to go! And that’s awesome if you’re going to destinations that don’t have a lot of bus routes like Santa Teresa, Samara, etc.
That being said, there are also disadvantages.
Disadvantages of Taking Shuttles
- No flexibility with shared shuttles. The best thing about renting a car in Costa Rica is the flexibility. If you happen to see a cute souvenir store or restaurant, you can stop with a rental car. Not with a shared shuttle.
- More expensive than a bus. A shared shuttle can be $20-95 USD one way per person depending on the route. You can take coast to coast country wide public buses for as little as $20 USD one way per person.
- Luggage limit. You will pay an extra fee for more luggage if they have the space.
- Can’t do direct door to door service if staying at an Airbnb or vacation rental.
- They have a set hotel pick up and drop off route. If your hotel is not in their route, you will need to Uber/taxi/walk to the closest hotel to your location.
- Set times. Shared shuttle companies have set times for pick up and they need to meet that schedule. If your flight gets delayed, they can’t wait for you. The only thing you can do is hope they have space on the next available shuttle (which could be the next day). If you hire a private shuttle, they will wait for you even if your flight is delayed.
Travel planning tip: Some people will shuttle to their destinations and then rent a car. For example, many people book a shuttle from San Jose to Puerto Viejo and then rent a car for their days in Puerto Viejo. Then shuttle to their next destination.
Our Personal Experience with Taking Costa Rica Shuttles
Want to know what it’s like to take a shuttle in Costa Rica? Read our personal experience!
We have taken shared shuttles to and from Liberia International Airport to our place near Tamarindo and have had great experiences each time. Tamarindo Tours and Transfers waited for us directly at the LIR airport and dropped us off as close as they could to our house (we don’t live in Tamarindo proper). Granted, they have run a little late a few times because they have to pick up other passengers but they do their best to stick to a schedule.
We have also taken Interbus from Tamarindo to San Jose. It was a long drive due to traffic though. It was also quite cramped since all seats were full and our group were all very tall adults. Yeison was not comfortable (he is ~6’1 or ~185 cm). The driver was very good though and although he didn’t speak much English, he tried his best to let us know when the rest stop will be.
We have taken private shuttles from San Jose International Airport to Jaco and Manuel Antonio. The driver asked us if we wanted to stop at view points to take pictures, if we needed the bathroom or wanted to go to the bank or supermarket before dropping us off. We had the entire van to ourselves which was very comfortable.
Important Things to Know About Booking Shuttles
If you are staying at an Airbnb or vacation rental, check which hotel is closest to you. Like I mentioned earlier, shared shuttle companies can’t drop off/pick up at private residencies so you’ll have to go to the closest hotel to your place.
Check the schedule of the shuttle when booking your flight. If your flight arrives after late afternoon, you will have to get a private shuttle or wait until the next day. Shared shuttle services usually only have an AM and PM schedule. The PM shuttle is usually around 2:30 PM.
If your hotel is out of their route, shared shuttle services may not pick up or may charge extra. Some hotels are really far away so inquire first if service to that hotel is possible. If the hotel is outside their route, they’ll drop you off at the closest hotel and you will have to take a taxi the rest of the way.
Shared shuttle companies will have booster/baby seats available. I do recommend asking the company to send you a photo of the seat they have so you can verify it will work for you.
Inquire about wheelchair accessibility as not all vans have the automatic lift.